Live Report: Amnesia Rockfest, with Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Deftones, and More
By Rich Zweiback
Unique among the plethora of festivals is Amnesia Rockfest. Founded eight years ago by the then-teenaged Alex Martel, the festival is a two-day punk-rock and heavy-metal event located in Montebello, Quebec, a small town about 75 miles north of Montreal. Think Warped Tour with a slighter higher aged demographic and a lot more beer. (The drinking age in Canada is 18!) The police presence was virtually nonexistent this year--in fact, the only law interaction this writer saw was an officer telling a kid to transfer his bottle of beer into a cup.
What sets Amesia Fest apart is its DIY ethic. It appears, however, that critical mass has been reached, as the show sold out 50,000 plus tickets resulting in logistic problems revolving around camping and massive lines at the ticket booths and transportation. However, inside there were more than enough port-o-potty’s (though the mud and waste did combine to create some rather toxic areas--nothing that isn’t a normal happening at festivals!). Unlike so many other festivals, pricing was reasonable--pints of beer were $5 and the food was also priced well.
The set-up was a huge field--one stage was segregated for mainly local Quebec based bands. Musically, these ran heavily with Cookie Monster-influenced vocalists. There might be a law in Quebec that bands have to have singers that bellow completely in the lowest register humanly possible.
There were two main stages next to each other--when one band ended, the other stage’s performer began almost immediately. Interestingly, one of the main stages focused on the fest headliners such as Pennywise, Lamb of God, and Killswitch Engage; the other main stage had Canadian based acts such as Miracles and Grimskunk. This allowed the broadest possible crowd and exposure for the lesser known bands. While the music coming from the second stage might not have been familiar, it gave those interested the opportunity to catch some new music, without giving up there precious and hard-fought for floor space. The two smaller stages featured the same scheme.
Friday’s headliners, such as Rancid and Social Distortion, stuck to their better known material. Rancid tore through most of the classic Out Came the Wolves LP, with Tim Armstrong leading the charge. Interestingly enough, Rancid played in the late afternoon and there was an exodus of folks as soon as they came off. Saturday's main stage ran the alt-rock/punk gamut from the ska-based Less than Jake to the Irish-infused Dropkick Murphys (and yes, the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings were paid tribute to). As nighttime came, the Deftones showed what a big time metal band could do--with a sophisticated light show and classic songs like “Change (In the House of Flies)” and “My Own Summer (Shove It).” Finishing up on the main stage Saturday night were The Offspring. One issue that was not a huge surprise was the poor sound on the main stages that was experienced the further one was from the stage. The wind tended to create havoc with the vocals.
But it was the smaller stages that were the most fun. Scheduling a plethora of classic old-school punk bands such as Agnostic Front, Madball, Subhumans UK, and The Adolescents created the opportunity for many Generation Y kids to see bands that had their heyday long before they were born. Amazingly enough, there were massive singalongs to each of these bands. Agnostic Front and Madball showed what NYHC was all about, and The Adolescents brought back the sound of early L.A. punk. The band members were mostly gray, paunchy, and in their 40s, but what they lacked in youthfulness was more than met with enthusiasm.
Saturday’s true revelation was Toronto’s Fucked Up. Vocalist Damian Abraham, a.k.a. Pink Eyes, spent the entire performance in the audience, being carried by the crowd. As he is about 250 pounds, this was pretty impressive. The rest of the band looks like they just got out of prep school, but oh my god, did they rock the hell out of Quebec! On the one hand, you’ve got a band that looks like they had their lunch money stolen everyday, and yet they they delivered a sonic assault (led by femme bass player Sandy Miranda, a.k.a. Mustard Gas, resplendent in a sensible business suit) that was the highlight of Saturday’s bill. Fucked Up proved that it’s not the appearance of a band that makes one “punk rock” but the music, attitude, and performance. Afterward, Pink Eyes wandered around hugging everybody. Pure awesomeness.
Saturday’s main allure was the reunion of Black Flag (here called FLAG, as not to be confused with the Greg Ginn-led Black Flag reunion that is concurrently touring). This lineup for Flag consisted of original singer Keith Morris (also of the Circle Jerks and OFF!), original bass player Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena (former singer and guitar player), former drummer Bill Stevenson, and Ginn replacement Steve Egerton (also of The Descendents). Blazing through virtually their entire pre-Henry Rollins catalog, FLAG had the entire area moshing. Latter-day Black Flag songs such as “Rise Above” and “My War” were also performed. The beauty of old-time punk rock was demonstrated during the entire festival, as every time someone fell down, they got helped right back up.
As expected, main-stagers Anthrax, Marilyn Manson, and Alice Cooper brought arena-level professionalism to the festival. Anthrax opened with the classic “Caught in a Mosh.” They also played some pretty cool covers, including Joe Jackson’s “Got the Time” and a shout-out to the late Jeff Hanneman with Slayer’s “Raining Blood." The legend Alice Cooper brought out all his props and toys for the girls and boys with memorable versions of “Ballad of Dwight Fry,” “School's Out,” “Billion Dollar Babies,” and a duet with Marilyn Manson on “I’m Eighteen.”
A great couple of days, and with some logistical improvements with regard to transport and information, Amnesia Rockfest has the potential of becoming Canada’s answer to Coachella.