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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of 2014

9. The Algorithm -- octopus4
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Octopus4 is an instrumental, electronic concept album whose concept is a satire on concept albums in general: a computer virus is transforming every living human into Will Smith. The music, though, is seriously good, a sprawling display of electronic and heavy music mashed-up with just the right of amount of spacey ambient smoke breaks to ease the listener's ears.

8. Project 86 -- Knives to the Future
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The bad: Knives to the Future is not as diverse as Wait For the Siren. The good: Andrew Schwab's dark tale of a soldier who awakens as the sole survivor on a frozen, corpse-littered battlefield continues 86's 16-year hot streak, despite the fact that Schwab is the only connective tissue to the Project 86 of 16 years ago. The old man can still make you punch a hole through your dashboard.

7. Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil -- Goliath
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Speaking of old man, it's been 20 years since Taylor released an album, but who would know it from Goliath? His lyrics are just as biting, his swagger is undefeatable, and his surrounding musicians are knockout players. The crazy thing is, Taylor always sounds current, yet never sounds derivative of anything. If someone asked me to give a perceived influence on this album, I could give but one answer: Steve Taylor.

6. Skyharbor -- Guiding Lights
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Skyharbor had three clear directions to head after their debut: more of the same, get heavier, or get prettier. They chose the third, erasing screaming from their repertoire, and Guiding Lights is about the prettiest thing you'll hear all year, with just enough aggression sprinkled throughout to keep things from ever getting boring.

5. Sadistik -- Ultraviolet
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After my first listen, I was ready to throw Ultraviolet in the trash. Rapper, Sadistik, aka Cody Foster, ended his previous album, Flowers For My Father, on such an optimistic note. Just a year later, I didn't want to hear him self-medicating, feeling dark emotions, hanging out with ghosts (he conjures dead mentor, Eyedea, via an uncovered, unreleased verse on "Chemical Burns"), not sleeping, and diving into "The Rabbithole.". Then this happened to me. Suddenly, lines like "1984's" "The skies here cry 365/dark clouds above me sing "Eat shit and die," went from frustrating to comforting. Even if one doesn't want to wallow in darkness, the amount of literary references Foster stuffs into just this one song (Orwell, Mailer, Nabokov, Thompson, Frost, King), painters (Pollack, Kahlo), historical figures (Winston Churchhill!), let alone throughout the entirety of Ultraviolet, makes listening worthwhile and positions Foster as the most well-read, intelligent rapper, gray-skies Seattle and beyond.

4. '68 -- In Humor and Sadness
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I have to admit, I was not anticipating In Humor and Sadness, Josh Scogin's debut album as "'68." Scogin's last band, The Chariot, suffered from, in my opinion, diminishing returns over the last few albums of their career. Chaos can only take one so far. On In Humor and Sadness, Scogin sheds it and the rules he laid in place for The Chariot (i.e. "I will not sing") to release an outburst of pure emotion. Best of all, those apocalyptic seeds present in Scogin's previous work have fully bloomed. I am certainly anticipating his next release now.

3. Beck -- Morning Phase
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Beck comes back with his first album in six years, in the more laid back. Morning Phase exists in the more folkish and orchestral vein of Sea Change. Beck had just undergone the painful dissolution of a long-term romantic relationship before Sea Change was recorded, but Morning Phase is generally more upbeat and mystical. Despite the low-key nature, Beck is aces at crafting an album, creating a bit of a conflict halfway through, then slowly dissolving it throughout the course of Morning Phase's second half. At this point, Beck Hansen is a national treasure.

2. The War On Drugs -- Lost In the Dream
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Now that it's been 24 years, I'm not sure if I miss the 80's or not. Regardless, everything good about the music of that decade is found of The War On Drugs' Lost In the Dream. Springsteen, Petty, Dire Straits, the best vibes and textures from their music are all here, shining through the unique filter of frontman, Adam Granduciel. Granduciel is an excellent songwriter, and Lost In the Dream is an aptly titled trip.

1. Kent -- Tigerdrottningen
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Kent used to be the coolest band on the planet--it was their genre. Then they started to get old and too relaxed. The last time they were cool was somewhere before the midpoint of 2009's Röd. Kent's work since then hasn't been bad, but it has lacked that Kentsian spark. Tigerdrottningen, with help from loads of female guest-singers, rekindles the flame. Kent take back the crown. After a year that began with The Nicsperiment's future in doubt, it's turned out to be one of my favorites in the history of the blog. How awesome that Kent, who got to hang out on The Nicsperiment for most of the summer, ended up making my favorite album of the year.
Speaking of this year, if you are new to The Nicsperiment, this year (and this month in particular) marked its ten-year anniversary. During 2014, The Nicsperiment got to spend an entire month evaluating the life's work of the greatest film composer of all time, reach the halfway point in its "Every Album I Own" series, figure out the real reason the fourth Indiana Jones film is so disappointing, re-evaluate Mel-Gibson's Passion of the Christ, slyly poke out my true opinion on the city of New Orleans, review some great and just okay TV shows, review some great, just okay, and not so great movies, reflect on my college music experience, and just recently, recount in ridiculous detail my trip to the 2002 Cornerstone festival.
This year was everything I have ever wanted The Nicsperiment to be, and as lagniappe, I got to review some classic video games on The Nintendo 64 Museum, as well.
From this blog to your eyeballs, happy New Year, and I hope 2015 is a momentous one in your existence.

The Nicsperiment's Top Nine Songs Of 2014 (Not Found On Albums In the Nicsperiment's Top Nine Albums of the Year)

With the exploded music industry the way that it is (no money, lots of bands...exploded), the truth of it is there were hundreds of thousands of albums and millions of songs released this year. On that scale, I have only heard a meager portion of what was released. My top nine albums list is coming shortly, but before that, here are my nine favorite songs from albums that did not make that list, but in a surprise twist, ordered randomly (The top nine albums list WILL NOT be ordered randomly).

9. U2 -- Song for Someone
Yes, U2 released a new album this year, no it isn't even close to my favorite U2 album ever, but still, it's U2, and it's got some great songs. "Song for Someone" features U2's best qualities: religious inspiration, a rapturous guitar solo bridge, and Bono's quiet voice building up to a soaring outro. Plus, it was free. Thanks, rich dudes.

8. Demon Hunter -- Death
All four albums Demon Hunter have released post-Triptych have featured the same flaw: great, exciting first half, followed by five or six songs that do nothing to set themselves apart from each other. Admittedly, Extremist is the closest they've come to their glory days, though it gets bogged down in its final third (2/3 of a great album is better than 1/2!). That doesn't change the fact that "Death" is the most striking opener of any Demon Hunter album ever. That tearing sound in the intro? Ryan Clark ripping out the pages of a satanist bible. These dudes aren't fooling around.

7. Sucre -- Wandering Back
Stacy Dupree and company could only bless the world with an EP this year, but soaring at this level of ridiculous beauty, 1:24 is about as much as the human brain can handle.

6. Linkin Park -- Rebellion
Linkin Park's The Hunting Party is a great idea (let's be an 80's heavy metal/punk band!), but the band get bored with the idea halfway through, and mostly stick to what they know from that point on. "Rebellion," though, featuring System of a Down's Daron Malakian on guitar, is the most high energy moment of Linkin Park's career. Drummer, Rob Bourdon, unleashes a technical mastery he's never even hinted at before, Malakian does his traditional, Armenian music inspired rock riffing, and Linkin Park's two vocalists sing some of the deepest lyrics the band have penned.

5. John Mark McMillan -- Love at the End
The sloppiest way I can describe this song is what if Springsteen found Jesus--not like if Springsteen sang about finding Jesus--he's kind of done that already. What if he actually found him, though? Bam. This song.

4. Islander -- Coconut Dracula
This song features a ridiculously infectious hook and holds the honor of sounding like the great, high-energy, fun hard rock of the early 00's. Even better, the song is from the perspective of The Mummy, curious and inspired by the fact that his buddy, Dracula, has started eating coconuts instead of people's blood.

3. Chevelle -- One Ocean
La Gárgola is a departure from Chevelle's increasingly polished run of albums over the past decade. It's also, unfortunately, a step back from the high quality of their last two albums. The rawness is appreciated, but unfortunately, nothing on La Gárgola sets itself apart...except for the two songs where the band break character, album ending slow-burn "Twinge," and the strangely mystical "One Ocean," probably the prettiest, most moving song Chevelle have recorded. Here's a bizarre Youtube-mashup someone made with the song and a Bill Hicks routine...that strangely works perfectly.

2. Sleep -- Clarity
I hate weed culture. I hate when my friends and family who smoke it try to talk to me about it. I hate weed. My goodness, though, do I love stoner music. I have no idea why, but probably because my natural disposition is high. Sleep have an hour long album called Dopesmoker that is entirely composed of one hour-long song, featuring the same, repeating, dark and sludgy riff, over and over again. I've listened to that album over a dozen times. "Clarity," released as a single in collaboration with Adult Swim, is not an hour long, but it is eight minutes of grimy, trippy perfection, I'll take. Thanks, Sleep! Now get off my lawn, and go get a job!

1. Banks - Brain
After hearing the first four tracks of Banks' Goddess, I received a serious scare: how was I going to add another album to my already completed top nine? Jillian Banks sounded like a female version of the Weeknd, slow and dirty, seductive and scary, hypnotic and deep. But then the next ten tracks headed in a far more mainstream direction, seriously bumming me out. Still, those first four tracks are killer, with "Brain" blowing mine the most.

Cornerstone 2002, Epilogue: All Good Things...

When I awoke, two things were immediately apparent:
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1. Adrian and Jon both lost like twenty pounds at Cornerstone. If I had punched Adrian in the stomach the instant I took this picture, instead of taking this picture, my hand would have gone straight through him like The Thing, and then Kurt Russell would have blow-torched me and cursed me with profanities as we both slowly froze to death.
2. Don't take a shower for eight days and see if you can duplicate the skin fungus on Jon's right rib.
The Minnesotans decided that since they hadn't pulled any pranks on us, they would squirt water from a bottle against our tent wall to make us think they were peeing on us. Either that, or they were peeing on us, and the face I made at them when I rushed out of the tent made them so terrified, they quickly made up a lie to save themselves from the imaginary above-paragraph fate Adrian suffered from my fist through his Thing gut. Thing gut, ironically, is an Inuit phrase meaning "fish tacos with red cabbage and a parsley garnish."
Also, that jackass Brantley, probably afraid that I was about to slap my hands to the side of his head, causing his eyes to bounce out like meatballs connected to his skull with spaghetti noodle-like nerve-endings, suddenly spilled his guts. He was not a jackass college senior, but a jackass soon-to-be high school senior who was also going to take a few courses at Gopher U that fall. What a jackass.
We told the Missouri cult goodbye, and they performed a final no-shower dance that smelled so awful, it actually came back around to smelling good, like cheeseburgers and onions on the grill at Waffle House. With that said, I am never eating at Waffle House again.
Don't hold me to that.
I think Adrian had a final goodbye with his Michigan peeps, but I'm not sure, as that was for him.
Jon breathed fire.
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We packed up all our stuff. Letting down the tent was sad. I mean, I hate letting anyone down, but what did our tent ever do wrong to anybody? It gave us shelter. It deserved better. Watching the other 30,000 people let down their tents was even worse. Here's the last time our tent was ever photographed. You can see the tears in Jon and Adrian's eyes.
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Massive trucks began to haul away sound equipment. Main Stage was pulled down. I ate one last brat. No, I didn't, I'm lying, but I wish I would have eaten just one last brat.
Bratdoggit! We got back into the van and left.
As we took the winding road out, passed the lake for the last time, passed each rolling hill for the last time, I never once thought, I'll definitely never see this place again, but now, as I type this 12 years later, it looks like I won't.
It rained on the drive home. There were fields and houses and trees. Adrian took the wheel for the entire journey. He does that.
We stopped at some gas station in Mississippi that had every flavor of Stewart's Soda. Incredible. Also, a good way to drink away the pain while still being legally able to drive.
We made it back to Baton Rouge, stopping at Wal-Mart to develop these very pictures. I had one picture to go, so I grabbed a random lady to take a group photo of us.
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Turns out she really sucked at taking pictures.
Then I suddenly realized I actually had one more picture left on my camera, so I made Adrian take a picture of me with my girlfriend at the time.
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I picked up my car from Adrian's (I'm really strong) and drove home, rolled into bed, passed out. Adrian gave the tent back to Squirrely Joe or Chipmunk Mike, or whatever his name was.
The next day, I caught a ride with my mom back to Baton Rouge to pick up the pictures, but after eight days in a tent-town surrounded by lakes, hills, trees, and port-o-potties, the urban environment just didn't sit right. Cornerstone was really over, and almost nothing else that happened that year sat right: this scary chick stalked me and sat in her car in front of my house every night, two hurricanes hit Louisiana, I picked up two speeding tickets in one weekend, one of the officers who gave me a ticket propositioned me for sex, I noticed for the first time that my bottom teeth were crooked, the stupid Shakespeare class I took that fall sucked so so bad, LSU wasn't that great at football, but none of that crap really matters.
What matters is that my cousin's husband, who was placed in a position of authority over me by my uncle, and approved and backed by my own mother, told me I had demons living inside of me. I knew that what he said was manipulative horseshit, but the fact that an entire authority system, which included two of my aunts, two uncles, and multiple other family members could approve of and be complicit in subjugating me in such a destructive manner shook me to my core. At Cornerstone, I saw Jesus. I had seen him before. I have seen him since. He's almost everywhere, but he isn't in manipulating youth with fear.
He isn't in milking a congregation for every cent in their pockets.
He isn't in people crawling around the floor and barking like dogs.
He isn't in a man placing his hand on your head and pushing you to the floor.
He isn't in forcing 12 year-old kids to attempt to prophesy to easily-influenced adults.
He isn't in giving a college student a "prophecy" in front of hundreds of people that he would not meet his future spouse until he was 29...that gave my wife and I a good laugh when we celebrated our four-year anniversary the day after my 29th didn't really give me a good laugh right after I heard it. That one wasn't even given by a family member, but but "prophet" Michael Barnett, though it was supported by the leadership...and my own mother.
He isn't in inviting false teachers like Glenn Miller when the church needs some cash, who spend "revival weeks" terrifying the congregation into giving everything they own and splitting the pot with church leadership 50/50.
He isn't in pointless "outpourings of power" that accomplish nothing but making a group of people more susceptible to all the things listed above.
He is in the words he said two thousand years ago that are still just as alive today.
He is in the hearts of those who ask him to be there. Once he's there, he doesn't share that space with the powers of darkness. How can darkness stand in the face of light?
12 years later, I can remember moments from Cornerstone as if they happened yesterday. I am bummed that none of the kids in the youth group I lead, or the kids in the Sunday School I teach will ever get to experience Cornerstone for themselves. I know one thing for damned sure--those kids' youth leader and Sunday School teacher, as long as he's me, will never take them into a room by themselves, sit them down, and tell them, without having a clue who they really are, what is in their heart. I know that sounds lame, and it isn't funny, and it doesn't have anything to do with Cornerstone. The purpose of Cornerstone, though, and any event like it, is to put young people into a position where they are experiencing life for themselves. I could have followed party lines, skipped out on Cornerstone, and stayed home to be exorcised of my interests, as the guy who told me I had demons also told me he only listened to "worship music," and that I needed to do the same. Outside of a corporate setting (where I actually play on a "worship team"), I generally enjoy about 3% of the worship music I hear (Hillsong United's newer efforts and Vineyard's older ones). When I'm on my own, I would rather worship God by rocking out, thinking and feeling through the unique likes and interests He has placed in me. I could sing along to bland songs in words I would never feel or say, and be somebody else...or, I could be smashed between hundreds of people in a tent, screaming along to a song about a dead porn star. For whatever reason, the latter moves me, and the former does not. That's me. Everyone doesn't fit in a box. You might look at a festival like Cornerstone and not see Jesus anywhere. Fine. Like the homespun aunt I never had always said, "It takes all kinds." With all of that said, if you are young or old, and in a church where the authority figures are forcing an un-Biblical point of view down your throat, tell them they are forcing an un-Biblical point of view down your throat, and then leave. That's what I did.
Once I had time to gather my thoughts, I called my uncle and my cousin's husband, scheduled a meeting with them. In the meeting, I told them I thought they were acting in a way vastly contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For my troubles, I was told by my uncle that if I left his church, I would likely "become the next Charles Manson." I was also told that without his guidance, "I would marry the wrong person, and end up getting divorced." I was 23 by this point, tough as nails, and steeled to hear the worst things I could possibly be told. I held my head up the entire time, as my face was spit upon, and I walked out confidently. When you've read the Bible for yourself a few times, it's a lot more difficult for someone who apparently hasn't to hurt you. Still, to this day, I can't believe that any authority figure charged by the Bible to shepherd others could tell a member of the congregation, let alone a younger member, let alone a family member, the awful things that were told to me in that meeting. My own mother, after hearing the things that were told to me said only, "I'm sorry that that happened to you," while continuing (to this very day) to attend. That is also pretty unbelievable to me. It's weird how people are drawn to power.
I never lost faith, though. I'm not sure if anyone who truly experiences Christ can. I hung out at an Episcopalian church for a while. It turned out to be a great place for someone seeking a safe space, and a more intellectual discussion of The Gospel. A little while later, I married a woman who attended a small, non-denominational church. Obviously, she invited me to attend, but I had a ton of reservations going in. What crazy stuff would these people believe?
I was finally rewarded for enduring years of religious torment. My wife's church was a place where God's Word was the agenda, not a tool to push one. It was, and still is, exactly what I needed. I understand why there are so many denominations. People are different. God made us to be different from one another. The only important thing is that The Church follows the Word of God. If it does not, it is not, by definition, a Christian Church. Pretty simple, but obviously, there are powerful men who see just what religion can do for them, instead of what they can do for religion.
I always planned to ramble here at the end. Stupid to hold stuff in. It might be ancient history, but it is my history, so I have the right to share it. I hope you enjoyed the Cornerstone stuff, and the Care Bears, and that jackass, Brantley, but if you want to talk about any of the stuff I mentioned in this final post, feel free to contact me at
I guess that's about it.
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Monday, December 29, 2014

Cornerstone 2002, Day Six: The Apocalypse

I woke up to only moderately swollen ankles. The heat of the blistering Illinois sun wavered through the tent walls. My heart suddenly leapt in my chest. This was the last day of Cornerstone.
Adrian and Jon were slowly waking. We all woke at the same time every morning. You just couldn't beat that sun. As soon as it hit a certain point in the sky, you had to get out of the tent. I don't remember any outside noise or bugs awakening us. It was always the sun.
Hey, in our defense, the sun is 865,734 miles in diameter. That's at least twice as big as we are! It is brighter than 85% of the stars in the Milky Way! It contains approximately 400 million stars! You do the math! I mean it, you do the math. I'm too lazy, and I'm not even sure what I'm asking you to do the math on. Something about space or something. Have you guys had the Eggnog Milkshake at Sonic? I haven't.
Anyway, we were at Cornerstone, it was the last day, I've never been to Cornerstone again, and Cornerstone doesn't exist anymore. It's almost as sad as the fact that in five billion years, the sun is going to expand and eat us and die. Corndogs.
We got out of the tent, I squablled with that jackass Brantley, and then I took a leak in the port-a-potty because I wasn't comfortable urinating publicly in front of 30,000 people. Then we ate breakfast. Jon's mom had sent like 865,734 breakfast bars, so we had been eating those for breakfast everyday. In fact, pretty much every meal was either a breakfast bar or a bologna sandwich or a brat from generous Minnesotans. There were food vendors at Cornerstone, but we never used them because we were saving money for one thing, and one thing alone, which is redundant because one thing is alone, so one thing is one thing alone. Or something. Like one planet supporting life in a solar system 9.09 billion miles in diameter alone. Of course, I am talking about merch. We were saving all our money for merch. I don't know why space facts keep coming up here. STOP IT, SPACE FACTS!!!
I just realized that I don't have any pictures from this day, so instead, I'll be posting photographs of care bears for your viewing pleasure.
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This is Good Luck Bear but I don't know what's so lucky about him because he is just a big stupid bear with no pants on.
What an idiot.
Moving right along naturally, Adrian, Jon, and I loved going to the giant Cornerstone Merch Booth. Of course, you could also buy merch from a band right after their show, but the CMB, which we never even called it once, was where it's at. Or was at, as Cornerstone is as dead as the outer stars of the universe, never to shine light again. But just like those tiny, dwarfy lumps, this Cornerstone Travelogue reaches you years later to shine Cornerstone's life upon your pitiable, hideous face. Well, not you, but definitely you!
Here is Tenderheart, a big stupid bear who whines all the time because all of the chick care bears are only into "bad bears."
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Stop whining, you furry jerk.
The Merch Tent was awesome. You never knew who was going to be hanging out under there. One day, Jon and I were wandering around and saw Five Iron Frenzy's Reese Roper standing next to some guy wearing a hat that said SEGA on it. Jon bought the SEGA hat for $5, and I bought my legendary, "Five Iron Frenzy Owes Me a Dollar" shirt from Reese. Sometimes, you'd see people from bands you didn't really like, and smile and nod at them to be polite, but then run into them over and over again every day until it was really, really awkward, kind of like how it will be awkward when, after five billion years of shining down life-giving light, the sun will consume us like I eat Smores Pop-Tarts and not even say sorry or anything because it is a big stupid jerk. Speaking of big stupid jerk, here is Love-a-Lot Bear, who just won't ever shut the hell up.
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She also thinks she is better than Tenderheart Bear because she has two hearts instead of one because Care Bears are vain and petty like that.
I got tons of awesome shirts and CD's from the merch tent, though I didn't quite have the luck Jon did. Essentially, if Jon went to the tent alone, the dude from the Tooth & Nail booth said, "Hey, you're tall, here're 500 rare vinyls for free." Randy Newman was right.
This particular day, Bettie Rocket had set up their booth in anticipation of a couple of their bands playing sets that night. I bought a couple CD's from them for $5 each, likeDavid and, then headed to the Indoor Stage to see a trio of bands whose performances I had anticipated. Like, I was "excited to see" anticipated not like "I predict these bands will play at this tent at this time" anticipated. Grammar is weird kind of like this weird bear.
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Grumpy Bear is pretty much the only awesome bear because he just tells the truth all the time and everybody hates him for it. Why won't those overfuzzed jerks just leave him the hell alone? Seriously, Care Bears are the worst.

Beanbag were a really cool Australian band that ended up having to break up because life sucks and then you die. Just like the Universe eventually will from heat death. Awesome. Beanbag were a hard rock band, and I reviewed their excellent Welladjusted here. They were full of energy and fun, except when vocalist, Hunz, suddenly said, "We've been on the road for the past two years. We're from Australia. That means we haven't been home in two years. We miss our families." I cried through the rest of their set, so I don't remember it, though stupid Funshine Bear makes me cry even more.
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East West: I had purchased East West's first album earlier that year and enjoyed it. East West performed the songs from that album ably, but when they got to "She Cries," not only that album's standout, but an absolutely incredible song in its own right, I had serious doubt that they could not pull it off. Just like scientists doubt any alien race has ever traveled the stars because all civilizations, Earth's included, likely annihilate themselves before they reach a point where that would be technologically feasible. Here's another stupid Care Bear.  photo 30427-2_zps7855500b.jpg photo 30427-2_zps7855500b.jpg
This is Share Bear, and she only shares stupidity.
East West actually pulled off "She Cries" flawlessly. The quality of East West's set was largely thanks to Giant Dreadlocked Man, Mike Tubbs, the band's vocalist, as well as co-guitarist. He is also at least nine feet tall, with dreadlocks past his waist. Probably. Anyway, Tubbs was a very engaging frontman, and it's a shame that band broke up.

I was really looking forward to seeing Spoken play because I'd heard their live show was awesome. I must have caught them on a bad day. They were off, and their vocalist, Matt Baird, was all over the place. All over the place is a euphemism here.

Pedro the Lion:
I'm not gonna lie. I hate Pedro the Lion. That dude's music is just straight up depressing. Like, I like depressing music a lot, but like, this dude is really depressing. Like you want to yell "JUST KILL YOURSELF!!!" when you are listening to his music. Or I want to do that. You may want to eat a watermelon or something when you are listening to him. One with a lot of seeds that get stuck in your teeth that you can choke on and finally meet the sweet sweet embrace of sweet sweet death.
Anyone, I'm not a fan of the dude's music, but Adrian has always liked him a lot, so I tagged along to Main Stage to see Pedro the Lion. Pedro the Lion is not the dude's name. The dude's name is David Bazan, but it's more funny to think of him as an extremely depressed know one that like takes Cymbalta and is always like, "Roar? What's the point, man. There's like, kids with no food to eat, man. What's roarin gonna do? It's all meaningless, man. I'm gonna go shave my mane and listen to The Smiths."
Anyway, after like two songs, Pedro the Lion's guitar broke, so he just did a Q & A for the rest of the set, and...that was the best possible outcome for me: Pedro the Lion's speaking voice is so much less depressing than his like, depressing singing voice.

Adrian wanted to stick around Main Stage to check out Sixpence None the Richer's set. They were another long-time favorite of his, and they had the honor of closing out Main Stage for the festival. However, I wanted to check out two Bettie Rocket bands, likeDavid and, and Jon didn't have a rooting interest in Sixpence, so he came with me.
The difference between a Bettie Rocket band, and say, a Tooth & Nail band became immediately apparent within a few minutes of likeDavid's set. I don't want to be mean, and I'm not going to make jokes at a hardworking band's expense when that band never received fame. Nickelback on the other hand...or is it Nickleback? Ugh, I just thought of having Nickelback in one hand and Nickleback in the other and I don't care how you spell it that's worse than being Pedro the Lion. I'm gonna go shave my head and dunk my naked face under water while listening to Joy Division, so that I can drown to death with a deep and woozy "Love Will Tear Us Apart" bubbling in my ears as I slowly lose consciousness and drift into oblivion. Just like how every planet and star will drift into oblivion, long gone and floating on the dead currents of the universe until every single object is an infinite distance from the next, but still floating, still floating on into nothing, forever and ever and ever and ever.
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The second Bettie Rocket band played. Then their set ended. Jon wanted to see Stretch Armstrong, who was in contention for the final show at Cornerstone 2002, along with Ghoti Hook's goodbye show. I've never listened to Ghoti Hook, so I didn't feel like it was fair to be a part of the end of their existence. Speaking of the end of existence, one day you are going to die.
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Everyone you know will also die.

Good gracious, this is the single worst thing I have ever posted, and there are still a couple more paragraphs to come.

Sixpence None the Richer:
Stretch Armstrong wasn't set to play for another hour, so I headed back to camp, from where I could hear, but not see the end of Sixpence's set. I don't remember what songs they played, just that this strange land of sweaty men moshing nonstop for a full week inside a mind-bogglingly enormous circle of port-a-potties was suddenly transformed into a whimsical world of eternal spring, where you chase a smiling girl in a flowing dress among fireflies and over streams, under the glow of the moon. Then Sixpence's set ended, and I heard the phrase "What are you wearing?" and looked back to see the creepy walkie-talkie kid, Gary, still in his chair for the 120th straight hour, sly eternal grin on his face, as he eavesdropped on two people apparently about to have walkie-talkie sex. I got off my bucket and headed back to the tents to see Stretch Armstrong.

Stretch Armstrong:
Remember how the day before, my ankles were like that Duggar lady's would be if she was pregnant with all the kids she's ever had at the same time? Well they might not have been that swollen anymore, but they still hurt. My pace back to the music tents slowed to nearly a crawl, as I had to take frequent breaks to grab onto trees and port-a-potties for balance. By the time I made it to the tent, Stretch Armstrong was well into their set, the tent was full, and I collapsed into the dirt.
When I finally summoned the will to stand, I headed behind the tent and watched the show from the back of the stage. I think the band played their awesome cover of Counting Crows' "Angels of the Silence." I could see Jon right at the front, going freaking nuts. I knew he must surely have smelled terribly, but it was awesome to see my good friend having so much fun. Stretch let the crowd choose their final song for the night: a cover of Modern English's "I Melt With You," or Pink's "Get This Party Started." As good as their original material was, Stretch Armstrong's hardcore covers of pop songs were legendary, so legendary that I am furthering the legend of them 12 years later because I am a legendator. That's a technical term. Just ask any of the scientists who contributed to this thrilling article you've been reading for the last three hours. On that note, I guess I should wrap things up.
After Stretch's tent cleared (sorry, I can't remember what song the crowd picked, but whatever it was, it was awesome), Jon and I found each other and walked back to our camp in a sort of stupor. Surely the last week of awesomness could not have possibly occurred. We would need a second witness to corroborate. Thankfully, when we reached the camp, Adrian was sitting on a bucket. If you haven't picked up on this yet, we sat on a bucket. I don't know where the bucket came from, or why, but we sat on it. I miss that bucket.
"Is this really happening?" we asked Adrian.
"Yes," he said. "And it is awesome."
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Then the moon fell from the sky, an asteroid scalped the surface of the Earth, all nuclear warheads went off at once, everyone died from Ebola, and all that heat death stuff I talked about above happened. Cornerstone 2002 was over. But stay tuned. We still had to somehow get home...and in many ways the journey was just beginning...just kidding, this next entry really is the last. Coming Wednesday: Cornerstone 2002, The Epilogue: Please, No More Care Bears.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Cornerstone 2002, Day Five: Carry Me, My Brothers. No, Seriously, You Have to Carry Me, I Can't Walk

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I woke up to the sound of a didgeridoo. It's been really difficult to make funny, fake, outrageous statements like I do in most of my travelogues in this one because one of the least weird things that happened every morning at Cornerstone was that I woke up to the sound of a didgeridoo.
A group of campers a few tents down had brought a didgeridoo to Bushnell, and they all worked out their lungs with it in the morning. Thankfully, the time where the heat of the day made staying in the tent unbearable generally coincided with the time that it sounded like Crocodile Dundee was chasing a kangaroo with his boomerang while eating a Vegemite sandwich through the campgrounds with a jolly Koala on his back. Sorry, Australians, I didn't mean to be racist. Now put that boomerang down, okay?
Somehow, though Adrian, Jon, and I were crammed together in a small tent, the exhaustion of the day always ensured that the three of us fell asleep immediately, and slept smoothly (and for me, dreamlessly) through the night. But back to this day.
I slept so well the night before, I couldn't immediately remember the last thing I did before falling asleep, but when I attempted to stand, I found that my ankles could not only not support my weight, but were also the size of cantaloupes. CANTALOUPES!
I hate cantaloupes, so I had to get Adrian and Jon to carry me around everywhere. The first thing I wanted to do that day was check out some of Cornerstone's speakers. You know, I'm really into audio technology.
What I really mean is Cornerstone's lecture series seminars. On audio technology.
What I really mean is Cornerstone's Imaginarium series, a series of lectures on art and film.
No, not really, that's actually what I really mean.
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Again, this is only a partial list of the seminars at the festival. The seminars fell under the banner of Cornerstone U, which featured around 100 different speakers on topics as wide-ranging as social issues, church ministry, buttoning your jeans, and Iranian Cinema. But they still can't bring your dead dog back.
I wanted to go to the lecture on Dante's Inferno, but I was literally reading it that very summer, and I didn't want to spoil any of it (SPOILER ALERT: Dante finds he is actually The Toad King, master of the swamps beneath the land we call land. He dies at the end in a valiant battle against the devilish Water Beetle Prince, who wants to pave over the swamp and build a Quiznos because water beetles can't get enough of that oven toasted goodness).  Instead, the three of us went to "What If God Was One of Us? An Adventure in Pop Typology," which mainly focused on the religious connotations of the Japanese anime film, Ghost In the Shell. Jon and I are anime fans, and Adrian is a good sport, and good at sports. I love Ghost In the Shell, and anime in general, and as the people who told me just before Cornerstone that I was demon-possessed absolutely loathed anime with the fire of a thousand loathes, I made sure that was the lecture we attended.
"What If God Was One of Us?..." was informative and entertaining. Rod Bennett did an excellent job breaking down Ghost In the Shell's themes and Christ metaphors. That lecture meant a lot to me. It helped reinforce the notion that Christians can be awesome like me, as opposed to not-awesome, like the people who told me that Beelzebub had just gotten home somewhere inside my stomach with all the new stuff he bought from Demon Ikea. Demon Ikea used to have huge sales in the summer because of all the Christian kids heading out to Cornerstone. I know they miss the festival as much as I do.
After the lecture, I suddenly realized the great advantage of having other people carry me around everywhere, and told my loyal slaves that the next stop was the Joy Electric show at the Decapolis Label Showcase stage.

Joy Electric:
Unfortunately, Ronnie Martin's synthesizer was in the same shape as my ankles. After a couple of songs, a bunch of raining confetti, and Martin throwing candy into the audience, his keyboard shorted out, and the rest of the show had to be cancelled.
"Bummer!" I said from my sitting place on the human chair made of Adrian and Jon's bodies. "Where do you guys want to carry me to next?"
"Guys? Guys?" I said as the two of them stood, leaving my helpless body to tumble onto the ground. They then walked away in grumpy silence, leaving me stuck in the grass.
Actually, upon standing, I found I could put some weight on my ankles again, thanked my pals for spending the morning lugging me around, and admonished them to go do whatever they wanted. I'd limp back to camp. They obliged. Fortunately for me, something magical was about to happen.
I started on the trek back to camp. Someone handed me a flyer. Cornerstone is kind of like college in that a bunch of people hand you flyers and crap to try to get you to come to their thing. Usually, that thing was a random hardcore show on a makeshift stage behind the port-o-potties, as opposed to back home at college, where it was usually a thing to trick freshmen girls to drink enough to sleep with guys that otherwise couldn't get any on looks or personality because they were lame. Here's the flyer that guy handed me.
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That paragraph actually doesn't have anything to do with anything. I just found that flyer and scanned it because it made it this far (Bushnell to Glynn, and 12 years in a box), so it might as well find its way to the semi-eternity of the Internet. Anyway, back to the good part.
Wait, before that, I also saw this dude who was wearing black eyeliner, black lipstick and a jet black cloak with a hood on. He wore this for the entire festival, and I know this because I ran into him at least once a day. I am pretty sure he was about the same age I was, and I am also pretty sure he eventually smothered to death in the Illinois heat, a pathetic example of suicide by fashion over function. Not punk rock at all, dude.
I continued on the trek back to camp along port-a-potty road. That particular road had an incline on one side (the side without all the port-o-potties). Usually, the incline held only woods. Today it held leaning instruments and a band getting ready to play.

This may be hard for kids today to understand, but between Adrian, Jon, and me, The Nicsperiment, we had approximately zero functioning cellphones. I had no way to inform my pals of what was about to happen. On the side of this very hill, mewithoutYou, sans turtleneck sweaters, ripped into yet another incredible set. This time, vocalist, Aaron Weiss, revealed even more of his eccentricities.
About halfway through mewithoutYou's set, Weiss muttered something into the microphone akin to, "Forget this, I suck," handed the microphone to the crowd, walked through the audience, sat on the hill with his head in his hands. Then, something even more strange happened: the drummer from Zao, who had literally just changed my life not 24-hours before, walked up to the crowd. He headed over to Weiss and essentially told him, "What you are doing means something to these kids. You have to get back up there." Weiss looked up with fire in his eyes, headed back to the stage, and the band then preceded to destroy that hill to the point that nothing will ever grow on it again. Take that, you stupid hill!

Slow Coming Day:
I finally made it back to camp, nudged Gary, the creepy, walkie-talkie eavesdropping kid, out of the way, and sat on a bucket. I took a moment to read the Jesus People USA Cornerstone Magazine (There's a picture of the cover at the top of the "Day One" entry.) Jesus People USA is the organization that put on Cornerstone. They are a sort of Evangelical commune based in Chicago, who does work for the community. 2002 was their 30th year of existence. They've had a bit of legal trouble lately, and I don't really know that much about them as an organization, but they put on a mean music festival, and that magazine was topical and cool.
After a little while, Jon and Adrian returned. I told them about the secret mewithoutYou show, and they were both like "DOH!" but then I told them that according to the Cornerstone schedule, the band was going to play again that very day, so we headed back to the music tents together, though at a slow pace, as my pregnant lady cankles were still at least the size of softballs. Before mewithoutYou played, though, the three of us caught Slow Coming Day's show. Slow Coming Day were rocking and emotive, and I bought their demo afterward, and can anyone tell me what happened to Slow Coming Day?

mewithoutYou (the third time): Hopefully, I've already gotten across the point that mewithoutYou's Cornerstone 2002 shows were really awesome...awesome enough to where I wanted to see them for a third time. The three of us enjoyed their third Cornerstone set immensely.
The show's best moment came when the crowd screamed along to the line "YOU BETTER BE ALONE!" from "Gentlemen." Weiss busted out laughing, stopped the song, and informed the crowd, "Don't sing along to that part! My point of view in this song is wrong! I'm a bad guy in it!" The band then roared through the rest of the song and set. mewithoutYou won Cornerstone 2002.

Bleach (again, for the first time):
Adrian was a longtime Bleach fan, and their first set had been great, so I went along with him to their second. Their second set rocked a little less than their first, as the band actually, and quite surprisingly, pulled out a few worship songs. Usually, I wouldn't be too down with that, but Bleach were extremely passionate, still rocked hard, and really drew me into the experience--not bad for a bunch of hill-country yokels. After the show, I noticed their guitar-player, Sam, was wearing a baseball camp imprinted with a picture of a pistol and the words "I Don't Dial 911." Awesome. He told me that a fan gave it to him, and if a fan gave me that I would have worn it, too, but my fans just send me kitty cat Christmas sweaters.

Kevin Max:
Somehow, in all the fray, I missed both John Reuben and The Benjamin Gate's sets, and I'm still pissed about that, as I am quite sure they were both probably awesome.
The three of us had some time to kill, though, so we went to Main Stage for a minute. We just missed Skillet, but the three of us had just seen them a few months earlier back in good old Lusiana.
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Also, Jon had blue hair.
Kevin Max, formerly the weird guy from DC Talk, took the stage as the sun began to set. You know, the one all the girls like (Toby), the one that can sing really well (Tait), and the weird one that all the girls who don't like the first one like (K Max). I'm doing an injustice to Kevin Max, as he is a really talented guy. Unfortunately, though, not much he has done post-DC Talk has stuck. The only thing I remember from his set is a comment that he was going to get a tattoo of Aslan crying for the world. Strangely enough, Max's set was immediately followed by Tait's, who was then followed by tobyMac, making for a strange DC Talk non-reunion, but we didn't stick around. We had less well-known, smaller, but much tastier fish to fry (Sorry, DC Talk dudes, but make some better music and maybe I'll eat you know what I mean! Metaphors are the worst!)

I don't know what happened to Narcissus, but they were really awesome. They did that whole scream/sing hard-rock thing, but they put a very unique touch on it. The vocalist had a very tough, non-stereotypical singing voice, and the instrumentation didn't really sound like anything anyone else was doing. Their set was awesome. But what happened to them? Who knows, and for that matter, where is my sandwich?!

Tourniquet does not have my sandwich, but Tourniquet's drummer, Ted Kirkpatrick, is generally considered one of the best in the world...drummer, not sandwich. That guy is incredible. Due to this and Tourniquet's rad, rock-metal hybrid music, Tourniquet has, while not huge, a devoted fan base with a rather rabid center. They played like emotive machines, and Adrian and I (Jon was no doubt dancing around a fire with the non-showerists, as this was the time of day the moon was lateral of Jupiter) vastly enjoyed their set. The standout moment, though, was a mistake by the guitar player. Tourniquet take a page from classical music, and during an insanely complicated opening solo (inspired by said classical music), the guitarist hit the wrong note. The entire crowd, which had been holding its breath, gasped collectively. I've never heard anything like it, but if anything, it made Tourniquet more endearing, as it proved they were not machines, but human. After the last song, Kirkpatrick threw pieces of his drum kit into the crowd.
A stick hit me right in the chest!
But horror of horrors!
With my engorged cankles, I could not crouch!
Instead, I could only bend slowly in horror, as the person behind me reached between my legs and snatched the stick away.
After the show came one of my favorite Cornerstone moments. Adrian, a longtime drummer (I had not begun to play by this point), wanted to take a picture with Kirkpatrick. The line for photographs was quite long. Adrian and I waited for more than thirty minutes. When there were only two folks ahead of us, Adrian's eyes suddenly stretched wide.
"I don't want to do this!" he said, and ran from the line into the depths of the Illinois night.
I didn't get it at the time, but I do now. I can't explain it to you, though, because it is the kind of emotion only the French have a word for, and I don't speak French because this is America, you godless foreign pagans. Now get out of my blog!
come back tomorrow though?

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Cornerstone 2002, Day Four: Alright, You Can Take A Crap...But We're Gonna Have To Break Your Ankles

Look at the title for this post. Perhaps you can gather: a crap was needed. Stomachs were distended with rock hard digested matter that had to be expelled. Jon had joined a non-showering cult. He used the port-a-potties at will. He had been taking like a million craps a day. Meanwhile, Adrian and I were struggling just to get ourselves to urinate in the tiny blue boxes we were sharing with 30,000 other people. There was no possible way we would ever allow our unprotected undercarriages to hang over the black holes of filth at the bottom of those port-a-potties. We would have to take a crap elsewhere.
Thankfully, there was a Wal-Mart a half hour away. Unthankfully, vehicles in the camping area were not supposed to leave and return. Thankfully, we were a bunch of stone cold rebels with stomachs full of crap.
That morning, Adrian and I peeled out of our camping spot, tossing thousands of untethered brats into the air, Minnesotans chasing and shaking fists.
Five minutes from Wal-Mart, that thing happened. You know that thing. That thing where you haven't taken a crap in a millennium, have somehow held it, but now know for a fact that, as a clean commode is approaching, there is no possible way you will ever make it there in time.
We made it. We ran into that Wal-Mart with our butts puckered so tight, David Blaine couldn't get inside. Then something horrific happened. When I was on the toilet, despite my three-inch thick toilet-paper shield, my balls scraped the seat, completely negating the entire reason we had driven thirty minutes to take a crap. Thankfully, Adrian had a good clean crap, so at least there's that, though I was quite afraid I'd picked up some Northern Illinois Crabs. I mean, "Crabs" is the mascot of the Central Illinois basketball team, and I'm pretty sure they don't catch seafood up there.
We made it back to our campsite safe and sound, as the Minnesotans had guarded it for us with their very lives. They were so brave. Only five of the original seven survived, though the descendants of their planted bratbushes grow on on to this day.
Actually, the two older dudes had to go home to Minnesota to work, leaving the younger guys under our supervision. Bad idea, though, as we couldn't even stop Jon from joining a dangerous non-showerist cult on only the first day.
We didn't go to Cornerstone to take craps and watch kids, though. We came to Cornerstone to rock.
First things first, we thought we'd seen a large crowd by Main Stage when we'd driven back in. We walked back over there, and lo and behold, MxPx were just hanging around by the stage.
Pretty much any good Christian boy who spent any teenage years in the 90's, and who had even the smallest hint of rebellion, most likely listened to MxPx. I did, a lot. Hey, I still do, that was some fun music. With that said, there were a bunch of giggling teenage girls bunched all around the band, but I still managed to fulfill my teenage dream of taking a picture with drummer, Yuri Ruley, next to a bunch of port-o-potties.

Yuri was about as cool as they come, and I told him I'd definitely be at MxPx's show, though I didn't tell him I might ditch a bit early to go see Embodyment and Zao. But we'll get to that!
My crew went back to camp and ate some brats or something, as they were now growing freely from the well-tended bratbushes. That annoying jackass, Brantley, annoyed us by being, as usual, an annoying jackass. When we had had as much Brantley as we could take, we decided to catch a smaller show before the madness of Main Stage. Adrian was a big Ace Troubleshooter fan, and Jon was a big fan of the Violent Femmes-esque, Calibretto 13, so the three of us walked the mile or so to the smaller stages area. Here is what it looks like to wander around the tents of Cornerstone.

A few notes on this picture. Just look, people in chairs everywhere, a dude that laughs all the time and is always looking at the camera when you take a picture, tents, and Adrian wearing his wife-beater and khaki shirt uniform. While Adrian and Jon went to their respective shows, I wandered around and looked at flyers, and checked out merch booths, and then their shows were over, the three of us headed back to Main Stage.
The official Cornerstone 2002 flyer says that PAX 217 opened up Main Stage that night, but I have no recollection of them playing, so I can't tell you whether or not they did. I did see them back in 2001, and they were pretty good, so there's that.
Relient K played next, but at that point in history, Relient K had released nothing I was interested in (they would a couple of years later). I will say, the band pulled out a giant inflatable buffalo and threw it into the audience so that crowd members could ride around on it, and crowdmembers did ride around on it, and it was awesome.
The three of us watched Relient K from the top of the hill, then came down to get a closer spot for Five Iron Frenzy. On the way down, we passed some people who were attempting to get their deaf friend to a closer spot, as well. I asked, "Why would a deaf person want to go to a rock show?" Someone answered back, with the most disgusting look on their face possible, "They just like to feel the energy. GAHR!!!" Okay, fair enough, I was 20 and insensitive, and I had never thought of that, but you don't need to be an asshole! I mean, talk about a pyrrhic victory. You made your point, made me realize I should be more thoughtful in my assumptions of the hearing-impaired, but you also made me hate you forever, complete stranger who told me that!

Five Iron Frenzy:
We found a spot directly in front of the catwalk for Five Iron Frenzy. Vocalist, Reese Roper, came out wearing a Fat Elvis suit with the butt in the front. You're welcome:

Five Iron's show was excellent, they were as wacky and crazy as anyone could want, but I also have to say, they were very tight and professional. They played a large chunk of their newest, and at the time best album, Five Iron Frenzy 2: Electric Boogaloo. I was very impressed by their set, and the girth and quality of their horns, and then it was over.

MxPx headlined the night at Main Stage. As I've mentioned above, I love MxPx. Their show was fun and lively, the work of three seasoned pros. Yuri ran down the catwalk, and I made sure to give him a high five.

The stagehand was not impressed. In fact, he was so unimpressed, 12 years later, he is still making that face at me, even from a distance of 800 miles.
As fun as MxPx's show was, I felt a strange yearning for something else. I needed something more than fun. I needed something visceral, something that would hit me right in the gut.
As much as I love MxPx, I love Zao even more. Zao are literally legendary, one of the heaviest bands of all time, and I don't just mean in sound...crap...I'm not saying they're overweight or anything, just that they are deep, man.
An hour into MxPx's set, I felt like I already knew what I was going to get for the next 30 minutes. I trudged back up the hill with Adrian by my side. Jon, an even bigger MxPx fan than Adrian and I, decided to stick around for the rest of MxPx's show. I snapped a pic of MxPx as I walked up the hill. It would be the last picture I took that night.

Even with somebody's beanie in your face, Cornerstone was still pretty epic.
Also epic: that era in music. I've been looking for a place to get this in (giggity), and this seems as good as any. The Christian Music Industry that provided such an incredible pool of bands for Cornerstone to choose its lineup from no longer exists. Just think about this, though: instead of an endless sea of Christian Metalcore bands, labels like Tooth & Nail, Solid State, Facedown, Forefront, Northern Records, Floodgate Records, Squint, Bettie Rocket, Five Minute Walk, Takehold, Gotee, and many others put out countless records in every imaginable genre, and many records that pushed genre away altogether. Anything you wanted, you could get, and instead of following trends, the Christian music scene was setting them. Oh, how I long for those turn of the century days. I'm not sure what happened, or why they ended, and I guess that is a debate for another time, but they are sadly over now, and I feel like Aragorn, pointing at a hill and telling you the ruins on the top used to be the watchtower of a mighty kingdom.

Zao's label-mate on Solid State Records, Embodyment, opened up for them. I love Embodyment, and The Narrow Scope of Things is one of my favorite albums of all time, and the band rocked really hard at their show, but vocalist, Sean Corbray, was pretty flat. I talked to him after their set, and he said, "My best tip for anyone who wants to be a vocalist is this: don't smoke." Hope, in these last 12 years, he quit.
Adrian and I got as close as possible for Zao. I don't even know if Adrian was actually a Zao fan, or if he was just curious, or if he had just come along out of the loyalty of friendship. Whatever the case...
The moment Zao's guitarists, Russ Cogdell and Scott Mellinger, strummed their guitars, the crowd compressed. I felt my body lifted off the ground. Thus began the greatest single rock show I have ever witnessed in my lifetime.

I've been in mosh pits before. A lot of them. I have always felt as if I had some kind of control over my situation. There was no mosh pit at Zao. The crowd pressed together so tightly, I lost contact with the ground by a few inches, and felt my body move at the complete mercy of the crowd. Adrian vanished, swept away, and I didn't see him again til the show was over.
Zao began with "5 Year Winter." I have never seen so much passion displayed by a performer, let alone four guys in unison. The crowd returned that passion in full--I could not tell the difference between their screams, Zao's Daniel Weyandt, and my own. By the end of "5 Year Winter"'s refrain "BURN IT DOWN AND WALK AWAY!!!" my voice was completely blown out. The show had only begun.
For the rest of Zao's show, I took it on faith that I would survive. I literally had no control over any part of my body but my head, and if anything had happened to me, no one would have heard my screams. This was, and is still, the most spiritual moment of my life. I don't know if one single member of the band Zao still believes in the divine power of Jesus Christ, but on that dusky night in July of 2002, they brought me closer to him than I have ever been.
After the show, I talked to the frontman/drummer, Jesse Smith, but that's all a blur. I met Ryan Clark, who was in the process of getting Demon Hunter off the ground, but that's just a blur, as well. One thing, however, is not.
As Adrian and I approached the tent, I realized that if I did not stop to sit on one of the Minnesotans ice chests (probably just a chunk of ice they pulled from their backyard glacier), I was going to fall over. I plopped down for a moment, then tried to stand. I could not. I tried again, to no avail. I called Adrian over, and he took me to the tent, where Jon was already asleep. I looked down at my ankles, as Adrian drug me through the tent flap.
They were the size of basketballs.
I could not walk.

Merry Christmas!

In a moment, I will be posting day four in The Cornerstone 2002 Travelogue. That will continue on its three day a week journey, culminating a week from today, on December 31st. That day is shaping up to be the biggest in Nicsperiment history, with the Travelogue Epilogue, Top Nine Songs, and Top Nine Albums list all slated to appear. It's an extravaganza!
Enjoy the holiday!
-The Nicsperiment

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cornerstone 2002, Day Three: This Is the Big One, 007, But Take a Shower, Jeez, Have You Smelled Yourself?

The night before, Adrian and I had made a horrific discovery. Cornerstone's showers smelled like feces and were full of feces. And probably semen. And probably semen feces. We could not use them. We would not use them. WE WILL NEVER USE THEM.
We once again went to bed dirty.
The next morning, however, we made an executive decision.
Spigot shower.
Yes, spigot shower, the most desperate of all showers.
We stripped down to our knickers, unashamed of our flowering young bodies, and hunted the grounds for a spigot. Once we finally found one that wasn't surrounded by eyeballs, one of us would guard the other's vulnerable, nearly naked person, while the other person knelt by the flowing spigot, tossed freezing cold water on themselves, lathered up (we both had the good sense to bring our own soap and shampoo..why does shampoo end with "poo?" You can never unsee this!), then tossed more freezing cold water on themselves. Despite an attempt at discretion, we did this under the supervision of several thousand campers who all found us very entertaining, as they themselves did not take spigot showers but gladly waded daily through all the semen feces in the Cornerstone facilities. Despite the humiliation of the spigot shower experience, Adrian and I then walked away from the spigot sparkling clean, and ready to get filthy. The day obliged.
This was the big one.
That night, on the first official day (Wait, night, day, which is it? Isn't the night just a part of the day? Then is the day truly divided? WE LIVE IN A WORLD OF ILLUSIONS!!!) of Cornerstone, (though our third day on festival grounds (hence the "Day Three" in the title)(here's an extra parenthetical))) the Main Stage lineup was one I could have only dreamed of:
Stavesacre, Blindside, and Project 86, back to back to back, and on the biggest stage Cornerstone Festival offered.
Main Stage at Cornerstone was a sight to behold, if only your eyes were actually strong enough to hold things. Back then, Main Stage rested at the bottom of a natural bowl in the Earth, surrounded by hills on three sides--a natural theater. Now, I guess, it's just a hill...and we are officially living in Lord of the Rings, and all the cool stuff is aged and destroyed, and old Rangers of the North like me can just tell you about how awesome it was, and how much it sucks that you'll never experience it. On that note, here is the official Cornerstone band schedule from 2002 that you totally missed because you weren't alive then, and are currently coming of age in a cultural wasteland:

Actually, this is only a partial list that does not even include every stage and band, but it does list almost every major act who was at the festival that year, but isn't made of real chocolate, just cocoa processed with alkali.
Anyway, Main Stage at Cornerstone was an epic set-up, and I couldn't wait to see three of my favorite bands play there in one four-hour span of unimaginable awesomeness. In fact, I was so pumped, I couldn't really drag myself to see any other bands play that afternoon. I just hung out with the Minnesota crew and talked. Here is a picture of those denizens of the frozen wilds to better illustrate the poor descriptions I am about to give.

Okay, the two guys in the back were my buddies. They were the same age as me, and we got along wonderfully, holding similar religious views, tastes in music, and life interests. One of them was named "Peter," or something, but both of them were incredibly cool guys, and wonderful representatives of the state of Minnesota. The guy all the way to the left is the older back-right guy's little brother. He was also a very cool dude, and he could conjure a brat from the meagerest of resources. There's a guy not in the picture that was a bit of a creep. He had some kind of walkie-talkie that allowed him to listen in on everyone else's walkie-talkie campground conversations. Let's just call this creepy guy "Gary." Gary never went to any shows, or stood up or anything. Gary just sat on a bucket, walkie-talkie to ear, lips slightly upturned in a self-satisfied smile, as he eavesdropped on complete strangers' conversations nonstop for a straight week. You're a creep, Gary. You can see the top of someone else's head in the foreground of this picture, and I don't remember who that guy is.
In the direct center of the photograph, in a green t-shirt, eyes-closed to the camera, lips puckered, crew cut, pale skin shining in the sun, is a red-headed stepchild jackass that annoyed me the entire time he and I were in proximity of one other, and even annoys me right now, when I am not in close proximity of him but am thinking about how annoying of a jackass he was 12 years ago. Everywhere you go, there is always some annoying jackass that just wants to annoy you, and this jackaninny jackanape is that annoying jackass. This guy, let's just call him "Brantley," annoyed and argued with me every time he heard me say something because he is an annoying, braying jackass. He misled all of us into believing he was a senior in college, when in reality he was a high-school senior who was taking some college courses, a tidbit of info I finally pulled out of him on the final day of Cornerstone, when I confronted him with the knowledge that no 20-something person could be that immature and annoying. Unfortunately, I now know that plenty of 20-somethings can be even more immature and annoying then even that annoying jackass Brantley was. Anyway, enough about that annoying jackass, Brantley.
At some point, Adrian and I went on a short hunt for Jon. Adrian had been some time with his Michigan peeps, so naturally, we figured Jon had been hanging out with his strange, pagan Missouri tribe. When we reached the Missourans, things had degenerated even more from the previous day. Their uniforms of tattered rags were even dingier, their women dancing with flowers in their hair, and hair in their armpits. As the Missourites bowed before their overlord, Chief Bill, Bill laughed maniacally, his plug-stretched ears bouncing boisterously as he forced his tribe to take the vow of "No shower, no shower!"
"NO SHOWER!" shouted Jon as he bowed, then he leapt to his feet to dance the dance of the armpit maidens.
"Oh my God," Adrian and I said in unison, as we turned our heads toward each other in unison, made eye contact in unison, and said "Oh my God" in unison.
I am not even making this whole thing worse than it sounds.
Jon would not come with us, and barely spoke English anymore after his 24-hour immersion into the Missourirarite Tribe.
Hey, how the Charles Dickens do you say Missouri? I thought you say it how it sounds, but do you because the Preserdent says "Mi-zur-uh?" He does end a lot of his sentences with "uh...", though, so...
That wasn't perlitical, just an observation.
What was I even talking about? Jeez, total derailment.
Oh yeah, those dadgum Missous.
Adrian and I missed Jon, so we decided to hang out in the Missorah camp for a while. Meanwhile, the lights came on at Main Stage, and Pillar kicked off the night's lineup. Adrian and I both considered Pillar to be a sort of P.O.D.'s eager little nephew, and we weren't planning on checking out their set, but I felt bad when Bill, who looked exactly like this

shouted at the kids who were running to catch Pillar's set:
He also yelled
There was one outie, though proof was required. I started to get bored with Bill's juvenile antics. Pillar's worst set would have been better than this, so Adrian and I threw a smoke grenade on the ground, knocked Jon on the head, threw him over our shoulders, and took off running toward Main Stage.
Jon came to just as we made it to the top of the hill, and Pillar was walking offstage. I don't much remember what Jon and Adrian did at this point. Befitting our independent personalities, we each found our own space in the crowd. Let me preface the upcoming writing by saying that Stavesacre and Project 86 both put on incredible sets, and Blindside put on a good one, though I've seen them perform much better since. With that out of the way, I must say, I picked an unfortunate spot to stand. It looked good from the outset, right up against the catwalk that extended more than fifty feet into the crowd from the center of the stage, and only seven or eight rows of people from the Main Stage itself. I'll get to why it was unfortunate in a minute.

Stavesacre kicked off their set and rocked supremely. Vocalist, Mark Salomon, sounded unmistakably great. The band played mostly tracks from their masterpiece, Speakeasy, including my favorite Stavesacre song, "Rivers Underneath," as well as "Gold and Silver." The standout moment came when the band played their then new song, "Sad Parade," and guitarist, Neil Samoy, walked to the end of the catwalk to play his sweet guitar solo. I captured the moment as best I could.

That's probably my best shot from the festival.
Unfortunately, this picture came surrounded by a time of turmoil. For some reason, the skinny white kid in front of me had a large girl butt, and a backwards baseball cap. For some reason, the kid rocked back and forth throughout the show, alternatingly slamming his massive rear end into my crotch, and the bill of his cap into my face. For some reason, the crowd was smashed together, and I was stuck behind this guy with no way out.

I thought about vomiting on him, but I feared that he would be oblivious to the vomit, sloshing puke all over me as he continued his rhythmic desecration of my personal space. Making matters even more disgusting, someone from the front stage crew kept spraying hosewater from the front row back, scraping sweat and dead skin from everyone in front of me straight into my mouth. Then someone grabbed a milk jug out of the trash, filled it up with water, and started passing it around for people to drink--and people were fighting over it. At that point, I may have vomited, but I'm not sure because I blacked out from pure disgustation. At some point, though, I remember hearing Mark Salomon announce that this would be the last Christian Music Festival that Stavesacre would ever play.

When I came to, I was in the same spot, and the butt-hat guy was gone. In his place was an even greater travesty of human existence:
Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy. Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy had a beard and held an Evil Goth Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing dressed up in an Goth Batman Costume, which I didn't know was a thing, but is a thing owned by Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy. Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy has but one goal in life: to get the vocalist of the band he is seeing to hold his Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing high in the air for everyone to see so he can take a picture of it. He is obviously a deranged and frightening man who coincidentally shares the same "no shower" code as the Missarans. This frightening individual is dangerous, and if you see him, you should seek shelter and call the police, or as we call them in Louisiana, Pierre, the alligator we poke with sticks and don't feed until we find someone evil to unleash him upon.
Unfortunately, I had no such option, as I was crammed against a catwalk, surrounded by 10,000 people and no Pierre. My only option was to struggle to survive.
Blindside played a song from their self-titled Tooth & Nail debut, a few songs from their second album, and a lot of songs from their upcoming major label debut, Silence. Blindside's vocalist, Christian Lindskog, is a dynamic singer, switching effortlessly between low and high-range singing, and blood-curdling screams. I've heard him sound even better than the band's studio albums on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, at Cornerstone 2002, perhaps because of an early discomfort with performing the band's new material, Christian just didn't quite have it. He was flat a few times, and really struggled switching back and forth between the sung and screamed vocals. That's alright because, as I said, I've heard Christian do it perfectly so many times, and anyone can have a bad night. What is not alright is that Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy kept elbowing me in the face while attempting to stretch Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing as high into the air as possible. Sensing my discomfort, Christian walked down the catwalk, took the evil bear from the bearded man's hand

and chunked it far out into the crowd.
"Wait, no!!!" Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy shouted, and he took off after his demented creation, never to be seen again, thank God.
Despite it not being Blindside's best night, I enjoyed the rest of the show immensely. Also, Norma Jean's Josh Scogin came out to do a guest spot, right after the stage manager came out to remind the crowd not to crowdsurf. After coming onstage, Scogin screamed one line into the microphone, then dove off the stage and crowdsurfed away.

Project 86:
After the Blindside show, covered in the sweat and dead skin cells of others, terrorized by freaks, I decided I didn't want to take my chances in that spot anymore. After big-butt backwards cap guy, and Evil Goth Batman Teddy-Bear/Rabbit Thing Beard Guy, I couldn't even imagine what new horror awaited. Instead, I came up with a plan. I would ask those in front of me to allow me through, so that I could snap a photo of Project 86 from right in front of the stage, then I would back out to a less-crowded, less freak-inhabited space, so that I could enjoy Project 86's show as much as humanly, and perhaps Martianly or maybe even Europanly possible.
Fortunately, Project 86 put on perhaps the best and biggest show of their career. They performed songs from their landmark Drawing Black Lines at most likely their peak of performing those particular songs, then dug into their upcoming Truthless Heroes album's material with religious fervor. Mark Salomon even came out to perform his part on "Last Meal," and it was incredible. Vocalist, Andrew Schwab, pumped up Truthless Heroes as "the work of our very lives" and said a lot of interesting things about the album and the songs. It turns out the band was undergoing a particularly complex situation between themselves, their label, their management, and just about everything, and that Truthless Heroes was actually the most thematically complex thing the band ever released. Truthless Heroes is a story of a man who becomes a failed demagogue, as a metaphor for Project 86 themselves being given nearly a million dollars to record that very album, then being forced to be a band they were not. The album is essentially an attack on itself. It's crazy. This turned off some listeners to the band on that very night, including Peter the Minnesotan, though the older Minnesotan and I tried our best to convince Peter that all of Schwab's demagogic posturing held a deeper meaning. Regardless, Schwab seized the moment, looking like a giant on the stage, and the band seemed inhuman as they jammed through the songs in front of giant spotlights and before and after terrifying segue music between songs (between and before and after are either opposites or the same, I'm not sure). Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures of Project 86's set, though I enjoyed the more airy space I found after leaving the scary catwalk position I'd inhabited for the previous band's sets. Thankfully, I'd have a chance to use my camera again soon. I should also mention, like Mark Salomon, Andrew Schwab announced that this would be the last time Project 86 would play a Christian Festival. I've written a small essay about this topic, but in the interest of keeping this moving, and of those who couldn't care less about the issue, I've placed it at the end of this post.*
After the Main Stage shows were over, I had the option to attend Living Sacrifice's midnight show, or visit Project 86 and Blindside's merch booths. Living Sacrifice was coming off their career-defining The Hammering Process, and I'm sure their show really ruled (I heard from some who attended that it did), but I really felt like I needed to go hang out at the Main Stage merch booths. To this day, I'm glad I did because look

Those Blindside dudes are so much fun! They were actually trying to knock me over in this picture, and I was holding on for dear life. Their English was okay (the band are from Sweden), with some members being more fluent than others. When I hung out with them a few years later, their English was far better. On this particular night, I had a lot of fun talking to the drummer about Swedish bands (like Kent), though I'm pretty sure he was just humoring me.
After speaking with Blindside, I got to hangout with Project 86's Andrew Schwab. I really like that guy. I've got a few of his books, and I've pored over his lyrics over the past two decades. He's had a profound effect on me, and talking to him that night was excellent. Talking to an actual normal Christian who was doing things he loved and making profound artistic statements helped further pull me out of the doldrums I had been experiencing from my out-of-control, literally (not metaphorically) demagogic spiritual leaders attempting to control me through fear and lies. When it came time to take a photo, Schwab and I inadvertently came up with a perfect idea. I would shut my eyes, and Schwab would open his as widely as possible, like a crack-addict with clean pupils.


*Here is that essay I promised.
So, I mentioned that both Stavesacre and Project 86 announced during their Cornerstone 2002 sets that they would never be playing Christian festivals again. 2002 was a pretty huge year for the Christian/Christians in a band/WE'RE NOT A CHRISTIAN BAND debate because for the first time, a Christian hard rock band had made it really big. I am speaking of P.O.D., a band that both Stavesacre and Project 86 have played with. Before P.O.D., going all the way back to the 80's, there was debate about Amy Grant, Michael W Smith, and why they should or shouldn't have had their videos on MTV (they did). Those two are CCM artists, though. Jars of Clay, generally not a hard rocking band (but a very, very good band, nonetheless), also went through some of the same issues in the 90's, as their song, "Flood" received a lot of airplay on secular stations. And hey, I don't even have to mention DC Talk, but for some reason I'm doing it anyway...I like to talk if you can't tell.
P.O.D. was a different animal altogether, though. They are a heavy band, and they received more airplay among the youth culture of their time than any Christian band before them. They were the first rock band to take the top spot on MTV's Total Request Live (hosted by human hosting robot, Carson Daly), and they achieved that honor many times throughout their career (They're still together now, but the TRL-age has passed away. Cry, or something, I guess).
"Are P.O.D. really a Christian band?" This was the cry of many people with nothing better to do than to ask "Are P.O.D. really a Christian band?" Others answered, "Well, they're just Christians in a band," or "They're not Christians, it's all an act!," or "P.O.D. really stands for Pod of Darkness! They're Satanists!!!"
This wasn't really fair, though. P.O.D. simply played their music, it was good, a lot of people liked it, they became popular, and vocalist, Sonny Sandoval, sung about what he knew, which was his life through the lens of his faith. P.O.D. did nothing to cause a debate. They were simply themselves. I won't go deeper into the Christian vs non-Christian band thing because I've done it already, and it's tired. This was just to give some background to the not playing Christian festivals issue.
Anyway, in the fall of 2002, Project 86 and Stavesacre were both poised to breakout, too. Project's last album had gone gold, and they had signed with Atlantic Records, while Stavesacre, whose name was rising on their excellent album, Speakeasy, had just signed to Nitro Records. Both bands were tired of playing to the same crowds, both wanted to be taken more seriously as artists, and neither wanted to take money from people under the banner of Christ. I get all of that, and, as these bands were pioneers, I can forgive them for going a little overboard...yes, I just said "a little overboard" because I actually disagree with their 2002 stance. I get not wanting to play for the same crowds anymore, but the thing is, those people put you on the map. They love you and your music. You have to keep playing for them...just not exclusively. Skillet, who toiled in the Christian Market for a decade before busting (Bursting? Like Gushers candy?) out onto the secular scene, have come up with what I think is the best method. Skillet have arguably garnered the largest audience of any band I've mentioned here, sans P.O.D. Skillet have received huge airplay on secular rock stations. They go on huge tours with secular rock bands. Every year, though, Skillet also embark on a "Christian" tour where they play churches, festivals, and other more family oriented venues so that their younger fans, and fans who feel uncomfortable in a bar (obviously, I don't feel uncomfortable in a bar, but those people are out there, and they should still be valued) can see them, as well. Obviously, Skillet haven't made their hay on critical heraldry (I think their last album is rad), but they have lost no respect by playing to both crowds. I think this is the best option, and one Skillet perhaps formulated after evaluating the mistakes of other bands. Project 86 obviously realized this better option because they went back to playing Christian festivals just two years later, while still playing bars. Unfortunately, Stavesacre broke up after two more full lengths, but they were so awesome, and Mark Salomon is still making great music today.
Crap, I forgot to make this part funny. Somebody go get the Dalybot!