Middle Class Rut. Photo: Matt Brunk
There's a music festival for everything these days. FYF, Mayhem Festival, Warped Tour, South By Southwest, Riot Fest, Coachella—I can't list them all. It never ends. For the last few years, one of these festivals has been traveling the country under the title of Uproar, powered by Rockstar Energy sponsorship and full of all the bland radio rock you can stomach. Typically anchored by fairly recognizable and boring headlining acts like Disturbed or Shinedown, this year those acts consisted of the strange combination of Circa Survive, Coheed & Cambria, Jane's Addiction and the legendary Alice In Chains – strange mix, but finally compelling enough for me to begrudgingly make it to an Uproar date. Make no mistake, though, I've got a lot of generic bullshit to tear apart before we get to the good stuff.
I made it inside just in time to catch the end of the first local band, Jhonny K and Krew. They play fairly Southern-inspired rock, and it's not bad. It’s not my taste, but they've got a few songs that I like and it's too bad that I didn't catch more of their set. Notably standing out, the next act was other local band Burn The Gallows. With more of a heavy rock sound than the rest of the bill, they sort of remind me of Crossfade with a little Digital Summer thrown in. I like Andres Cardenas' voice, especially his infrequent growl, but I don't think their sound played as well on the outdoor stage as it does on their recorded stuff. I'm keeping an eye out for a smaller show soon, though.
So far, so good, right? And then Charming Liars from London hits the stage and fucks everything up with boring, whitewashed, inoffensive radio rock that ends up doing more to offend with its inherent blandness than anything else. Think Lostprophets, except the filler songs instead of the hit singles that people actually liked. With a logo obviously inspired by the iconic Parental Advisory stickers, it's a pretty poor effort at showcasing an edginess that just doesn't exist. They’re total pretty boys, a sentiment only furthered when singer Charlie Cosser rips off his hat and starts shaking long blonde hair all over the stage. I can't, won't, and will never be able to take this shit seriously.
Next up was the Chuck Shaffer Picture Show, named after their high school janitor and his lifelong obsession over the eponymous picture show. I don't have much nice to say about these guys either. Playing standard modern rock with a lot of Sick Puppies in the mix, the most entertaining part of their set was the part where bassist David Stiefel fell on his ass trying to bounce around the stage. They were terrible at keeping time and completely lacked any sort of distinguishing characteristics. I'm ready to forget these guys even exist. Radio rock as a stereotype has earned its mockery for a reason. How many more of these generic bands do we need? It's not heavy, it's not well done, you've heard it a million times and you're probably going to hear it another million times.
Moving over to the other stage with more than a little trepidation, it was with much relief that the next act, Middle Class Rut, finally kicked things up a notch. They play fast-paced and energetic rock n’ roll, one particularly energetic example being their song “Born Too Late”, the opener for their new album Pick Up Your Head. Two drummers is an interesting touch—one full drum kit and the other playing alternative percussion—and I quite like Zack Lopez's high, Jane's Addiction-esque voice and ruggedly handsome appearance. Apparently they're a two-piece in the studio, writing big enough songs that they need to fill out into a five-piece to play them live.
I didn't stick around for all of Middle Class Rut's set, instead shooting my photos and jamming out to a couple songs before heading up the hill back to the ticket booth to pick up a special separate Alice In Chains photo pass. This particular photo pass ended not actually being at the ticket booth after all, so I trudged again back down the hill to catch the next band, Beware of Darkness.
The set was already halfway done by the time I got back so I didn't get a chance to shoot any photos of these guys, but I did hear more than I was interested in hearing. Disturbingly high-voiced and whiny, playing a fittingly generic garage rock set, Beware of Darkness is boring. Again, it's not the worst music in the world. Nothing on Uproar is the worst music in the world, and every musician here is entirely competent. And hell, the crowd had plenty of fun. But man, it's just the same music over and over and over.
Slightly less boring, at least to me: we spotted Danny Bateman of the Warped Roadies doing his roadie thing for Uproar while hanging out in the back of the crowd. SLUG's own Megan Kennedy interviewed him during our Warped Roadies coverage last year—check that shit out here.
Easily the set that I was most excited for, and the one I've been waiting the longest for, Danko Jones hit the ground running. Fronted by the patron saint of rock 'n' roll swagger, to steal a line from myself, Danko Jones is one of the acts that's managed to escape me every time I've tried to catch a show. I even had tickets to a Halloween show one year in Seattle that featured Danko Jones supporting The Damned. The Damned on Halloween! And then passport issues meant that The Damned couldn't get in the country, and my ticket was refunded – but they never fixed my broken heart. I ended up catching The Damned later on their 20th Anniversary tour, so that was something, but it still meant I had to track down that Danko show.
They dedicated their song “First Date” to Marie Osmond (“Do you kiss on the first date?”), made jokes about performing extremely long oral on a female partner, played gravelly-voiced rock anthems like “The Rules” and “Had Enough”, and then my favorite “Full of Regret.” Danko Jones is infectious and energetic and all of the things that make you tap your foot and bang your head. With six albums under their belt, including the latest featuring the one-and-only Atom Willard on drums, it's clear that they're not going anywhere. Sometimes you just need some rock in your life, and unlike the weak radio rock BS, they will provide and they will do it with attitude.
Dialing up the age and dialing down the entertainment, the Dead Daisies took the stage and ruined the vibe again. Easily the most “classic” band on the bill and featuring a grab bag of Guns N' Roses alumni as well as random B-list rockers, these guys have that weird sad bastard classic rock sound that makes my skin crawl. The only reason I'm tempted to give Dead Daisies a pass is because they actually are as old as the music they're playing, so at least it's mildly genuine in that regard. Yeah, it's boring as hell. Yeah, they're old. Yeah, it sounds like they're phoning it in. But on the other hand, at least they're still rocking. Bonus points to guitarist Richard Fortus for looking like Adrian Brody and rocking the shirtless vest and bright pink pants. Unfortunately, it seems that singer Jon Stevens had an accident at some point and spent the set with a cast on his leg, spinning in circles in his ‘70s-era whirly chair instead of dancing around the stage.
On the other end of the lifelong rocker spectrum, you have Walking Papers. Introduced by Heidi Shepherd from Butcher Babies, Walking Papers is not phoning it in. This is real attitude, balls-to-the-walls rock and roll—it's refreshing. Fronted by Jeff Angell and featuring Duff McKagan on bass, they've got a classic sound but they know how to keep it fresh. Also, keyboardist Benjamin Anderson is one of the hardest rocking men I've ever seen—not bad for a guy sitting down the whole set. You might just have to take my word for it, but there's a ton of difference between a band like Walking Papers and a half-assed effort like Dead Daisies. There's just something more genuine about Walking Papers—a swagger that doesn't feel forced. McKagan on bass doesn't hurt either, with a calm and cocky grin on his face as he pounds away at that thing. It was a hell of a way to close out the supporting acts.
After Walking Papers, it was time to sneak backstage and meet up with the one and only Danko Jones—keep an eye out for that interview on slugmag.com later. Suffice it to say that I might have a little bit of an idol complex here, but he's a good sport and a hell of a rock star.
I missed the first half of Circa Survive's set on the main stage, but I wandered up to the lawn and caught the last half. I like Circa Survive, and Anthony Green's voice in particular is hard to beat, but the hardware at USANA couldn't keep up with it either. The speakers sounded like crap and kept cracking on the super-high notes, and I've heard that Circa Survive has an amazing live show but I'd rather see them indoors. They're not crossed off my list yet. I still think a they're a weird entry on an otherwise classic rock/radio rock bill, but whatever works. They were still a hell of a lot better than Beware of Darkness.
Featuring another fairly high-voiced singer, the next headliner was the epic Coheed & Cambria. I fell out of touch with these guys a while back, but they've always fascinated me with their concept-album focus and intricate musicanship. The crowd knew more of their songs than I did, although I dug hearing “Blood Red Summer” live and it's impossible to beat the double-necked guitar in “Welcome Home”. Claudio Sanchez has a unique voice that can be hit or miss depending on the song, but their set was all hit. I found myself liking them a lot more than I used to, in a large part due to the way that their instruments just sound better live. There's a power to it that doesn't get translated very well in their records, and they've got better texture, although that's something that they've gotten better at recording over the years. Playing in front of a gorgeous piece of artwork flanked by strange, bald and nude female busts, their storytelling philosophy even permeates into their stage visuals in a cool way.
Not everybody had as a good of a time as I did watching Coheed though. It took a second to notice the boiling argument between some fat fucking meathead in a Metal Fest shirt screaming at some dude who happened to be standing in front of him, but we had fun watching him act like asshole for a while. At least until he lost the last of his shit and decked the guy, which wasn't cool, although the Zen-like bald dude managed to keep his cool the entire time. Props, bro. The best part is when the cops took the meathead piece of shit away, although go figure, he came back 20 minutes later. Thanks, West Valley Police, but we didn't want that fucker back— apparently you can punch people in the face at USANA and get away with it. Keep that in mind, kids.
Anyways, Jane's Addiction was the next band, and came ready to spread good vibes back into the crowd. Let's just get this out of the way— Perry Farrell loves Utah. Perry Farrell loves Utah a whole lot, like a drunken bromance full of hugs and lots of “I love you, man” mumblings. I'm not the biggest fan, but they sounded freaking amazing. They're infectiously happy live in a way that never really got to me in their recordings, and Dave Navarro cuts an impressive figure with his ink-covered and shirtless body underneath that ever-present scowl. Whatever you think about his personal life and F-List celebrity status, he's exactly where he's supposed to be on that stage.
In an extra bit of live entertainment, Jane's Addiction also started their set with female backing vocalists in long dresses being lifted up by wires. It was impressively theatrical, which also describes the giant naked statue behind them. Everybody knows that tits are rock n’ roll.
Last, but obviously not least, Alice In Chains took the stage to a dramatic surge of applause. I was one of the ones that wasn't sure if new singer William DuVall would ever be able to match up to the deceased Layne Staley, but two albums deep into the new lineup and there is absolutely no doubt. With incredible swagger and a phenomenal voice, DuVall is the quintessential rock star and lives up to the legacy. Featuring mostly the original lineup aside from DuVall (bassist Mike Inez has been with the band since 1993, which isn't “original” but long enough), there's just nothing like it anywhere else. With a crazy wind sweeping through the crowd, rather nice after such a long day, it's as close as I'll probably get to a musically spiritual experience. Flanked by several video screens featuring various clips pertaining to each song, such a man in a box during... well, “Man in the Box”, it's even a full multimedia event. They played all of their biggest songs, and a few of the new ones featuring video of dinosaur bones and distorted landscapes. “Would?” featured lots of running water, fittingly enough, as well as some creepy shots of a girl in a dress floating underwater. They didn't play an encore, but they didn't save any songs for one either. One complete set, one hell of a show and one damn satisfied crowd.
So was it worth slogging through all of the bullshit just for a few good bands? Yeah, it was. There aren't exactly a limitless amount of opportunities to catch bands like Alice In Chains, and I'm glad that I finally got to see and even meet Danko Jones after all of these years of fandom. I don't think that Uproar is for everybody, and it'll take another kick-ass band to make me want to go again, but I don't regret it. However, I think I'll just skip to the headliners next time. Ain't nobody got time for your radio rock bullshit.