As fireworks burst over the Inner Harbor last night, pyrotechnics of a different sort were at play at PSI-Net Stadium, where a crowd of 60,000 watched Metallica top off a five-band, seven-hour heavy rock spectacular.
The occasion was the Summer Sanitarium Tour, which in addition to Metallica included Korn, Kid Rock, Powerman 5000 and System of a Down. But even though the other bands shared the bill, the evening clearly belonged to Metallica. Not only did the quartet play twice as long as any of the other acts, but its hit-heavy set earned the evening's most enthusiastic response.
As well it should have, given the ferocity of Metallica's set. From the opening onslaught of "Creeping Death" through such show-stoppers as "Master of Puppets" and "The Memory Remains," Metallica offered everything a fan could want. There were breakneck-guitar solos (particularly in "Search & Destroy") from Kirk Hammett, impassioned vocals from James Hetfield and Jason Newsted, and relentless rhythm work from Lars Ulrich. There were even fireworks -- a particularly appropriate touch during the pedal-to-the-metal reading of "Gasoline."
Korn, by contrast, ended its set with actual fire, as a giant Korn logo that had been lowered from the lighting rig was set ablaze as the band chugged through "Blind."
An unconventional touch, to be sure, but then Korn is a pretty unconventional band. After all, how many heavy rock bands boast not only a singer in a kilt, but one who plays bagpipes to boot? Korn's Jonathan Davis does both. (And in case you're wondering, bagpipes through a stadium-sized P.A. make even electric guitars seem subtle.)
But though Korn seemed determined to play by its own rules, that didn't keep the band from connecting with the audience. If anything, its blend of rap-style vocals, thudding guitar and relentlessly percussive bass elicited an enthusiastic response, with fully half the stadium singing along as the massed bodies on the field surged in time to the music.
Even more impressive was the fact that the audience was as up for the dark energy of the don't-hate-me-because-I'm-different anthem "Faget" as it was for the more MTV-familiar "Got the Life" and "Freak On a Leash."
But given the amount of instrumental energy the band generated, it was no wonder the crowd responded enthusiastically. Even though guitarists Munky and Head and bassist Fieldy tended to play doubled-over, as if suffering from stomach cramps, there was enough rhythmic vitality in Korn's crunchy sound that it was hard not to groove along.
Indeed, the crowd on the field seemed in constant motion throuhgout Korn's set, either moshing or crowd-surfing or just plain pumping fists in the air. Yet apart from a few areas of extreme slam-dancing, the overall energy of the audience was positive.
Unfortunately, a temperamental sound system rendered Davis all-but-inaudible through the middle of the band's set, which took the edge off somewhat. Otherwise, Korn's performance was almost perfect.
Kid Rock spent a sizable portion of his one-hour set asking the crowd,"What's my name?" But he didn't have to ask what day it was, as he and his backing band, Twisted Brown Trucker, went out of their way to show their patriotic colors. Not only was there a massive American flag hanging behind the band, but the musicians made a point of wearing red, white and blue. Vertically challenged rapper Joe C. even came out sporting stars-and-stripes shorts.
So of course Rock and crew performed their version of the Grand Funk oldie, "We're an American Band." As Rock put it, "This is very appropriate for the Fourth of July." But it also suited the overall feel of Kid Rock's set, because despite his deep roots in hip-hop, the performance he gave was very rock and roll.
It wasn't just the heavy-metal riffage powering "Bawitdaba," or the way his current single, "American Bad Ass," borrows from Metallica's "Sad But True." Rock spent much of his set behind a guitar, using a voice box (just like Peter Frampton on "Do You Feel the Way We Do") to deliver a ribald blues, and setting up "Cowboy" with a slow, Z.Z. Top-style groove.
But the crowd didn't really react until Rock kicked his band into full rock/rap overdrive. Whether it was with the headbanging flow of "Devil Without a Cause" or the well-rhymed boasts of "Bawitdaba," it was clear that even though Rock was his name, Rap was the Kid's real game.