May 12 & 13 2018
Somerset Amphitheater, 495 Main St., Somerset, Wis.
The 4th installment of Northern Invasion is in the books. Young and old alike arrived with the pasty pale complection earned from a cold winter, and leave with sunburn shaped raccoon eyes. Part of AEG’s World’s Loudest Month, Northern Invasion has brought the Somserset Amphitheater back to its metal roots that were planted during the Ozzfest runs of the late 90’s and early 2000’s. With a Maynard heavy lineup, one was sure to see plenty of Tool T Shirts.
On paper day one looked to be the weaker of the two days and while that proved to be true, you still had newer bands like Dube and Bronx highlighting some of the lesser known acts, the always entertaining Butcher Babies, festival regulars like Blackstone Cherry and Atreyu, I Prevail was a pleasant surprise for me as I was not prepared for just how good they were. And of course heavyweights like A Perfect Circle and Avenged Sevenfold were the big draw to end the day. They seemed to have corrected the lineup as I didn’t witness the mass exodus during the headliner sets that I did last year.
One of my discoveries of day one was the Zippo Sessions. Anyone who purchased a Zippo lighter was granted access to a brief acoutsic show from a surprise band tucked away behind the VIP area. I caught two great 3 song sets from Blackstone Cherry and Red Sun Rising. If you need a lighter and would like a chance to get away from the volume and sit for about 20 minutes, check it out. I believe they are doing this at many of the festivals AEG puts on this year.
So while day one may have offered more time to check out the food options (top notch for a festival), hit the Wine Garden, figure out the best plan for going to the bathroom and fight your way to the front of the merch tent (Tool had a tent just for them). Day two was running from stage to stage from about 1:00 on.
Spirit Animal was a little disappointing considering it was my first time seeing them. Too much of what I heard wasn’t being performed on stage. So a quick jaunt over to the main stage to catch Red Sun Rising was the pick up I needed. The boys from Ohio did not disappoint. I’m not sure they have a bad show in them. Festivals give you a lot of different music but the early acts have to use their time wisely. And RSR picked the perfect 6 songs for the all too brief set. Not a moment was wasted.
Asking Alexandria was next on the main stage. Danny Worsnop is one rocks best front men but something about their show felt flat for me. I’ve seen them 4 times prior and the first few songs of the show lacked the energy I’m used to seeing from the lads. And the stage moves of the band members seemed bit anticipated. Following them was Black Veil Brides who also serve as a walking Hot Topic catalog. They sounded horrible. Something with the mix I think. It may have been a blessing.
The run of Anti-Flag, Hawthorne Heights and Stone Temple Pilots got things back in gear. STP seems to have accepted their spot as a legacy act replacing deceased singer Scott Weiland with a guy who not only sounds like him, but moves like him. A little too much like him. They sounded amazing and delivered a great set. But at times the singers moves felt a bit creepy.
Alice In Chains knows a thing or two about losing a singer to drug addiction. William DuVall has cemented his place in the band for the last decade. He may be able to sing the Layne Staley songs and harmonize with guitarist Jerry Cantrell in a similar fashion. But he doesn’t sound like him or move like him. And just like STP, AIC delivered the perfect set for a Festival. But would it killed them to talk to the crowd between songs?
Playing at the same time was Andrew WK. I watched the first three songs of his set before hiking over to see AIC on the main stage and I am now on board with this weirdo. I will never be a fan of his but I am now a believer. Say what you want but he is an original. His look. His band. His music. No one is like him. And God bless him for that. But three songs was enough. For me anyway.
Closing out the weekend was prog metal heavy hitters Tool. Tool fans are up there with KISS fans when it comes to passion. And they were out in full force all weekend. The band did not diasappoint. Playing their first show in almost a year Maynard James Keenan and company light up the stage (literally) except for the area Maynard stood in his Ant Man costume. He hovered in the shadows for the early part of show. Which is tradition. They have there detractors but for me, they are what are and I got what I expected. They sounded great and they always deliver a great visual experience. Even if that doesn’t include the members of the band.
Predictably the crowd of approximately 25,000 filled in much earleir on Day 2. One of the great things Somerset Amphitheater offers is close camping. Metalheads like to party. So not having to stumble far to get back to your campsite is a plus. The 160 acre land offers space to get away when it gets a little too intense without having to give up a decent viewing spot. There are no seats. No pit access upcharge. You want to be right up front. You can. You want to take a nap. You can find a place to that as well. I never had an experience like anywhere else.
I say this every year. A great festival shouldn’t be about one band. It should about the experience. The people you know. The people you meet. The different ways you can fill your day. And Northern Invasion along with Somerset Amphitheater offer an unmatched overall experience. Great food options (it will cost you a grip but what did you expect), TONS of on-site or just across the street camping. Get yourself a cup of Ellefson Coffee or relax in the Wine Garden. Shop for some vinyl at the FYE tent. Or squeeze your way up front to see some of todays best bands perform their craft. The best part, we all get along. I see people drink a little too much but I’ve never seen one fight at any of the Northern Invasion’s. Based on this years attendance, I’m quite certain Northern Invasion will return for a 5th year. I will be there.
For a light hearted discussion about the weekend with my co-host Loose Cannon, check out the latest episode of Cobras & Fire were we get into all of the fun we had.