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Hard rock, heavy metal make Rock Vegas a memorable party

On Friday, it was rock stars who dressed as truck drivers, chips on shoulders, knives in backs and songs that keep the makers of antidepressants in business.

On Saturday, it was rock stars who dressed as rock stars, dancing robots, chants of "co-caine," and songs that registered as the battle cries of the id.

Telling bit of between-song banter from the first night: "I wrote this song while thinking about kittens, puppies, flowers," mumbled Staind frontman Aaron Lewis while introducing "Paper Wings," wielding sarcasm like a billy club.

From the second night: "I feel love in the air," Buckcherry singer Josh Todd beamed as his band prepared to play yet another song that you could probably hear at the Spearmint Rhino on any given day.

And that’s how it went over two days at the Rock Vegas festival at the Mandalay Bay Events Center and an adjacent parking lot where a second stage was erected.

Here, modern-day hard rock and heavy metal’s two leading impulses were on display: self-flagellation and the ensuing need to escape from reality via sex, violence or some sort of combination of the two.

The scab picking came first.

Save for a set from Jager-weaned rockers Hellyeah – sample song titles: "Drink, Drank, Drunk," "Alchohaulin’ Ass," – Friday’s main stage performers summoned all the mirth of a pet burial.

There was the aforementioned Staind, whose downward pull was leavened by only Lewis’ resonant, arresting voice, Boston brutes Godsmack, whose frontman, Sully Erna, seems like he could find a way to start a fight in church, and those bands’ direct descendent, grunge lite radio staples Shinedown.

Their songs were characterized by vague oppressors, betrayed promises, bloody knuckles and plenty of teeth broken off at the gumline.

Contrast all that with the following evening, when Slipknot and Stone Sour singer Corey Taylor, playing a solo acoustic set, opened with a boisterous take on the "Spongebob Squarepants" theme and Buckcherry followed with AC/DC-derived songs that mostly revolved around activities performed with one’s clothes removed.

Even Marilyn Manson deflated the bleak, biting nature of much of his catalog by flopping about the stage, singing with his ankles behind his ears at one point, donning a bishop’s garb and turning in a performance posited as much on humor as hell fire.

The band’s songs were plenty feral, particularly the near-pop poison pill "No Reflection," the stomping invective of "Rock is Dead" and a set-ending "Beautiful People," whose guitars sounded like a motorcycle’s throttle being revved.

But they were all delivered with a knowing wink as Manson punted water bottles, smashed lights and microphones and demonstrated to all the teen boys in the house that you could grow older without ever having to grow up.

This lesson has never been lost on Rob Zombie, Saturday’s headliner, whose stage show was suggestive of what might result from handing a pubescent heavy metal gore hound a blank check.

Scenes from vintage fright flicks, pentagrams, mass murderers, demons in flames and scantily clad scream queens flashed upon nearly a dozen screens spread across the stage, as plumes of fire charred subtlety, restraint and production budgets to ash.

It may seem sinister from a distance, but really, it was the opposite: there was no menace real or implied in the spectacle. If anything, the show defanged the power of said images by placing them in the context of a fun, larger-than-life rock show.

Zombie’s tunes further heightened the good vibes: built upon a steady, insistent groove directed at the pelvis, his songs are as well-suited for dancing as moshing, even if he’s singing about dead girls and killing people.

"It feels like a party," Zombie exclaimed at one point, all the previous night’s moping shed right along with buckets of on-screen blood.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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