Saturday, November 23, 2013

Live Review: High On Fire, Kvelertak, Doomriders at Metro, Chicago 2013

High On Fire | Kvelertak | Doomriders

Metro - Chicago, IL
November 22, 2013


I'm always glad when a venue does a poster for a show I'm attending, but more and more it's become obvious the artists have their own agenda and don't have a clue about the band(s). Nothing in that bullshit poster is representative of the bands. Lame.

I made the cold and brisk four block walk over to Metro and after hitting the coat check, merch stand and bathroom in record time, made my way upstairs to find my friends. Doomriders were onstage when I arrived, and while I enjoyed Black Thunder, it's not something I listen to very often. I gave the new album, Grand Blood, a listen and felt pretty indifferent about it. I've apparently seen Doomriders live twice before, but don't remember either show. To be honest, I don't remember much about this one either. Zero stage presence and nothing compelling enough to make me care. A text from a friend at the bar removed me from indifference.

While trading metal gossip and debating the merits of Trouble and The Skull, the crowd began to fill in nicely. I was the only one in our group who had seen Kvelertak before and was excited to see them again. The Norwegian band creates a twisted genre tornado of hardcore, black metal, rock and poppy hooks to create something entirely original and awesome.

Kvelertak took the stage and definitely grabbed everyone's attention.

If your night doesn't include a singer wearing an owl on his head, you ain't livin'.

Unfortunately, the frantic energy I've seen from this band in the past wasn't on display this evening. Maybe it was the smaller stage they had to work with as a support act, maybe they had been asked to tone things down. Whatever it was, something was missing. They played flawlessly and sounded great, but I would have walked away pretty bored if this were my first experience with Kvelertak.

Luckily, a friend of a friend was on a mission to ensure my beer was never empty.

Matt Pike, wearing his favorite shirt.

The crowd roared as a now-sober Matt Pike stepped onstage. Whereas some artists who any number of habits come off awkward or unsure of themselves, nothing could be further from the truth with Pike. In fact, this may have been the best HOF show I've ever seen. The band unleashed a tidal wave of volume on the crowd, where three pits quickly broke out. Pike looked down and smiled at the chaos while the band steamrolled everything in its path.

The set included a nice mix of their albums, but it was the new single "Slave the Hive" that sent the crowd into an entirely new level of fucking frenzy. The band were hitting on all proverbial cylinders at this point and didn't let up. I've personally never seen Matt Pike look/act this good in a long time. And I was especially pleased that after pummeling the crowd with "Snakes for the Divine," the band said thanks and walked off the stage. Lights up. No silly scripted encore. HOF are back and better than ever.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Live Review: Slayer at Aragon Ballroom, Chicago 2013

Slayer | Gojira | 4ARM

Aragon Ballroom - Chicago, IL
November 15, 2013

Hell Awaits

When this show was first announced, I thought it may be the first time I'd skip seeing Slayer since '85. There's no replacing Jeff, but I've already seen them with Gary; and if anyone is qualified to fill in for Jeff Hanneman, it's Gary Holt. Despite seeing them countless times with Paul, I had some reservations about seeing them without Dave. But then I figured life is too short to worry about band drama. Especially when friends on the left coast told me Slayer was playing with a new found intensity on this tour.

I first saw Slayer 28 years ago, and tonight's show marked the 28th I've seen them.
What this means, I have no idea.

We spent the entirety of 4ARM's set enjoying pre-metal beer at the Uptown Lounge, where Slayer was played loudly the entire time. But, having been a victim of Will Call Drama numerous times at Aragon, I decided we should head over a little early in case frantic texts/calls needed to be made.

Still Reigning
Thankfully, Will Call was a smooth process. I was surprised to see quite a few friends at the show, and I found out yet another friend was there when he sent me this photo from the band's dressing room..

Angel (food cake) of Death
We made our way upstairs to find a bar and hang out while French metal played on the stage below. The crowd was into them, but as much as I try, Je n'aime pas Gojira.

It was pretty sobering to watch Slayer's road crew take out Jeff's famous Heineken guitar and place it on a stand at stage right in tribute to their fallen brother. But I was pretty excited to see the band rip through the "Old School Set List" they're playing on this tour, and the crowd was equally amped up as soon as the lights went out and the intro to "Hell Awaits" kicked in. Nothing warms my heart as much as hearing today's youth loudly chant "SLAYER! SLAYER! SLAYER! SLAYER!" while waiting to be pummeled with volume.

I watched 90% of the show from the sanctuary of VIP Land, while KFK's wife and some transplanted New Yorker held court. As fun as that may have been, a Slayer show can only be appreciated from the pit. So I ventured down for two songs before deciding pits are for kids (and meth heads).

Best Part: When four pits merged into one weird oblong pit that coiled itself around the barricade.

Second Best Part: Watching the techs calmly play games on their iPhones while their bosses destroyed the crowd.

There's no need to dissect the show; it was FUN. The setlist RULED. No, "Angel of Death" won't be the same without Dave, and yes, it will always be strange to not see Hanneman there, but the band played flawlessly and Tom sounds better than he has in 15 years. The band dynamics have also changed, as I'm hard pressed to remember a time when Slayer looked like they were having fun on stage.

The energy and fun onstage was just as evident in the crowd. Say whatever you want, but 32 years later, Slayer remains just as relevant as ever. I don't recall any kids in the 80s/90s losing their shit over a band 30+ years old. And when Tom recited intros from the Live Undead album and the kids loudly said them word for word, it gave me hope for the future.

Satan isn't pleased: Aragon's stage could only accommodate two of Slayer's four upside down crosses.

I hadn't been back stage at Aragon since '93, during the final show Nirvana played in Chicago. Everything has been repainted and the furniture, while likely still sporting an unfathomable amount of DNA, has been immensely upgraded. The scene backstage was.... a scene. So it was cool to escape that and spend some quality time with the lead singer on his bus.

Sadly, no virgin blood was used as for the filling.

All in all, a blistering set from an amazing band. Anyone who skipped the show and/or tour is foolish for letting petty things prevent them from having a good time. In the not so distant future, Slayer and many others won't be around. Enjoy them while you still can.

The Brawlroom. Successfully Slayed.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Live Review: Mazzy Star at The Vic, Chicago 2013

Mazzy Star | Psychic Ills 

The Vic - Chicago, IL
November 13, 2013

With exception to the Pumpkins, Mazzy Star was the first non-metal band with whom I became absolutely obsessed. I first heard them shortly after my birthday in 1990 while wandering around Tower Records. Hope Sandoval's vocals were arresting, and the fuzzed out guitars were both psychedelic and stark. Everything clicked, I bought the album and needed to find out everything possible about this band. But unlike many bands, they were incredibly elusive. It was hard to obsess over anything about them beyond the music. And that's probably how they preferred it.

As luck would have it, they were coming to Chicago in about a month. But the show was 21 and over. Fuck.

I'd be forced to wait until 1994 to see the band, first headlining, and then opening for The Jesus and Mary Chain during a three night stand at Metro. I'll save my memories of those shows for another day.

Fast forward to 2013, and with the band touring in support of their new album Seasons of Your Day, I anticipated this show more than any other all year.We made the short, cold walk to The Vic and quickly looked at merch, grabbed a drink, hit coat check, and made our way towards the front. It would be disingenuous to say anything about openers The Psychic Ills other than they were mostly forgettable.

The crew prepared the stage for Mazzy Star's first show in Chicago since '96, and the floor and balcony were now packed. The crowd was also loud, and I began to worry about the delicate dynamic that is the relationship between this band and their fans. I've never witnessed a bad crowd at a Mazzy Star show, but I've certainly heard about many of them. Especially on this tour. The music this band plays is so ethereal and intimate that it demands near silence. Those who claim it's boring and that they could just sit at home and listen to their iPod simply don't get it.

Performing in shadows, candles on stage and sepia toned photos projected on screen, Mazzy Star set about intoxicating the audience. The drug of choice, of course, was Hope Sandoval, whose whispery and sultry vocals wash over the crowd in ways no other vocalist can come close to replicating. The effect is hypnotic and mesmerizing. Much has been made of Hope's incredible shyness off and on stage, and that vulnerability adds to the appeal. She always appears to be unsure of herself, but her slight movements, gestures, and facial expressions on stage lull you into complete submission.

It's almost impossible to articulate the live experience that is Mazzy Star, but it was immediately evident why I fell in love with this band so many years ago. And that experience was made even better by the fact they haven't lost a step in their performance. Hope still looks and sounds amazing; it's impossible to tell that so much time has passed since the band last performed together. And that's what really made this night memorable: the band was so locked in, everything came off flawlessly. I love Hope's solo work, but something magical happens when she and David Roback's trippy guitar get together.

The crowd was mostly respectful and quiet, except for one drunk douche behind me who yelled out "I have the biggest boner" after the first song. This was met with boos and jeers, but he continued to scream things like "I love you Hope!" I worried that we'd get the set cut short, and began to contemplate the likelihood of turning around, dropping this kid, and go unnoticed. I then envisioned being kicked out in my valiant attempt to make the show more enjoyable, and thankfully, he eventually got quiet. And thankfully, Hope didn't hear him or ignored him.

Speaking of Hope, it was the most I've heard her talk between songs - ever. Granted, this was limited to telling a girl she loved her too, and softly saying "thank you" three times. Backstage at The Vic is actually downstairs, and after the second encore, she said "if I have to walk up those stairs one more time.." And she was smiling. I'd chalk this up to the wine she drank during the set, but Hope always has red wine during a set. I'd like to think she actually enjoyed herself, and considering the length of the set compared to every other city except Toronto, I think it's a fair assumption. It was a great way to cap off an incredible evening.

The highlight of the show, however, was "Into Dust." The song has captivated me since the first moment I heard it, and thousands of listens later, it still has the same effect. That effect is magnified a thousand times when it's being performed a few feet in front of you. Nobody in the crowd said a word during the set's most quiet song, as Hope and David paralyzed the audience. It was incredible. I remember thinking it was one of the most moving live songs I had ever witnessed back in 1994, and it still holds true in 2013. Hope's voice shatters me every time. I go to live shows to be moved by the performance, and maybe I'm becoming jaded but those performances are becoming more and more rare. Tonight with Mazzy Star wasn't just moving, it was like an out-of-body-experience.

Welcome back, Mazzy Star. Hopefully it won't be another 17 years until we meet again.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Live Review: Death Angel at Reggie's, Chicago 2013

Death Angel

Reggie's - Chicago, IL
November 5, 2013

Death Angel are one of my favorite bands that I tend to forget are one of my favorite bands until I see them live. 2008's Killing Season brought me back into the fold, and 2013's The Dream Calls For Blood cemented my place.

I wasn't happy about a five band bill on a Tuesday night, but wasn't about to skip the show. I had actually been in San Francisco during for the band's two hometown shows, but prior plans preventing me from attending. I wandered into the venue long enough to grab a beer, cringe at whoever was on stage, and meet up with two friends. We retreated to Reggie's bar next door in the sake of quality and sanity.

After finding a place at the bar, my friend tapped me on the shoulder to point out that Mark Osegueda was holding court at the opposite end of the bar. I knew we had a mutual friend, so I texted that friend, who told me to go and show Mark my phone. I did, and thus began a FUN evening.

I tried not to dive too deep into Geeked Out Fanboy Mode, but I do recall blabbering something about first seeing Death Angel at Medusa's in '90. At some point during our conversation, some New York transplant and his entourage came into the bar. Our groups split up at that point, and after a few more drinks we made our way over to see the show. But not before another mutual friend of the New York transplant and I texted me to go say some disparaging words to him. I did, Charlie laughed. All was good.

Fun Fact: Death Angel didn't allow anyone in the VIP area above either side of the stage. This meant the someone almost got "Caught in a Mosh" until he retreated to the balcony.

Wall of sound....Sonic Beatdown

Death Angel ruled. I initially had reservations about the "new guys" in the band (who are no longer new), but those white boys have made the band an even better live act. Death Angel now has razor sharp precision, and they pull it off effortlessly.  Mark was in great spirits on stage and mixed up the setlist a little, and even added an additional song. The crowd roared back with approval, which was awesome to see as the clock struck 12 on a late Tuesday evening.

I should have gone home. I had an 8am meeting in the morning. But I soon found myself back next door and knee deep in shots of Fernet. For those unaware, Fernet is the Malort of San Francisco. Except that unlike Malort, Fernet is much more palatable. To my surprise, Reggie's had Fernet on tap. What better way to celebrate with a Bay Area band than with their hometown shot?

Fernet on Tap

Also to my surprise, a third friend texted me to say HI to the Will, the drummer. I found Will, we also laughed at the connection and more shots were consumed. Mark made his way back to us and it was at that point I decided he was the nicest Rock Star I've ever met. We spent an hour solving the world's problems and discussed hanging out when I'm in SF next year. A truly great guy.

Drink As One

I finally got home around 5am and drunkenly tried to give my girlfriend a recap of the evening before she finally made it clear she didn't care and it was time for bed.

Job well done
Now it's time to hit the road
Seek the next target
So again, We can unload