I just spent the most incredible weekend in Southern California. If you’ve ever been, you know that the place is beautiful. Crowded? Yes, but beautiful with gorgeous weather conditions almost all of the time (including the four days I was there). The owner of Roxx Productions, Bill Bafford, told me he’d like to hold a 25th Anniversary celebration concert for HM Magazine this summer. This was especially fitting, since two of the bands on the bill were also celebrating 25 years since their recorded debuts (with demo tapes – the first unreleased tape by Deliverance and Metal Missionaries by Bloodgood).
Silent Rise started the two-day festival off with good musicianship and lots of fast power chords. There would be no mistaking this for a hippie or mellow fest. Some of the band members were formerly in East West, Seven System and Once to Die). Fasedown came on next, featuring Mike Phillips on guitar, their longtime vocalist, Devin Shaeffer, whoo suffered from some throat setbacks recently, and drummer Jim Chaffin. Shaeffer introduced a song called “Genocide,” which chronicled over 400 villagers being gunned down and one of the lone survivors being a girl that hid under the body of her mother. I’m guessing the massacre occurred in Rwanda. During the song Phillips played a killer atmospheric, epic and sweeping solo that would make both Ritchie Blackmore and David Gilmour proud.
A somewhat surprise set by Jupiter VI took place next, which featured George Ochoa on guitar with Jimmy Brown (aka Peter Braun) on guitar and vocals and his old sidekick on bass, Brian Khairullah. They sounded great – especially the vocal harmonies by Khairullah, Ochoa, Brown and their drummer (whose name I neglected to write down. Sorry!). Jimmy looked happy in his bright white shirt (he later donned black for the D set later) and the band romped through some of their tunes, like “Back to Mars” and “Lucidia” as well as tunes penned by others, such as the Kinks’ “All the Day and All of the Night” and David Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust.” Brown talked about his friend John Tinker figuring out the metaphorical meaning of the song (being about the audience that always stayed in Brown’s mind).
Klank started with a surge of distortion, fast riffing and strobe lights. It was on and it was intense. The band really brought it, which included five guys and even six with the addition of Carl Weaver (E.D.L.) on the song “Downside.” Former EDL drummer Eric Wilkins is now serving as the Klank drummer, too. Klank really holds down the stage as a frontman well, conjuring images of Rob Zombie – both visually and sonically.
Ultimatum put on the best set I’ve ever seen them do. They were happy, smiling and headbanging a lot as they stayed as tight as a well-oiled machine. It was cool seeing a band with so much experience bring it with confidence and metal power. The fans of early Exodus thrash metal would have been thrilled to romp between the quick and well-timed bass runs by Rob Whitlock and the twin guitar attack of Robert Gutierrez and Fabian Aguillar. Drummer Alan Tuma was pounding on the drums, using the full breadth of his kit, and Scott Waters managed to keep most of the attention on himself in an unassuming manner. At times he made faces that were part Les Carlsen and part Dave Mustaine. You could tell they were all having a really good time. They rallied the crowd up by the stage more than any previous band of the day and they just brought tight and brutal thrash for almost an hour. They also introduced a new song about genocide, called “Blood on a Thousand Hills.” It was about the 1993 atrocities in Northern Africa. The intro featured some killer double guitar. It is one slammin’ tune.
Deliverance capped off the night in supreme fashion. I had heard that frontman Jimmy Brown had missed his scheduled flight the day before, which nixed the bands’ plans for rehearsing. I had to admit I was kind of nervous, half-expecting the set to be disappointing. Boy, was I wrong! Brown and the guys brought the heat, big-time. They were tight and went from song to song without taking a breath several times. This wasn’t some reunion of out-of-breath musicians, explaining each and every song as though it were the most important lyric of all time. These guys were professional and they were slaying the audience with beautifully tight and expressive music. The setlist was littered with material from their entire career, including big hits from the first two albums as well as “Pseudo Intellectual” from What A Joke and tunes from Learn (including its title track and “Sanctuary”), River Disturbance and Stay of Execution. At one point he slowed things down by sharing for a good while about a period of disillusionment (earmarked by the Camelot in Smithereens album), which set up the ballad “In-U.” It was quite a moment in the show.
Another standout event was when the little guy Junior Reed (son of drummer Mike Reed) came out with his guitar. And all this time I thought the little guy was just acting as a stage hand, ready to hand off a new guitar to one of the guys. Brown introduced him, confirmed that he’d only been playing the guitar – which was almost as big as the lad’s height – for only two years. Then he had the kid start of the song “No Time” all by himself. The little guy nailed that fast guitar intro like a pro! It was a cool and memorable moment. And, of course, there was lots of shredding by Mike Phillips, but I forgot how good of a lead player Brown was. After a long absence from the stage as Deliverance, he also showed how much of a consummate professional he is. This was right up there in terms of best Deliverance set ever. It was so fun and powerful.
Day 2 had its share of awesome highlights. Oz Fox showed up early (but not early enough for his band, Bloodgood, who were waiting around, going, “Where is Oz?” I was tempted to tell them, “Somewhere in Kansas,” but I’m not a comedian … as far as you know), who was whisked over from the airport after flying in from some concert dates with Stryper in Australia. I can only imagine how tired he was from the trip, yet there he was standing in the audience checking out the band FellGuard, who displayed some real musicianship and talent on their instruments. They have a way to go on making their songs stand out from the crowd, but as a band they’ve got a good sound. Troglodyte Dawn came up next with their big and gnarly doom metal. It was like hearing Black Sabbath or some giant romp around the room. Again, there were no doubts we were dealing with a metal show.
Souljourners went on next, but not until after I tried to embarrass them with my introduction. I mentioned that I’d interviewed Kevin Moore, Mike Portnoy, James LeBrie and John Petrucci and had some connections (which sounds like I have them on speed dial, but the truth is I just talked to them in an interview set up by their publicist. It’s not like we’re friends or anything, but I was creating a false pretense for a reason). I explained how I’d begged promoter Bill Bafford to book Dream Theater for this show, but he said, “I’ll do one better – SOULJOURNERS!” And that’s how I introduced them. They sounded really tight and dynamic, allowed their flashy keyboard playing to have its moment when appropriate, as well as every other instrument getting prominent placement without sounding too self-indulgent. There’s a fine balance and these young guys seem to have gotten that part down. As they learn to truly master their craft, they’ll be popular for a long while with the prog rock and metal crowds. They did a cover of “Tom Sawyer,” which was spot-on. It’s hard to cover a band like Rush. You’re either tampering with “perfection” or you’re re-inventing something that’s not broken. They did an above-average job at that.
The Altar Billies, which is a rockabilly or “cowpunk” band covering Altar Boys songs, came on next and one could tell from the stage setup that we were not dealing with a metal band. This was a good thing, though, because it was great. If it had been mediocre, it would have been a horrible deviation. But it was awesome, period. Chuck Cummings made his little 3-piece drumset sound like a monster. The dude should be in the urban dictionary under a musical definition of “less is more.” Johnny X played a giant stand-up bass and he was all over that thing. Mike Stand did a splendid job of keeping their set rolling, talking a little bit here and there, but mostly rocking and posing and belting out tunes in a slightly left-of-center delivery than any of us remember hearing these old Altar Boys songs. “He’s Calling to You” “World Burning” and their Donna Summer cover of “Unconditional Love,” as well as a jam called “Hayride.” The highlight might’ve been “Ride This Train,” which featured a smokin’ and stompin’ harmonica intro.
Leper came on next. It was a little surprise set given to the deserving band, who was touring with Grave Robber. They sounded loud, hard and aggressive. Grave Robber came on and put on a whale of a show. They sounded totally in sync with one another, playing with a passion that made it seem like they were trying to prove something. The stunning zombie walk through the audience was fun – especially with one girl who wouldn’t look Wretched in the face as he stood beside her with his shovel in hand. His hissing and talking from the stage was fun and convincing. The words he shared about the “Re-animator” (aka Jesus) and His suffering was compelling. The band started off fast and furious and kept the audience engaged and upfront the entire set. These guys rule.
Bloodgood decided to take its headlining status and trade it for an earlier time slot, so they switched places with Neon Cross. Boy oh boy, did the band sound great! They played a diverse setlist that was heavy on the self-titled debut and Detonation songs. It was so awesome hearing “Eat the Flesh,” “Killing the Beast,” “Holy Fire” and “Black Snake.” The band (made up of Paul Jackson and Oz Fox on guitar, Mark Welling on drums, Michael Whathisname on bass and Les Carlsen on vocals) was about as good as I’d ever seen them. Probably not the very best show, as these guys are totally pro and have never put in a sloppy set as far as I know, but it was excellent nonetheless. It was energetic. It was flowing from song to song. Take note, Christian bands, don’t belabor your audience with explanation after explanation about how God gave you this song and how we all need to do this or that. Save that for one poignant moment during the show (sure), but let your music establish credibility first. Thankfully, not a single band during the weekend up to this point had made those mistakes. The band started with “Out of the Darkness” and went into “S.O.S,” which included a brief excursion into “To Hell With The Devil” and then flowed into a little bit of “America, America.” Then Les Carlsen spoke up and gave a brief introduction to “Heaven on Earth.” The background vocals were almost as good as Carlsen’s, most notably on tunes like “Out of Love” and “Seven” (which also had the audience chanting along to “God gave Jesus a revelation and the Lord sent His angel to John…”). The “Crucify” and “Messiah” segment was spectacular, as usual, with Bloodgood and Fox using their headstocks to whip Carlsen as Jesus. What was awesome about this show was that it was so good, it seemed like they went from mountaintop to mountaintop. No one segment was allowed to stand tall above the others, because it was just darn good during each and every song. The set had that balance of a wonderful experience that was engaging, where you lost sense of time, so it didn’t fly by too fast and it never faltered or slowed to a lull. After “Blacksnake” the band left the stage and as I jumped up to coax a demanded encore from the band, Bloodgood had started to come back on. They tore through “Never Be the Same,” “Stand in the Light” and “Battle of the Flesh.” Talk about a set weighted in the early years! Ya gotta love that.
One thing worth noting was how good the sound was all weekend. Kudos to the staff, as well as guest mixers during the Altar Billies and Bloodgood (thanks to master knob-twister Paul Doty).
It would have been incredibly hard to follow Bloodgood after they brought the house down, but Neon Cross did an admiral job. In fact, they rocked the house all over again in songs like “Run Into the Light” and “Son of God.”
HM Mag UFTA III twitter feed:
Up From the Ashes III has begun (with Silent Rise) http://twitpic.com/2j6px7
Fasedown is tearing it up. Yes!!! http://twitpic.com/2j7579 9:37 PM Aug 28th via Twitpic
Mike Phillips (Fasedown and Deliverance) has just great guitar tone. He just played a solo that’d make Blackmore and Gilmour proud. Epic. 9:53 PM Aug 28th via Twitterrific
Yes, that’s Jim Chaffin on drums. http://twitpic.com/2j76wz 9:41 PM Aug 28th via Twitpic
After some gregorian chant intro it’s strobe lights, guitars and KLANK !! http://twitpic.com/2j88w8 11:18 PM Aug 28th via Twitpic
Remember Jimmy Brown? Playing a Jupiter VI set http://twitpic.com/2j7q2g 10:30 PM Aug 28th via Twitpic
Klank and Flying Tart’s Alex Parker http://twitpic.com/2j7kgc 10:15 PM Aug 28th via Twitpic
Ultimatum is sounding really good tonight. Both guitarists are coaxing lots of wriggling fingers. 12:11 AM Aug 29th via Twitterrific
Ultimatum is ripping metal mayhem right now. So tight. http://twitpic.com/2j8qh2 12:05 AM Aug 29th via Twitpic
Deliverance live in California. http://twitpic.com/2j9hyj 1:28 AM Aug 29th via Twitpic
Had such a wonderful time at Day 1 of the Up From the Ashes III show. So tired now it hurts, but looking forward to tomorrow (w/Bloodgood) 5:10 AM Aug 29th via web
The bass player for Souljourners adds an extra element with his big, infectious smile. They’re covering Tom Sawyer. Very well I might add. 5:42 PM Aug 29th via Twitterrific
Souljourners. I just tried to embarrass them by introducing them as “better” than Dream Theater. I’d be mad at me http://twitpic.com/2jhm4q 5:30 PM Aug 29th via Twitpic
It’s great seeing all the Bloodgood guys. Their permanent guitarist (this isn’t new news to y’all is it?) flew in from Australia to play. 5:41 PM Aug 29th via Twitterrific
The Altar Billies http://twitpic.com/2ji4xg 6:35 PM Aug 29th via Twitpic
The Altar Billies. I can’t believe I get to see this band (rockabilly band covering lots of Altar Boys songs). The World Burning is great! 6:32 PM Aug 29th via Twitterrific
The Altar Billies in full swing http://twitpic.com/2jish7 Sunday, August 29, 2010 7:52:22 PM via Twitpic
A real stompin’ version of Ride This Train. Yeah! Sounds great, especially the harmonica intro. Sunday, August 29, 2010 7:44:14 PM via Twitterrific
Leper sounds better almost every time I see em. They’re one of those gothic heavy bands that sound so much better loud and they do tonight. Sunday, August 29, 2010 7:45:50 PM via Twitterrific
Grave Robber rules http://twitpic.com/2jj0lc Sunday, August 29, 2010 8:19:55 PM via Twitpic
Hanging with Bloodgood backstage. http://twitpic.com/2jirjx Sunday, August 29, 2010 7:49:13 PM via Twitpic
Bloodgood’s setlist. I’m drooling. http://twitpic.com/2jj7xb Sunday, August 29, 2010 8:45:08 PM via Twitpic
Love how Bloodgood launches into To Hell With the Devil during the middle of SOS. about 14 hours ago via Twitterrific
Paul Jackson solo moment http://twitpic.com/2jk0o3 Sunday, August 29, 2010 10:21:31 PM via Twitpic
Oz and Les take two (better pic) http://twitpic.com/2jjw8n Sunday, August 29, 2010 10:06:27 PM via Twitpic
Oz and Les http://twitpic.com/2jjvfo Sunday, August 29, 2010 10:03:40 PM via Twitpic
Bloodgood live in California tonight!! http://twitpic.com/2jjo77 Sunday, August 29, 2010 9:39:50 PM via Twitpic
Neon Cross http://twitpic.com/2jl4b8 Monday, August 30, 2010 1:00:14 AM via Twitpic
Good to b back home http://twitpic.com/2jsnv1 Monday, August 30, 2010 6:45:46 PM via Twitpic
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