Saturday, June 21, 2008

Iron Maiden with Lauren Harris [Twee--, no, Comc--, ah, fuck it; Great Woods, Mansfield, 6/20/2008]

So, forty days and forty nights before I'm due to see them again, hopefully from at least no further away, I caught Iron Maiden on the next-to-last North American stop of the current Somewhere Back In Time tour, and it was quite as awesome as might have been expected. Maybe I should have planned my caffeine supply a little better, and maybe I should have swung it so I didn't have to get up at 6 AM and spend a total of like 7 hours driving on the day of the show; maybe I shouldn't have drank quite as many beers, or indeed maybe should have taken at least some consideration of the fact that I was still sick, but if you get yourself hung up on 'maybe's, you are never going to get anywhere in heavy metal, certainly not as a performer and not really as a serious fan either.

The day started, as mentioned, quite early, as I had to get some stuff together and then drive halfway across the state to pick up my youngest brother, who started at his grad-school radar lab a little earlier than we had anticipated when blithely setting up this concert excursion. Still, it wasn't so bad going out and back, and it beats the hell out of actually working on a Friday morning. After dropping off his laundry and hanging about with the family for a bit, we headed down.

Despite the fact that we hail from the North Shore and the venue for this show is practically on Cape Cod, requiring that we do not only the Boston-beltway-at-rush-hour but also the Cape-on-a-Friday drives (which those from the area will easily recognize as potentially suicide-inducing), the traffic wasn't that bad, and we got down in good time, enough to get some merch (and balk at the prices -- $125 for a Maiden football strip? Someone should tell them they're not a real team, let alone in the EPL and "entitled" to charge like that) before heading into the venue. Since we had seats rather than having to fight for places on the rail either on the lawn or in the pit, we took the chance to drink some beers and run through a bag of peanuts before going in to wait for the much-dreaded opener.

Lauren Harris [3/7]
I'd apologize to Steve for hanging a low rating on his daughter's band, but if the man still has any integrity left (or any hearing, incidentally), he'd probably agree with me. If you like retreaded '80s hair-rock, this might have been enjoyable, but even in the '80s, Maiden had the middle finger up to hair rock, and this should not have changed -- it certainly hadn't for most of the fans here. Lauren certainly looks good in leather pants, but she can't sing, and her band was composed entirely of over-the-hill bottom-feeders who were having occasional trouble making it up to the standard of 'competent'. The main blessing of this set was that it was short, but four songs from, say, Machine Men would have been much better than four songs from Lauren Harris.

There was a short break here where we hit the head, ate more peanuts, drank a bunch of hefeweizen, and saw a couple people we knew, and then repaired back to the seats to wait for the lights to go down....and then up on....

They came out to the strains of "Losfer Words", then stuck to the setlist as set back in India at
the start of the run, but as you can see from there, this is also 2 hours of pure AWESOME. It was amazing to see them do "Revelations" live, let alone "Ancient Mariner", where they held the entire crowd rapt for the entire 14+ minutes, and the requisite hits that didn't entirely mesh with the stated tour subject period were as amazing as expected. The production was top-notch as well, with well-used pyro, intricate scrims and staging, an animatronic devil for "The Number of the Beast", and two versions of Eddie walking or lunging around. This was, in short, basically everything you could hope for from an Iron Maiden classics set, delivered in an excellent fashion that was probably as good back on the back wall of the lawn as it was up in the pit, as it was where we were sitting. There were a few problems with feedback and dropouts on Bruce's mic, and Steve's bass was mixed a little strangely during "Aces High", but these were minor scratches on the surface of an impeccable show. The last time I saw them here -- in 2000 on the Brave New World Tour -- may have been better, but it may well be that the first time you see Iron Maiden is always the best, because nothing prepares you for that experience of spectacle and high musical execution when it first hits. Mark dug the hell out of it; not a bad first arena show, Iron Maiden doing a classics set like they've just knocked back a case of rejuvenation potions. There's nothing like a proper DIY gig, but there's also nothing like a really good arena show with really good music, and the fact that Kommerz basically hates anything with musical integrity just makes these all the rarer.

Somehow, we also got out and back up home without me falling asleep behind the wheel and crashing into something, and though I still feel sleep-deprived, I'm also still feeling the aftereffects of this show. Have fun at Possessed tomorrow if you're going; I've to more sleeping to do and will start thinking about the next gigs next week.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Witch Tomb with Herugrim and Die On The Steps [O'Brien's, Allston, 6/13/2008]

This show took a long and torturous route to get where it is from wherever it started, and if I recall correctly, wasn't even initially on this date, but at every step of its evolution, it was a solid bill and a sure promise of a good time, and this it definitely turned out to be.

The last lineup change was Blessed Offal dropping off, and not getting replaced, and while this was kind of a downer in that I didn't get to see them, I was able to get moving a little later and still make it down to the venue in plenty of time. There were already a few people on hand, but this show was one that filled up gradually as it went on, rather than starting off packed and dropping down as in a couple other gigs I've seen here. The bands set up (two at the same time, since Die On The Steps is kind of modular gear-wise), I drank some beer and watched some baseball and wrestling, and eventually dropped a fair bit of change on obscure music, and presently the show got underway.

Die On The Steps [5/7]
This one-man project was a late add to the bill, with even the band unsure of how exactly it'd translate live. Fortunately, the answer to that was "really well"; a guy singing over a four-track playback of mostly synth instruments is not automatically the most successful opener to a black metal show, but Die On The Steps pulled it off well. There was a fair bit of post-punk/darkwave to be heard as well as the black metal and oi elements, with the ultimate product being an interesting fusion the likes of which you really have to see at a show like this to get at all. The world needs more bands like this, though maybe playing fewer Skrewdriver covers, even if "this isn't a political project, it's a personal one". Of course, who the hell am I to talk -- I not only knew all the lyrics to "Hail The New Dawn", but sang along nearly all the way through, me and the giant Metalheads Against Racism patch on the shoulder of my featherweight kutte.

Herugrim [6/7]
The good stuff continued with Herugrim's first Mass show, and about their second or third overall, which may have set a new high-water mark for the overall quality and awesomeness of a two-song set. Rising from the ashes of several prior black metal bands and drawing inspiration from the rawly epic early works of Borknagar and Enslaved, they poured about half an hour into two songs and made it abundantly clear that this particular style isn't an exclusive preserve of European bands. Though this performance was really good, it wasn't perhaps quite their optimum setting; think about it: Cold Northern Vengeance, Herugrim, and Aura of Aquila, maybe Wolven Ancestry and/or Ancient//Master in the picture as well, up in an adirondack on some mountain in New Hampshire, big pagan bonfire a ways back, a gas generator for the PA set back in the woods to keep the noise from cutting through, towards the end of October as the frost comes in. It could happen -- probably won't, but still could.

Witch Tomb [6.5/7]
This was one of the better outings I've seen from Witch Tomb, and given how good they've been in the past, this is definitely saying something. Their black/death chaos was dead-on and graveling, the samples that they had been working in previously now seamlessly integrated with the sound. Herugrim left them a high standard to match, but they did manage to overtop it, and if the set seemed a little short at the end, it was probably either just club rules or that the audience just didn't notice the time passing for the music. I still haven't run across their split with Martyrvore, but that's no excuse for those who don't have it yet not to run down Mocking Jehovah from the band or other fine distributors of underground music.

The festivities concluded, I stumped off on the two miles back to Cambridge and the car park. Maybe I should bite the bullet and learn to park closer, but the exercise is a nice bonus, and the 40 minutes or so gives me a little leeway in when I need to safely stop drinking; otherwise, I'd just have to hang around at the pub after the show to dry out before heading home, and past experience shows that I generally stop drinking at a bar only when I leave said bar, and breaking this habit when buzzed and hanging around with a bunch of metalheads who may only have to walk home doesn't look to be an especially successful endeavor.

Next show's tonight, a fundraising gig for Autumn Above before they do their first East Coast tour, and after that, probably Metal Thursday next week. If you know me IRL, catch me at one of these gigs, I'm trying to move my brother's Iron Maiden ticket since he isn't going next Friday. More WOE TO YOU O EARTH AND SEA for the rest of us!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Autumn Above (opening for some other bands) [Midway Cafe, Boston, 6/6/2008]

This was a congested night for shows, at least originally, but then Welfare Records closed, knocking the MPD gig off the calendar. The record store is still there, but Massachusetts lost another really good venue to the bullshit intersection of antediluvian alcohol laws and immature gimboids all too willing to flaunt them. This was a well-placed venue for access with a good management team that brought in uniformly good bills and put together a positive environment for them, but now, alas, it is no more. This leaves a critical lack of venues between Boston and Manchester, and though Bernie (of Mark's Showplace infamy) has been connected with a revival of Club 125 in Haverhill (the converted Pizza Hut that I nearly saw Kreator at in 2002), I wouldn't expect a whole shitton. Bad stuff all around.

Anyway, the lack of MPD made this a choice between Composted and Autumn Above, which was originally pretty clear; Autumn Above, while awesome, has a marked tendency to play shows with annoying or boring bands, and there was a lot of awesome death metal on the O'Brien's bill. It was still a tough choice, but made easier when I found out that Autumn Above was opening up their gig: instead of having to pick a show, I could attempt the nearly impossible and try to go to both, using the MBTA to make the transition.

This plan worked perfectly to start: parked at Green Street on time, down the Red Line to the Orange Line to JP and over to the Midway to see my boys. The gig was good (see below), but I got out a little late, which turned out to be a problem. I barely missed the train out of Green Street and ended up sitting for longer than I figured on. The delays piled up, and by the time I got to my last decision point, at Kenmore, it was already nudging past midnight. I got off the train and gave up. Maybe I could have kept on and seen some of their set, though I'd already missed Moral Decay, who I really should have bitten the bullet to see in Worcester on Thursday, as well as Psytoxia and Unholy Goatfucker. Maybe I made the wrong decision and should have just gone to Allston, period, but Autumn Above are still my guys, and they put up a good enough set that it was time well spent, even if it wasn't perfectly optimal.

Back to the gig: I got down, as described, in a timely manner, and got a beer or two while waiting for the bands to start. DIY, as it turns out, is more or less the same wherever you go: late starts, lineups in flux, and the non-affiliated fans a bare handful in number. Midway, though, is still a nice DIY venue whether it's metal or alt-rock, as here: good atmosphere, decent food next door, and fairly cheap PBR. Among the fellow denizens were an old scene vet recently back in the area, chummy with the barkeep and setting up a regular gig, calling down one of his old bandmates to hang. This was a guy to mark for me, at least, because his reaction would be a good benchmark for how people will react to Autumn Above coming from really flat zero. Their fans love them, but a lot of their fans at this point are old friends, old schoolmates, and old vets of the North Shore metal scene, with a lot of overlap between those three groups. Their current mini-tour may lead to bigger tours, and out on the road they've got to be able to convert people, and opinion leaders as well as the easily impressionable.

Autumn Above were supposed to go on second, but got 'promoted' to the opening slot (not noticeably earlier) when the opening band failed to show (DIY, how we love ye). They took a while setting up due to the sound guy bringing all their mics in correctly, but start they did, and it didn't take them long to get things cranked up.

This band, especially with a set like this where they run the CD basically straight down, is a band that kind of sneaks up on you, much like tequila or a shark pretending to deliver candygrams. At first, with the mics still not completely balanced and with a lot of straight pop riffs and construction in the early songs, they're easy to miscategorize as a Plain Old Indie Band. I think after "Skydiver", that old hipster mentioned earlier said something dismissive about power chords and turned back to the bar. This was the last I saw directly of him, because the bar was filling up, and I was getting pushed ahead -- actually, make that "pushed" ahead; sure, I could have left my back on the brass rail, but the good part was just getting started.

So you think you have them figured as a pop band, and maybe you think that they have three guitars because they're all friends all in, mostly doubling and occasionally tripling parts. Maybe you think Jim's Misfits shirt is ironic, if a little odd. Then the lyrics start to get a little more twisted, and maybe you notice a little more palm-muting slicing out of the rhythm guitars -- Tone's bass definitely seems to have a little more bite to it, but this it a pop band, right, and it's not too far out of character. Things push forward, and you don't think about frogs in boiling water -- if you did, there wouldn't be cause to -- and you continue to think you have the measure of the band, which is about the same as where they were at the beginning. And then at some point -- maybe when Chris is screaming for divine retribution, maybe when the vocal styles swap rapidly in and back from five-part crooning to HXC barks, maybe when a facemelting solo leads into a Maiden/In Flames bridge (all of this on acoustics still, mind), maybe when the phrase "double homicide to suicide" comes up, maybe when the kid in the Mortician shirt mimes cutting a throat, or maybe when "Trail of Roses" winds up on a hate-filled burst of a lyric that might, depending on everyone's vocal cords, well come out as half black metal -- you get snapped back to reality and find out that the band that concludes the set is not the band that started it, and they are a lot more talented, deep, and complex than you figured, and, oh yeah, they half ripped your face off while you weren't looking. As soon as I determined that they weren't going to go on and close with "Eulogy", I looked back to the bar for that jaded scenester mentioned earlier, finding him as he leaned back and mouthed "wow" to his old guitarist; if he wasn't impressed, which he may still have been, he was definitely taken aback, and by my assessment the band will take that reaction if they can't get instant devotion. ;)

Autumn Above is still not a metal band, but from this performance, they've decidedly come to terms with their metal roots -- and metal side, in the case of those members still gigging with metal bands -- and are using that heritage to sharpen and intensify their sound. Perhaps the pop and prog elements are equally strong, but it does seem like they've reached a point where they've balanced their influences to satisfaction, and it's going to be really cool to see where they go with these strands on their future material.

Final score? 6/7; this wasn't the best gig I've seen from them, and it ended up a little short, but they fought through a number of technical difficulties -- the power cord on Ryan's amp died, and Anthony busted his A-string midway through "Burn With Me" (if I recall the song correctly) and had to do a field repair onstage -- and definitely impressed a bunch of people. If their tour shows go this well, they won't have any problem getting invited back. It would have been a better night if I'd been able to get up to O'B's, and the other bands on this bill might have been entertaining had I stuck, but even just with this much, it was a hell of a night.