It’s been a long time since we rock and rolled.

Cedar Park’s new premiere outdoor concert had its first real hard music concert. While Nonpoint was originally announced on the bill, this triple-band bill was much better and easier to digest. On a chilly night near Austin, Texas, a few hundred fans got to see intense, loud, and high energy action.

While Living Sacrifice has practically never seemed like a warm-up act, they took the stage first and they wasted no time in revving up the high-speed riffs and thick, heavy grooves.

“Flatline” from the career-defining album, The Hammering Process, was so good and so fast that it acted as a warm-up show starter and a butt-kicking highpoint all rolled into one. The Hammering Process and Conceived in Fire tunes were the lion’s share in what didn’t seem like a short set of 8 songs. “Symbiotic” sounded full and ferocious and “Hand of the Dead” and “Bloodwork” were tough and tight. It was so fun to look around the audience and see jaws dropped and big, grinning smiles. When it comes to precise, complex, and hypersonic metal tunes, it’s just darn impressive when seen and heard with your own eyes and ears.

It was also special to see the musicians themselves grinning. Rocky Gray would look over his shoulder at Lance Garvin drumming away, and Arthur Green and frontman Bruce Fitzhugh all often congregated near the drumset – probably reveling in their own tightness.

They played one of their newer songs (“The Reaping” from Ghost Thief), and a cover of Sepultura’s “Refuse/Resist,” which sounded every bit as much their own as the legendary Brazilian heavy metal masters. Then they said goodnight and started riffing into “Reject,” going back to 1997’s Reborn album. It was a great send-off and ending to a set that was filled with career highlights.

Norma Jean came on after about a 15-minute set change, quickly making the stage look like a playground for the musically insane.

It was fun watching the bassist and guitarist on stage left, who synchronized lots of wide-stanced bending over and headbanging.

Vocalist Cory Brandan prowled the stage a little, and getting as close to the audience as possible on the extended platforms in front of the monitor wedges.

The drummer looked like he had a love-hate relationship with his drums, beating them all night and at times standing up to get a full swing at his toms as if trying to kill them with force.

The guitarist at far stage right spent most of his time on that side of the stage, hoisting his guitar up in the air at the end of the set while on his knees, as if paying homage to the guitar makers.

It was a delightfully chaotic show with lots of bent notes, start-stop rhythms and speed galore. It was certainly up to their standards.

After a longer set change, P.O.D. came out to the churning, brooding and slow-building tune, “Satellite.” Surprising for an opener, yet it was familiar and it sounded so good. The mix was full and loud (kudos to the sound crew for the entire night). The band then shifted gears for the fast tune, “The Messenjah.” P.O.D. was back and the audience was roaring its approval.

© David Brendan Hall / www.davidbrendanhall.com

“Boom” was third in the set, which felt like the band aggressively wanting to take us all prisoner to the emotion of joy. It was happening. And then the frontman who deserves the most comparisons to U2’s legendary Bono did something that surprised none of us that’ve seen the band before – he helped someone up on stage for a moment in the spotlight. This guy seemed appreciative and then headed back for the drum riser. What was up with this? Sonny took the giant yellow sign from the enthusiastic fan and held it up for the crowd to see.

Photo courtesy: Lee Haley

Kill it he did, although just keeping up with the song’s beefy power rhythms is enough to qualify for “killing it.” It was a crowd-pleasing moment and highlight. Sonny grabbed him before he departed and asked for his name.

“Fernando,” came the reply. One can only imagine how stoked that he was to experience that. A talented drummer with a brand new story to tell.

And speaking of drummers, Wuv was missing from the stage the entire night. Bearded Jonny Beats took care of the drumming. Like the impromptu fan drummer, he was solid and didn’t miss a beat.

Sonny continued his consummate frontman/showman performance when someone tossed a hat onstage. He nonchalantly put it on – both frontwards and backwards and then tossed it back into the crowd, ensuring its ebay value multiplied by ten by doing so.

© David Brendan Hall / www.davidbrendanhall.com

The band ripped through “Rock the Party,” “Sound Boy Killa,” “Set it Off,” “Rockin’ with da Best” and a tune called “Listening for the Silence.” This one was like a prelude for some of the last words Sonny shared at the very end of the set, but we’ll get to that later.

Marcus stirred up the crowd with some chatter and then introduced a song he wrote “a couple weeks ago.” He probably winked after he said that, because he cranked out the brooding riffs of “Southtown” and the band rocked it hard.

It was cool to hear them play “Murdered Love” from their criminally overlooked concept album. At one point, Sonny acted out the thief on the cross, extending his left hand out and singing, “Remember me – when you come into your glory.”

© David Brendan Hall / www.davidbrendanhall.com

They also played “Domino” and “Circles” before moving on to the final sprint of the set, which included “Youth of the Nation” – complete with some kids on stage as a rockin’ choir.

Traa lent his background vocals earlier, too, offering smooth BGVs of, “Can’t stop slipping away.” Dude sounds good, as does the backup vocalist and part-time percussionist on stage right.

The band played “Roots in Stereo” and then went into “Alive,” which had the crowd jumping up and down in unison with the band. It was a great finale, but it wasn’t over yet. The band played “The Awakening,” the title track of their 2015 album, and the swirling and frenetic “Without Jah.” The backup vocalist (not named Katy Perry) went over to the drumset and shared in the experience of banging on the tom toms with Jonny Beats.

As the band refrained the tune out, Sonny looked at the audience from the front and center of stage and reminded us all, “You’ve had a lot of time (in the past two years) – a lot of time to be still. What have you been hearing?” A great takeaway to ponder on the way home.

The final benediction was, “Love God. Love each other.” Then another great and much-needed show was over. It’s so good to have real live music back.

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