Review by Andrew Bansal
[Photos by Matt Nielson]
April 23rd 2014, Club Nokia, Los Angeles CA: Bringing together the who’s who of hard rock and heavy metal for the sixth year in a row, the Revolver Golden Gods event returned to its usual venue at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles last night, promising an artist lineup bigger and better than ever before, and it came at a much higher price of a minimum of $85 for the paying audience as compared to the 2013 edition which carried a $50 and upwards price tag. I was denied press credentials for this event, and there was honestly no way I was about to drop $85 to see this show but at around 1:30 PM yesterday, premier LA record store Amoeba Music tweeted about a ticket giveaway.
“To RT or not to RT?” was the question on my mind. I decided to do it, not merely to enter the contest myself but to spread the word amongst my own followers, and I’m glad I did so because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading the highly entertaining write-up you’re about to read. Please thank Amoeba Music for it and buy some records or something.
Doors opened at 6:30 and general admission ticket holders trickled in to find the best possible vantage point inside the venue. I was told about a special surprise opening act but had no idea who it was and the longer we waited for the show to start, the further my curiosity grew. Finally at 7:55, Eddie Trunk, Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine, hosts of VH1 Classic’s ‘That Metal Show’, walked up onto the podium on the right of stage to welcome the audience and announce themselves as hosts for this event. The evening consisted of a long lineup of live acts with award presentations interspersed in between, and was streamed live on VH1, VH1 Classic and Amazon’s websites. I’ll talk about the live acts first.
The hosts gave way to Marilyn Manson who appeared on stage to introduce this surprise opening act, none other than Slayer, which was hilariously ironic as I was instantly reminded of Mayhem Fest 2009 when Manson headlined over Slayer and I walked out during his set. Coming off a break from touring, the monstrous thrash metal quartet looked and sounded fresh, playing a three-song set consisting of classics ‘South Of Heaven’ and ‘War Ensemble’, and ending with the world premiere of ‘Implode’, a brand new track that came across almost exactly like what you’d expect from a band like Slayer. A lot of fans are ready to hate on the band for writing new music without Jeff Hanneman, but I for one welcome their first new material in nearly five years and would hate it if they were to become a mere nostalgia act. Tom Araya told me in an interview last year that he enjoys playing shorter sets more as they allow the band to put forth a greater degree of intensity, and it showed in his performance here. But as much as I loved this little Slayer outburst, it was the only time I’d ever witnessed a Slayer show without a single moshpit. Kudos to the Golden Gods organizing team for pulling off this special surprise, but by doing so they definitely ran the risk of playing their trump card too early and there was a good chance the evening would go nowhere but downhill from this point on.
And sure enough, the next live act A Day To Remember spectacularly failed to match what Slayer had just done, and I do not exaggerate when I say that this Florida pop punk/post-hardcore band’s time on stage very much seemed like the longest 15 minutes of my entire life. The dude in front of me yelling ‘SLAYER!’ the entire time during their set just about summed up the audience’s response to this band, and everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief when they finally got off the stage. They might have formed a more positive impression on another night, but on this occasion A Day To Remember wasn’t a band to remember.
Female-fronted New York-based rock band The Pretty Reckless followed as next in line of performing acts, and did quite a decent job with their three-song set which decidedly got better with each song. Frontwoman Taylor Momsen displayed her skills as a singer and performer, laying down a solid hard rock voice that led the band’s sound excellently. Her old-school rock influences were clear from her vocal delivery, and keeping in mind the female rock icon who was to appear on this stage a little later, it was very fitting.
Zakk Wylde took the stage next with his piano, playing the Black Label Society ballad ‘In This River’ as a tribute to the fallen heroes of rock ‘n roll, while a slideshow of their photos appeared on the screen in the backdrop. It was a lovely, heartfelt segment, although slightly ruined when the words “Jani Lane (Motörhead)” appeared on screen. How anyone can make such a blatant error in such a widely publicized show is beyond me. Anyway, even though his vocal delivery showed that the quality of that aspect of his musicianship has deteriorated rapidly in recent years, Zakk Wylde must be given credit for pouring his heart and soul into this performance, and for me, Zakk on piano or acoustic guitar is a lot more enjoyable than on the pinch-harmonic laden electric guitar these days.
Just like A Day To Remember, California deathcore quintet Suicide Silence were put in the unenviable position of following a great performance, and their set was unfortunately another low point of the show. Their new singer wasn’t doing the job as Mitch Lucker’s replacement in my opinion, and even though their genre isn’t my thing, I’d definitely say Suicide Silence was a better live band with Lucker’s vocals and stage presence than they are now. The new guy will probably fit into the band better with time, but this set didn’t quite put him or his band mates in a positive light. But with that said, the only saving grace for them was their cover of Sepultura’s ‘Roots’ with Max Cavalera joining in on vocals and guitar, getting the crowd off their feet for the first time this evening.
Joan Jett was presented with the most important award of the event, the ‘Golden God’ itself, by previous winner Alice Cooper. She then went on to play a three-song set with her band, consisting of ‘Bad Reputation’, ‘Any Weather’ and ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’ which featured The Pretty Reckless singer Taylor Momsen as guest vocalist and was performed twice for television, with Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top also making an appearance the second time. Performance-wise, in all honesty I didn’t think she was as good as the House Of Blues gig last year and it didn’t quite rock this audience’s socks off. The redoing of the third song didn’t help the energy in the crowd either. But more than anything, I thought we missed out on two incredible moments that could have easily been pulled off but weren’t for reasons explicable, firstly the possibility of Alice Cooper jamming with them for ‘House Of Fire’, a song he co-wrote with Joan, and secondly, despite Lita Ford and Cherie Currie’s presence at the event, they weren’t invited (or chose not) to join Joan on stage. With these three main members of the Runaways still being musically active in their respective solo careers, playing Runaways songs in their shows and seemingly on good terms with each other, it’s hard to see what’s holding them back from a Runaways reunion. Nonetheless, it was great to see Joan Jett receive a well-deserved award and LA awaits a proper Joan Jett headline show.
And lastly, Guns ‘N Roses took the stage as the headlining live act of this event, playing a surprisingly long set which lasted for about 75 minutes and spawned 11 songs, certainly not the norm for these Golden Gods shows wherein no band has ever played more than 3 or 4 songs. There was a 15-minute lull before they appeared at 10:45 PM, and the same old rumblings of Axl Rose’s lateness started circulating amongst people in my vicinity, some even speculating whether Axl was going to play the show at all. But the band came out and delivered more than what anyone would have expected, featuring the return of bassist Duff McKagan not only to boost the rhythm section and backing vocals but also to give the band a more ‘legit’ collective persona specially in the eyes of those who’re fixated on the classic lineup. Granted, Axl Rose started out sounding uneasy on the vocals but from the fourth song onwards, he upped his level, and slower songs like ‘Better’ and ‘This I Love’ allowed him more breathing room which in turn resulted in him giving his 100 per cent on the last few songs of the set, including the beautiful ‘November Rain’ and culminating in a great rendition of ‘Paradise City’. Guitarists Bumblefoot, DJ Ashba and Richard Fortus were excellent as always, playing the songs with absolute perfection, and besides the GNR songs they played a couple of delightful little jams as well, including Bumblefoot’s intro teaser of Zeppelin’s ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You. Together, all eight members of the band combined to deliver an excellent Guns ‘N Roses set, which in the honest words of my photographer/friend Matt Nielson, was a lot better than when he saw the band back in ’92. That in itself speaks a lot for the current lineup, and I would urge people who hate Guns ‘N Roses without giving them a semblance of a chance to go check out a live show (not a live stream, an actual show) and decide for yourself. My only complaint from this set would be the excessively long version of ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’, which if shortened down would perhaps serve the band and their audience a lot better. Other than that, this GNR set was an apt end to an event that began on a fantastic note and had a lot of filler in between.
01. It’s So Easy
02. Welcome To The Jungle
04. This I Love
05. You Could Be Mine
06. Sweet Child O’ Mine
07. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You intro (Led Zeppelin cover)
08. November Rain
09. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
10. Instrumental Jam
11. Paradise City
Where do I begin? The ‘award’ segment of this event has always attracted criticism and ridicule over the past five years, but the organizers seem unperturbed by it all, continuing to dish out these awards solely based on online audience votes and not at all stepping in to exercise any control over it. I mean, how else could Rob Zombie beat out Slayer, Gojira, Dillinger Escape Plan and Lamb Of God for ‘best live band’? Zombie might have been a clear winner in the worst live band category, but best? Not a chance. Then there was the laughable ‘most dedicated fans’ award given to Avenged Sevenfold, who beat Slayer among others. And the ‘best comeback’ of the year was Deep Purple, apparently, not Carcass, Black Sabbath or Queens Of The Stone Age. And how can one forget Five Finger Death Punch bassist Chris Kael beating out Geezer Butler for best bassist? Even he himself was laughing at it in his winning speech. Between them, Avenged Sevenfold and Five Finger Death Punch swept five of the 13 awards, including ‘best guitarists’, ‘best song’ and ‘best drummer’, officially making this segment of the show a complete joke for everyone in the audience. It was one of those things where it’s so bad that it’s awesome, if you know what I mean. The only justifiable awards given out were ‘best new talent’ deservingly going to the awesome Australian eclectic hard rockers Twelve Foot Ninja and ‘best metal athlete’ to Josh Barnett who is certainly the definitive metalhead amongst all athletes, and even though I don’t personally agree with Josh Homme and Black Sabbath winning the ‘best vocalist’ and ‘best album’ awards, they were far better than any of the other nominees in their respective categories and it was a relief to see them win.
But besides the ridiculous nature of the awards show itself, the manner in which it was conducted was frankly quite appalling, as people were walking up onto the podium only to read scripted lines from a tele-prompter. It was extremely frustrating and disappointing to see an event that prides itself as the only metal awards show in America and one that’s supposed to represent the genre resorting to such a fake presentation with rock personalities presenting awards asked to read some of the cheesiest, most saccharine lines ever. To make things worse, the podium microphone was not even loud enough and unless the speakers leaned into it, which very few did, the audience couldn’t hear what was being said. Dee Snider’s short and precise speech to introduce Joan Jett was one of the very few bright moments in this part of the show, as was Axl Rose’s when he accepted the Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement award and thanked the current GNR lineup and ‘all lineups of the band’ for his achievements. But despite the scripted lines, most presenters did an absolutely horrible job at it, some of whom clearly looked drunk. Ace Frehley was an absolute disaster, calling Dimebag Darrell ‘sexy’ and slurring through his words. He was as sloppy in his 2 minutes on that podium as he is with his musicianship these days, and there’s no wonder KISS sounds a lot better without him. It’s about time people stopped fixating on that band’s so-called classic lineup because this guy has definitely not been up to the task for a long time now. Then there was Nicolas Cage who was the last to take that podium as he introduced GNR, and by far the worst with an abysmal speech.
Also, the live streaming of this event was definitely not well-executed, based on the feedback I received from people watching at home, who said that the quality of the stream was below-par and those websites couldn’t handle the amount of traffic they were getting. Even though it probably generates more revenue for the event, in my opinion a live stream is not a good idea. People judge the performing acts based on what they see and hear on a computer or cellphone screen. That’s not rock ‘n roll, and doesn’t do these bands any good. You can’t judge a band unless you’re at the venue, hearing the full extent of their sound, truly feeling the impact of the on-stage amplification, and are part of an audience that’s there to see the band. This is not the Oscars and the performers are not lip-synced, so it would be for the best to leave the ‘live’ aspect to the confines of the venue itself.
The Revolver Golden Gods always brings together a strangely enjoyable combination of the awesome and the lame, and judging by this year’s edition, it seems the contrast between the two only gets larger every year.