Photo essay: Aftershock festival brings out metalheads, '90s nostalgia

Nice lapels, Dexter.

Dexter Holland addressed the sea of sweaty bodies: “It’s fucking a million degrees here, with fucking a million dust pits, and you’re all still here.”

Apparently Sacramento’s Aftershock festival impressed The Offspring frontman. Guitarist Kevin “Noodles” Wasserman took it one step further: “I’m gonna go on record and say this is the best festival California has probably ever had.”

Well, if your jam is strictly heavy metal and hard rock, then Wasserman is probably right. California Metalfest in Anaheim called it quits in 2012. Warped Tour books increasingly poppy punk bands for a largely teenage audience. For what it is, Aftershock is a big deal.

That said, I was immediately repulsed upon entering Discovery Park. It was mostly the offensive heat—triple digits on Saturday. The air was thick with dust. It was impossible to avoid stepping on trash. The festival reeked of cheap beer, cigarettes and sweat, with 37,000 in attendance over the course of the weekend. Sunday saw a sold-out crowd of 19,000 mostly tattooed people dressed in black.

Unlike most big festivals, Aftershock featured few diversions. There were food trucks. And. Um. That’s about it. Metalheads just care about the music, and with more than 40 bands across four stages, there was plenty.

And unlike past years, Aftershock offered a whole lot beyond metal. The Offspring, for example, blasted through hit after hit and played Smash in its entirety, celebrating the album’s 20th anniversary. Electronic rock band AWOLNATION also played Saturday—reception was mixed, particularly when Aaron Bruno told everyone to feel the love and put their arms around each other. Yikes.

Rivers Cuomo hasn’t changed much. 

And Weezer headlined that night. Nothing was more bizarre and heartwarming than seeing people previously rocking out to metal pumping their fists to “Beverly Hills.” The guy next to me played perfect air guitar to “Hash Pipe” before whipping out his own smoking vessel. Seriously though, the nerd-rock band put on a great, career-spanning set, and I couldn’t believe I still remembered the words to nearly every song.

Malcolm Brickhouse: teenager, rockstar, guitar hero.

Sunday was more heavy on metal. I started my day with Unlocking the Truth, a trio of eighth-graders from Brooklyn, NY. Singer Malcolm Brickhouse’s voice cracked. And being teenagers, they wore apathetic faces. Energy was low. Their manager kept nudging them—literally—throughout the set. But what the hell were you doing in eighth grade? Definitely not signing a $1.8 million record deal. Appropriately, children were at the front of the crowd, and Brickhouse was a hero.

It took Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath approximately one song to enter the crowd.

Inappropriately, children were on top of Rise Against’s mosh pit. Seriously, parents? Tiny six-year-olds perched on shoulders, insanely close to being dethroned by crowdsurfers. I winced at two close-calls.

I also couldn’t believe people took selfies while crowdsurfing. In flip-flops.

Anyway, Rise Against’s set was solid. Mastodon sounded tight. The recently reunited Atreyu had the biggest, most stoked crowd of any early set by far. Black Label Society’s Zakk Wylde confirmed his virtuoso status and then some. Rob Zombie played a cover of James Brown’s “Sex Machine.” 

Zakk Wylde is also a formidable spitter. 

Rob Zombie’s Piggy D is staring right at you.

And, oh goodness. I hate to say it. But. The real shock all weekend? The band no one could stop talking about? And truly, the name I wanted to avoid acknowledging altogether?

Limp Bizkit.

Yep, Sacramento adores this guy.

Aftershock worshipped Fred Durst the moment he stepped on stage. A woman sent up her panties and he inhaled—deeply—before using them as a microphone accessory. Guitarist Wes Borland painted himself black, head to toe. The nu metal, rap-rock, mega controversial act engaged more than any other. And at the end, The Beegee’s “Stayin’ Alive” filled the air while Durst silently grooved on stage.

Sacramento never forgot 1999.

Photographer Paul Piazza contributed to reporting.

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