What happens when you take Southern hospitality, fire, smoke, face painting, costumed performers and mix it all up in a massive arena? The answer is simple: Carnival of Madness (CoM) at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (VWA) in Charlotte. Rife with rabid fans, costumed “carnival” performers and greeters, booze, smoke and pyrotechnics, CoM had a little something for everyone visually and musically. On the 2013 lineup for CoM were We As Human, In This Moment, Skillet, Papa Roach, and Shinedown bringing the masses the music they craved. On August 30, the carnival came to Charlotte, N.C to bring a little rock n’ roll to the South and stir things up a bit.
Kicking things off in the late afternoon was modern rock/nu-metal up and comers We As Human (WAH). This fierce quintet played a devastatingly short set jam packed with tunes that made you want to jump out of your seat and join the party on stage. Of course being the relative novices on the tour, it makes sense that their set consisted of only four high energy, blood pumping, crowd-rousing songs which seemed at the time like much more. Musically, this band really did it for me more so that the more “seasoned” acts on the tour. This is, of course, not to discredit the years of hard work the other acts have put into their careers, but merely to say that there was something about the impassioned ferocity with which WAH attacked the stage that I suppose can only come from still being hungry and needing to make that impact as quick and as hard as possible. Of their short, but powerful set songs “Zombie” and closing tune “Strike Back” made for standout performances and must hear tracks for any rock n’ roll lover.
Heavy metal maestros In This Moment (ITM) took the reigns after WAH and head mistress Maria Brink was ready to bring the class to order. Commanding attention merely by entering the room, Brink is a must watch show-woman who easily brings men and women to their knees. You will bow before the epic-ness of Maria Brink and ITM, no matter how you try to resist, they will seduce you with their sound and stage presence. Brink and the “blood girls” provide the overt sex appeal center stage, drawing your attention to their intriguing costume changes and Brinks altar of body parts from which she runs the show. Guitarists Randy Weitzel and Chris Howowrth alongside bassist Travis Johnson work the “dark and mysterious” angle, sporting their usual grime-laden attire and Johnson’s intricate bloodstone mask. Cranking out hits like “Adrenalize,” “Whore,” and album title track “Blood,” ITM captivated the crowd with their presentation and entrancing ownership of the stage. Always visually stunning, ITM is one band that you will want to see again and again for years to come.
Next up was heavy hitting rock super group Skillet creating the performance to beat of the night. Complete with body convulsing, head-banging anthems of “Sick Of It,” “Awake and Alive,” and “Monster,” Skillet brought a little bit of everything to the table on this night to the delight of new and old fans. For those that only knew them by moniker and reputation without the privilege of seeing a live show (like this chick until that night), you don’t know what you’re missing! Even if Christian rock is not usually your bag, a little part of you will fall in love with this band. In addition to their incredible digital screen presentation of their corresponding music videos and their utilization of a cellist and violinist, Skillet’s elevating platforms impress and astound. The band was definitely out to make an impression and prove that Christian rock doesn’t have to be a stigma or limitation, it can be one of many fascinating facets to them. When considered in conjunction with their arsenal of hard hitting tunes and spectacular stage presentation it’s yet another way/reason they will blow your mind. Whether it’s front man John L. Cooper’s full body convulsions onstage, guitarists Korey Cooper and Seth Morrison’s fully involved strumming and stage roaming, or damsel of the drums Jen Ledger’s piercing vocal resonance and percussion destruction, you won’t be able to stop watching Skillet in the pleasurable throes of their music.
California emotional rockers Papa Roach came on in a blaze of triumphant glory. Having only just escaped another bench-worthy scare before the tour, wherein it was initially believed that vocalist Jacoby Shaddix may have fallen victim to similar vocal woes that took them off the Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival last year, P-Roach was obviously elated to still be on CoM. Billowing smoke poured over the stage and set a more intimate scene as the night sky grew darker and the crowd was just as happy to see them as the band was to be seen. Shaddix and company wasted no time setting the scene, opening with their hit “Burn” off their 2010 release Time for Annihilation and setting the stage on fire. Tobin Esperance could be seen rocking out with his bass and working the stage while guitarist Jerry Horton also at times could be seen throwing himself into his stringed fury. Drummer Tony Palermo brought the thunder from the back end of the stage, making his presence known loud and clear. Shaddix was all smiles as he roamed the stage corner to corner and crouched down to be closer to the screaming fans. Tearing at the hearts of old-school P-Roach fans, the guys rocked a number of classic PR songs while incorporating some of their newer material from their 2012 album The Connection. What really kicked things into high gear was when P-Roach broke out into their uplifting anthem “Still Swingin’” and Shaddix dropped himself into the GA pit below the stage, to the obvious malcontent of security. He proceeded to make his was through the pit and up the center of the arena, going as far up as the second level of seats and hitting up both sides of the center arena. And of course, the set would not have been complete without the band closing with their breakout hit “Last Resort” to the frenzied joy and sing-a-long excitement of the entire amphitheater. Never let it be said that P-Roach doesn’t love back those that love them.
Finally, the time came that many had been waiting for, Shinedown. The headliners opened not with smoke to sparks, but full on flames! These guys know how to make an entrance. Cuing up the emotional turn dial for many in the crowd, Shinedown broke out into “I’m Not Alright.” They followed this up with the fully charged and pounding tune “Enemies.” Even if you’re not a Shinedown fan or are only vaguely familiar with a few songs, like Skillet, they bring the noise and have the stage charisma to carry it. One especially respectable thing about Shinedown is that if you have heard the recorded, it’s pretty much what you get live. It’s always nice to find a band whose distortion is not so severe that you don’t know who they are when you see them live. So, Brent Smith officially has my respect for being the same on and off the record. Kudos. The band then set into the circular yet rousing “Devour” wherein the crowd was united in singing along as if to be one in their supporting vocals. The guys continued hammering out their hits, striking one after another “The Crow & The Butterfly,” “I’ll Follow You,” “Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom),” and “If You Only Knew.” During the encore, the crowd really lost it on “Sound of Madness” and the brief acoustic first half of “.45” followed by infamous Leave A Whisper cover “Simple Man.” Closing on “Bully,” Shinedown delivered an emotion packed performance for fans of all ages that seemed to unite those in attendance through not just the showy pyrotechnics or carnival performer appearances, but through what’s important- the music.
While Carnival of Madness is a music festival that definitely delivered some insane stage performances from some of the hottest acts in rock n’ roll today, all the performers seemed to be on the same page. They were all in obviously in it for the fans. Where some concerts flail in face of big profit margins, merch pushing, and sub-standard performance by performers only looking to fill dead air, CoM was host to a talented group of artists that visibly love their craft. The Carolinas couldn’t have hoped for a better turn out, better performances, or more gracious hosts than We As Human, In This Moment, Skillet, Papa Roach, and Shinedown. By the looks on the faces of those in the crowd one thing was clear, at some point during that day they all had, at some point that day, been temporarily transported back to a time when the music of these men and women touched their lives and understood them when nothing and no one else did. Some were there to relive those moments, others were just beginning to make those memories; but parents, kids, friends and loved ones could be seen in groups across the VWA making new memories at the carnival….
“Rock n’ roll isn’t a genre of music. Rock n’ roll is a way of life,”- Brent Smith of Shinedown.