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Godsmack works in mysterious ways
Special to Newsday

September 11, 2006

Sully Erna and his three colleagues in Godsmack must like a challenge. What else would explain why they chose Rob Zombie to open for them on their current tour?

Not only does Zombie have an extensive and impressive catalog to draw from - including solo songs and his earlier work with '90s metal favorites White Zombie - but he knows how to put on an entertaining show. In short, he's a tough act to follow.

Of course, Godsmack is much more commercially successful. It has sold nearly 10 million albums, and its brand of aggressive yet melodic metal has been almost impossible to escape on hard-rock radio for the past eight years.

But popular as they are, Godsmack's songs often seem like they might be a little too self-centered to really connect with a live audience. On the band's four albums, lead singer Erna spends a lot of time dwelling on his own personal demons, to the point where universality is compromised.

If Zombie suffers from such problems, he doesn't show it. As expected, he came roaring out of the box at Jones Beach, backed by a crazed three-piece band and two fetching female go-go dancers.

Statues of bare-breasted women stood atop the group's amplifiers; behind them, cannons shot fire into the air. The video screens showed gory snippets from Zombie's own growing line of gross-out B movies, along with clips from classic cheesy horror flicks such as "The Blob."

The dazzling visuals almost overwhelmed the music, but not quite. "American Witch" and "More Human than Human" were stomping standouts as Zombie stalked the stage like a panther and guitarist John 5 turned heads with his Eddie Van Halen-gone-techno leads.

At first, Godsmack seemed up to Zombie's challenge. Its first three songs - "Straight Out of Line," "Speak," and "The Enemy" (the latter two off its latest album, "IV") - featured punchy, unshakable riffs and endearing showboating from drummer Shannon Larkin.

But as the show wore on and the tempos slowed, the music lost excitement. "Livin' in Sin" was a particular low point; the band surely meant it to sound epic, but it came out plodding.

The turning point came when a second drum riser rolled onto the stage and Erna, whose first instrument is drums, joined Larkin in a head-to-head duel. The band ran through instrumental snippets of classic-rock tunes - including Rush's "Tom Sawyer," Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick" and Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." For the first time in the show, band members looked like they were having a good time.

That celebratory mood remained through the rest of the evening, capped by passionate takes on two huge hits, "Whatever" and "I Stand Alone."

Floridian hard-rockers Shinedown took the ultra-early shift on Saturday, starting their set while most of the audience was waiting in the security line outside. They deserved better. Lead singer Brent Smith tore into tunes such as "Walk Through Fire" and "Simple Man" with an animalistic gusto that recalled Chris Cornell's finer moments. Next time, though, he should cut down on the long-winded song introductions.

GODSMACK. One of nu-metal's most successful bands keeps on rolling, and even allows itself to have a little fun. Seen Saturday at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater.