The boys are back in town
Headlining Aftershock this year, alt-metal band Deftones remembers its wildest hometown gigs and mosh pits
It erupted in a South Sacramento garage just about 30 years ago to the day. The scruffy young musicians didn’t really know what the hell they were doing. The guitarist chunked away on Anthrax-style, thrash metal riffs. The singer hadn’t really sung into a microphone before, and his tastes leaned toward synth-pop bands like Depeche Mode, anyway.
But, the seedling of a sound was born. Over the next three decades, Deftones developed into one of Sacramento’s greatest success stories. They’ve sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, won a Grammy and fueled mosh pits around the globe.
Deftones is set for one of its biggest hometown shows as the band headlines Aftershock on October 13 at Discovery Park. This two-day metal and hard rock fest is expected to draw gigantic clouds of vape smoke and a combined crowd of 50,000 for a bill that includes System of a Down, Alice in Chains, Godsmack and more than 30 other bands.
With Deftones celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, let’s take a ride in the wayback machine with Abe Cunningham. We’re going to flashback on some of Deftones’ signature live moments in Sacramento over the past decades, with reflections from Deftones’ longtime drummer. Brave the mosh pit, and let’s see how their career ascended.
Cattle Club, 1994
Deftones were young bucks looking for a record deal in 1994. By then, the band had branched out beyond the Sacramento club scene to play Southern California on weekends away from their boring-ass day jobs. They soon became bros with Bakersfield’s future nu-metal superstars, Korn, who offered Deftones opening slots at shows. Deftones returned the favor by adding Korn to a show at Sacramento’s infamous, now-shuttered Cattle Club. In a twist of ’90s Sacto quirkiness, Cake was also on the bill and picked Tin Men to open the show.
The result was a night of indie- and hard rock histrionics that marked a critical moment in Deftones’ career. Guy Oseary of the major label Maverick Records was flown out to see Deftones rock their home turf. Dave Park, Deftones’ former manager, remembers the look of fear on Oseary’s face as the crowd surged forward during Deftones’ set. The band’s Maverick Records debut, Adrenaline, was released about a year later.
Says Cunningham: “What a wild bill. What a rad bill. [Mixed bills] like that are done now but it’s like, ‘Hey, look at what we’re doing!’ This just kind of came out of nowhere. It was unexpected without any hoopla or any fabrication. It just kind of popped up and that was kind of magical.”
Press Club, 1997
Deftones quickly became world travelers following Adrenaline. But they took it back to their Sacto club roots about a month after Around the Fur, their sophomore album for Maverick, was released. The show had extra sentimental value for vocalist Chino Moreno, who’d previously lived next door and across the street from Press Club.
This “secret” show at Press Club in 1997 still goes down as one of the band’s craziest local sets. Moreno performed part of the show with blood streaming down his face after getting knocked in the nose during a wayward stage dive. The crowd thrashed hard for these homeboys done good, nearly moshing their way out to 21st Street. (Check YouTube for a few choice moments from this rager of a show).
Says Cunningham: “We’d played The Press a couple times prior, and we’d always play under the name ‘Green Card.’ It was our secret hometown Sacto thing … That night was insane. It was back before they remodeled Press Club to what it is now. It was way smaller, and the stage was right as you walked in. It was super tiny. But the love was there. The boys were back in town and it was just a crazy, really exciting, crushing evening.”
Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, 2000
Deftones were treated like conquering heroes once they hit home after the success of 2000s White Pony. It debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s album charts and launched the band’s biggest radio single to date, “Change (In the House of Flies).” Appearances on Late Night With David Letterman and MTV’s Total Request Live sweetened the ride.
Even Sacramento City Hall had to take note. During its White Pony tour show at the Memorial Auditorium, the band was presented a key to the city by Gina Montoya, the chief-of-staff of Mayor Jimmie Yee, as a gift from “the city that loves them most.”
Says Cunningham: “We were feeling on top of the world. It’s a step up in the production and the size of the venues we’re playing. For us, playing the Memorial was huge. It was one thing to play the Cattle Club and sell it out, but this was the benchmark and it was special. We got the key to the city, and I’m still trying to figure out what it unlocks. Still, to this day, [the Memorial Auditorium] is a special spot, right in the heart of town.”
Cesar Chavez Plaza, 2006
This show ranks as one of those gigs in Cesar Chavez Plaza where more people paid attention to the band than the beer garden. Throughout the park, and even from the tops of nearby parking garages and office buildings, people jockeyed for their best view of Deftones playing a free show for hometown fans. The band roared through its signature tunes and even played it a little loose, with bits of “Ms. New Booty” by Bubba Sparxxx added to Deftones’ “Engine #9.”
Says Cunningham: “We started getting around the world, and we started getting some tongue-and-cheek heat from the locals in Sac: ‘When are you guys going to come back and play your hometown?’ You can’t always be where you want to be when the machine’s grinding along, so that was something we felt was long overdue. We’re still Sacto boys, and we’re sorry we’ve been away for so long. It was hot as hell. It was a rager.”
Deftones hit the stage for its second Aftershock appearance as bona fide veterans. They’d been in the game for nearly 30 years and cherry picked songs that stretched from Adrenaline to 2012’s No Koi Yokan for its set. With about 25,000 headbangers on the grounds of Gibson Ranch, the festival’s former location, the show marked Deftones’ biggest hometown crowd to date. Even after all those years, and some of the band members’ kids jokingly referring to the group as “Dad-tones,” the band still ripped it.
Says Cunningham: “We’d played the first Aftershock (in 2012), and it was great to watch that grow. The sister show was Epicenter, and that was down in L.A., but that no longer exists. Yet, the tiny Sacto version of it does and it’s raging … I remember it was hot and dusty, but we were feeling that love. Once again, being back, it felt like we’d grown up a bit, but we’re still silly kids. A homecoming is what it’s all about, and we’re still able to do this after 30 years. We’re still kicking. It’s always great to come back home.”