– Words by Jordan Buford // Photos by James Villa –
A day after Labor Day does seem like an odd day to have a festival, considering school is getting back in session, and if you’re not preoccupied with that, then you’re probably busy at your place of employment. However, this was exactly the day the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival was stopping at Verzion Wireless Theater in Grand Prairie.
Luck of the draw. After all, some cities have to host it in the middle of the week, though that didn’t seem like much of a deterrent to the people of the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
It was about halfway through the three-o’clock hour when I arrived; and the first handful of bands, from the Dallas-based Soilce (who had won a battle of the bands competition to earn the opening spot), to Sons of Revelry and Within Reason had all seemed to whip the crowd up. A crowd that consisted of people who most likely were ditching middle or high school for the day, while others probably took a “sick day” from their job so they could make the most of Uproar. You’ve got to enjoy life, right?
The parking lot in front of the building was all fenced in, with a stage set up along with all the vendors, and it was teeming with life. However, everyone was searching for any modicum of shade they could find. In fact, plenty of people set on the benches at the top of the steps near the entrance to the actual theater, choosing to enjoy the bands from afar and keep cooler.
Those openers may have engaged everyone, but the near hundred degree temperatures were still taking a toll on peoples energy.
Still, everyone put their game face on when Escape the Fate took the stage. “Come on Texas, make some fucking noise…” roared Craig Mabbitt once they got up there; and he did his best to get even those on the steps to come down and fully enjoy the show, which they got going with “You’re Insane”.
Their 33-minute long set didn’t allow much downtime, and as they went right into “Issues”, lead guitarist Kevin Gruft waved his hands up and down, encouraging everyone to do some bouncing, something part of the crowd was happy to do. They did allow time to build a bit of a rapport with the crowd in between all their hard rock songs, though, and afterwards, Mabbitt jokingly asked why everyone had shown up so early. “…Were your couches at home not comfy enough?” he asked, sounding legitimately perplexed why some of these folks would brave the heat like this.
Drummer Robert Ortiz used the brief break during “Gorgeous Nightmare” to stand up from his seat and bang on his kit; and as it drew to a close, much of the audience began jumping around. They were feeling it by this point, as was the band, who really seemed to hit their stride with “Fire it Up”. Gruft played a killer solo, heavily using the whammy bar on it; while bassist Alex Torres and fellow guitarist TJ Bell raced around the stage.
Upon finishing it, Mabbitt had some fun at Gruft’s expense, saying Kevin wanted to meet everyone, “Especially the guys. Just write your name down on the list and he’ll get to you,” Mabbitt laughed.
It was here you really got to see the toll the heat had taken, and while a circle pit was started during “Ungrateful”, much of the crowd backed off to avoid it completely. The same happened when playing what was their closer, “This War is Ours (The Guillotine II)”. Mabbitt quipped that this was a rock show, not a Justin Bieber concert, and he wanted to see a wall of death. When it finally happened, the wall consisted of only three people from each side rushing one another; while the band ended in pure rock fashion, with Mabbitt swinging the mic in the air, then letting the cord wrap tightly around his neck. When he removed it, he then slung it around his hand.
The five-piece delivered a great set, powering though the elements as if they were nothing. Then again, as Mabbitt said during their performance, “If you don’t like the heat, then you should just get the fuck out of Texas.”
Buckcherry wrapped up the outdoor festivities.
Josh Todd cared more about the rock star image than the blistering heat from the sun that now hung directly overhead. He wore a long sleeve shirt for the first few numbers; and after wailing on “Lit Up”, he checked to make sure everyone was holding up alright, before the pace got taken to a more intense level with “Dead Again”.
Before the fourth track, he took his shirt off, then mentioned the new EP they had recently released, titled Fuck. “You know when you’re still innocent and then realize everyone’s full of some shit?” he asked, drawing a reaction of cheers from the crowd. “Somebody Fucked with Me” was one of a couple songs that had a “I don’t care” attitude to it, as was seen when much of the onlookers waved their middle fingers about in the air at the behest of Todd.
He and guitarists Keith Nelson and Stevie D., bassist Kelly LeMieux and drummer Xavier Muriel seemed just as much at home playing slower songs like “Everything” and “Sorry”, though, too. The latter of those was dedicated to all the ladies in attendance. Their take on Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care”, (which was dubbed “I Don’t Care (Say Fuck it)”) also seemed to get fans going; and at the start, Todd jumped around in circles back by the drum kit.
“It’s hotter than the devils dick in a Texas whore house,” Todd laughed shortly before a partial cover of AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, which was all of one chorus. Along with their older stuff, they did one more cut off the new EP, “I Don’t Give a Fuck”, before concluding their 47-minute long set with what else, but “Crazy Bitch”.
Their fans were very much into it all, but at the same time, you could tell most people were eager for them to finish so they could relish the cool air that would surround them once inside the venue.
Buckcherry, perhaps, would have been better suited for the indoors, where their sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll persona could have fully sunk its teeth into everyone there. It still infected much of the crowd, though; and the band went full throttle from the time they stepped on stage right up to the final note.
Originally, These Raven Skies were also on the bill, but trouble obtaining visas had prevented the Canadians from making it, meaning Pop Evil would be the first band on the indoor stage.
People slowly trickled in, filling much of the seats in the 100, 200 and 300 sections. Even the 400 level in the balcony was pretty crowded, especially by nights end.
The fans down in the pit had gotten pretty anxious by the time 6:15 rolled around, and were quite glad when Chachi Riot walked out and took a seat behind the drum kit. He immediately began twirling one of the drum sticks between his fingers, while his band mates slowly made their way on stage.
The commanding, even atmospheric “Last Man Standing” got their set going; and often during that track the skilled drummer would stand up from his seat, even making some faces at the crowd as he smashed the cymbals and drums. As frontman Leigh Kakaty roamed about, you quickly noticed the GoPro camera attached to the base of the microphone, which was aimed out at the crowd.
The band got a clap along going at the start of “Goodbye My Friend”; and once Kakaty asked to see some fists, plenty shot up in the air and were pumped to the beat. They were covering ground now, and wound that right into the thick rhythm intro that “Sick Sense” has. Once it took off, bassist Matt DiRito, and guitarists Davey Grahs and Nick Fuelling began racing about the stage, and all did great jobs of playing to everyone, making sure they were never in one place too long and that the crowd on each side got a look at them.
“Come on, Dallas! Stand up!” Kakaty shouted before “Torn to Pieces”; and on the emotional song, he changed one of the lines to, “Texas, let’s drink it away.” “Deal with the Devil” was probably the best song of their set, at least in terms of being the one that got the audience most excited. There was plenty of singing along going on; while Riot again got on his feet, striking some cymbals before grabbing them to silence them. Kakaty dedicated their final song to all the men and women who were serving their country, and also offered a toast to all those Texans who showed up early to rock shows. “Trenches” was the song; and there was one more cool moment, where Riot bounced a drum stick off a tom, catching it when it ricocheted back at him.
This was the third time I’ve seen Pop Evil, and it’s all been within the last three months, at a couple other festivals in the region. This was the best show of those three. They were impeccably tight, and had the show worked down to a science almost. It was like clockwork, yet was still totally organic.
They definitely provided and excellent way to kick off the second portion of the day.
The stage got set for Skillet; and when it was time for the band to hit the stage, all the lights went out. It was pitch black, but soon two figures wearing robes made their way out. They were Jonathan Chu and Tate Olsen on the violin and cello, respectively, and they created a very grand, orchestral intro.
Jen Ledger waved and smiled at everyone as she headed for the drum kit, and then lead guitarist Seth Morrison, rhythm guitarist Korey Cooper and singer and bassist John Cooper gradually made their way on stage, and then exploded into “Whispers in the Dark”. Their 39-minute long set was executed with near non-stop action; and during that opener, John jumped onto one of the boxes they had on stage and used the ol’ standby windmill style to play his bass.
Their show got more theatrical during their second song, which featured heavy use of some jets of smoke that sprayed up into the air, before settling as it billowed out in the faces of the audience members. “Everybody has something that you’re sick of. Maybe it’s your job… Maybe it’s addiction…” he said, getting more serious. He ditched his bass before “Sick of it”; embodying the frontman persona as he ran and jumped all over the stage, while leading the fans in a sing along on each chorus.
Fans raved when they realized the band was beginning “Hero”; and the backing vocals Ledger added into the mix sounded awesome. She showed off more of her voice later on during “Awake and Alive”, which began more acoustically, with Ledger joining the rest of the band on the forefront of the stage. The co-singing sounded remarkable, even when she returned to her kit once things picked up. However, even better than that was when Korey and Morrison each raced up some stairs to platforms that were on either side of the kit. A bar in a semi-circle kept them secure as the platforms began to rise into the air, then lower some. They continued moving for the duration of the track.
They had been making the most of their time; unleashing song after song on the people’s ears, but now, John took time to connect with the spectators. He mentioned Texas was his favorite state, a fact he said he makes known every time they do a show in these borders. He continued chatting after the title track from their latest release, Rise; and when one guy yelled, “I love you!” at the them, he looked at the guy, “I love you, too, man.” They were all loving every single second they were spending up there on that stage, and that affirmed it.
Things then took a funny turn, when he acknowledged that some of the crowd might be thinking that Skillet was the “dumbest band name ever.” “I do not disagree,” he said, before offering a simple explanation for why they got that name: “It was the nineties.” “…The stupider the band name, the better the band,” and that was something everyone completely understood.
“Monster” was another track that got a huge rise from the audience; and plenty more smoke filled the front of the stage during it. Before finishing, John thanked everyone, including the other bands on the bill, along with who he said was his “number one hero”, Jesus Christ. With that, they capped off this amazing performance with “Rebirthing”; and those platforms were again used, this time primarily with the violinist and celli.
Skillet wound up being my personal favorite band of the day. You just had to marvel at the energy they poured into this. It was beyond impressive.
They’ve perfected the live show aspect of a performance, and it’s clear they still know they’re there to entertain the ticket holders, and boy, do they entertain.
Seether took a different approach to it all, and didn’t waste any of the time they were given on banter. Right from the start of “Gasoline” they had nearly the whole room singing along with them, and the fans’ dedication never wavered. Their segues were often made pretty lengthy when they did some guitar changes at times, and when they did, haste was not a necessity.
Their newest single, “Words as Weapons”, proved to have already been well received by fans, who sang with Shaun Morgan right from the opening line, “All I really want is something beautiful to say…”; while John Humphrey showed off his talents on the drums during “Fine Again”, where he tossed one of the sticks high into the air. “Thank you very much,” Morgan said at the very end, which was one of the few times he spoke to the audience this night.
Still bridging the songs into one another, Humphrey and lead guitarist Bryan Wickmann left the stage, while bassist Dale Stewart swapped to a guitar. They had made room in their set for “Broken”, and the tender song that is tinged with heartache made for the coolest moment of their set. “Because I’m broken when I’m lonesome…” the fans sang on the chorus, echoing every single word of the whole song, to the point it often rivaled Morgans’ voice.
The full band returned for “Tonight”, and Stewart hopped onto one of their boxes, throwing his hand into the air and putting up his horns, causing several more horns to go up. They continued to get the audience involved in one way or another, like clap alongs; and before wrapping it up, Morgan remarked how good it was to be back in Dallas. With that, they ended with “Remedy”; and right at the very end, Morgan pulled away from his mic stand, hitting it with the neck of his guitar and sending it spinning around and around.
They then took some time to throw out drumsticks and picks, staying out there a minute or more after they finished, giving some lucky fans some memorabilia to take home.
This was an excellent show, even better than what I remembered them doing at a festival back over Memorial Day weekend. They were totally in the zone, and owned the stage as well as the audience’s attention for every moment of their 50-minute set.
They also served as definitive proof that rock shows can be performed in multiple ways. You don’t necessarily need to chitchat with the crowd to make them enjoy the performance more. If you’re solid, you can just play your songs without interruption, and people will love it.
When it came time for Godsmack, the headliner had a video play beforehand. The video was footage of them, and it was set to the classic, “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You)”. The highlight for this crowd came when a few seconds of “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott was shown.
Some lights shown onto the curtain that covered the stage, and one by one, you could see the silhouettes of all three members on the front of the stage.
The nearly twenty-year-old band got their show off to a powerhouse start with “Generation Day” and “Cryin’ Like a Bitch”, mixing one seamlessly into the other. “Good evening, Dallas…” Sully Erna shouted over the applause and screams. He noted he should probably say Grand Prairie instead, “but we’re close enough,” he laughed.
Erna mentioned it had been a long time, having gone four years in-between releases, and made clear they would be doing both old songs and new ones, something they thought every fan would be able to appreciate and respect. “…I’m not going to talk a whole lot…” he concluded, confessing he had, had some tequila shots and just didn’t have much to say.
That was okay, ‘cause much like the act before them, the music can speak for itself. “What’s Next?” was another taste of new music the band offered up; and the technical difficulty Erna suffered during it resulted in him having to change guitars in the middle of the track, which surprisingly, was no major setback. “Is it the only thing for me!” he roared at the end, holding “me” for several seconds, which highlighted his impressive pipes.
As they rolled into “Locked and Loaded”; a series of massive flames shot into the air. You could feel the intense heat they emitted as soon as you saw each one. In fact, it was kind of nice, because I had started getting cold in there. Longtime fans rejoiced when drummer Shannon Larkin wound them into “Keep Away”, while “The Enemy” turned into a sort of sing along, at least on the chorus.
The stage setup was pretty cool. A set of massive stairs were on either side of the stage, leading up to a platform in the center where a mic stand was placed. The lights went out, and the next time the crowd was able to see, Erna now stood on that top platform. Bassist Robbie Merrill and lead guitarist Tony Rombola stood on the stairway on either side during what Erna stated would most likely be their next single, “Something Different”.
“Texas, are we awake yet?!” Erna asked during another classic of theirs, “Awake”. It was evident people were, especially with all the moshing that had been going on occasionally for the last several songs. More pyrotechnics were used at the end, first in the form of some flames that were more like flash bangs, while the final one was a loud burst that I think made everyone jump out of surprise.
The event that pushed the energy level to new heights was the duel drum solo/battle between Erna and Larkin. It was an epic couple of minutes; and then the solo gave way to “Whatever”.
By the time they finished with “I Stand Alone”, the room was electric; and everybody left satisfied with the stellar performance they had just witnessed.
A slower 2013 that extended into the first half of 2014 (at least in terms of performing) seemed to have done Godsmack some good. They appeared revitalized, like a band who was just getting out onto the road for the first time. They were enjoying playing some new material for everyone, and the crowd loved hearing all the older stuff they knew by heart. It was a spectacle from start to finish, and one I doubt those who attended will forget any time soon.
The heat may have zapped some of the energy from the early birds at Uproar, but those performances from Skillet, Seether and Godsmack helped amp everybody back up, letting them go strong into the night. That ensured this was a good way to spend a Tuesday.