Carolina Rebellion (Day 3)
Charlotte Motor Speedway
There’s typically never enough happening at Carolina Rebellion to garner more than a passing glance from me – usually no more than two or three bands in any given year that I would actually get excited to see. But for some reason this not only where there quite a few more groups I liked in the mix this year, but all the ones I wanted to see had been scheduled for the same day! A festival of this nature would require more than my typical solo attendance, so a couple of longtime friends from Wilmington and Asheville were called into action for a day of rock, rednecks, overpriced concessions, sunburn, inhaling at least a pound of dust, and a shitload of fun.
I hadn’t initially planned on starting my music festival day as early as we did, but one of my dudes insisted on seeing Quicksand – and why the hell not, the tickets were paid for, might as well get our money’s worth! I had not thought about these guys since the mid-nineties, which is understandable since they hadn’t released any records since 1995 up until last year. One friend insisted we saw them in Wilmington at the Mad Monk back in 1994 or 1995 with Sensefield…this seems entirely plausible, but all I remember from that night was Sensefield and our friend that was punch-dancing in the middle of a non-existent pit. Anyways, Quicksand were definitely worth getting there early for – played a few of their older songs that I was surprised to remember, and the new songs were decent – melodic hard rock/punk, not that different from the old shit really, at least live. It was a good enough set that it made me want to check out their most recent album “Interiors.” It’s still weird to me that the singer, Walter Schreifels, is the same dude from Gorilla Biscuits.
Next up was one of the bands I was most excited about – Mutoid Man. I saw them randomly on a whim at Hopscotch in 2016 and was blown away. The three-piece came on stage this day wearing matching sleeveless tuxedo t-shirts, so it was scientifically impossible this wasn’t going to be a fun gig. My best description of Mutoid Man is they’re a modern take on old-school eighties speed/power metal, somehow in on the joke but completely sincere at the same time. Singer Steve Brodsky might be the happiest metal musician on the planet – he never stops smiling. Yeah, their banter and song intros are a little canned and predictable, but they’re so damn good at what they do who the fuck cares. Around the middle of their set they threw some shade at fellow festival band Great Van Fleet, dedicating their performance of part of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” to them. I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence they played a song called “Bridgeburner” soon thereafter – this band doesn’t seem to give a shit about hurt feelings. They ended their set with a bang, maybe the single best thing I saw all day – a cover of Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” with new Baroness guitarist Gina Gleason taking on the Eddie Van Halen solos. They even included all the mid-song banter, with some slight modifications. If you like heavy music and don’t feel the need to take all this shit so seriously, never miss Mutoid Man if they’re ever playing near you.
So, speaking of Greta Van Fleet…most of the time I’m a “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” person, but I can’t help myself here. They were playing one of the two big stages, and a shitload of people there to see what might be the biggest buzz band at the whole festival. I had heard they sounded like Led Zeppelin, but had never actually heard them – I love Robert Plant & co as much as the next guy raised on seventies classic rock, so that’s gotta be a good thing right? Holy shit, they were DREADFUL. Well, comically dreadful, as we had a good laugh for as long as we could stand it. It felt like seeing a really terrible Led Zeppelin cover band that never got around to playing any actual Led Zeppelin songs – instead, we got nothing but shitty, mid-tempo originals that sounded like Zep minus the hooks and the talent. They were even dressed like seventies rock rejects for fuck’s sake. To be fair: the tiny singer could actually hit all those Robert Plant notes, which was probably the only impressive thing about them… even if he was mostly just saying “mama” over and over and over. Unfortunately, the rest of the band couldn’t come within a 1000 yards of Page, Jones, and Bonham. My friends and I most of the time looking at each other with “can you believe this shit?” eyes while laughing our ass off. Somehow though we were in the minority as the crowd was, much to our amazement, really into it. These people are going to be blown away if they ever get a chance to hear a copy of “Led Zeppelin II” or “Houses Of The Holy” at some point in their lives.
GVF were the first in a long line of mid-day bands I had little interest in, but I knew that was going to be the case going in and just rolled with it. We watched a few songs from Code Orange, a band I’d never heard of that did that really screamy, aggro energy drink metal that I associate with shirtless bros and Juggalo types. This performance had the first really serious pit I saw all day. They had the rare combination of a drummer that was also the lead singer, but unfortunately they didn’t sound at all like the Romantics. There was a lot of lurching from multiple band members everywhere on the stage, which was quite disorienting…and that’s gotta be hell on the back. After that we watched a good amount of Clutch on one of the big stages. They’re one of those bands that have been around forever and I have no particular opinion about them…just straight-forward heavy rock from some no-frills middle-aged dudes who have been doing this forever. It was better than a lot we saw in the middle of the day, but not good enough to actually get excited about. We then walked all the way back over to the other big stage to see some of the Struts, who I referred to as a modern day version of the London Quireboys, a comparison no one else seemed to get. They did that typical bluesy/glam hard rock thing, with a singer that was basically a Mick Jagger impersonator - definitely not my bag but I’ve heard worse. They would have probably been huge if this was 1986.
The day finally got interesting again with the Sword…it’s not often you get to combine metal with Moog synths and a blonde guitarist wearing a Guayabera shirt that looks like he’d make more sense in a Beach Boys cover band. I never know what to call the music they make – surf stoner metal maybe? It’s pretty similar to whatever the hell it is that Fu Manchu also does. They sound like a band that could have been playing in the background when Spicoli falls out of that VW van in a cloud of pot smoke in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High.” We only caught a few songs, but they were a good few songs. Probably a band better viewed in a small, dingy rock club though, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Before this festival, I don’t think I’d ever given much thought to seeing Billy Idol live - but now that I’ve seen him, I’m damn glad I did. His voice might not be what it once was, but the energy and performance from both him and the band (especially guitar god Steve Stevens, who is still a wizard) more than made up for it. There’s always some worry in seeing a classic artist, worry that the set list will have too much “new” material that no one gives a shit about, and not enough of the classics. When you’re talking about a 45 minute long festival window though, Idol smartly just went with what the people wanted - hit after hit after hit…and he has a lot of hits. Sometimes you might forget what a great song “Dancing With Myself” is, and this was a terrific reminder. The acoustic-to-electric version of “White Wedding” as the encore was terrific, as was Stevens busting out his iconic Top Gun theme in the middle of one of Idol’s tracks. We also saw a girl trying to crowd surf, only to beef it straight to her face and have to be helped out. Knock it off with the stupid crowd surfing, people – it’s one inconsiderate person denying a ton of people the opportunity to watch the show they paid a lot of money to see for fear of being kicked in the head.
After waiting for Incubus to finish their caterwauling, my most anticipated act of the whole day was upon us – Baroness. Despite my high expectations, they still managed to surpass them. Like Mutoid Man I also saw them randomly at Hopscotch a couple of years back, was completely blown away, and have since listened to their 2015 album “Purple” obsessively. Luckily, they played A LOT of that record, and from the crowd reaction I’m not the only one who has been feasting on that release. I mentioned her appearance during Mutoid Man, but holy shit it needs to be mentioned how hard Gina fucking shreds the guitar – any Neanderthals out there still harboring the idea that women can’t play guitar as well as a man needs to witness this woman and then punch yourself in the face for being so stupid. All of the harmonized solos between her and singer John Baizley were perfection - you’d think she has been with the band forever, not just a few months. This is also where I mention what a goddamn trip it is that their drummer, Sebastian Thomson, is also in the synth band Trans Am. The pairing shouldn’t make any sense on paper, but he definitely makes it work – it helps that he is a machine behind the kit. The forty minutes or so that Baroness played breezed by, I would have happily taken twice that. Let’s hope the new record isn’t too far off, and in support of that a tour date somewhere in the Triangle. Though I’ll gladly travel much farther to see them again.
We had one last act to see this night, Queens Of The Stone Age, but whether it was tired legs or brains melted from the glory of Baroness, it sorta felt like a chore. Also, we were 132 miles from the stage (approximately). Don’t get me wrong, they sounded great, and were playing a lot of older songs from their seminal album “Songs For The Deaf” which is really all I wanted to hear, but the heart wants what it wants, and mine wanted to leave this dust pit for more comfortable environs. After about a half-dozen songs, it was time to make the mile walk back to the parking lot…I’ve never been happier to sit in a car in my entire life. All in all, a day well spent – the music was good more often than not, the weather wasn’t too bad, there were a lot of ridiculous people to look at, and most importantly I got to spend some quality time with a couple of good friends, something that doesn’t happen nearly often enough in adulthood.