Epi­cen­ter fest rocks Fon­tana

Eminem, KISS and a re­formed Bush rock the Epi­cen­ter fes­ti­val in swel­ter­ing Fon­tana.

Los Angeles Times - - Calendar - Steve Ap­ple­ford cal­en­dar@latimes.com

Eminem, Kiss and Bush were just three of the top acts to per­form over the week­end.

Right in the mid­dle of Eminem’s first of­fi­cial West Coast per­for­mance since 2005, the rapper paused to ask: “Did you miss me?”

Eminem has a knack for tap­ping into the drama or com­edy of a moment, and the huge cheers he got in re­sponse at the Epi­cen­ter fes­ti­val in Fon­tana on Satur­day were a mea­sure of how un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet he’s been dur­ing those years, un­til the re­lease of 2009’s “Re­lapse” and this sum­mer’s “Re­cov­ery.”

As he paced the stage in a sweat-soaked T-shirt, it was near the end of a blaz­ing-hot day on the black­top at Auto Club Speedway. He was shar­ing a di­verse bill with the rock acts KISS, Bush and Papa Roach and with fel­low hip-hop artists Big Boi and House of Pain. (Day 2 of the fest Sun­day was more fo­cused on straight ahead punkpop, head­lined by Blink-182.)

With stacks of crushed cars as dé­cor to evoke the wreck­age of Detroit, Eminem crept across the stage dur­ing a chill­ing “3 a.m.,” as gore splashed on the big video screen be­hind him, fol­lowed by “Kill You,” an­other song of play­ful blood­shed. His new al­bum is a step away from rhymes of vi­o­lence and the more car­toon­ish side of his per­sona, but dur­ing Satur­day’s set he toyed with the range of his mul­ti­ple selves.

That en­ergy con­trib­uted to a too-fast read­ing of “Stan” but oth­er­wise fu­eled an ex­cited ex­am­i­na­tion of his first decade as an artist both dar­ing and self-ob­sessed, as vic­tim and avenger, su­per­man and drug ca­su­alty. He was spooky and con­fi­dent on “The Way I Am,” then ded­i­cated the in­tro­spec­tive “I Love the Way You Lie” to any women in the au­di­ence “if you’ve ever been in a dys­func­tional re­la­tion­ship.”

There was real ca­ma­raderie with his friends in D12 as they per­formed “My Band,” and as Eminem be­gan “No Love,” he chanted “Free Lil Wayne!” — his orig­i­nal col­lab­o­ra­tor on the song, now serv­ing a year at Rik­ers Is­land on a weapons charge. And af­ter a medley of rhymes from his first al­bums came an in­spi­ra­tional, con­fes­sional “Not Afraid” as Eminem rapped alone to a beat of re­newed con­fi­dence and pur­pose.

Eminem fans left in droves af­ter his 90-minute set was over, leav­ing a crowd half the size it had been an hour ear­lier, and just as head­liner KISS was about to hit the stage. KISS can eas­ily fill sports are­nas on its own, and what ex­it­ing hiphop fans missed was a uniquely flam­boy­ant rock show of pure, in­ten­tional overkill.

It wasn’t the usual KISS au­di­ence, with only a few fans in the band’s kabuki makeup. And open­ing the set with the new song “Mod­ern Day Delilah” — rather than one of the band’s hits from the ’70s — might not have held the at­ten­tion of the unini­ti­ated, but there were enough ex­plo­sions and fire­balls to dis­tract al­most any­one.

Last year’s “Sonic Boom” was the band’s first new stu­dio al­bum in 11 years and is its most pop­u­lar re­lease in decades be­cause it in­ten­tion­ally reignites KISS’ ’70s sound. Still, the old hits re­mained the high­lights at Epi­cen­ter. “Detroit Rock City” was loud, hook-filled ex­cite­ment, while “Crazy Nights” de­liv­ered softer, melodic bub­blegum rock.

Dur­ing “Fire­house,” singer-bassist Gene Sim­mons brought out his flam­ing sword and spit fire be­fore send­ing the blade into the stage. And singer-gui­tarist Paul Stan­ley soared above the crowd on a cable dur­ing “I Was Made for Lov­ing You,” an im­pres­sive feat for any­one, es­pe­cially a hard-rocker in plat­form heels push­ing 60.

“The mu­sic you hear tonight is made by the four peo­ple up here,” Stan­ley de­clared. “There are no phony tapes…. This is rock ’n’ roll, and we’re a rock ’n’ roll band!”

Ear­lier on the big stage was Bush, like Eminem an­other plat­inum-sell­ing act mak­ing a re­turn to live per­form­ing af­ter a pe­riod of in­ac­tion. The re­united quar­tet opened with “Ma­chine-head,” one of the band’s most rec­og­niz­able hits, stretch­ing out the open­ing riff be­fore singer Gavin Ross­dale be­gan the har­ried lyrics: “Breathe in, breathe out….”

In 2010, Bush’s big, crisp grunge riffs are an un­ex­pected nov­elty, in con­trast to the ’90s, when Bush was some­times lam­basted for ap­ing the sounds of Nir­vana and oth­ers of the era. The band was a de­pend­able hit-maker for much of that decade and later this year will re­turn with a new al­bum, “Ev­ery­thing Al­ways Now.”

With his hair pulled back into a Sa­maria bun and three strips of orange re­flec­tive tape on the wrist of his strum­ming arm, Ross­dale was at times ex­plo­sive and at times re­served, shout­ing, “There’s no sex in your vi­o­lence” dur­ing “Ev­ery­thing Zen.”

“It’s dif­fi­cult to not play the new songs,” Ross­dale said dur­ing a set built mostly of the fa­mil­iar. But just as the band was to be­gin the grind­ing melody of its new sin­gle, “Af­ter­life,” the singer left the stage to walk along the edge of the bar­ri­cade, reach­ing out to fans to get up­close and reac­quainted.

Lawrence K. Ho

STAR: Bush’s Gavin Ross­dale at Epi­cen­ter.

FRONT­MAN:

Lawrence K. Ho

Bush’s Gavin Ross­dale feeds off crowd en­ergy dur­ing a fest that also fea­tured Papa Roach, Big Boi and House of Pain.

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