Two years back we covered Epicenter 2010. The mostly hard rock festival (headlined by KISS and Eminem) that year surprised us with its quality. Three years back, we covered the first Epicenter that featured Tool, Linkin Park and an auspicious performance from Alice in Chains. This year’s lined up featured a similarly varied lineup, incorporating rock from yesteryear (Bush, Stone Temple Pilots) with modern heavyweights (Scars on Broadway) and hard rock with indie cred (Dead Sara). Moved from the inland empire down to the humid terrain of Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, this year’s event was slightly scaled back in size (most likely because of sister event the Monster Energy Aftershock festival—which has pretty much the exact same lineup). The results were a decent if not too exciting event, fine for an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon. It was nothing spectacular, but by no means terrible either.
Dead Sara pretty much stole the show with their late afternoon slot on the main stage. The difference was all in sheer force of will. Front woman Emily Armstrong sang like a demon needed to be forced from her body. The majority of the crowd hadn’t even arrived yet, but Armstrong played like she stood before a crowd of a quarter million hanging on her every word. The band’s final number “Weatherman” was played with force and verve, the likes of which every band on this bill should have employed.
Chicago-area rockers Chevelle were far less impressive. While technically astute, the trio of Peter Loeffler, Sam Loeffler and Dean Bernardini played a pretty by-the-numbers verse-chorus-verse rock. No real energy or passion in their delivery—especially compared to Dead Sara’s show stopping performance just before them—about four songs in this set had shown as much color as it was going to.
Equally disappointing was Scars on Broadway the side project of System of a Down guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian. Scars on Broadway was originally formed as an outlet for Malakian’s extensive creative output outside of System of a Down, wisely utilizing SOAD’s drummer John Dolmayan in the band. However, Dolmayan is no longer in the group, Malakian handles guitars alone and somewhere the “umph” in this band disappeared in the three years since they started. Malakian, notoriously a fireball of energy played with little and less conviction. It’s hard to speculate, but it felt like he was just going through it to get it over with. Like his heart wasn’t in it. “World Long Gone,” “Chemicals” and even the end-of-the-world-heralding “They Say” all hit with a thud.
The reformed and reenergized Bush thankfully, played with greater heart. While naysayers may criticize the band because of how the girl’s swoon over heartthrob lead singer Gavin Rossdale, to their credit they worked hard to put on an entertaining show for their fans. Starting with mega hits “Machinehead” and “Everything Zen,” the band played with enthusiasm and excitement. Rossdale left the stage for almost three songs straight to perform while walking through the crowd. The band kept time and form performing a rocking cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together” and their own “Little Things.” Later, the mostly Rossdale solo “Glycerine” and “Comedown” brought the set to a solid conclusion.
Deftones followed, and played with a similar level of energy and verve. Lead singer Chino Moreno runs frantically from one side of the stage to the next, occasionally leaning forward to let loose his shrill screams. It’s a pleasure to hear the excellent Sergio Vega holding down the bass lines here a mere few weeks after we saw him perform with his original band Quicksand at FYF Fest. Deservedly, Deftones commanded the crowd’s attention best of any band on the day. However, the group’s earlier material “Be Quiet and Drive (Far Away),” set closer “7 Words” and “Change (In the House of Flies)” seemed incongruously more exciting than material from their last three albums.
Stone Temple Pilots wrapped the day up in the headlining slot. All due credit to brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo, Eric Kretz and Scott Weiland working so hard to keep the band together over the years, but the same problem persisted here as with the Deftones set. Songs like “Between the Lines” do not come anywhere near the polished fun of singalong numbers “Big Empty,” “Interstate Love Song” or hell, even “Vasoline.” The massive “Plush” (the one that really made them a huge hit in the ’90’s) echoed through the warm night sky as the crowd sang along. All in all, not a bad day of rock music, but it didn’t have the teeth the genre is famous for. Is that a problem of the lack of new bands putting for the energy that Dead Sara did early in the day? Or, is a medley of these styles in a giant amphitheatre just not the right venue for the genre until a real superstar emerges again? Until then, Epicenter 2012 was less a full-on Earthquake and more of a series of tremors.