TVD Live Shots: The Rock Carnival at First Energy Park, 9/30–10/2

Friday, September 30 marked the return of the annual Rock Carnival in Lakewood, NJ. A three-day festival boasting rock and roll royalty—Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, and Twisted Sister as well as Overkill, Monster Magnet, and Clutch.

The event is a unique concept. It’s a full-scale carnival with games, vendors, carnival rides, and gourmet food trucks. Not just your traditional scale carnival food, although that was offered, but higher end fare as well. There was also a small tent stage that hosted some local and regional cover bands, as well as national artist like Zebra and Trickster. All of this sat in the parking lot of First Energy Park, a minor league baseball stadium which hosts the Lakewood Blue Claws as its main resident. Once inside the baseball stadium, two large stages were placed in the outfield.

We arrived at the park just in time to check out the first band which was to be Zakk Sabbath, Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath cover band. Recently I saw Zakk do a 20 minute cover of “N.I.B.” while I was covering the Generation Axe tour, and to refer to it as epic would be an understatement.

It was raining pretty hard when we arrived and it seemed we had a few minutes to spare, so we went to say hello to a friend who was working the merchandise booth. This is when we were informed that Zakk wasn’t playing. Evidently the stage has some flooding on it due to the heavy rains and he would not be able to perform. We were then told that although it was not public yet, Clutch would also have to cancel their set as well. I was speaking with a fan who overheard the conversation and actually left because he was only there to see Zakk Wylde and Clutch. It was a bit heartbreaking to us as well, but as long as Alice Cooper was still going on, my 3 hour drive was worth it.

I made my way down to the stages in time for Deep Purple. While speaking with one of the heads of security I noticed a little commotion coming from the other stage. He informed me that Clutch would be playing after all. I made my way to this stage only to be sent back where I came from. I think the rain had everyone thrown off a bit and there was some confusion. I finally made it to the stage just before Clutch was to go on. This is when the rain began coming down harder, however the volume was raised and Chuck Brown’s “We Need Some Money” came blasting out of the speakers. A little DC go-go music was just what the crowd needed to start moving and forget about the pouring rain.

Now, I have seen Clutch over 40 times at this point, and I must say that despite the weather and confusion, they delivered one of the best sets I have ever seen them play. Kudos to them for just saying the hell with it, going out in the rain, and giving the people a hell of a rock show. In the photos below you can see the amount of rain they were contending with as well as how much of it was on the stage.

As the rain subsided a bit, Clutch’s set ended and the grandfather of shock rock, Alice Cooper took the stage. I have been a fan since I was way too young to be a fan. I have seen Alice many times over the years and this current lineup is hands down the tightest his band has ever sounded. His band consists of the always electric Ryan Roxie on guitar, the Beasto Blanco himself Chuck Garric on bass, Tommy Henriksen on guitar, Glen Sobel on drums, and “Hurricane” Nita Strauss also on guitar, replacing the recently vacated spot left by Orianthi. Let me tell you, those were big shoes to fill and Nita is kicking ass and taking names. She is the perfect fit.

The set list was everything a fan could want—classics like “I’m Eighteen,” “Schools Out,” “Welcome to my Nightmare,” and “Poison,” as well as deeper cuts like “Only Women Bleed” and “Cold Ethel.” During “Feed My Frankenstein,” a 15-foot tall Alice terrorized the stage. And what’s an Alice Cooper show without a beheading? In the third act, the infamous guillotine rolled out on stage and Alice was punished for his “crimes.” So went truly one of the best shows I have seen in a very long time. The night ended with a version of “Elected” with costumed versions of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton fighting on stage while an “Alice for President” banner hung in the back ground.

Soaked to the bone we made our 3 hour trek back home in hope that the following day would be as good musically—but hopefully a bit dryer. No such luck on the dry part.

We arrived just in time to see Monster Magnet who is one of my favorite live acts. Dave Windorf, the band’s singer and main songwriter, has not taken the band out on the road in the United States for quite some time. I have had tickets 3 times to see them in the last 10 years all of which were cancelled or they dropped off the bill, so I was nervous as to what I should expect. They were, in a word, amazing. They stepped on stage like they had something to prove. Although the set was short, they blew the crowd away with hits like “Space Lord” and “Power Trip,” while still playing fan favorites like “Tractor” and “Dopes to Infinity.” I felt bad for anyone who had to follow that set. (Sorry Fuel.)

After Fuel’s set I rushed back to the other stage because Ace Frehley was up next. I am pretty sure I became a KISS fan in utero. I do not remember a time that I didn’t listen to them. Seeing Ace back on the road, although not with KISS, has been a treat. I saw him earlier this year and he was fantastic and this set was equally as good, if not better. As the rain picked back up, the crowd was treated to KISS classics like “Love Gun,” “Duce” and “Parasite” as well as solo songs like “Back in the New York Groove” and “Rock Solders.” The highlights of the night were the smoking guitar during “Shock Me” that has been a staple of Ace’s theatrics since the early KISS days, and the finale of the set which was “Detroit Rock City.”

Next up was Chris Daughtry. Yes, that Chris Daughtry. Yes, the one from American Idol. I don’t get it either.

I ventured back to the other stage where a huge crowd of Overkill fans were chanting “Daughtry Sucks” until the conclusion of his set and the beginning of Overkill’s set. I will not say anything negative about the guy. Honestly he’s a really nice and if you’re a fan of his music, he sounds great. I question the logic however of putting him on a bill sandwiched between a rock legend like Ace Frehley and a band as downright brutal as Overkill. He would have been better served and better received if he were on Sunday’s bill.

My ears are still ringing from Overkill’s set. They are loud, fast, and utterly brutal. Having not seen them in many years, I was very impressed. Overkill pummeled their way through classics like “Hammerhead,” “Electric Rattlesnake,” and “Hello from the Gutter.” They ended the night with a cover of the Subhumans’ “F**K You” and AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” (Angus, if you are reading this and Axl has other commitments, Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth is your guy.)

Next up Twisted Sister. This was to be Twisted Sister’s last New York/New Jersey show ever and it was a bitter-sweet night. When I took my space to photograph I noticed there were a lot more people in the photo pit than usual and many of them were drinking beer. Evidently there was a VIP package that was sold that allowed people to be in there with security and photographers. This made capturing the night quite difficult.

After the lights went out and AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top if you Wanna Rock and Roll” belted out from the speaker stacks, it was time for Twisted Sister to take their place on the stage. With drunken fans elbow to elbow with you as you and 20+ others are trying to work can be frustrating to say the least. Personally I think this was poor judgment on the part of the promoter to sell the packages this way—but, I digress. Frustrated with the situation I grabbed my bag to find a better vantage point and was informed by another photographer that since it was the last show, we were given the entire show to photograph rather than just 3 songs.

Twisted Sister is like no band I have ever seen. The older they get, the better they get. Dee Snider is in the best shape of his life, both physically and vocally. Eddie Odeja and Jay Jay French are technically proficient and masters of their guitars. Mark Mendoza lives up to his name “The Animal” by abusing his bass during every song but somehow managing to keep perfect time and rhythm. A void was definitely felt without the late A.J. Pero on the drums. Filling in for A.J. however was the always amazing Mike Portnoy. Mike has handled this gig with the utmost dignity and class while paying true homage and respect to A.J.

Twisted Sister tore through all the classics like “Burn in Hell,” “I Want to Rock,” “The Kids are Back,” and the ever-present “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” They also played a mix of deeper cuts like “Under the Blade,” “Destroyer,” and “You Can’t Stop Rock and Roll,” and even broke out “Come Back” which they haven’t played live in almost 20 years. They paused for a moment to honor the memory of A.J. Pero by bringing his daughter on stage and then dedicating “The Price” to him. The night ended with a tribute to all the fans of the band and a round of thank yous before tearing into “S.M.F” which left the crowd screaming for more.

It breaks my heart to think of a world without Twisted Sister and I’m glad I got to witness this one last time. With my waterlogged camera gear in tow I made the long trek back home. It was a somber ride after one of the most electric shows I have seen in years.

Sunday saw the likes of Halestorm, The Used, Tom Kiefer, Sebastian Bach, Doro Pesch and Trixter. Lizzie Hale took the stage with both Jim Breuer (to do an AC/DC cover) and Tom Kiefer (to duet on “Night Songs”) as well.

Although Mother Nature did not play nice, the Rock Carnival is a good time to be had.









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