Monday, October 16, 2006

Dismember with Vital Remains, Grave, and Withered (but not Execution Agenda or Demiricous) [Middle East, Cambridge, 10/13/2006]

OK. Seriously, these weekday shows have got to stop. I was stuck working late, so I went straight from work to the show...or more accurately, straight onto the highway. From the entrance of 128 to 93 took a whole hour -- to go a distance that normally takes about 20 minutes. This was part of the reason that Execution Agenda -- who were supposed to be doing local support -- didn't show; the backup on 128 was most likely driven by the even more titanic backup on 93, which was caused by a huge accident that basically closed down the southbound side just a few hundred yards north of the entrance from 128. From there the driving was easy....or at least as easy as driving in Boston ever gets. Nearly two hours to travel probably less than 45 road miles.

At least parking was cheap, and I could slump on the bar for half an hour waiting for the show to go on. This was in the restaurant, not the basement hall where the gig was, so I got to see Withered eating, and Dave Suzuki and Anthony Geremia from Vital Remains drinking some vodka-and-Red-Bulls. The Rev from RTTP was ofcourse im Effekt as well -- he had somehow fought his way down from Salem, New Hampshire, but didn't arrive much after I did. Two hefeweizen finished with apfelkorn -- no Malteser on hand, of course, but the somewhat neurotic Germany-emulation was able to proceed regardless.

Downstairs, I made up for the local support not showing up by dropping 60 bucks at the Pathos table before he got pushed out -- shades of a certain Ignite song, but while "I came to support these touring bands", I did that as well. Two shirts, two patches (both of which will be going on the primary jacket), and a hat, spread across all four bands. Withered's patch was of the "cheap printed" variety, while Dismember's was of the "real" species, but if it's what it takes to bring patches back to the US, I'll take it. There's going to be some difficult sewing to put it on my collar, but the results will be worth it.

And now, the bands:

Withered [6/7]
The sound in this show was much more of Mastodon Junior than it was at Metalfest, but still cool and still fully original. There was less fuzz in the sound, which may have cut away the weird overtones that I found so cool the first time, but it really allowed the sound of their actual playing to come out. I went down front after about half of the first song, and stayed in the second or third row all night, far forward enough that what I was hearing was mostly out of the amps rather than out of the PA. So it was a local show...with bands that came from Georgia and Sweden as well as Rhode Island, and a cumulative like 50 or 60 years of death metal experience. This was a good set made better by a great spot, but it would probably have been just as good from anywhere else in the hall... or, anywhere not obstructed by a supporting pole. The history of the Middle East is very evident in the downstairs.

This club started out as just a restaurant, but started bringing in bands as well as belly dancers in the late '60s and early '70s; eventually they redid the basement as a music hall, and later put in another one upstairs (slightly smaller, and where I saw Sigh back in 2002), and at some point it became perhaps the premier rock club in the metro Boston area. The main level is still a trendy restaurant, but almost every night there's underground music either upstairs or down.

Grave [6/7]
Grave had at some point, if I recall correctly, expanded in membership after reuniting, but for this show they were back to a three-piece, back to the essentials of the Grave sound and experience. The pounding and explosiveness were just as expected, though, truthfully, they were probably the least memorable band of the night. I know Grave's material less than any of the other bands on the bill (well, only because I had seen Withered live before), so this is understandable from a personal standpoint, but also, their fairly doctrinaire brutal death attack, even on a really good performance like this one, has to lose out a little next to the absolute musical and stage insanity that Vital Remains was about to present, and to the total thrashparty that Dismember would throw to end the night.

Vital Remains [7/7]
The session members -- three to the band's two full-timers -- were eminently good enough to join on a full basis, but the real stars were Tony Lazaro and Dave Suzuki, on some of the sickest-looking guitars ever built. While Withered's soundcheck rocked more than some bands' sets, Dave is the first guitarist I've seen to rip through something as complicated as Death's "Altering The Future" as a warmup. His right hand was moving so fast that it blurred, as was Tony's when I got a view of it (I was stage left, right in front of Dave, and Tony was stage right, so there was a ton of people's heads in the way). As sick as this was, it was nothing next to the insanity when they actually started playing. If you think "Dechristianize" sounds awesome or insane on record, you don't have any friggin idea. The place absolutely blew up when they started up, and didn't let up at all until the end of the set. We were charging the stage, and the frontman was just short of diving over the rails and running around through the crowd, respectively while singing and while the instrumentalists were annihilating on that or another solo or riff passage. There's nobody else doing this kind of insane combination of the intensely melodic and the ultrabrutal out there, probably because no one else can; as a result, if you're a metal fan who's looking for the absolute best, there's really no other choice than to catch Vital when and wherever you can. This is quite about as good as it gets in terms of combining technical ability with great songwriting and delivering both live; it's difficult to describe the experience to someone who wasn't also in the middle of it.

I have a souvenir Bible page from the one that they shredded during the third song; I'm currently debating what the hell to do with it, because like most thrown-off-the-stage stuff, there's no real immediate proof that it came from the band you say it came from.

Dismember [7/7]
Dismember has never made a record that got rated this high. So how do they reach a new high on live material with just the same material? A lot of it is the collection of their best material over fifteen years and a ton of records, but more of it is the fact that Dismember's style translates so well live. For moshing or banging, it seldom gets any better than those thick, meaty, low-end riffs, and this show delivered a full hour of them and more. They did do an encore, but it was kind of overshadowed by their closer, where everyone else from every other band on the bill charged over the stage, banging, putting weird hats on the band (Dismember had done this during Withered's set and also come out periodically to hang with every other band), spraying beer on the audience, and generally going nuts. The hot-pants-and-stockings merch girl was up shaking it as well -- though this was the equal-opportunity half of the show's fanservice component; the girls and 'non-traditional males' had already gotten an eyeful of Dave Suzuki ripped and shirtless during Vital's set. The eye candy was only an occasional bonus though, as the main focus was on the band -- whenever they were visible through the mass of bodies and the chaos of the front -- and on the crazed thrash party throwdown going on in front of us and all around us. In the underground, the line between performers and audience is exceedingly fine in all cases, but this was the first time since Nevermore's set at Metalfest '03 that both sides blended to this degree. Even though they didn't do "Collection In Blood", this was a great set that the experience made even better.

The experience, of course, was made better by the fact that I was down front for the first time at a non-local show since I lost my last fully functioning knee. I didn't go into the actual pit, but did stand the pit wall and push a bunch of people fore and aft, without injury at all. This is probably a result of general strengthening since the last time I messed either joint up, and the natural recovery of prioproception -- a fancy word meaning the body's sense of itself in space that I got from Football Outsiders -- that comes after any serious joint injury as a function of time. It's probably also smart thinking about how and where to put my feet and how to take hits from various directions, when to set and push back, and when to just fall back and use crowd pressure rather than my own ligaments to catch myself. It was a great feeling to get back in the middle of things again, and also an encouraging sign for the show next month at the Palladium, where I kind of have to push up to the front row for Hypocrisy, but may, as often, get pushed back, or just not get to the venue early enough, though it's on a Saturday and ought to suffer from less of the road congestion that made getting in today such a headache.

Although, it's nowhere near as mental as 93 North was when I went up to Mark's the last time; they let people drive in the breakdown lane almost all the way to Lawrence, and the result is the most pure traffic zoo that I've ever seen outside China, almost as bad as the Ring Roads in Beijing. Just widen the damn highway already! And I'm going up that way next Saturday again for Moonspell and Daylight Dies....

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