Thursday, April 24, 2014

Live Review: Ghost at Mojoes, Joliet 2014

Ghost | King Dude

Mojoes - Joliet, IL
April 21, 2014

Too much is sometimes never enough. Reminiscent of Ghost's Friday performance at Lolla followed by the Saturday Lolla After Show at Double Door in 2013, Chicagoland was treated to another one-two punch of Ritual over this Easter weekend.

Saturday confirmed that two years after their first North American show, Ghost continue to exceed all of their hype. I was curious if the crowd in Joliet would be as hysteric as the one witnessed in Chicago. Monday was a gloomy, rainy day. When I set out to make my rush hour trek to the southern suburbs, Google Maps told me to expect a drive that would last two hours.

It was literally pouring when we arrived, and I was shocked to see kids lined up down the block and around the corner to get into the venue. Sound check was running late and the venue's doors were locked. We were able to huddle under the canopy outside the door until the guest list line was allowed inside.

Despite many opinions to the contrary, I've never had a bad personal experience at Mojoes. From Will Call to Security to the bartenders and waitresses, everyone was pleasant and courteous.

I had my reservations about the crowd that might turn out for the show. But this crowd was just as diverse as any Ghost show. Fans of all types are gathered as one. I see shirts from every end of the rock and metal spectrum. From Nuclear Assault and Dark Funeral to Thin Lizzy and Sleep.

King Dude went over even better in Joliet than in Chicago. The more intimate setup may have contributed to this, but he was much more interactive with the crowd and after mentioning whiskey, a girl on the rail handed him a free shot. I was impressed enough this second time around with the Dude to go online and preorder the new album. But I missed out on the colored vinyl. Lame.

While not as small as the Double Door stage, the stage here was really small. Especially for a band with six members.

Capacity was about 1000, but it still had a feeling of intimacy. And from my vantage point in the balcony, it looked hot on the floor. Really hot.

The pre-show hymns and "Masked Ball" intro remain the same. The band ripped into "Infestissumam" which significantly amps up the crowd. Papa takes the stage during "Per Aspera ad Inferi" and the tidal wave of energy finally breaks, and like a pent up orgasm the crowd releases. The collective feeling of unashamed joy like that is mind altering. No amount of drugs or alcohol can compare to the cumulative effect of the band, the music and the people around you putting forth such a tremendous amount of energy. It's almost heart stopping, and no matter what I write, unless one experiences it first-hand no words can give it justice.

The setlist in Joliet mirrors that of Chicago and previous stops on this leg of the tour. "Ritual" still seems unusual this early in the set, but it's also refreshing to see a band unafraid of playing their "hit" at the beginning of the show.

The crowd, while not as exuberant as Chicago, chants, screams and dances along. Even the pit that springs up occasionally is peaceful and devoid of the usual assholes and shenanigans.

Just as in Chicago, the newer songs are more well received than the older ones. "Year Zero" is like their "Master of Puppets." All night, the crowd has been chanting, near screaming, in a frenzy for the band to play "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen." After a short break, the band returns to the stage. The anticipation from every corner of the room is immense and then it hits. The first slow, discordant notes of "Ghuleh" slither out of the PA and the room goes berserk.The energy from the crowd during that song was something to behold, and I can't recall many recent shows in which it was so passionate and genuine.

Monstrance Clock closed the show, and after witnessing this combo of songs closing the show five times now, I think "Zombie Queen" would be the more appropriate closer. But it's a minor complaint for yet another amazing show. Ghost are among the elite live bands in existence today; irrespective of genre.

The lights went up to reveal a sea of sweaty fans, and if you ever want to see a group of jaded metal fans with giant ear-to-ear grins on their faces that would have been the perfect moment. The lines for merch afterward reminded me of something you'd see at a KISS or Iron Maiden show. 

Tonight marked my tenth Ritual with Ghost. A very cool moment backstage made me happy I'll be witnessing number eleven later this summer.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Live Review: Ghost at The Vic, Chicago 2014

Ghost | King Dude

The Vic - Chicago, IL
April 19th, 2014

It was a pleasant surprise when Ghost announced this leg of their Year Zero tour and yet another stop in Chicago was on the itinerary. It was even more surprising when a second date in the suburbs was added for the following Monday. 

Saturday began with Ghost making an appearance at Kuma's, where Civilian Papa and the Nameless Ghouls stopped to take photos with the guys responsible for the Ghost burger (and avalanche of free publicity for the band). Saturday was also Record Store Day, so they also stopped at Reckless Records to give fans another opportunity to have their photo taken with the band.

It was at Reckless that this photo was taken, proving the Sox have Satan on their side. Although it's probably still not enough to help our bullpen this season.

I was a little worried that the combination of a show the night before in Pittsburgh and these relatively early public appearances would result in a sluggish performance. I also wondered if I was "over" Ghost. Tonight marked the ninth time I've seen the band since 2012, and while the love affair has never waned, sometimes bands change, performances are lackluster, and it's just time to move on.

The show tonight at the 1400 person capacity Vic was sold out, making it Ghost's biggest non-Lolla show in Chicago. After a quick, drama-free Will Call experience, we made our way inside.

Satan works in mysterious ways.
The usual merch booths in the front lobby of The Vic weren't large enough to contain the juggernaut of Ghost Merch in 2014. Lines to buy Ghost swag were multiple and long. So long that it wasn't uncommon to see people give up waiting and leave the line.

We were fortunate enough to have seats in an opera box for the show, and a weird coincidence was that the entrance to said box was guarded by a former colleague. 

I had only taken a quick listen to the music of King Dude before the show, and while it wasn't my usual cup of tea, it intrigued me enough to show up in time to see them live. The music is eerie and dark; with heavy Death in June influences. My girlfriend described it best: It sounds like the soundtrack to True Detective.

Prior to Ghost's arrival on stage, the drummer from the Bronx (the borough, not the band) and his entourage showed up. He seemed a little upset he had to stand behind us to watch the show while we sat in front of him. Cry for the Indians.. 

The band took the stage and the crowd went ballistic. Papa took the stage and it was pandemonium. The band was just as great as ever, and musically, more locked in than I've ever seen them. Which was surprising given that it was only the third date of the tour. 

A highlight for us was watching Omega just rock out in his own world. The solemn stances of the Nameless Ghouls is a thing of the past, and it made for a much more entertaining performance. 

Something I found interesting was that the kids reacted far more favorably to the new songs than the old ones. "If You Have Ghosts" was a giant sing-a-long. "Year Zero" went over much bigger than "Ritual," and "Zombie Queen" was massive compared to "Elizabeth." 


I was happy to see the the inclusion of "Here Comes The Sun" in the set again, and so was the drummer standing behind us, who was rather emphatic about it. 

Ghost remains more relevant than ever, and the crowd more enthusiastic than I've ever seen for the band. Ghost returns to Joliet (!?) on Monday for another ritual. 

Minutia: Number of Papa II impersonators: Two. Number of Nuns: One. Number of Civilian Papa impersonators: Two.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Live Review: Godflesh at Metro, Chicago 2014

Godflesh | Cut Hands

Metro - Chicago, IL
April 15th, 2014

 I've heard people sarcastically say "sitting through a tax audit would be more fun." Tonight, on tax day, Godflesh would put that statement to the challenge.

I had cautious reservations about this show ever since the tour was announced, and then postponed due to visa issues. The date was rescheduled, and each time I listened to Godflesh in the weeks leading up to the show -- I was barely able to get through one song.

Everything sounded dated. Repetitive. Boring.

But I was optimistic it would translate a little better in the live setting.

We walked into Metro just as Cut Hands was finishing up his set. Cut Hands apparently was a trailblazer in the electronic world, and I'm sure his music sounded groundbreaking...thirty years ago, but it was borderline sleep-inducing tonight. I'm no fan of modern-day EDM acts, but having seen those artists at various fests, I can at least understand the reasons behind their popularity. The music has an edge, doesn't require you to even know the guy behind the MacBook, and incites excitement in the crowd. Cut Hands, in comparison, drones on and is reminiscent of bad techno played by a bad DJ in some half empty club on a Tuesday night.

The crowd stood nearly motionless, seemingly attempting to "get it" and justify the crappy music.

A quick set change that included switching out one MacBook Pro for another, and Godflesh took the stage.

Before they took the stage, this image appeared on the screen:

The lone highlight of Godflesh 2014

This cool visual turned out to be the lone bright spot of the evening. The "band" took the stage, Justin Broadrick spent time on his laptop queuing up the drums and other random canned instruments. Or maybe he was updating his facebook status. I'm not sure. 

The band launched into the set, and after 10-15 seconds of adulation from the crowd,  the crowd settled back into their motionless stance. Sure, the beginning of each song would be met by a smattering of applause, but this crowd was mostly lifeless. And the crowd was mostly what you'd expect to see at a Godflesh show in 2014: Old, grizzled guys pining for the early 90s industrial metal days, and still dressing as though they were living in the early 90s. Hardly any women, and a few curious kids. I think two of them attempted to start a pit, but it didn't go over well with this crowd.

The band was mostly indifferent. The bloated bassist couldn't have possibly cared less, and was likely thinking about his next meal. He never interacted with Broadrick or the fans. Broadrick, when not on his laptop, seemed passionate enough -- but it's just not interesting music anymore. 

It sounded like someone took the stems from a marginal Ministry song, uploaded them to YouTube, and that's what Broadrick was playing. I had hoped that the visuals would save the day, but they were mostly a loop of five or six minutes of abstract, uninteresting video. The crowd became sparse, and even those in vintage Godflesh shirts looked bored. 

There was a minor traffic jam on the stairs leading to the exit, and most overheard conversations were about how underwhelming Godflesh is in 2014.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Live Review: Dillinger Escape Plan at Metro, Chicago 2014

The Dillinger Escape Plan | Trash Talk

Metro - Chicago, IL
April 11, 2014

I have to admit, I was late to the DEP party. The band defies labels, but some songs I heard bordered on noodly mathcore. I'd hear a cool riff in a song, but the band would quickly move onto something else. Fast forward to their 2011 tour supporting Deftones, and I was intrigued by the performance.

Later that evening, they did a headline set at Bottom Lounge that was awe-inspiring:


The fact they also play insanely complicated stuff is just mind-boggling.

After their set at Orion 2013, a chance encounter with Ben and Greg  side stage while watching Deftones sealed the deal. They not only recalled various Chicago shows with great detail, they were incredibly gracious and appreciative. February saw me in San Fransisco for Fear FestEvil, and it was there I ran into Greg once again. At that time, he said I should come check out a show on the upcoming tour. The invite was cool, but there was no way I was missing this show. 

Thanks, Jess and Greg!

Call me a big baby, but for once I actually cherished being in the safety and comfort of VIP while mayhem and destruction played out on the stage and floor below.

I last saw Trash Talk at Subterranean. The crowd was terrifying, but not like the old days of Metal. Rather than being a violent crowd, this one was more about having zero fear of injury. I'm sure this would have appealed to me a few years ago, but in 2012, it didn't take long for me to move upstairs.

Trash Talk's performance at Metro was no less subdued, even if the crowd was a little unsure what to make of the atom bomb of energy that leveled them. Almost immediately, lead singer Lee Spielman, wearing a White Sox jersey with his name on the back, lept out into the crowd to shake things up.

Lee Spielman - walking on the crowd.

For the next hour, chaos reigned. Metro security, usually inept and incapable of properly handling rowdy crowds, mostly let the kids on the floor do whatever the hell they wanted, including those lucky (?) enough to get on stage before diving head first back into the crowd.

Bodies swarming everywhere. Reckless and raw energy everywhere you looked. Except in our section, where I impatiently checked to see where the waitress was with my beer. Back on the floor, tidal waves of bodies crashed into each other.

While not as HOLY FUCK I MAY DIE TONIGHT terrifying as the Subterranean show, this was still one of the better performances I've seen this year. My only gripe was the constant requests from the stage to "put your firsts in the air" and "let's get a circle pit going." It's contrived, forced, and unnecessary. The kids in the crowd were doing all of those things anyway. Leave those cliches to awful bands like Disturbed or Five Finger Death Punch. It's the concert equivalent to an APPLAUSE sign.

DEP exploded out of the gate. They hit the stage and the place exploded. The contrast between the bands was interesting, because at any other show, DEP would be the outsiders with the punk sensibilities. Here, they were the more polished assassins, ready to slice and dice anything in their path.

No crafty writing or clever analogies do DEP justice. The performance is so amazingly balanced between musicianship and total over-the-top destruction that you don't have to like the band to love the show. Seriously.

The Metro's staging and lights don't facilitate the typical acrobatics that go with most DEP shows.   But it was cool to see Ben out amongst the crowd again. The last time I saw DEP, a broken hand forced him to take a seat. Literally.

Ben Weinman - also walking on crowd.

Uniqueness in music is a rarity these days, but DEP defines itself with its signature spazz math metal hardcore assault. The band stands alone in its own fucked up category.

The setlist says they played 16 songs. I can't figure out where the time went, because it's like watching the most griping, edge-of-your-fucking-seat movie ever. You can't take your eye off this band, but before you know it, it's over.

 But not before Greg scaled the sound rig at stage right.

And then proceeded to jump into the crowd, where Ben was already surfing his way around.

Astonishing, exhausting, and amazing. It was my fifth time seeing Dillinger Escape Plan; I should be used to this stuff. But my jaw still dropped. All that I could do was stand there and stare. After the show, I shook my head in disbelief.

If a single person from the Chicago metal scene was at the after party, you could have fooled me. I made a quick exit and met up with friends at Gingerman where we discussed all things metal for much too long.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Flashback: Anthrax Hanukkah & Christmas Card

I received Anthrax in the mail long before the attacks in 2001. The State of Euphoria inspired wording on the card leads me to believe it arrived in 1988, but two thousand gin and tonics later, my memory is a little fuzzy.

Heavy Metal Hanukkah.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Flashback: Pantera Christmas Card 1991

Once upon a time, you could write a letter to bands and if the stars aligned properly, you'd be added to their mailing list. The younger and less popular the band was, the better your odds were for receiving something from the band. I think I had Prodigy at this point, but it was well before the internet was widely used, and long before bands would spam you to death with stupid emails put together by someone who seemingly forgot what it's like to be a fan. But I digress.

At that age, when something would arrive in the mail for me, it was always cause for excitement. If that something was music related: bootleg audio/video, music mags, metal zines, band fanclub stuff, I'd go ape shit. And even though I wasn't that big a fan of Cowboys From Hell, I was pretty amazed when this showed up in the mail.

Primal Concrete Santa

"Now On Tour With Skid Row"

Vulgar Display of Power would be released in early February, and a couple weeks later we saw them live at the Vic for the record release show and launch of the tour.

Pantera with....Fates Warning?

A lucky choice of places to eat allowed us to meet 3/4 of Pantera before the show. But that's another story for another time.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Retro Review: Smashing Pumpkins at Metro, Chicago 1999

Smashing Pumpkins

Metro - Chicago, IL
December 20 + 21, 1999

Show poster signed by head Pumpkin.

I can't remember when it was announced, but the Pumpkins were going to play two shows at Metro for two reasons: One was to benefit a local food bank. They requested that all ticket holders bring two cans of food. The other reason was to debut their new bass player, Melissa Auf Der Maur, recruited from Hole, who replaced D'arcy on bass...because D'arcy was a raging lunatic crackhead.

It would also mark the first Chicago performances since Jimmy Chamberlin returned to the band. Exiled in '96 after a tragic episode in New York, the band was never the same without him. They were competent with Matt Walker, but Jimmy and Billy combine to take the music to a level unattainable by any other pairing.  

Anyway, it was insanely cold on this day, and the temps were in the single digits when we arrived to see fans huddled in blankets in a line that stretched down the block. Politics dictated that I wouldn't be on the guest list and was instead forced to actually buy a ticket on my own. I know, right? A bottle of Jager numbed our senses while the cold numbed everything else. At some point after the line started to move, we recognized a friend working security who escorted us inside sans Jager bottle. 

Rumors in the days leading up to the show were that the band would be playing new material. Pumpkins fans get mad when the band does this in 2013, but it's really been their M.O. for as long as I can remember. The four Double Door shows in '95 included almost 100% of new material. In fact, almost every tour I can recall leaned heavily on new songs. 

Anyway, the first few songs played this night were new. And they went over really well, especially "Heavy Metal Machine." And that may seem strange if you hate the version on Machina, but I can tell you that it rocked before Billy reworked it and Flood ruined it.

The most interesting thing during those two nights at Metro was the heavier renditions of older Pumpkins songs. I'll always like the originals, but I have a fondness for the dark energy in the songs during that period. 

That version of Zero just fucking rips. 

The same is true for Adore. I typically ignore the song, unless it's from this era.

Despite the coolness of hearing new takes on some of the older songs, I was most struck by how well Melissa Auf Der Maur (MADM) played with the band, especially with Chamberlin. Despite being behind the drum kit, Jimmy has enormous presence on stage and his playing commands so much attention it's almost as though he's the lead instrument on most songs. But MADM kept pace with him, which was stark contrast to D'Arcy...who routinely struggled just to keep the bass line, let alone hold down the fort with Jimmy. 

James Iha was, as usual, an understated but essential presence, conjuring the sound of evil violins and mutant hummingbirds with his strings, e-bows and foot pedals, weaving his solos into the fabric of the songs. But it was Billy who seemed most on a mission; intent to let everyone know he was still relevant in the midst of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit saturating the radio airwaves. 

Night One featured a more standard set, if such a thing exists for the Pumpkins. Although "I Am One" was more of a rant than a song, and had alternative "lyrics." Night Two featured a similar core set, but also included blistering version of "X.Y.U." and a cover Black Sabbath's "Supernaut."

I remember being hopeful about the new album, which I vaguely recall Billy describing as "Joy Division meets Black Sabbath." Sadly, it was neither, and the versions played live in '99 remain far superior to what ultimately ended up on the album. And just one year later, Billy would pull the plug on the whole thing.