Print Edition: June 18, 2014
The festival line-up on June 1, day three of Rock in Idro, included Skillet, Hawk Eyes, Black Stone Cherry, Opeth, Alter Bridge, and the metal gods: Iron Maiden. It was hot, it was muggy, but that did not stop the plethora of worldwide metal fans from enjoying the festival in Italy — and the main acts did not disappoint.
It is hard for any opening band to have a solid performance at 2:30 p.m. Half the crowd has not arrived, everyone is hot in the 30° afternoon and is just excited for the headlining band, Iron Maiden. But I will give it to Skillet — they did extremely well, and it is no surprise they have had two Grammy nominations for their albums Collide and Comatose. There is one element that can keep a band from being great: does the lead singer have stage presence? John Cooper checked this box for Skillet and was able to get a great reaction from funs. Moreover, drummer Jen Ledger has improved on her technical skills since joining the band at age 18 in 2008. There is also always the plus of having a small Japanese guy in a white suit jumping around and playing the violin.
Since the release of Fortress in October 2013, Alter Bridge has embarked on a world tour. They received four of five stars from Allmusic and The Guardian, four and a half from Loudwire, and five stars from Total Guitar. While I was elated to see one of my bucket-list bands live, the crowd did not seem to care much, with only small pockets of dedicated fans in support.
Alter Bridge has gained a new wave of fans from the new album and had a solid previous album in ABIII. However, their first two albums are not par with the latter two, and most of their set came from the older albums, One Day Remains and Blackbird. They had 13 songs in total: four from Fortress, two from ABIII, five from Blackbird, and two from One Day Remains. Their first single “Metalingus” is still one of their best songs to date, but playing five B-side tracks from Blackbird was an odd choice. Considering there are no weak links on Fortress, I would have thought its tracks would dominate the setlist.
This was why Alter Bridge did not get the reaction they wanted. (When they asked the crowd, “How are you guys feeling?” it was pretty quiet.) They had the stage presence with Myles Kennedy, Scott Phillips on drums, Brian Marshall on bass, and the solid guitar solos of Mark Tremonti, but the setlist was poorly chosen.
Black Stone Cherry
It came as a surprise that Italian metal fans loved the American southern hard rock band as much as they did — more than any other band besides Maiden. But who could blame them? They did all the right things as an opener for the “big four.” Their exuberant energy made fans want to go into the mosh pit. You can tell they enjoy what they’re doing — lead guitarist Ben Wells said, “It’s hot as balls up here, but we love playing for you guys.” Though frontman Chris Robertson plays guitar, he had the stage presence to keep the crowd in it. They picked every perfect song for their set list. It’s too bad they only had a 50-minute set; judging from this performance, they should have gone ahead of Opeth and Alter Bridge.
Some things in life remain constant: trees grow, the ocean laps against the shore, and of course, Iron Maiden keeps playing. The metal gods have brought their theatrical musicianship all over the world without changing a thing. It is why they have been successful since 1981. They have never changed and never will, from Eddie coming out on stage to Bruce waving the Union Jack. The anticipation was obviously unbearable for some — Maiden brings a certain zeal many bands cannot create. Fans from all over the world flock to see them — including yours truly, making the stop in Bologna just for Maiden.
Right from the opening song, the audience adored them, and the mosh pits quickly formed. They opened with 1988 hit “Moonchild,” from Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. Maiden knows how not to disappoint: their continuous stage changes, pyrotechnic flares, and the tightness of the band on stage addicts every metal fan. Their set was perfect. “The Prisoner” and “2 Minutes to Midnight” followed “Moonchild.” Then Maiden hit the middle of the set with “The Trooper.” This was followed by “The Number of the Beast,” “Run to the Hills,” and “Wasted Years.” They also chose the encore perfectly, opening up with “Churchill’s Speech.”
From start to finish, it’s like stepping back somewhere in time with the band. Harris provides killer bass while Murray, Smith, and Gers play in-sync guitar licks and solos. McBrain provides stellar drumming, and no one is like Bruce Dickinson on vocals. The man is 55 and still going strong. Fans are reminded every show why he is highly regarded in this business, bringing more theatrics, energy, and excitement than most younger lead singers. Jovial fans left the festival grounds singing along with Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” reminding us Maiden has not lost its vigour and effectiveness.
Whoever was working the sound booth or is Hawk Eyes’ guitar technician should be fired. Lead guitarist Rob Stephen had problems throughout the entire set. I would rather have listened to nails being dragged across a chalkboard. It was so bad, many people diverged from the stage to grab another drink. Lead singer Paul Astick tried numerous times to get the crowd back in, but hearing the loud, continuous screech from Stephen’s guitar was enough to drive fans away.
Opeth just did not fit in with this lineup. It was an odd mixture to begin with. Granted, all four major bands — Black Stone Cherry, Opeth, Alter Bridge, and Iron Maiden — can put on a solid show and have stellar LPs. But Opeth is vastly different from the other three bands, and its mixture of screamo and psychedelic stoner rock left many fans confused. After “Devil’s Orchard,” lead singer Mikael Akerfledt even said, “You guys probably wondered what the fuck that was.” The band even tried to change things halfway through, saying they’d “change it up and drop down to D, to sound more American, and something for the heavy metal fans.” Unfortunately, it did not work, even with Akerfledt trying to get any response from the crowd: “Who’s excited for Iron Maiden? We’ll be down there singing along with you guys.” All you could hear were crickets.
Festival report card:
Overall grade: A
Rock in Idro knocked this out of the park. It was way better than Squamish, Fox Fest, or any festivals I have seen at the Gorge Amphitheatre. Granted, it is festival food, so it’s not going to be the greatest, but for this atmosphere I give it top marks. Prices were reasonable, around 8€ for a plate of pasta, 5€ for any panini, 3€ for a plate of fruit (a great idea when it’s hot, especially the watermelon, which went quickly), 2€ for a bottle of water, and 5€ for an assortment of beer (not this BC Lions stuff, where they pour the rest of the beer down the sink if it doesn’t fit in the cup, and by the way that will be $7.25).
Overall grade: C+
The city of Bologna is on the outskirts, and this is not the festival’s fault, but Bologna has a horrible transit system at night. To cross a town that is smaller than Vancouver, it takes an hour and a half by bus. There is no train like the SkyTrain, so people are forced to sit on the bus for an hour or two, or pay 20€ for cab fare.
Overall grade: A+
While security was strict with people bringing alcohol into the concert, turning some away, fans could bring anything else they wanted into the festival: food, non-alcoholic drinks, chairs, towels, and so on. This was a bonus — it’s a great way to save money, while festivals back home refuse to let people bring food or water in. I had to hide sandwiches wrapped in a towel to avoid paying for overpriced food at Fox Fest. Rock in Idro did not have too many problems with fans, so security did not have to do too much.
Overall grade: A
I was only here for one day because the lineup on other days did not suit my taste. But the atmosphere of the festival was amazing. European festivals bring one element festivals back home don’t: pure dedication to music. I am not saying fans back home do not have an appreciation for the festival, but many go to festivals “just ‘cause.” I listen to music while I’m working, at the gym, doing papers, or driving the car — I wasn’t there just because I’m in Italy, but because my favourite bands are playing. Similarly, I met a couple there from France who were big Iron Maiden fans; they were going to Dubai but changed their plans just to see Maiden again.
In Italy there may not be the best sound quality, washroom facilities (I’d rather use my high school bathroom, which was pretty bad), concert perimeter (the fence was makeshift wire and aluminum siding, giving it a ‘70s festival feel), but what it brought was an entire group of fans waiting to sing along with every chorus and jump into the mosh pit.