Monday, December 04, 2006

Blind Guardian with Leaves' Eyes [Worcester Palladium, 12/1/2006]

In contrast to normal shows, this one formed up with a sort of posse: me, my brother, one of his friends who was up from DC, and two other friends, Ryan and Danny, who also happened to be 2/5 of Ruin -- the now-defunct Massachusetts band, not the one from Maine that's still around. Pat McNeil from My Pet Demon was supposed to be in the crew as well, but Ryan kind of forgot to invite him. In the mist that turned into annoying rain, we set off for Worcester with Danny at the wheel, leaving Ryan and James to trade ridiculous stories about some of their gay (both out and in total denial) and/or stupid friends, which made the drive in decently enjoyable despite the weather and other Massachusetts drivers on the road.

We got in about 15 minutes before doors, and came around the uphill side of the Palladium to find that there was an actual lineup. What the hell? This was seriously the first time I've seen any kind of lineup for a normal show at the Palladium, and it was so long that after security forced us down the block instead of wrapping bag up to the gate, the end was seriously almost all the way down to the DCU Center. We ended up at the front of the "second line" behind the buses; James ran into one of his frat buddies, who ended up hanging with us inside, and we shot the shit with the security guy monitoring the gate, who was buddies with All That Remains and had a couple stories about DragonForce's outlandish road drinking habits to pass along. (Another DragonForce moment, eariler: Random parking attendant: "So, what does this band sound like tonight?" Ryan: "Power metal. Par excellence." RPA: "Oh, like DragonForce?" James: "Kind of, but less gay.")

Eventually, we got in, got beer, got merch, and got down onto the floor, waiting for Leaves' Eyes to start, so that they could finish so that the Guardians could go on. The audience was pretty well mixed, not only over age and gender but also in metalness level: there were quite a few people who looked as though this was probably the only show they went to all year, and that this bill would be the only one that would get them out and onto the floor, and then there were the usual stalwarts that I see at every show that I go to, and in pictures on RTTP from all the shows that I don't go to. While we were standing around, I got engaged in conversation by this kid who was the perfect stereotype of the introverted power metal fan: overweight, unkempt, wearing a tye-died T-shirt with an upraised arm holding a sword on it; he commented on my jacket and my Swashbuckle shirt (I thought I was being original, but I saw at least 3 other people in Swashbuckle kit at this gig -- here's hoping it's a general trend and a bigger label picks them up), and I responded to be nice, even showing off the back design, but he lost interest and tried to start up with some other people. When the pit started (more on this later), he cleared off the floor, and I thought I had seen the last of him.

However, before you write this kid off as a pathetic fish-out-of-water nerd, you need to hear the end of the story. I did see him again, later, throwing down in the pit for BG, hitting and getting hit, passively getting the kind of acceptance for just being that he'd been actively looking for earlier. There is a moral in this story, and it's about the transformative and redemptive power of heavy metal. Will this dude get into the underground and go to more shows, listen to Swashbuckle and start getting into heavier music? Who knows, but the seeds for such are there. In the abstract, metal does not automatically make people better people, but it will make them different people, and the change from the perspective of the person changing is usually a positive.

Anyway, Leaves' Eyes started, and they played their own music, despite some idiot (who is also writing this showreview) yelling at them to do Todessehnsucht.

Leaves' Eyes [4.5/7]
They were better than I expected, but I had some catastrophically low expectations. Their boring material was somewhat less boring live, but outside of "Farewell Proud Men" (which they opened with) and "Elegy" (which they closed with, and which was actually good for a change), there was nothing at all distinctive about it. One could ask what the hell is wrong with Alex Krull to consistently choose to make lamer and more boring music over the course of his career, but this is probably a lost cause at this point; instead, ask what the hell is wrong with him to let his wife use the bedroom voice on the audience. This may have come off as hot to some people, but to me it was freakin' creepy. If there was a unilateral good point to this set, it was the bassist, who laid down a real barrage of thumbslaps in places; the tops of his 24th and 23rd frets were hammered so flat that they caught the light differently, and if he didn't have that silver thumb ring, his knuckle would probably have gone just to pieces a long time ago. Fuckin' brutal.

Speaking of fuckin' brutal, we need to address the pit that developed during this band, which went more or less continuously despite the fact that they played a total of maybe five minutes of moshable material, salted in 30- to 60-second bursts through the 45-minute set. There were a lot of fists and elbows extended out from the pit wall in this case, and while I don't advocate harming people for expressing themselves, I also don't advocate moshing for moshing's sake, especially during a gothic metal band that isn't particularly possible to mosh to. I can understand if you don't want to listen to the music and want to do something else, but you have to understand that the rest of us don't want to listen to them either, and if we have to be stuck listening to them, we'd rather not do it while having to keep our arms up to football-block some idiot who's dancing around like it was Slayer up on stage. This is a moshing country and a particularly moshing scene here in the northeast, but really, show some sense -- and save your energy for Blind Guardian's thrash metal flashbacks.

So Leaves' Eyes finished, and we cheered because they were going away and the Guardians were coming, and then it was time to stand around in the press of the floor, waiting for them to finish re-dressing the set. The high excitement level and low average attention span led to some fun spontaneous outbursts of European soccer chants, bandname yelling (GUAR-DIAN!, Euro-style, as well as the more American GUAR-DI-AN!), and a LOT of warmups for later singalongs. Of course, the lack of general vocal skills meant that this a capella stuff could not last really long, and presently we were in the situation that Ryan described as such:

"When I finally die and go to hell for all those sins I did, this is what it's going to be like. I'll be standing in the middle of a crowd of smelly, sweaty men, and they'll be playing Van Halen over the PA. And I'll be waiting for Blind Guardian to go on, but they'll never go on. Ever." Fortunately, though, this was not precisely our situation, because eventually they did go on.

Blind Guardian [7/7]
I was forward, though not at the front, and got caught up in the press that immediately developed as soon as the band came onstage, let alone hit into "Into The Storm". It was an amazing experience, but a thoroughly stressful one for a 250-lb man with two bad knees who has been to several Euro festivals, including this year's Wacken where Children of Bodom caused this effect over the whole infield, and who accordingly can't keep himself from thinking "OH SHIT ROSTOCK" when he is lifted from his feet by crowd pressure. I hung with it through "Born In A Mourning Hall", but realized that in my condition and the crowd circumstance, injury was a question of "when", not "if". I ducked out through the pit to the more-breathing-room area behind it and spent the rest of the gig tossing people back in -- and of course totally rocking out.

This was not the best set I've ever seen. However, it was completely stupendous, and the reason I'm not disappointed that they didn't do anything off Tales is that everything else was so incredible. This set was everything you'd expect from Blind Guardian and more besides: singalongs, including the Euro-typical take of "The Bards' Song" where Hansi doesn't really have to sing, and intense moshing on the old blasters ("Valhalla" was just plain sick), but also spontaneous folkdancing in "Skalds and Shadows" and true chills running all the way down your body during "Iron Hill" and "And Then There Was Silence". This performance set a high, high standard for their headlining slot at this year's Wacken to live up to; I'm hoping they beat it, but I can't help thinking that they won't beat it by much: in large measure, Blind Guardian took this American club audience and brought them out onto the plains of Germany over this set, and cut off a small but vital slice of what it's like to be out under the sky, united in metal. Does it get better than that? Maybe it does, but I don't know who'd be disappointed if it doesn't.

On the way back, it was more drunk camping stories, a listen through the new Haunted record (which had Ryan jizzing all over the back seat), and some Slayer-reminiscing as we came down the home stretch. I also talked up Wacken a bit, which made it three times on the day that I encouraged people to go to the festival. Doing this without providing full information, though, is a little disingenuous, because while I have the cultural and logistical knowhow to just get on a plane and go to the show, it's not this easy for most people, and if there's something that they don't know that they ought to, it might royally fuck them up. So I'm going to try and write a guide to Wacken travel for Northeast Corridor metalheads, which will be applicable to other American headbangers with the added initial instruction "move to the Northeast Corridor". Or just "get there", but seriously, it's easier to live here, because there's more shows year-round and both MDDF and NEMHCF are within reasonable driving distance. The Wacken guide will take form in a series of posts a little later.

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