All good things come to an end, if for no other reason than that the human body can only take so much adrenaline-packed moments of sonic mayhem before being spent and in need for a return to normalcy. Given the utterly explosive array of performances that topped off Day 3 of the Welcome To Rockville festivities, it was all but stipulated that the final chapter of this 4 day slough would amount to a denouement in comparison. Indeed, the roster of acts that would take the various stages on May 21, 2023 at the Daytona International Speedway would be about as removed from the ferocity that sent bodies flailing away in the mosh pit courtesy of the likes of Sepultura, Kreator, Suicide Silence and Pantera. Nevertheless, the lineup of predominantly punk and alternative rock acts that would draw this monumental occasion to a close were by no means lacking in the impact department, nor was the enthusiasm that they brought to the table lost on the haggard masses still in attendance.
Among the early entries would be a band with an extensive history at their backs, namely Pittsburgh punk rock veterans and politically-charged rabble-rousers Anti-Flag, bringing an abridged version of the energetic display that they’ve been bringing to the American south for the past couple days. Known for their highly melodic and catchy approach to songwriting and their socially-conscious lyrics, they enjoyed a highly positive and animated crowd response despite their early time slot, and reciprocated in kind insofar as stage activity was concerned. Suffice it to say, the likes of Fir For A King bassist Ryan Kirby would be put on notice in regards to how much jumping could be accomplished during a short set by the gravity-defying leaps of bassist Chris “No. 2” Barker alone, while the rest of the band were only slightly behind in fighting to stay off a stage that might as well have been on fire. Classic cuts with an ultra-catchy edge in “The Press Corpse” and “This Is The End (For You My Friend)” would round out the entries that would get the masses moving, though the audience was at their most responsive to the marathon medley of vintage punk covers that included staples like “Should I Stay Of Should I Go”, “God Save The Queen” and “Blitzkrieg Bop”.
Bringing up the New Jersey end of the punk scene would be Ridgewood’s own post-hardcore/emo trustees of the 2000s Senses Fail, whom would follow the stage practices of their elder predecessors Anti-Flag in similar form. Helmed by vocalist and now lone founding member James “Buddy” Nielsen, decked out in business casual attire, was a model of how crowd work can truly make a set, as underscored by his slightly humorous remarks to the crowd “We have been together for 21 years, we’re from New Jersey and we don’t fuck around. We promise we’ll play Free Bird if everyone in the audience gets a beer in their hands”. His stage presentation was no less dynamic as he proceeded to twirl the mic like the successor to Roger Daltrey and rival the jumping feats of their aforementioned predecessors. Guitarist Gavin Caswell would do his best to keep up and provided a solid rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” to kick of an energized set that included several familiar bangers from their noted 21 year history, not to mention their own medley that included a number of nu-metal classics like “Chop Suey”, “Down With The Sickness” and “Break Stuff”.
The clock would be turned back a bit again with the late afternoon entry of alternative/industrial rock veterans Filter, whom would draw a truly impressive mass of onlookers to their stage despite the heavy competition from the other three and their somewhat sparse studio output over the past decade. Kill Hannah guitarist Jonathan Radtke and keyboardist/guitarist turned bassist Bobby Miller proved to be powerful focal points throughout despite flanking one of the more charismatic and enigmatic front men from the heyday of 90s alternative rock, but the eccentricities and quirky stage presence of vocalist Richard Patrick would reign supreme as his odd mic handling style was matched with a truly stellar performance. One of their latest singles “Face Down” would grace the set to a respectable roar of approval from the crowd, but the closing coup de grace in 90s mega hit “Hey Man Nice Shot” would be the knockout blow that sent everyone in attendance back to 1995 when this act’s platinum debut Short Bus first hit store shelves.
In yet another nod to the good old days would be that of west coast punk rock veterans Pennywise, hailing from Hermosa Beach, California and proceeding to sentence all in attendance to death by d-beat. Not one to be upstaged by the legion of jumping jackrabbit acts that had preceded them, they were an animated presence throughout their set, managing to cram 11 short-length doses of up tempo intensity into a brief 40 minute time slot with little in the way of dillydally. Often noted for their ability to merge the subversive with the celebratory, the subject matter covered by lead vocalist and de facto every man Jim Lindberg was a bit more diverse than that of Anti-Flag, but his working class baritone did well in getting a few jabs at the state of society at large via politically-charged anthems like “Homeless”, “My Own Country” and “Society”. The crowd was a correspondingly kinetic sea of flailing bodies throughout, though it couldn’t be understated just how off the hook things would get when this Stephen King inspired band of punk rockers trotted out a blazing rendition of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings”.
The stylistic bag would become extremely mixed with the arrival of the Texan experimental rock outfit The Mars Volta, pulling back on the impact-factor in favor of a more nuanced mixture of sonic peaks and valleys that would be equally well received. Though the punk rock bona fides of the members of this fold were in order given the connection to former El Paso firebrands of the genre At The Drive-In, the presentation would have more of a technical flair and dynamic sense of gradualism, underscored by a lyrically diverse assortment of anthems given guitarist/composer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s penchant for penning conceptual works. Whether it was the spacey yet pounding grooves of fan-favorite anthem “L’Via L’Viaquez” or the mellow balladry with a few jagged edges of “The Widow”, there was a strong emphasis on musicality and contrasting themes to go with the obligatory level of energy that was on display, to speak nothing for the often Robert Plant-like vocal gymnastics put forth by Zavala and the wild, Slash-like shredding courtesy of Lopez on the former.
The progressive rock vibes brought forth by The Mars Volta would be further bolstered courtesy of New York’s own Coheed And Cambria, taking things in a somewhat more accessible direction via a greater emphasis on classic rocking themes and a less overt exercise in stylistic fusion. In typical fashion, lead vocalist/guitarist Claudio Sanchez stole the show with bouncy stage behavior, which somehow saw him head-banging at virtually every opportunity while miraculously not missing a single lyric or riff. That being said, the rest of the band were no slouches in matching their technically intricate musical parts with a correspondingly animated stage presentation, with bassist Zach Cooper taking so many occasions to raise and lower his instrument that it was a wonder that his strap didn’t snap. Sadly the usually intricate light show that goes along with one of their riveting displays and proves a boon to their eclectic and energetic repertoire was absent, but it was a forgivable omission when considering the banger display that included recent entries like “Beautiful Losers” and “The Liars Club” alongside the usual classic treats “The Suffering” and the iconic, metal-infused breakout hit “Welcome Home” to close things out.
The musical display would take on more of a mellow tone with the funky 90s alternative rock and Billboard darlings from Calabasas themselves, Incubus; though ironically this more mainline adherent to the realm of rock would find a far more chaotic audience response. On not one but two separate occasions; once during their more upbeat rocker “Circles” and again later in the set during the performance of “Sick Sad Little World” the band would cease playing so that an injured fan could be attended to, though the level of professionalism and care displayed helmsman Brandon Boyd and the rest of the fold would more than cover for these unfortunate outcomes and each song would thusly resume without a hitch. To put it one way, the sometimes raucous, at other times smooth blend of hip-hop, rock and post-grunge styles that typified the lion’s share of their set was a recipe for a maddened display of movement and sound from the crowd, and though entries like “Glitterbomb” and “Stellar” scored many a cheer, it would be their unique take on The Beatles’ “Come Together” that would see the audience response at its apex around roughly the middle point of the set.
The quirkiness factor would go into overdrive as the evening fell with born alternative metal and early nu-metal forerunner Deftones taking things over, pumping even more needed energy into a crowd that was all but battered into submission over more than 3 days of moving and shouting their approval at massive succession of acts, and bringing a massive array of lights with them that truly turned the presentation into a visual feast. The quintet proved to be no slouches in the stage show department, though their movements were a bit more understated when compared to the frenzied jumping and body gesticulations that had dominated the day, with vocalist/guitarist Chino Moreno vacillating between a static stance and a wildly contorted display of movement depending on the dynamics of the surrounding music, with the rest of the 5 following a parallel if slightly less exaggerated mode of motion. Whether the tone and tempo of their 16 song slough of a set was a schizophrenic blend of loud and quiet like “My Own Summer (Shove It)”, smoother progressive romps like “Minerva” and “Rosemary”, or outright rocking numbers like “Swerve City”, the jolting shifts in feel were palpable, and the fact that there were no repeats of fan injuries like the ones that twice interrupted Incubus was borderline miraculous.
The final hurrah of this de facto denouement to 4 days of ceaseless festivity would fall to Los Angeles natives and modern progressive rock standard-bearers Tool, and despite closing their set 20 minutes early, the grand finale was a fitting conclusion to so massive of an event. For a man who had already graced this festival once before via his other project Puscifer on Friday, Maynard Keenan undertook his role as point man for the final chapter of this massive sonic novel with the effortlessness than one would expect from a master of the art, adding an air of flamboyance and potential controversy to the occasion by performing in drag, wearing a blonde wig, exaggerated red lipstick, and prosthetic breasts, to protest recent law changes in Florida regarding drag shows where minors are present (Welcome To Rockville being an all ages event). His melodramatic vocal display was a force of nature unto itself, though the bolstering virtuosic display put on by guitarist Adam Jones, drummer extraordinarie Danny Carey, and especially the driving intricacies of Justin Chancellor’s signature bass work, with all three in unison erecting a colossal wall of sound that would transcend the smallness of some of their arrangement. Though the term banger can only loosely apply to the extensive compositions that this band become known for in spite of their discography being among the sparsest in the business, that would be the best way to describe the extended, odd-timed jams that are “Forty Six & 2” and “Pushit”, let alone that of “Pneuma” and “Fear Inoculum” from Tool’s latest studio LP, which had the distinct honor of toppling Taylor Swift from the top of the charts a few years back.
If nothing else, despite rock taking a backseat to the hegemony of pop, rap and EDM on streaming media and record sales of late, it’s a foregone conclusion that the art is far from dead given the massive array of older and younger bands that rounded out this four day extravaganza: that the eulogy of hard rock won’t be recited at any point this century. Kudos are naturally in order for all whom contributed to putting this grand occasion now 12 years running together and kept things flowing smoothly, to speak nothing for the bands that kept to a very tight schedule and managed to entertain thousands upon thousands of souls for the better part of 96 hours.
Welcome to Rockville has become the undeniable crown jewel of large scale musical events in the Sunshine State – and arguably nationwide – and the only competition it can face would be the one coming from his own annual rise. It remains a mystery as to how the Danny Wimmer Presents team keep pulling off these massive celebrations which such level of accuracy, terrific line-ups and array of diverse option for the thousands of attendees – specially when we have experience first-hand the glaring shortcomings of other events in this category put together by other promoters – but where there’s a will, there somehow always seem to be a way.