The Metal Family Moshes On
By Steve Appleford
The boy looked to be about 4 years old, a smiling little kid in spiky hair and green camouflage short-pants. And all around him were dozens of ecstatic young men, swirling in the usual violent circle, pushing, shoving, tumbling into one another in either rage or brotherly affection. A preschooler was in the mosh pit.
He was too young to pay attention to the signs posted outside the Hyundai Pavilion box office in Devore: “Enter moshing at your own risk.” He’d been led there by a shirtless, reckless father figure holding a beer in his other hand, a cigarette burning between his lips. The kid was thrilled, and he definitely didn’t belong there. Another metal generation was taking its first baby steps.
That was one interpretation of Family Values, the name of Korn’s traveling hard-rock festival, which landed Saturday at the outdoor venue for nine hours of very hard rock.
Standing outside one mosh pit, a 22-year-old man who called himself Nathan P. was picking apart bits of marijuana on a paper plate. Five minutes before, he’d been in the pit himself, feeding off the music and adrenalin of the moment. “There is so much electricity in the … air,” he said, “it’s beautiful.”
As he spoke, a tall man with shaggy dark hair fell hard to the ground and was immediately surrounded by several shirtless young men. A few kicked him where he lay. His eyes rolled back, but soon he was on his feet, stumbling out of the pit.
Nathan has been there. “Everybody gets hurt, bro,” he said. “All you can do is get up and just wipe it off and get back going, dude. It’s like life.”
Most do get back up, but not everyone. At the July 30 tour stop in Atlanta, a fan suffered a fatal brain injury after being sucker-punched during an argument. Andy Richardson, 30, died two days later. Police have since made an arrest.
It was no Altamont. Blood is spilled at metal concerts every weekend, just as there are drunken brawls at county fairs and baseball games. Even Depeche Mode fans will riot under certain conditions (and have). There’s one in every crowd. And some crowds have more than one.
Earlier in the day, singer Chino Moreno of co-headlining band the Deftones expressed real regret over Richardson’s death.
“I always make a point, when we’re playing, if I see someone fighting we’ll stop the song and tell them to chill out. Then we’ll continue with the music. The music is secondary to people’s safety.”
“We were real sad,” said Korn guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer of the death, reclining backstage hours before the night’s closing set. He looked up with a knowing expression and suggested that rock concerts can sometimes be like that. “It’s not the safest place to go, no matter who you are. Last night onstage I got hit in the back with a quarter, also with a cellphone. I get [stuff] thrown at me all night long.”
But the contact with fans is mostly positive. Only minutes earlier, Shaffer and the rest of Korn were greeting fans and signing autographs for a long line of contest winners. He was typically upbeat but tired, after recent tours of Europe and Asia. Family Values was the band’s second tour of the U.S. since the December release of its album “See You on the Other Side.”
Korn meets with fans at every tour stop. “I’ve been fortunate enough to learn a lot from different people, being around the world,” Shaffer said. “Everybody has the same problems, the same four or five things that they all struggle with: relationships, finance, personal issues. It keeps me grounded, you know?”
During Korn’s 90-minute performance, the band faced a wide landscape crowded with excited fans raising up the devil’s horns salute or middle fingers at the band’s creep-show melodies and explosive slabs of guitar. The messages could be agonized, dark, confused, but what might be reasonably scary to some is a thrill to others. A fan has got to know his limitations.
Rage is easy to come by in metal, so it takes more than volume and a bad attitude to last. The best hard rock is fueled by a singular, even deviant point of view, a striking voice and persona to transform the obvious into the provocative. Korn has had that from the beginning.
During the Deftones’ set, Moreno showed himself to be – like Korn’s Jonathan Davis – one of hard rock’s most distinctive voices. His desperate groans and whispers wandered and wailed across the grinding foundation of guitarist Stephen Carpenter, outclassing much of the rest of the day.
The remainder of the bill did have its moments, from the melodic hard rock of Flyleaf and Stone Sour to the wild-eyed thrash of Japan’s Dir en Grey, which roared with hard rock stripped down and incomprehensible.
Between band performances, fans strolled amid the food merchants and booths offering jewelry, shades and bandanas. In the booth selling glass pipes for smokers, a young woman in a shirt boasting “Yes … they’re real” lifted her shirt to demonstrate.
Later in the evening, a trio of 17-year-olds from nearby Fontana slumped at a table, taking a break before the final set by Korn. This was the first concert for Matthew Macias, who had his arm around a girl in braids. He tried stepping into a mosh pit but was bounced right out. He’ll be back.
“It was awesome,” he said. “People bouncing off of each other, going off each other, just going off. It was crazy.”
Earlier, a man with a bruised face had sat near him and his friends. “A big ol’ black eye and everything,” Macias said. “His whole face was just purple. Didn’t bother me.”
Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2006.