A free metal festival could not take place in the majority of cities in the world. Total chaos would erupt, as metal heads would converge from miles around, causing traffic jams that would fuel more aggression than they already had to begin with. But for some reason, in Tidal Wave’s eleventh year, it remains metal’s best kept secret. With no signs to direct you there, ample free parking, no security, and bring-your-own-everything, Tidal Wave lives up to it’s name as a powerful force that you didn’t see coming.
My excitement for this event was curbed by a) the fact that I went by myself, in a sea of large groups of metal heads, and b) my constant inner dialog on how the already cool event could be made much cooler. Nonetheless, after finally finding Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, in this hidden gem of a park in South SF, I literally parked next to the entrance and walked in. A small amphitheater with a less than gentle slope and a wide lawn is headed up by a sizable mosh pit. You can see a magnificent view of the city from parts of it.
I’m not quite sure where all these people came from. Many look like they were transported from an ’85 Metallica show, and I mean the end of it where everyone has ripped clothes and is a tad rank. There are enough vintage band shirts on display to make a small fortune selling them on eBay. There are as many tattoos and piercings as the Body Mod exhibition going on down the street at Cow Palace. There are many groups huddled in the lawn grilling on little mini pits, and there is about an 18 pack of beer to every person. There are metal friend groups, metal families with metal kids, and even a metal dog (see below). I think there were some metal hobos, too…it was a free show.
Supposedly there are booths somewhere, but I can’t see them. Multiple announcements mention that to keep this festival going, they have to sell out of their $25 shirts and sell raffle tickets. There are also some banners hanging on the stage, but the wind is blowing many of them around too much to read. It seems like they could do a lot more. My only other experience with a free festival in this city is with Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and that’s just put on by some extraordinarily wealthy man looking for a totally awesome tax write off.
The vibe of the show reminds me of what I read about the tape trading days in metal’s infancy in the ’80’s. It’s a very DIY, no frills affair.
The first band I caught was Havok, a 4 piece from Denver who lovingly referred to themselves as the ‘Mile High Pussies’. They were probably the only band that I saw that I would go see again. They are one of the newer bands on the bill. Very Slayer influenced in vocal style, which was confirmed in their cover of ‘Raining Blood’. They said funny one-liners like “There are many ways to achieve death”. There was also the oh-so-important use of the long hair. Only thing I didn’t dig was the tie dye shirt worn by the guitarist, but he may have just been trying to fit in here.
After a very short break- like 15 minutes- the next band is already playing. Psychosomatic, a 3 piece from Sacramento, played so fast I couldn’t even see their fingers. It was pretty wicked, but their songs started to blend together for me. Plus the guitarist’s vocals- which were on half the songs- were too Cradle of Filth-y for me. When the bassist sang, it was like a different band- he sounds more like a young Hetfield. One of their songs was sung by a guy that jumped up from the audience- but I think he was actually in another band. In fact, I think I may have been the only person there who either wasn’t in a band or wasn’t sleeping with someone in one of the bands.
Attitude Adjustment was…interesting. This 5 piece from the Bay Area is half punky looking spiky blond hair guys, half long haired metal heads. They’ve been around since ’84, and they were not going to let anyone forget that. In fact they started by saying we were going to be “sweating to the oldies”, and named a bunch of old venues that have long since bit the dust. AA is thrash/hardcore, and there was a lot of attempts to incite headwalking and other mosh pit related ventures, which were somewhat completed by guys that were not born yet when this band started. The singer would just look at them and be like “yep, can’t do that anymore because it hurts“. They seemed to want the crowd to be ‘more hardcore’ like it used to be, and then proceeded to dedicate songs to the girls and urged them to start ‘girl mosh pits’. Towards the end of the set, I saw a shoe fly high into the air from the pit, and a guy did a front flip off the stage and into the pit. Probably a good nostalgia set for some, but the only song I enjoyed was a totally out of place doom metal song.
Hirax had a much longer setup- a whopping 30 minutes- and it seemed to be what a lot of the crowd was waiting for. I had only been familiar with them by name- but they are a punk/trash metal hybrid band from the OC who had some success in the late ’80s. They are fronted by a somewhat enigmatic and mostly polarizing Katon W. De Pena. The pit looked ridiculously rough. The most metal moment of the evening came when I saw a guy who was part of the event and had been standing towards the back of the stage all day scale the back of two large Marshalls and dive a good 10 feet into the pit. It was like metal suicide. Hirax was pretty good, but several members kept complaining about not being able to hear their monitors, which was a bit disruptive.
Lot’s of action between sets here. Someone’s metal kid was lost, and found within a matter of minutes, which incited some cheers. I bought some raffles tickets and one was picked that was one number above mine- typical. Then, I got the standard metal pick up line: “hey, do you got the good drugs?” from a man than could no longer stand still on the slope of the lawn, and essentially tumbled away after uttering these words.
When Exodus took the stage, people literally came running out of the pissers, from up top the hill, from down the street. It was insane. Exodus may be most famous for, well, the exodus of original guitarist Kirk Hammett to join Metallica. This 5 piece has undergone many personnel changes since it began here in SF in 1980. I rather enjoyed 3 or 4 songs in their set until I had to leave as I noticed that one arm had somehow obtained the most metal burn between my cuff and t-shirt sleeve. Plus, the 18 packs were emptied and the metal dudes were starting to give me crazy looks. That’s what I get for going to a free metal festival by myself.
Vids from youtube:
witness a similar metal suicide jump during Exodus:
Exodus performance: 7.5/10
Hirax performance: 7.5/10
Attitude Adjustment: 6.5/10
Psychosomatic performance: 6.5/10
venue (Jerry Garcia Amphitheater): 8/10
value ($0.00/ticket): 10/10