There will be some who will slag on me for going to this show; call me a pussy, or a poser, or some such shit because I went to see these bands rather than Deceased and their local support. These people, though, were probably not at the grindcore combine Friday night, and if they were there, they didn't see as close to as a full-on classic Helloween reunion as we are likely to ever get, especially in North America (see below).
I got out with plenty of time to spare, and ran into an old Landsmann going in; once inside, I headed for the rail through the largely empty floor. Things would fill in later, but getting in early definitely had its advantages.
Gamma Ray [7/7]
A disadvantage, though, was that I was on the rail drinking my beer and waiting for the long part of an hour before these guys went on. The advantage, of course, was that I got a top-class Gamma Ray set essentially at contact range. Unlike the last time they were here, they didn't do the full version of "Rebellion In Dreamland", but they did do "Heaven Can Wait" and "Heavy Metal Universe", plus all their festival-scale fan-participation stuff, in a hall that was filled up and actually allowed for it. Kai didn't hit all of the high notes on the records, but the performance was incredible regardless, and if they only did one song on their encore, it was after nearly and hour of normal set, and it was "Send Me A Sign", in the which process I really felt like I'd break my own neck headbanging.
Some time, someone needs to interview Dan Zimmerman rather than Kai, and at that time ask him something along the lines of "given how heavy the start of 'Empress', which you wrote. is, how come Freedom Call is uniformly so, um, poofty?" Seriously. By a significant margin, Gamma Ray had the best regular set of the night, and the authentic, hard-hitting heaviness had a lot to do with this. (The rest was having significantly more really good material, but that'll be as it may.)
During the break, I got another drink, hit the head, and picked up a Gamma Ray shirt; $25, so US bands charging more are officially on notice. I'd previously been a little peeved about the $40 asking price for tickets ($35 plus bogus "convenience" charge), but now, after Gamma Ray's actual set, I was just fine with going home after the stellar headliner-caliber performance, like I'd missed two locals and another touring band upstairs or something while waiting on the rail. Anything we got out of Helloween was going to be purely bonus.
This is based largely on their encore, which is also treated as a separate set below. The main part of their set was strong enough, and we got a lot of Keys material, but there was a lot stronger of a correlation between those two points than the band might have liked. You listen to the singles off the recent discs, half In Flames and half Schlaeger, and then the old stuff, and it becomes crystal clear that this band peaked ridiculously early, back in 1988, and while half of this is probably that no one else has materially surpassed the Keeper of the Seven Keys records with regard to inaugurating a power metal epoch either (okay, HammerFall's Glory to the Brave, but that CD is a lot less good than it is influential), half is that Kai Hansen wrote all the good music, and they picked Kiske over him and got the band in this mess themselves while Hansen's been doing awesome metal with pure integrity ever since. This was a decent Helloween set, but as implied from the foregoing comments, it was about to become superlative, probably the best that we're likely to get in the modern era.
Ingo Swichtenberg has passed on out of this world. Michael Kiske is so far away musically from the rest of the remaining lineup as to make a reunion of the living Keepers members impossible. But Jericho -- that's something else. The acrimony of the original split made it hard to contemplate, but it was still at least possible. And 'possible' became 'actually happening' as the techs dragged a fourth mic out, putting the lie to the venue ops who had turned some of the lights on. I was expecting the reunion. What we got was something entirely different.
Dan Zimmerman was out in the bus packing up his kit and making sure the local meth fiends didn't steal his cymbals or something, but every single other member who'd been on stage to this point came on back, Dirk and Markus doubling up the low end while Sascha and Henjo traded leads, Kai and Weiki ripping up their fretboards and rubbing shoulders, chatting like they haven't been moderately estranged for most of the last 20 years, and Andy Ders trying, occasionally in vain, so find somewhere to stand that didn't have a headstock flying through it. The world's best eight-member German power metal combo cranked up "Future World" and "I Want Out", to massive acclaim and backing vocals from a thousand or so fans; this was technically Helloween playing, but not Helloween the band as they currently are. This was Helloween the history, the idea, the manifestation on a stage in North America of the fundamental idea of German power metal: fast, heavy, singalong, melodic, and overall fun. If you missed it, you probably wouldn't appreciate it -- and if you did, where the hell were you, this didn't sell out or anything.
At the end of it all, it was a nice swift swing back north; next week's somewhere betweeen two and four shows, depending on if I go to Apocalyptica and this punk show Friday or just the metal gigs on the weekend. We'll see.