Northern Invasion 2017 – Act III (Festival Review)

Chris Jericho of Fozzy

As the calendar turns to May, we note the unofficial start to what we now call Festival Season.  As part of the Worlds Loudest Month, the third annual Northern Invasion Festival has come and gone to small western Wisconsin town of Somerset.  The Somerset Amphitheater has become an early May destination for rock and metal fans alike as it has hosted Northern Invasion since it’s inception in 2015.  Every year as the lineups for these festivals are announced, debates begin as to how it stacks up against previous years.  At first glance, I had some reservations regarding this year’s lineup.  The more I looked the more I saw reason for excitement.

Kid Rock is an out of the box choice for a largely metal fest.  By many he’s considered a Country artist these days and not exactly one to shy away from unpopular opinions.  We shouldn’t forget he is also the man behind “Bawitdaba”, “Rock N Roll Jesus”, “So Hott” and “American Badass”.  Fellow headliner Soundgarden can also be seen as something of an odd choice but that may be because they sorta don’t do much anymore.  Toss in established acts like Amon Amarth, Fozzy, Gojira, Sum 41 and Godsmack and rising stars in The Struts, Rival Sons, and Attila and you have a wide gamut of rock and metal.  Ultimately the 2017 Northern Invasion delivered a standard range of hits with a few misses.

Hit.  The 90’s.

There was a tinge of 90’s to this year’s NI.  It’s easy to forget just how big the Offspring once were.  And still are based on the crowd’s reaction.  Not gonna lie.  They weren’t the prettiest band of the weekend.  Chubby guys with an extra chin or two but they delivered one of the higher energy sets on the main stage.  And what had to be THE most crowd-surfiest audience in rock history.  For about 10 minutes of their set there were at least a dozen people crowd surfing at a given time.  And day one headliners Soundgarden laid a cumbrous slab of grunge that had half of the crowd metaphorically cutting the sleeves off of flannel shirts.  Sadly the other half seemed content making their way back to the campground.

Miss.  Also the 90’s.

Bush was a pretty dig deal at one point.  Lead singer and poster child of the last days of the alternative/grunge movement in the 90’s Gavin Rossdale has made more headlines the last 15 years with his relationship to ex-wife and former epicene lead singer of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani, than he has with anything regarding music.  They delivered a 45-minute musical sleeping pill.  While most of us managed to stay awake, I think it would have been a more manageable task had he taken the stage and regaled us with a reading of his divorce agreement.

Hit.  Godsmack.

Sully Erna of Godsmack

I first saw Godsmack at this same venue almost 20 years ago on an Ozzfest side stage around noon.  And again a few years later as one of the headline acts on the main stage of the same festival.  While that may serve as a stark reminder how it used to work, no one benefitted from Bush‘s languid performance more than Godsmack.  It may have been too easy a task to pick this crowd up.  Which, for the most part, they did.  Aside from the Napolean-esque lead singer’s insistence on a 10-minute drum solo, Sully and his fellow smackers reminded all us that we were at a rock show.  (New rule:  No solos at festivals.)

Miss.  Alter Bridge/Papa Roach

Is there a rule that every rock festival main stage must include at least one band between 3:00 PM and 7:00 PM that underwhelms?  One boring uninspired track after another.  While not the oxygen stealing sock in the gut of Bush, it was a one-two combination that were it not for The Offspring, the crowd may not have come off the ropes midway through day two.  NEXT!

Hit.  Fozzy.

This was my first Fozzy show.  So much fun.  There may be a bit of Chris Jericho‘s tongue in his cheek with Fozzy, but this band is no joke.  As their new track “Judas” can attest.  And Jericho can work a crowd.  A talent that easily transfers over from wrestling.  At one point calling out the group of people lining up at the front of the adjoining side stage, choosing to wait the next band over taking in another.  They made the list.  In the end, we all made the list.  Check them out.  You can send me your thank you card to Decibel Geek headquarters c/o Bakko.

Hit.  Sum 41.

Deryck Whibley of Sum 41

Setting the bar for day one was Sum 41.  Many in attendance may have forgotten about the Canadians rockers.  If so they remember now.  I’m not sure why Sum 41 never achieved the success of some of their contemporaries.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t sound exactly like Fall Out Boy, Panic! At The Disco, New Found Glory, Good Charlotte, American Hi-Fi, Yellowcard or maybe it is because they are Canadian.  Singer Deryck Whibley seems to have taken his somewhat recent health scare seriously as that and the return of guitarist Dave Brownsound seem to have resulted in a band that is inspired and looks as great as they sound.  A much-unheralded guitarist, putting Brownsound in a band like Sum 41 is a lot like buying a flame thrower to light a match.  The energy they brought to the weekend may not have been equaled.

Hit.  The new guys.

I suggest you crawl out of your tent early enough to catch the new bands at a festival.  I always find new acts to embrace.  This year four bands new to me etched their brand of rock in my brain.

The Charm The Fury.  All the way from Amsterdam, TCTF administered a concise set tighter than Octomom’s grocery budget.  Female fronted metal bands can fall into the minutia but TCTF have no need to worry about that.  Brutal.  Fun.  Metal.

Rival Sons.  Based on the number of high-end guitars Scot Holiday ran through, I’m guessing Rival Sons may be rising sooner than later.  Not sure that’s the most accurate way to measure such things but such is my nature.  Good lord.  What a great band.  Surgically executed rock n roll.

Goodbye June.  Guitars.  Drums.  Vocals.  Coming out of Nashville no one should be surprised to see a group of talented musicians.  Goodbye June adds the songs to go with the talent.  They briefly held the title of day two bright spot.

Badflower.  Playing right after Goodbye June, Badflower stole the bright spot.  In reality, both were early performance highlights and both point to a bright future for rock.  But damn if this band isn’t killer.  Check out their track “Soap” if you haven’t heard them yet.  And see them live.  In their words, playing ALL the festivals so you have no excuse.  I did catch these guys opening for Red Sun Rising last February so I may have been a bit biased but they fucking killed.

Hit.  Putting the second and third stage next to each other.

For those who’ve never been to my favorite outdoor festival amphitheater (I know it’s not as scenic as Red Rocks, but if you’re going to spend two or more days taking in a seeing eye chart of bands I’ve seen none better) Somerset Amphitheater is a grass bowl around a main stage area bigger than your average arena with even more sprawling area to host a couple of extra stages, merch, porta potty’s, camping, parking and so much more.  To put it in perspective.  In the early 2000’s, Somerset Amphitheater hosted Ozzfest and Vans Warped Tour simultaneously.  Eight stages and you still had room to move.  Point being it’s big.  And putting the second and third stage next to each other reduced the amount of walking for one who wants to see as many bands as they can.  And from one who has covered this event for three years now,  THANK YOU!

Miss.  Tents.

The biggest head shaker of the weekend had nothing to do with the bands or their performances.  Unless you wanted to see them.  For some reason, they slapped beer/food vendors right in the middle towards the back on the main stage concert floor.  With additional merch tents as well.  What this meant was people sitting on the main stage bowl hill straight back of the stage could not see the stage.  Too close to the center and viewing the screens was obstructed.

Hit.  Kid Rock.
For all the naysayers.  For all of the negative online comments driven by Rock’s politics.  For everyone that thought Kid Rock would shove a country rock show down the throats of a metal fest.  Kid Rock kicked your ass.  If you were never a fan, he still would’ve kicked your ass.  If you folded your arms and shook your head in protest, he still would’ve kicked your ass.  If hackers took control of your life savings and the ransom to get it back was not having your ass kicked by Kid Rock at Northern Invasion, well, suffice it to say you wouldn’t be able to pay the ransom.  The last band on the last day of any festival has the challenge of getting the audience to resist that urge to head home a little bit early.  Even more so when it’s on the Sunday of a non-holiday weekend.  Even more so when a significant portion of said audience is in their 40’s.  And even more so when a chunk of the crowd is convinced you are going bring Hee-Haw to a metal show.  With all of that going against him, Kid Rock managed to keep the bulk of the crowd from rushing to the parking lot.

In a way, he may have saved the weekend.  There is a certain sort of effortless to Kid Rock.  From his music to his stage presence.  You find yourself amazed and wondering.  Can it be this easy?  Watching him perform you almost second guess yourself as you realize this right wing pseudo red-neck from Detroit is really, really good.  As is his band.  More than likely he skewed his set to fit a rock festival.  No matter.  He looked good.  Sounded good.  Kicked my ass and hung the ‘Gone Fishin’ sign on Northern Invasion 2017.  See you next year.

Northern Invasion

bakko@decibelgeek.com

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