With summer in full swing, a night under the starry sky at Mattress Firm Amphitheatre was very much a midsummer night’s dream as Frank Iero and the Patience, Thrice, Deftones, and Rise Against symbolized the group of four young lovers in Shakespeare’s play. But rather than being stuck in a love quadrangle vying for each other’s affection, the rock ‘n’ roll re-imagining that unfolded broke the fourth wall as the bands sought the true love of their onlooking San Diego audience.
Just like the characters in the Shakespearean comedy, by evening’s end each of the thematic complications of love explored in the play has played out: lust, disappointment, confusion, and marriage. The overarching theme of this tour is love, as bands from distinct scenes of rock united onto one powerhouse bill. Deftones and Rise Against had talked before about hitting the road together, and the stars finally aligned…or rather, both bands’ touring schedules.
With what felt like a bird’s-eye view of the stage and my surroundings from the theater’s lawn, experiencing the show from a lofty vantage point had spectators in the nosebleed section disconnected compared to those in closer proximity to the bands. It felt like the stark contrast between the haves and have-nots; from the lawn it felt like a concert’s live stream on social media, except you could see what all the viewers were actually doing in front of their screens, including talking to each other, getting distracted by their phones, and leaving to and fro from their seats.
Despite my initial qualms, I felt like I was seated at an ancient Roman coliseum about to pass judgment on these musical gladiators with a thumbs up or down.
Frank Iero and The Patience opened up the show. The front man, arguably most recognized for his time spent with emo rockers My Chemical Romance, had previously fronted bands like the post-hardcore Leathermouth before forming this new solo project formerly known as Frnkiero andthe Cellabration. Despite being the newest of the four acts, the band had a decent amount of fans front and center for their set. They played a number of tracks from their debut Stomachaches (named for the stomach aches that have plagued the singer his entire life) and ended with the song “Oceans” from last year’s Parachutes. All the members displayed a lively presence onstage, and musically the band sounded like the perfect intermediate between the styles of MCR and Leathermouth. Frank’s frantic and at times shrill and strung out singing tested the elasticity of his vocal cords, and are clearly still of a hardcore frontman and less of a screamo purist.
Post-hardcore legends Thrice played second (ironically, not third), and the start of their set signaled a palpable shift in energy amongst the crowd, triggered by the thundering amps signaling the band’s arrival to the stage. The members instantly received applause after playing their song “Hurricane” from their latest existentialist-titled album To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere. Thrice are a band that would turn even the biggest extrovert into an introvert through deep introspection and reflective lyrics, and listening to their albums emotionally places the listener into a black and white photo as a timeless vignette. The band then played “Silhouette” off their critically acclaimed major label debut The Artist in the Ambulance. At one point between songs, singer Dustin Kensrue admitted that half the songs from their setlist were off last year’s record, but like any band worth its salt they were fair to the fans and also played favorites like “Yellow Belly” to a much deserved fanfare. Thrice closed with seismic track “The Earth Will Shake” that had everyone singing aloud from the front of the stage all the way to those standing on the lawn.
Next up were Deftones, and by this time the attendees were basking in the soft glow of twilight, creating a metamorphosis from amphitheatre to light show extravaganza once the venue shed its daylight cocoon. As soon as the band members came out to the purplish haze of a stage credited to the lighting and smoke machines, everyone in the stadium that was sitting suddenly rose and gave a standing ovation, which was something I wasn’t accustomed to.
Deftones opened with their song “7 Words” from their debut album Adrenaline. And not until the latter half of the song when lead singer Chino began to rap over guitar riffs was I reminded that the band has its roots in the genre of Nu Metal, and it brought to mind fellow contemporaries that have experimented with hip hop like Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down, Limp Bizkit and San Diego’s own P.O.D. The band continued to play an apt selection of songs from their discography, including “Digital Bath” and “Knife Prty” from their most financially successful album White Pony. Of course they also played new material, showcasing numbers like “Phantom Bride” from their most recent album titled Gore. But at the end of the day the intent was to please their fans, and Deftones included favorites like “Sextape” and “Be Quiet And Drive (Far Away)”. Though it’s been years since the devastating loss of late bassist Chi Cheng, the band still retains an alternate version of Chi in the form of literal life force, and this was evident from the members zipping around the stage and interacting with the enthralled individuals up front.
Lastly, Rise Against took the stage, ready to secure a final victory over the audience in the last battle of the night. The band is one of only a handful of true punk bands currently signed to a major label, starting off in and still very much connected to the underground punk scene. The band’s members have woven a rich tapestry of playing in past and current notable bands, and like guitarist Zach Blair’s faux-goth garage act Drakulas, fronted by fellow well-known punk Mike Wiebe who also fronts the Riverboat Gamblers.
For most bands it would be the herculean feat of David fighting Goliath trying to follow the Deftones, but Rise Against’s larger than life sing-a-long anthems comprised of a socially conscious spirit (3 of the 4 members are straight-edge, PETA supporting vegetarians) and nothing but heart weigh-in the band as an equal heavyweight in the same arena of rock. With the word ‘RISE’ illuminated in the background, the punk band fronted by Tim McIlrath played tracks from their newly released album Wolves. The live songs sounded just as urgent and promising as anything they’ve ever done, despite an unfamiliarity with the new music. And, just like the three acts that played before them, they were all about giving the crowd what they paid for, and played classics like “Savior,” “Ready To Fall,” “The Good Left Undone,” and one of my personal favorites, “Prayer of the Refugee.” Tim and the boys gave a dynamite performance, and the inherent call and response structure of their music had the amphitheatre booming from everyone singing back at the band in unison.
En route to the show I had been fawning over attending it (lust), was at first put off by my seat away from the stage (disappointment), became uncertain regarding how I felt about the entire ordeal (confusion) and after leaving the amphitheatre ended up enamored of the idea of seeing bands perform on such an epic platform (marriage). Maybe it was the mischievous sprite named Puck playing the role of Cupid with my feelings, much like he does with the four original lovers in the play. But unlike the tragedy Shakespeare’s works are known to end with, tonight concluded with a happy ending for all and was anything but tragic.