Even though we missed the first day so that I could attend a fantastic wedding (#Kennedys), my brother and I decided to make the trek to Sacramento to check out some warmth and a day of top-notch rock n’ roll headlined by Alice In Chains and System of a Down’s first U.S. show in five years.
Yes, this post is a long one – it was quite the day, indeed.
Thankfully, missing out on day one to be at the nuptials didn’t come at too high an opportunity cost. The highlights from that first day included Godsmack and Shinedown – who I had seen in Boise the week before – and headliner Deftones, who I also had seen a few years back. Turns out, it was still mighty warm and bright in Sac-Town, which made for a comfortable weather experience and a killer staring into the sun selfie.
Discovery Park is a sprawling landscape, and there were three different stages set up throughout it: Two large ones that basically rotated music back and forth all day and a third tucked away in the back near an overpass for the smaller acts. I would venture a guess that there were around 20,000 people in attendance, but to be honest I am probably only slightly better at crowd size estimation than our President.
We started off at the small stage, since Slothrust was the second band there. Opening up the festivities was The Jacks, a new band from SoCal, who were actually pretty damn good. Total 70s riff-rock vibe with a very polished sound for how young they are. Perhaps a bit too polished, to be honest, but they gave us a fun half hour leading up to the band I came to the small stage to see.
Sadly, I didn’t know Slothrust (say “sloth-rust”) until I stumbled upon their newest album a few months back, and missed a Boise show that in hindsight I would have attended. After hearing that new album, The Pact, I made it a point to check them out at Aftershock. I am sure glad I did, as that was easily the best half hour of the early portion of the day. Leah Wellbaum is the real deal, and had me in a trance with her deep yet pretty voice and snarky sarcastic dancing and face making while she played a mean electric guitar. Her bass player and drummer were solid but she carried the day basically on her own, and similarly to Doug Martsch or J Mascis, and there was no need for additional guitar or vocals here.
While we only got six songs, it was a blast and the set included their new single “Double Down” which is dripping with a “no fucks given” attitude. During the slower “Walk Away”, drummer Will Gorin switched between electric and regular kits while Leah told the tale of a destructive relationship that she doesn’t know how to end. Set closers “Planetarium”, “Crockpot”, and “Beowulf” allowed for shredding and screaming from Leah, and got the small crowd moving.
Slothrust setlist Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/0pUevmPVKVKlFqFa9mG8oq?si=TqGFK-aCSqKBVfIRE_9SgA
We caught the last couple songs of this female-led retro rock band, and agreed that it wasn’t bad at all. My brother and I were talking about how similar their sound is to Greta Van Fleet just before Dorothy informed the crowd that they had opened for that band last year. Well, there you go…
Bullet for My Valentine
First of all, the sheer number of their songs that I recognized surprised me. I am not big into pop-metal or whatever you would call this music, but they sure had the ever-growing crowd fired up and when they started into “Tears Don’t Fall” it was pandemonium. I had a snack and a beer, watching from afar, getting ready for my first main stage attraction of the day: the sonic assault of the newly reunited At the Drive-In.
At the Drive-In
These boys from El Paso were one of my main jams in high school and college, and when they broke up after their phenomenal, shot-of-energy in an album Relationship of Command in 2000 I assumed I would never get to see them. Matt and I were beyond pumped to hear that the band (reunited in 2015) was appearing at this festival and worked our way right up front to check them out. Of course, every member of the band was appropriately dressed in all black. Rawk 101, folks.
Frontman Cedric Bixler Zavala may be twenty years older now, but he still brings 100% to live shows. He spent the entire set thrashing about, jumping onto and off of amps, crashing his body into the drum kit, the stage, and treating his mic stand like his mortal enemy. Lead guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was the cool chap in the back, doing his thing in intentional obscurity, but everyone in the know knew who this band’s musical geniuses are.
The opening notes of “Arcarsenal” sent the crowd off and there was sustained moshing and jumping chaos throughout the drum-heavy rocker. After playing a couple of new songs off of their better-than-expected comeback record, Interalia, we got what we knew was coming; the set closer “One Armed Scissor”. I wish their time slot had been twice as long, but aside from that they didn’t disappoint at all.
For those unfamiliar with these guys, Cedric and Omar formed the amazing proggy screamo/mindfuck The Mars Volta after disbanding At the Drive-In. They are superstars in my book, and it was great to get to see them even if just for a brief time. Oh, side note: they broke up again just a couple of weeks ago. Consider me bummed about that, but even happier that I got to see them!
ATDI setlist Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/0dZckzbeMEUVU5II7uhNk3?si=kkJ8iP_IT5yedCLCskY1Fw
Although this band is mellower than the rest of the bill, they pulled off a fun and lighthearted set. They didn’t try to overcompensate or be who they aren’t, which was good. And, although I don’t have any pictures (sorry ladies), yes Brandon Boyd took his shirt off during the set as he always does. You do you, Brandon. They did a funny little “Gin and Juice” pseudo rap outro after “Are You In?” which was actually pretty cool.
They played the hits, as well as a couple of covers: one worked, one didn’t really. It took me a few seconds to realize what was happening when they started playing INXS’s “Need You Tonight”, but their take on it was quite a delight. Later, after finishing their hit “Wish You Were Here”, they attempted a cover of Pink Floyd’s song of the same name. It just didn’t work, at least not for me, and it was during that song that Matt and I headed over to the other stage where Jerry Cantrell and company would soon be performing. We heard Incubus finish their set with “Drive” (of course) as we wormed our way up to the other stage.
Incubus setlist Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/4d3XTETSEgHBpTz6v8BCxy?si=j-SM0oZbTX-qtopvZpA6ug
Alice in Chains
With all due respect to SOAD, this was the reason I booked the trip down to Cali. When I saw the new incarnation in Boise in 2015 I swore that I would catch them again, and this one hour set exceeded my expectations. As the sun started to set behind us, the great Jerry Cantrell and his crew took the stage to a huge crowd cheering the old Jerry Springer chant: “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry!” That was so freaking cool, and caught on quickly.
Once they got started, it was on. In true AIC fashion there was no banter, no breaks, and no nonsense; just twelve songs straight and a living legend melting our faces off with his guitar right in front of me.
Things kicked off with the absurdly downtuned sludgy riff that carries “Check My Brain”, the lead single from the band’s first post-Layne record, Black Gives Way to Blue. One has to figure the chorus of “California’s all right, somebody check my brain” helped get it on the set list for this Sacramento stop. One of my all-time favorite songs followed: the relentless drums and violent woe is me lyrics of “Again”. Tons of us were chanting along with the “hoo hoo” vocal during the guitar bridges, and it sounded badass.
After “Never Fade”, the only song from their tremendous new album Rainier Fog that they played, we were treated to three straight cuts from the seminal Dirt (“Them Bones”, “Damn That River”, Down in a Hole”). Ever the crowd favorite, “Down in a Hole” always reminds me of seeing Jerry perform it solo in 2000 when he dedicated the song to the late Layne Staley – and it sounded as beautifully pained as ever on this night. Instantly recognizable after the first few seconds of drummer Sean Kinney’s intro, “No Excuses” is about as feel good as AIC does, and it has got to be one of the coolest songs ever from a percussion standpoint.
Next up was “Hollow”, the single off of their second of three records with William DuVall, ensuring that all of those albums were represented, albeit with only one song each. What followed that was truly amazing and something I will never forget: four of the greatest songs of the 1990s. “We Die Young” was given all of its might and played quick, as it should be; “Man in the Box” elicited the loudest response and yell-along of the evening; and “Would?” was pure fun.
When Jerry dedicated the last song to all of our servicemen and women, the crowd went nuts – and only got louder once the slow build of their war epic “Rooster” got started. They may want to snuff the rooster, but you know he ain’t gonna die. True greatness.
Alice in Chains setlist Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/40jihxUKMPmbBt86i7QZh7?si=bPlOEWUsRqeialWkWHHvxA
System of A Down
As AIC walked offstage to a standing ovation, Matt and I sprinted over to the main stage to catch System of a Down – and got over there just as Daron blasted out the first chord of “Prison Song”. “They’re tryin’ to build a prison, for you and me to live in” goes the chorus of this powerful anthem against the mass incarceration of minor drug offenders. Fast and loud, like most of their stuff, it was a great start and a clear indication that these guys might be a bit rusty (the short five-show tour they did in October was their first in five years) but they had come to rock.
All told, by the time Matt and I got there we were about 100 yards from the stage, but still had a great view (this picture really sucks) and although there may have been 10,000 people in front of us, there was that many or more behind us. I really cannot properly explain the energy of this style of music with this many people jumping and yelling together, suffice to say it was quite cathartic and exhausting at the same time.
Daron and Serj played off of each other all night, and Mr. Tankian even busted out an acoustic guitar to complement Mr. Malakian’s electric on the underrated “Question!”. Just after they finished “Cigaro”, Serj pointed out the ASL translator that was up on the side of the stage and jokingly wondered how she had translated that song. You see, she had a tall task, as not only are these songs so damn fast but some of the lyrics are just absurd. Pretty funny stuff.
For a few minutes there, I lost myself (thanks, Thom) when the boys played my absolute favorite SOAD track “Suggestions”. Serj gave it his all, even hitting the mark on the ridiculously high notes towards the end of the song. “The ships are multiplying day after day, sir, and getting closer to the shore sir, shore sir”. Time to evacuate the light post, it’s all over… Sorry, I freaking love that song. When “Sugar” got started, I told Matt it was time to head out, as that was surely the last song of the evening and we had about 20,000 of our best friends to compete with for the available Uber, Lyft, and taxi options. We heard that classic on our way out, and that was it – perfectly timed. What a day!
SOAD setlist Spotify link: https://open.spotify.com/user/1217400912/playlist/0YANXk2W7fEDWq7mpLRGMR?si=188pbKFiTtW5Z29kTzLBoQ