Chaos tour a whole lot more than just noise


March 4, 2005


The multi-band punk fests organized by music marketing wizard Kevin Lyman may be obnoxious in terms of their ubiquitous corporate sponsorships and countless "cross-promotional synergies," but you can't say they don't deliver a lot of musical bang for the buck.

In recent years, Lyman's annual summer Warped Tour has leaned toward pop-punk acts -- shopping-mall-outfitted Clash wannabes Good Charlotte were a major draw on 2004's 10th-anniversary trek -- but the promoter is going for a much harder sound with his new Taste of Chaos tour, which he hopes to build into a "Winter Warped."

"We have 1,200 submissions for Warped next year, and a lot of them are these new, harder-edged bands," Lyman told when he announced the tour last fall. "These harder acts always seem to play on metal tours. Metal tickets always cost more; T-shirts always cost more at metal shows. If you're a 14- or 15-year-old kid, and you want to see an established metal act, you've got to pay twice as much to do so."

Lyman can try to portray his new brainchild as a service to fans being ripped-off by metal tours, but he's really making a grab for the business generated by the money-minting Ozzfest, whose second stage has increasingly embraced the younger, harder bands he's talking about, while Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne have claimed their share of those groups' T-shirt sales.



  • 6 p.m. Wednesday
  • The Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence
  • Tickets $25
  • (312) 559-1212

  • The particular brand of noise delivered by Taste of Chaos bands such as headliners the Used is sometimes dubbed "metalcore," "nü-hardcore" or "screamo" (a derivation of "emo"), though the musicians themselves tend to favor "hardcore," or just plain "punk." It has been fomenting in an underground netherworld somewhere between punk and metal for three or four years now, merging the rampaging rhythms, guitar pyrotechnics and deep, throaty vocals of thrash- and death-metal with the dramatic dynamic contrasts and smart, literate, heartfelt lyrics and politically correct sensibilities of emo.

    This is to say, the music rocks, dude -- but, um, you know, righteously.

    "There's definitely a movement," Quinn Allman, guitarist for the Used, told me when the band released its first self-titled album for Warner Bros. in 2002. "Kids call it an 'emolution,' but it's not emo. It's a new wave, a new setting on your amp, a new rhythm, and a new dynamic inflection with your vocal. But really it's just music -- just a different way to say the same thing.

    "I think it's punk-rock, but I don't want to say goodbye to melody, and I don't want to say goodbye to my voice," the guitarist added. "I just want to sing and I want to be heard, and to do that, I don't have to write big riffs; my music doesn't have to be big and it doesn't have to rock. When I want to write a song, the last thing I think about is how the crowd will move to it. I just think our music really comes from our heart."

    Call it what you will, Allman formed the Used in the late '90s in his native Utah Valley with drummer Branden Steineckert and bassist Jeph Howard. But things didn't really click for several years, until the three hooked up with vocalist Bert McCracken.

    "We were all into hard-core music, but we were kind of just trying to keep something unique about it, and it started coming out really cool," Allman said. Within a year of finding McCracken, the band had signed to Warners and released its debut, a striking mix of grinding metallic riffs and beautiful pop passages distinguished by the singer's oh-so-emotional crooning.

    Released last September, the band's second album, "In Love & Death," is even stronger musically -- though, as is the case with the lyrics of many sensitive young pseudo-emo souls, the morbid whining of McCracken can be a bit hard to stomach.

    "I must abuse myself/I'm against all that I've made up," he sings on the opening track, "Take It Away." "Set in stone the sun will come/And I hate light/You know I hate light/To me it looks so pretty burning." Ack! Then again, you can always ignore the words and just concentrate on the head-banging.

    The Taste of Chaos mainstage lineup is completed by several like-minded and similar-sounding fellow travelers, including My Chemical Romance, a New Jersey quintet supporting its second album, "Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge"; 2004 Ozzfest veterans Killswitch Engage, which recently issued "The End of Heartache" on Roadrunner Records; the New Jersey quintet Senses Fail, and the California quintet A Static Lullaby.

    To appeal to the notorious 10-second TV-remote attention spans of its target audience, the 36-date tour also features an acoustic stage featuring sensitive souls Opiate for the Masses, Bleed the Dream and Nicky P and a midway where promoters promise "the latest video games, autograph signings, and a host of additional fan interactive activities" (all of them certain to include some measure of corporate hucksterism).

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    Like many peers in my age group, I sought this career thanks to the inspiration of two very different strains of journalism. On the one hand, there was the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. On the other, there was the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, who committed suicide last week.

    While he rarely wrote directly about music, Thompson's prose crackled with the energy of the best rock 'n' roll. Hoping to make that connection, I searched for the source of a famous quote often attributed to him and which I kept pinned to my wall for years: "The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."

    As it turns out, Thompson never wrote that -- it was finally debunked by the Web site -- but it seems sort of pointless to get hung up on the facts, since Hunter rarely did. While he was prone to inventing out of whole cloth much of his gonzo journalism, there is more "truth" in a few paragraphs from some of his best books than other writers uncover in a lifetime. The places to start: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hell's Angels and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72.