Godsmack, Stone Temple Pilots and Disturbed: Chunka-Chunka
Photos and Story by Clay Butler
Originally published in The Santa Cruz Sentinel
November 26th 2000
Disco never really died, it just became dance music. The same can be said for heavy metal. It never really disappeared, it just became … Godsmack. No, not a new type of heroine, but a modern metal band from Boston. Punk in its attitude, dance in its grooves, and 100 percent heavy metal in its riffs and intensity, Godsmack is one of the finest examples of modern metal that no one dares call metal. With $2,500 borrowed from a friend, Godsmack recorded their self-released debut in 1996. Through heavy airplay on local radio WAAF and constant gigging they sold thousands of copies through Newbury Comics; the only outlet that agreed to carry the album. This caught the attention of Republic Records and in July 1998 they re-released the original album.
The Godsmack name means instant karmic retribution. “What happened” explains front man Sully Erna, “was we were rehearsing one day and our drummer came in with this huge cold sore on his lip. I teased him and really gave him a hard time about it. The next day, I happened to get a cold sore on my lip. One of the guys in the band said to me, ‘See, God just smacked you on the head for all that teasing.’ So that’s why we named the band Godsmack.”
After two years of constant touring and the release of their second album” Awake” in 2000, Godsmack has established itself as a serious player in the hard rock/metal universe. I was lucky enough to catch them with Disturbed and megastars The Stone Temple Pilots at the San Jose Events Center.
I’m patiently waiting in the photographers pit for Disturbed, when two hooded beings come out escorting what appears to be a jump suited prisoner (actually singer David Draiman). They strap him to an electric chair and flick the switch. Within seconds strobes are flashing and blood streams down the face of the victim.
This is how Disturbed like to start their shows. And I like to see it. In fact I haven’t seen such a display since the big arena metal shows of the mid 80’s. Alternating between scream singing and real singing, David (who holds degrees in philosophy, political science and business administration) begins stocking the stage like a pro wrestler.
After chastising the audience on the sides for sitting down while they “work their asses off up here” Disturbed launches into an overdrive version of the ’80s Tears for Fears song “Shout.” It was ironic to watch the same people who probably used to beat up Tears for Fears fans in high school rocking out to a metallized version of this new wave top 40 hit. Combining hip-hop beats, sampled sounds and chunka-chunka guitar rhythms with apocalyptic lyrics of oppression and angst Disturbed demonstrate that they’re firmly planted in the modern genre-bending hard rock/metal movement.
Next up is Godsmack. To their debut album has been playing non-stop on my computer’s CD ROM for two months now. It’s infectious and one of the few albums that I can rock out to yet still maintain my concentration when working on the computer.
The strobe lights are pounding and Sully steps up to the mic, guitar in hand. In between verses he whips his head from side to side and holds his arms up around his face. If you saw him on the street you’d swear he’s having a seizure.
While drummer Tommy Stewart and guitarist Tony Rombola have their own rock and roll moves, it’s bassist Robbie Merrill that you must see to believe. Pacing the stage in exaggerated strides, his body hunched in a “c” shape, he nearly drags his bass along the ground as he plays it vertically. Pushing the effect further, he maintains a crazed, wide-eyed grin the entire show.
But really, it’s the music we’re all here to see and Godsmack delivers like seasoned pros. Godsmack combine the best of club and hip-hop inspired rhythms with classic metal riffing which some have said “grinds as it grooves”. This blending of genres can be seen reflected in the audience as they switch seamlessly from hip-hop inspired “jump, jump” dance moves and moshing to head banging and lighters atop swaying arms.
Not only the singer and lyricist, front man Sully writes most of the music and played drums on the first album. Sully, whose dad was a professional jazz drummer for 40 years, has been pounding the skins since age three. Demonstrating his chops, Sully jumps over to a stand up drum kit and jams with their drummer Tommy during “Get Up, Get Out”.
“I’m not the one who’s so far away, when I feel the snake bite enter my veins,” sings the audience, nearly drowning out Sully’s vocal intro to Godsmack’s spooky and sensual song “Voodoo”. Sully, a practicing Wicca, brings an earthy spiritual vibe to the Godsmack stage that spreads to audience.
After 45 minutes they finish with their signature song “Whatever.” This is the song everyone has been waiting for and the air is electric. On the album the song is short, a mere three minutes and twenty-six seconds, but Godsmack extends it with a call and response contest with the audience.
“Now… you’re competing against the entire United States, so don’t go soft on me”
The audience assures him this will no happen.
“I’m doing the best I ever did….” sings Sully.
“Now go away!” the audience roars back, finishing the chorus.
This peaks into a deafening wall on the fourth try.
“You have no idea how much I love you guys right now” Sully responds and the bands finishes the song, takes their bows and walks off stage.
You know what, the song is still to short. Perhaps I’ll need to burn it on a CD twelve times in a row to finally get my fix.
Finishing off the evening is the Stone Temple pilots. STP occupies an unusual space in the rock-and-roll spectrum. Melodic and soft enough for the soft rock crowd yet heavy and twisted enough for the metal fans. The band, sporting a look halfway between disco cowboy and pimp-daddy throw out enough hits to please everyone.
During “Plush” Scott Weiland jumps off stage and tours the audience for a giant sing-along. It’s clear that this is not an act. Scott truly loves the physical contact with his audience and never pulls back or flinches as hundreds of hands and bodies lunge toward him. After a few hard rockin’ tunes STP slows down for an acoustic set, complete with miniature drum kit and stools. They start off the set with their 70’s-ish “Sour Girl”.
My partner points to the audience down below, “look they have no idea what to do this music”.
It was true. The shuffling syncopation of the bass and drums negated traditional swaying yet the song was too soft to mosh to. Not to say the audience didn’t enjoy the song, they just lacked the kinetic vocabulary to express it physically.
The highlight of the evening, from a rock-and-roll milestone point of view, is when singer Scott Weiland talks about the nature of crowd surfing.
“It’s a real honor and a privilege to be carried above the audience and it would be nice if the ladies could participate without being groped or fondled…show some respect”, says Scott.
The audience cheers with approval.
For the finale Scott enters the spotlight dressed only in elbow length red velvet gloves and an American flag tied around his waist.
Not to be outdone, the guitarist pulls down his pants and plays the entire song shielded only by his low-slung guitar. Not particularly sexy, blasphemous or shocking the spectacle comes across more as just wholesome fun and games among friends.
Looking back on the evening, with its pleasing mix of musical styles, humor, camaraderie, and playful gender bending, I can’t help but be hopeful about the state of rock-and-roll in the coming decade. Don’t miss out on this one.