July 16th, 2010/Trocadero Theatre/Philadelphia, PA
Swashbuckle, Augury, Death Angel and Soilwork
Three bands I really knew nothing about going in and one band that absolutely blew me away. While Augury and Soilwork fall more properly under the death metal umbrella both Swashbuckle and Death Angel are rightly thrash bands. While everyone did a great job this night the absolute standout of the even was veteran metallers Death Angel. Just about every major thrash band from 90s was out on tour or putting out new albums in 2010 and Death Angel was amongst these luminaries. The maturity of their act far eclipsed both up and coming bands Augury and Swashbuckle; while the raw energy of their act was infectious in a way that the brooding darkness of Soilwork’s traditional Swedish death metal could never be.
August 29, 2010/The Electric Factory/Philadelphia, PA
Apocalyptica and Dir En Grey
For those who don’t know who Apocalyptica is: shame on you! These Finns took the cello and decided to turn it into a heavy metal beast. While they debuted as foursome with an album of Metallica covers they have over the years moved towards original compositions and have paired down to three cellists plus a drummer. They are also a band I’d been desperate to see live since I first heard about them and the weight was well worth it! Dir en Grey on the other hand are a band I knew nothing about. A Japanese progressive metal (I guess) band they play some pretty crazy music with a variety of influences. Lead singer Kyu, a very tiny man, had a large box to stand on (seriously) and a big voice that is equally adept at clean vocals and metal growls. Most impressive was Shinya’s drum set which featured a rather interesting placement for some of his equipment: They were use, but not frequently. Dir En Grey put on a solid set and are an act I’d definitely consider seeing live again. Apocalyptica though will probably go down as being one of my favorite live shows ever. Founding member Eicca Toppinen was adept at handling MC duties, introducing band members and songs keeping the attention on the music more than anything else. I did feel a little bad for newer member Perttu whose English isn’t nearly as good as Eicca’s and stuck have to talk to the audience for a bit. The band played a great mix of stuff off their old albums, plus new material, plus some of their best covers (Master of Puppets and their arrangement of In the Hall of the Mountain King were the standouts there). The guys play their instruments standing up, only sitting for one of the slower pieces. The addition of drummer Mikko Siren really rounds out the band’s sound and I’m glad that drums have become a larger part of Apocalyptica’s music. I’ll likely be reliving this show for years to come.
September 25, 2010/Susquehana Bank Center/Camden, NJ
Black Diamond Sky Tour: Mastodon/Deftones/Alice In Chains
Ferry troubles for a friend meant we missed a chunk of Mastodon’s set. A sad fact but I have seen them live before (when the toured with Dethklok/Brandon Smalls). Deftones is a band I had heard in bits in pieces for a long time now. Their an interesting band putting out solid tunes that have parts I like but that as a whole never quite work perfectly for me. I really ought to sit down with their most recent, Diamond Eyes, and give it another try. Of course the main attraction here was Alice in Chains who were touring in support of their latest: Black Gives Way to Blue. AIC are a band I grew up with but again a band that existed closer to the periphery of my youthful encounters with music. There was always something about grunge that never sat well with me and AIC, more or less mislabeled as a grunge for most of their career, sort of fell by the wayside for me as a result. Likewise, I haven’t talked about or listened to Black Gives Way to Blue as much as it deserves. It is a phenomenal album that, whenever a track pops up in my shuffle, I am always pleasantly surprised by what I hear. This is actually the second time I’ve seen AIC with this lineup (they toured with Velvet Revolver a couple years back) and I was once again impressed with vocalist William DuVall. Layne Staley had a distinctive voice and while William’s certainly isn’t the same his own vocals are similar yet with a vitality and style that is all his own. Of course it also helps that Jerry Cantrell has been a major creative force in the band handling the lion’s share of the writing and a fair amount of the singing as well. Both Cantrell and DuVall has great stage presence and are animated performers who keep the audiences attention without distracting them from the music (the complete opposite of say Scott Weiland).
October 20, 2010/Best But Theatre/New York, New York
w00tstock 2.7 ft. Jonathan Coulton as Wil Wheaton, Paul and Storm, MC Frontalot, Adam Savage, Marian Call, and Drew Curtis
Another show I’ve been waiting to hit the east coast since it debuted in San Francisco in 2009. The brainchild of blogger/actor Wil Wheaton, comedy musicians Paul and Storm, and Adam Savage of Mythbusters w00tstock is “3 hours of geeks and music.” While Wil couldn’t make it to the New York show, internet superstar Jonathan Coulton did a fantastic job handling things. In addition to stellar musical performances from there were talks/routines by Adam Savage who talked about his kids, Grant Imahara who talked about playing C3po for Lucasfilm marketing, and Fark.com founder Drew Curtis. In between sets were short videos, some of the past and present viral videos that have made the rounds, as well as short videos with Wil Wheaton (Wil Wheaton Enjoys a Guiness being the best). MC Frontalot, Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton are all acts I’ve seen before and all were just as awesome as they were in the past (though this night’s version of “The Pirate’s Wife’s Lament” may have been the most hilarious). I had no idea what to expect from Marian Call, and was pleasantly surprised by music both humorous and soulful (plus a typewriter played as a music). Sci-fi Song’s John Anealio was spot on when he said:
As a vocalist, Marian has full command of her instrument. Never showy or over the top, her voice is both powerful and subtle, perfectly suited to express her unique point of view as a songwriter. Speaking of which, her songs are a sweet blend of folk storytelling and pop melodicism with bits of the Gershwin songbook thrown in for good measure.
In a year of great shows w00tstock stands out as one of the best. If you’re a geek I’d recommend keeping an eye on w00tstock.net and jumping at the chance if it rolls into a town near you.
November 9, 2010/Western Union Center/Philadelphia, PA
The Wall 2010
I really should have written about this show right after it happened. I also should have ignored the bold faced “No Cameras” printed on my ticket. Believe it or not this was my first time hearing Pink Floyd’s The Wall in its entirety. It was also one of the most ridiculously over-the-top amazing shows I’ve ever seen. As in past live performances of The Wall as Roger Waters and the band performs the titular wall is slowly constructed between the band and the audiences. Images, words, and film clips are projected onto said wall. Giant inflatable puppets of a grotesque mother and grotesque teacher caper on stage. At one point a flying pig flies out over the audience. At the show’s end the wall comes tumbling down. This was a pretty stunning show, the music was spot on and Roger Waters (at 67) is still a damned fine performer. While Waters is winding up his North American tour those of you in the UK still might have a chance to catch it in 2011. An amazing experience that fans of rock music should definitely look into.
December 3, 2010/Izod Center/East Rutherford, NJ
When a friend asked me if I was in for seeing Ozzy live this year I hesitate. You see I had caught Ozzy live at Ozzfest several years ago and was so disappointed by what I heard that me and my friends left barely two songs into Ozzy’s set. I hesitated, but I said yes, and it’s a good thing I did. I’m not overly familiar with Halford’s solo work, or really most of his career outside of Judas Priest’s British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance. Which was unfortunate since he played mostly non-Priest material and I would have killed to have heard “United” or “Breaking the Law”. It was still a good set, though there was a certain coldness to Halford’s stage presence that left the sensation that he wasn’t all there, and Halford’s voice is still impressive.
Ozzy’s set on the other hand was damned impressive. Now sure, Ozzy isn’t anywhere as polished as he was in his past, but for a guy was turning 62 the night of this show and whose hard-living has not been kind to body or mind, he put on an energetic and completely fun show. Sure while not every note was where it should be, and while more recent songs required liberal use of the teleprompter, the classic Ozzy tunes we all know and love were all about as perfect as they could be. We even got several great Black Sabbath tunes including one of my personal favorite: “Faeries Wear Boots”. Ozzy took a break while the band performed the Black Sabbath instrumental “Rat Salad” which served as an opportunity for new guitarist Gus G and new drummer Tommy Clufestos to show their metal. Gus G is amazing, while he isn’t Randy Rhodes his style falls more closely to Randy than it does to Zak Wylde. Clufestos was the bigger surprise, while maybe not on the level of the big prog-rock drummers, the man has some serious chops and was a welcome addition on the stage. This show far exceeded my expectations and was a great way to celebrate Ozzy’s birthday!
So after a year of concerts what do I take away from it all? I don’t really know. Seeing music performed live is something completely different than hearing it off an album. Not better and not worse but different. I’ve found that while I can like a band on an album what really makes or a breaks a band for me, what leaves the most lasting impression, is my experience with a band at a live show. It’s easy to write off the polish on album as production but seeing those same songs performed line, in many cases with touches and flourishes that are absent on a studio recording really elevates my opinion on a band. Will I do this again next year? Probably not. I stuck to a pretty rigid schedule and was actively looking for a concert to attend every month; between that and arranging schedules to fit that goal (between two jobs) and it was actually a little exhausting. Either way it was great experience and I definitely look forward to more concerts in the future (starting with MAGfest 2011).