The music was loud. The U.S. Cellular Center was packed. And the performers were top notch.
The Carnival of Madness – a 25-date tour of five hard hitting rock bands - rolled into Cedar Rapids on Sunday, August 25, 2013.
Featuring “We as Human,” “In this Moment,” Papa Roach," “Skillet,” and headlined by “Shinedown” – the show was a rock’n’roll tour de force.
Concert-goers were treated to over six hours of spectacles. The rockers didn’t simply perform; they truly did create a carnival inside the arena. Face painters, merchandise vendors, jugglers, and magicians were stationed throughout the building. Brent Smith, lead singer of Shinedown, promised an event like no other when he gave a Facebook shout-out to Cedar Rapids - and he didn’t disappoint.
An unexpected treat was at the top of the escalators before the show even began. Fans marveled at the newly remolded space, presented their tickets, watched the sideshow performers, and then came face-to-face with Shinedown. (This reviewer had to make a double-take.) Casually seated amongst the crowd, the band graciously signed autographs and shook hands with eager fans before the concert.
We as Human
Once inside the arena, the show began with a bang. Showered in bright green and yellow lights, “We as Human” lit up the stage. Fronted by lead singer Justin Cordle and joined by Adam Osborne (drums), Jake Jones (guitar), Justin Forshaw (guitar) and Dave Draggoo (bass) the band certainly didn’t seem like “an opening act.” They commandeered the stage like they owned the place. Their song, “Strike Back” was definitely a crowd pleaser.
In this Moment
Up next, the crowd was enslaved by vocalist Maria Brink of “In this Moment.” Flanked by two stacks of human skulls, two creepy, scantily clad dancers, and donning a leather and latex get-up, Brink was a dominatrix backed by an all-male band: Chris Howorth (lead guitar), Travis Johnson (bass), Randy Weitzel (guitar) and Tom Hane (drums).
“I want to see your hands in the air, Cedar Rapids,” hissed Brink. “Show me your hands.”
Brink is alluringly goth and beautiful, with a voice like something out of a horror movie. She’s scary, you’re kind of afraid of what will happen next, but you also can’t stop following that sound. Every command and scream she made from atop her perch was followed by the crowd. Like an army of insects, the crowd was buzzing for their new queen bee. With every husky note in songs like, “Blood” and “Adrenalize,” and with every flip of that long blonde hair - the audience fell deeper into her trance. There’s no doubt that Brink is more hard-core than her male counterparts and will be worshiped by audiences to come.
After recovering from a Maria Brink hangover, “Papa Roach” burst onto the stage with high energy and an arsenal of songs. “Do not sit down. This is a f’ing rock concert. I wanna hear you scream,” yelled lead singer Jacoby Shaddix.
Old favorites like “Scars,” and “Last Resort,” were crowd sing-alongs, but new releases like “Leader of the Broken Hearts” were met with equal enthusiasm. Tony Palermo (drums), Jerry Horton (guitar), Tobin Esperance (guitar) and Shaddix demonstrated why “Papa Roach” has so much staying power after almost 20 years – they seriously love what they do.
They instantly upped the crowd and spoke endearingly after almost every song. “We love you guys. For real, we love you guys. That’s why we keep coming back to Cedar Rapids,” said Shaddix.
“Papa Roach” also receives the “crowd participation award” because their lead singer jumped down off the stage and into the pit. Completely disregarding the line of security guards, Shaddix pressed himself up against the gate, letting eager fans pat him on the back and give him high-fives. He ran all along the front row, singing and greeting the fans. And at the end of their energetic set, the band threw everything they had into the crowd. Guitar picks. Drum sticks. Extra drum sticks. Stickers that marked their positions on the stage – everything was thrown into the masses for them to keep as mementos.
What made the “Carnival of Madness” so interesting and energy-charged was the fact that each band offered something unique. Energy, shock-value, and crowd participation were presented by the first three bands, but “Skillet” offered a new take on rock – orchestra instruments.
Decked out in all black, lead vocalist and bassist John Cooper was joined by his wife, Korey Cooper (guitarist/keyboardist), Jen Ledger (drummer/duet partner) and Seth Morrison (guitar). Additionally, two musicians dressed in white offered contrast to the hard rock while they accompanied on the violin and cello.
In fact, “Skillet” in and of itself is a band of juxtaposition. There are two females and two male band members. There’s hard and soft. There’s light and dark. And that’s exactly why the band’s vibe works so well.
Very animated, both on stage and screen – they had vignettes playing behind them in which the band were drawn like comic book characters – they delivered several popular songs including, “Monster” and “Sick of It.”
Cooper, the lead male singer, has a distinctively husky voice. He sounds growly and rough. Ledger’s lead female voice is soft and surprisingly high pitched. She sounds like an angel – an angel with a spiked collar. Combining the two contrasting vocal ranges proves to be a very interesting and enjoyable sound. The band was definitely a hit with the increasingly excited crowd.
“Rock’n’Roll is alive in Iowa. I feel it right here in Cedar Rapids. I’m feeling all pumped up,” said Cooper.
The crowd was pumped up, too. After a short intermission, fans were adequately prepared for their main attraction.
Teased with a giant “Shinedown” curtain in front of the stage, the majority of the crowd in general admission and in the arena were unable to see the band warming up. However, those seated to the far sides of the stage got a rare glimpse of the band stretching, doing jumping jacks, and waving to fans.
As the curtain fell to the floor, fire spikes rose into the air, and the headlining act was underway.
Jugglers, dancers, and fireworks joined “Shinedown” on stage. And if the whole show was a carnival, lead singer Brent Smith was the quintessential ring leader. Throughout the show, Smith was the epitome of a showman. Every note, every command, every step on the stage was punctuated with drill sergeant-like preciseness.
The entire band – Smith, Barry Kerch (drums), Zach Myers (guitar), and Eric Bass (bass) made use of platforms which extended out into the crowd from stage left and stage right ramps. They sang and played for the enthusiastic fans on either side, which made everyone in the arena feel as though they were part of the action.
“This next song has a lot of guts, a lot of heart, and that’s what all of you have. I’m talking to you. Yeah, you - right here in the front. And all of you on the right. And all of you on the left. And all those party people in the back.”
While the band played older hits like, “Devour,” “Diamond Eyes,” and “The Crow and the Butterfly,” a large round screen displayed a variety of videos – images of world peace, third world countries, patriotic displays, the rolling waves of the ocean, and even a young girl’s YouTube video in which she described her desperate fight against bullies.
Even more than the previous acts, Shinedown had lots of face-to-face interaction between the band members. They frequently were shoulder-to-shoulder, singing , playing together, and invoking crowd participation.
Smith pointed to individuals frequently – stressing the importance of each word by pointing directly to a member of the audience. There’s no doubt that those in the front row made frequent eye contact with their leader.
“Oh, Cedar Rapids. Ya know… I actually had to collect myself for a moment backstage. I usually talk about other stuff at this point in the show, but I had to go back and get it together. And I wanted to come back out here, and say to each and every one of you: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
The audience was thankful, too.
They mimicked Smith’s every move – when he clapped, they clapped, when he pointed, they pointed. And when he put his fist in the air during “Unity” an entire sea of people united with raised fists.
Another special moment during the concert was during the performance of, “45.”
“Everyone – this is the moment where you show us the magic,” Smith declared. Before singing the song, he asked the audience to take out their lighters and cellphones, and by the time the song ended, the entire arena was a sea of twinkling lights.
“From where I’m standing,” said Smith, “Rock’n’roll looks very much alive.”
Indeed it was. The band played hits off their new album, “Amaryllis.” Including, “Enemies,” “Adrenaline,” and “I’ll Follow You” which have quickly become fan favorites.
“Songs give you life. They lift you up. They make you want to fight again,” said Smith. This has been a very unique day for us, and the only people in the whole state of Iowa that we wanted to see, are in this room tonight.”
The band played each note with intensity and a real passion for their music. It wasn’t difficult to see that they were genuinely enjoying themselves as much as the audience, smiling and waving at every chance.
“Music is the most powerful thing on Earth. And we’re only given one time on this Earth – so treasure it,” said Smith.
He was as gracious as he was powerful. Smith is in no way a “screamer.” Known for his impressive vocal range, the rocker can hit notes spanning three octaves. And he nailed every.single.one. Fans of the lead singer can rest assured that he sounds even better live than on his albums.
“I want you to have a memory tonight. A memory you’ll never forget. The more I raise my hand – the louder you scream. And the louder your scream – the louder I sing.”
After an enthusiastic crowd begged for an encore, the members of Shinedown returned to the stage after changing into more comfortable clothes.
They performed, “Sound of Madness,” and “Second Chance,” before slowing down the show for a more tender performance.
“My father always said – look into the eyes of the youth and you’ll see the future. And look into the eyes of your elders, and you’ll see why the youth are so strong.”
Smith is renowned for his version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s, “Simple Man” which he sang alone on stage - stripped of the pyrotechnics and flare - accompanied by only Myers on an acoustic guitar. Joining Smith for the chorus, the entire general admission section swayed with the iconic lyrics.
Fans of Shinedown’s concerts know that the band typically ends the night with that version of “Simple Man” so when Smith said, “How about one more for the road?” the crowd was eager for the chance.
They ended the show with a raucous version of their song, “Bully,” before waving and thanking the crowd. As fireworks lit up the stage, Smith said, “Remember - it’s never goodbye. It’s only until next time.”
And there’s no doubt that Shinedown fans will be looking forward to the next time.