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(Above: Escape the Fate find “Something.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Escape the Fate and Attack Attack capped a long night of metal at the Beaumont Club on Thursday. Rarely has a genre so closely associated with darkness and despair sounded as communal and uplifting.

Neither five-piece band had any trouble whipping the crowd into a frenzy. The Beaumont was just over half-full at its peak, and the crowd made full use of the extra room, creating pockets of mosh pits. Attack Attack singer Caleb Shomo repeatedly encouraged the formation of a large slam-dance circle in the middle of the floor, and fans were all too willing to comply.

Both bands traded in tuned-down guitar riffs, growled and screamed vocals and insistent machine-gun bass-drum cadences. While the verses to many songs were musically hostile, the lyrics spoke of redemption, perseverance and self-belief.

The fun-loving crew of Attack Attack.

Driving the point home on nearly every number was a big, poppy chorus that dropped the screaming and allowed the coed crowd to participate in spreading the message.

What each act lacked in sonic diversity, it made up for in sustained energy. Shomo and Escape the Fate singer Craig Mabbitt walked the line between ringleader and supportive sibling, commanding dancing and jumping, encouraging sing-alongs and always praising participation.

Shomo and Mabbitt also took time from their brief 55-minute sets to preach the importance of holding on to one’s dream no matter what others may say and the conviction that any dream is possible provided one believes in it enough and works hard to achieve it.

Several numbers in the Columbus, Ohio-based Attack Attack performance had a strong dance element, with silky keyboard loops spinning underneath the forceful arrangements. The discotheque elements provided a nice counterbalance to the metal façade. When Escape the Fate let up on the throttle ever so slightly, its music revealed a strong emo influence.

Hailing from Las Vegas, Escape the Fate hasn’t released a new album since 2010, so anticipation was high to hear new numbers. Attack Attack’s third album, “This Means War,” has been out only since January, but there was no dip in crowd enthusiasm between the older and new material.

At one point, Mabbitt dedicated a song to all the moms and girlfriends out there. The ensuing number was a pleasant surprise. Instead of a clichéd, misogynistic, sex-drenched come-on, “Ashley” was a heartfelt tribute to Mabbitt’s girlfriend. One song earlier, Mabbitt dedicated the song “You Are So Beautiful” to his little brother, who was helping at the merch table.

Romance, affirmation and appreciation aren’t very metal, but then again neither is having a family re-create “Crazy Train” for a car commercial or reappropriating “Welcome to the Jungle” to announce a relief pitcher.

Attack Attack and Escape the Fate may not pass muster with purists, but they’ve figured out a great formula. Sweeten the chorus enough to bring the girls along for the ride, make enough noise to keep Dad shaking his head and scream long enough for Mom to frown.

Keep reading:

Review: Ozzy + Slash

Review: Get Up Kids

Persistance of Anthrax

 

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(Above: Anthrax fights ’em ’till they can’t at the Midland Theater in Kansas City, Mo., on Jan. 26, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

When Anthrax took the stage for 2010’s Big Four tour with thrash-metal peers Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica, it was the only band without any new material.

Anthrax hadn’t released an album in eight years, which meant its Big Four shows were essentially hit parades. That was fine for the time being, said founding member and guitarist Scott Ian. But the band had bigger things in mind.“We played a greatest-hits set, which was great,” Ian said. “All the shows were great. It just added more fuel to what we were doing.”

What they were doing was preparing new material with lead singer Joey Belladonna for the first time in more than 20 years. Belladonna, the singer from what is considered the band’s classic period, was with the group from 1985 to 1992, when he was replaced by John Bush. Belladonna performed with Anthrax for a tour in 2005 but decided not to permanently rejoin the band.

The ball got rolling again when Ian and drummer Charlie Benante attended Metallica’s induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2009, and the idea of a Big Four tour was introduced.

“I knew if they were serious about these shows, it would be amazing to have Joey back,” Ian said. “It just seemed like the right thing to do. In a way, the 18 months we spent together on tour before helped a lot this time around. We weren’t starting from scratch.”

So in early 2010, Belladonna rejoined the band. With both the band and its fans itching for a new release, the four instrumentalists and Belladonna set to work completing “Worship Music,” an album with a complicated gestation. It was released in September.

The album had originally been scheduled for release in 2009 with short-lived vocalist Dan Nelson. When Nelson and Anthrax parted ways, it was rumored that John Bush, Belladonna’s original replacement, would record new vocals. But Bush wasn’t comfortable proceeding with the band beyond a handful of concerts, and the tapes were handed to Belladonna.

“Joey had all the freedom in the world to change anything he wanted,” Ian said. “Joey worked with producer Rob Caggiano, and then they’d send us MP3s of what they were working on. There were hardly any notes or suggestions. It was an unbelievably smooth process.”

The band had never let the singer work independently done before, Ian said, but he thinks the album benefits from the approach.

“The music is always done first in our band,” Ian said. “In the past with Joey and John, the song would end and it was like the judge’s panel would sit there and nitpick. We now realized this was not a good way to work.”

Anthrax gave Kansas City a taste of its reconfigured lineup in October when it opened for Five Finger Death Punch at the Independence Events Center. Ian said fans can expect more of the same at tonight’s show at the Midland. Much more.

“Now that we’re headlining, that means a much longer set than what we delivered a few months ago,” Ian said.

Fans can expect to hear Belladonna deliver some of the best songs of the John Bush-era in concert, Ian said, but they shouldn’t be concerned about any more games of musical chairs with lead singers.

“Joey is the singer of Anthrax until there is no more Anthrax,” Ian said. “I think it’s been proven beyond doubt this is the band that is supposed to be Anthrax.”

Keep reading:

Review: Megadeth

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(Above: Ozzy performs “Mr. Crowley” at the Sprint Center on Jan. 22, 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

The Prince of Darkness looked more like a soaked kitten.

Ozzy Osbourne stood center stage dripping wet, covered in foam. Thanks to the fire hose he used to liberally douse both himself and fans in the front half of the floor, Ozzy looked like he’d just fallen into a bathtub. The foam would dissolve, but Ozzy would never dry out.

Ostensibly in town to promote a new album, Ozzy performed just one new song.  Most of the rest of the setlist could have been written months in advance by a causal fan. But while the songs didn’t hold any surprises, many of the performances were still vital.

Experiencing Ozzy perform “Crazy Train” is a classic rock ‘n’ roll moment up there with hearing the Stones do “Jumping Jack Flash” or seeing Pearl Jam perform “Alive.” Despite being more than 40 years old, “War Pigs” still packs a powerful punch.

Although some of his solo material hasn’t aged as well, the three-quarters full house still reveled in the night, pumping their fists during solos and singing along. During “The Road to Nowhere” and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” the room lit up with lighters.

“Mr. Crowley” was an early highlight. Keyboard player Adam Wakeman, son of Rick Wakeman, turned the room into a giant cathedral with his ominous organ. As he played, a sheet of sparks feel from the rafters behind Ozzy, creating a curtain of fireworks.

Although there was a large video screen behind the band for most of the set and plenty of pyrotechnics, Ozzy’s oversized persona was the best visual effect of the night. Waterworks aside, he was constantly in motion, urging the crowd to clap, hopping up and down like a frog or bowing to his audience. During “Fire in the Sky” he writhed his arms and body during the lengthy guitar solo as if performing some Satanic jujitsu.

The two-hour set lagged quite a bit toward the end. It would have been difficult to maintain the energy and momentum of the opening numbers, but back-to-back, cliché-ridden guitar and drum solos deflated the show. Everyone would have been better served had the band performed two 45-minute sets with an intermission.

Fortunately Ozzy still had plenty of goodies buried in his catalog. “Crazy Train” brought the crowd back to life, while “Mama” and “Paranoid” ensured most of them would show up next time for his inevitable return.

Slash: Axl Rose is notorious for making fans wait hours before appearing; Slash came onstage 10 minutes early. His one-hour set was basically a truncated version of the show he put on last fall at the Voodoo Lounge. It was heavy on Guns ‘N’ Roses, with most of the songs coming from “Appetite For Destruction.” The Velvet Revolver material held its own, but some of the newer songs lost the crowd, especially “By the Sword.”

For a band so reliant on its guitarist, the mix was atrocious. All the instruments were trapped in a mush under bellowing drums and vocals that sounded like they emanated from a tin-can telephone. Fans may have been better served sonically by asking their next-door neighbor to play “Appetite” at full volume, then retreating to their basement and listening to it from there. Although the sound got better at times, the closing solo during “Paradise City” was practically inaudible.

Ozzy setlist: Bark at the Moon; Let Me Hear You Scream; Mr. Crowley; I Don’t Know; Fairies Wear Boots; Suicide Solution; Road to Nowhere; War Pigs; Fire in the Sky; Shot in the Dark; guitar solo > Rat Salad > drum solo; Iron Man; I Don’t Want to Change the World; Crazy Train. Encore: Mama, I’m Coming Home; Paranoid.

Slash setlist: Ghost; Sucker Train Blues; Mr. Brownstone; Back From Cali; Civil War; Nothing to Say; By the Sword; Nightrain; Sweet Child O’ Mine; Slither; Paradise City.

Keep reading:

Review: Slash

Review: “I Am Ozzy”

Review: Megadeth

 

 

 

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(Above: The Arctic Monkeys put their spin on Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Five years ago, the Arctic Monkeys arrived on the music scene riding a wave of hype. The influential British music publication the NME ranked the Arctic Monkey’s debut album, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” ahead of the Beatles, Radiohead and the Clash on its list of top 100 British albums.

Monday night the English quintet came to Liberty Hall in Lawrence in support of its third album, “Humbug.” The transitional album didn’t command the propaganda and isn’t as flashy as their first two efforts, but that didn’t stop a nearly full house from rabidly devouring everything the band played.

Over the course of their 80-minute set, the Monkeys delivered more than half of “Humbug,” including a couple B-sides, and half of their second release, 2007’s “Favourite Worst Nightmare.” The contrasting material revealed two very different sides of the band. “Humbug”’s songs, for the most part, are more downbeat, while the cuts from “Nightmare” border on metal.

Opening number “Dance Little Liar” foreshadowed the juxtaposition with a drum cadence lifted from Metallica’s “One.” As the number died down, a bank of strobe lights behind the band kicked on and the group thrashed their way through “Brainstorm” with a performance that wouldn’t have been out of place at Ozzfest.

The band’s approach seemed to be to combine the angular approach of the Talking Heads and Gang of Four with the speed and intensity of Slayer. Slanted guitar lines, surf riffs and plenty of tremolo framed most of the songs. Even at their heaviest, the Monkey’s songs were infused with enough pop hooks to keep the crowd moving, although it was hard to tell if they were dancing or moshing.

Although the newer material was well received, the biggest cheers came for the three numbers from the band’s debut. The opening chords of “Still Take You Home” prompted a big response, and the crowd went nuts during the one-two of “The View from the Afternoon” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor.”

Surprisingly those numbers arrived in the middle of the set. After lifting the crowd so high, there was nowhere to go but down, so Alex Turner strapped on an acoustic guitar for the country-tinged “Cornerstone.” Later, a deconstructed reading of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand” rendered the already spooky song in a completely new light.

The Monkey’s performed on a minimalist stage, in front of a plain curtain and a bank of lights raised about 10 feet off the ground by a series of poles. When the lights were on, which was frequent, it created an artificial ceiling and made the mid-sized theater feel like a cramped, sweaty basement.

Bass player Nick O’Malley is the band’s secret weapon. Tucked in the back corner at stage right, he supplied the needed melody underpinning the abstract guitar lines. As Jamie Cook and Andy Nicholsonstrafed the songs from unprecedented angles on their guitars, Malley’s melodic bass lines and Matt Helders’ manic drumming held the performances together.

The set ended with the poppy “Fluorescent Adolescent,” which sounded like a mangled Mod single. The aggressive “Nettles” had the crowd clapping along and featured more false endings than a Beethoven symphony. When the number final ended, the instruments were abandoned buzzing, leaving feedback long after the band had departed.

On the way back to the car, I overheard two fans lamenting that more songs from the first album weren’t performed.

“I guess what we have to remember,” one fan said, trying to console himself, “is that what would be new to us, these guys have been carrying for five years.”

Sleepy Sun: While the Arctic Monkeys focus on delivering tightly crafted, manic singles, opening act Sleepy Sun was content to play spacey, long-form album tracks. The six-piece San Francisco band’s 45-minute set was filled with psychedelic, progressive rock that incorporated more than a hint of Black Sabbath and first-album-era Led Zeppelin. The co-ed lead singers brought a touch of folk to the arrangements, particularly when tambourine, harmonica or acoustic guitars were introduced. Fans of Death Star and the Seven Dwarfs, Black Moth Super Rainbow and the Flaming Lips might want to keep an eye open for their next trip through town.

Setlist: Dance Little Liar > Brainstorm; This House is a Circus; Still Take You Home; Potion Approaching; Joining the Dots; My Propeller; Crying Lightning; The View from the Afternoon; I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor; Cornerstone; Fire and the Thud; Do Me A Favour; Pretty Visitors; Red Right Hand (Nick Cave cover) > If You Were There, Beware; 505. Encore: Fluorescent Adolescent; Nettles.

Keep reading:

Review: Flaming Lips New Year’s Freakout
Review: The Decemberists
Review: Megadeth
Review: Get Up Kids
Review: Modest Mouse

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(Above: Ozzy Osbourne has done a lot of crazy stuff in his life. This might be the most surreal.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The trails and adventures of Ozzy Osbourne’s life have been repackaged and sold nearly as often as the metal god’s greatest hits.

Between an episode of “Behind the Music,” countless articles and three seasons of reality television on MTV, there’s little new ground for Ozzy’s new autobiography, “I Am Ozzy” to cover.

But just like “Crazy Train” and “No More Tears,” just because you’ve heard them before doesn’t mean you don’t want to hear them again. “I Am Ozzy” may hold few surprises, but it’s still a breezy and entertaining read.

Fans looking for insight into Ozzy’s musical process should look elsewhere. Animal activists are also advised to keep away. In the course of the book’s 391 pages, Ozzy not only (infamously) bites the head off of a dove and a bat, but decapitates his seven-foot stuffed bear and mows down his backyard flock of pet chickens during a drunken rampage.

That phrase, “during a drunken rampage,” is the preface to 99 percent of the book’s stories. It is amazing that Ozzy survived his rampages. Even more incredibly, the cumulative effect of so many successive episodes makes Ozzy’s unthinkable actions seem rational. After reading “I was drunk, so I figured ___” so many times, one starts to become numb to the consequences and may find himself frequently nodding in agreement.

The most entertaining and musically focused chapters detail Ozzy’s time in Black Sabbath. Before recording “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” the band holed up at Clearwell Castle in England. The time supposed to be used for rehearsal quickly devolved into a series of pranks designed to convince the others the castle was haunted. These stories show an innocent playfulness than reinforces the bond between band mates and makes them feel more human.

“I Am Ozzy” could also serve as an alternate screenplay for “This Is Spinal Tap.” Ozzy details his difficulties finding the perfect midget to hang onstage and how he placed blood capsules in a wig so it looks like he is suffering head trauma. He also recalls the difficulties of performing in a suit of armor – particularly when fans are flinging handfuls of raw meat onto the stage – and the night the pyrotechnic hand designed to lift him over the crowd malfunctioned.

Despite the hi-jinks, there is a serious side to the book. Ozzy somberly discusses the death of his guitarist and greatest foil, Randy Rhoades, a lawsuit filed by the family of a fan after he committed suicide and dealings with religious fanatics, both Satanists and Christians. Ozzy expresses his regrets, but doesn’t expound on the details (probably because he never had to deal with them).

For the past three decades, Ozzy’s long-suffering wife and manager Sharon has embraced the role of janitor. The Marge to Homer’s Ozzy, Sharon not only had to deal with the consequences of her husband’s addictions, but also had to repeatedly stand up to her father, Don Arden. As Ozzy and Sabbath’s former manager, he uses every dirty trick in the book to steal Ozzy back from his daughter. Sharon is frequently painted as an opportunist, but “I Am Ozzy” leaves little doubt that Sharon had to work very hard for her empire and may even deserve a smidgen of sympathy.

After spending two-thirds of his text on Sabbath and Rhodes, Ozzy breezes through the final 25 years of his life. Guitarists Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde (who played with Ozzy for 20 years) get only a passing mention. Ozzy slows down over the last 50 pages to discuss his resurrection on MTV, and health issues.

“I Am Ozzy” may not win any literary awards, but a special prize should be awarded to Chris Ayres for making the Ozz-man sound coherent and engaging. Although the conversational tone is loaded with profanity and British colloquialisms, they make the stories seem even more natural and personal.

If there’s one surprise in “I Am Ozzy” it is how much of Ozzy’s life feels like destiny. Despite the trappings of his fame and success, one gets the feeling Ozzy would have turned out pretty much same. Ozzy the Crazy Ex-Con or Ozzy the Slaughterhouse Worker (both were pre-fame occupations) just seem like lower-budget versions of Ozzy the Metal God.

After all, that’s who he is.

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(Above: Megadeth perform “Hangar 18” in England earlier this year. The audio quality is pretty much what it sounded like inside the Beaumont Club as well.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Blazing fast guitar licks, double-kick bass-drum riffs and an armada of metal anthems: Dave Mustaine brought everything that made Megadeth famous to the Beaumont Club on Saturday night.

The majority of the quartet’s 90-minute set drew from its reign at the top of the thrash heap in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when it played before massive crowds alongside Slayer and Anthrax and was compared to Mustaine’s former bandmates, Metallica.

Although Mustaine had to rehearse the crowd’s part for “Head Crusher,” one of four songs performed off the band’s current album, “Endgame,” most of the time he was able to step back and let the mob rule the mic. The schizophrenic “Sweating Bullets” and outro to “Peace Sells” were especially lusty sing-alongs. The audience vocals were frequently clearer than Mustaine’s, which were buried in an abysmal mix that made every number sound and feel like brick to the head.

Snarling vocals aside, Megadeth’s other hallmark is lightning-fast, labyrinthine fretwork gymnastics. Although he’s yet to celebrate his second anniversary in the band, guitarist Chris Broderick was more than up to the task, ripping up the extended instrumental half of “Hangar 18,” tearing through the epic “In My Darkest Hour” and trading solos with Mustaine on “She-Wolf” and the warp-speed new song “1,320’.” Ever the gracious host, Mustaine frequently retreated to bang his rusty locks alongside the bank of Marshall amplifiers lined across the back of the stage while Broderick took center stage.

The rhythm section of Shawn Drover and James LoMenzo – Megadeth veterans with six and four years of service, respectively – guided the groove into “Trust” and held down the framework for the guitar pyrotechnics.
While many metal songs focus on war, Mustaine has never been afraid to get political. Megadeth’s previous album was called “United Abominations” and features a song called “Washington is Next!” The closing triptych revealed an interesting point of view.

“Symphony of Destruction” deals with political puppets propped up by a government bent on war. “Peace Sells” discusses disillusionment and hypocrisy of politicians who aim for peace but somehow end up perpetuating war. (The song’s refrain is “Peace sells/but who’s buying?”) “Holy Wars” started out as a referendum on Northern Ireland, but features several Middle Eastern guitar breaks and echoes jihad theory.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t war Mustaine wanted to talk about. Instead, he interrupted “Peace Sells” for an anti-Obama screed, blasting the president without using his name for selling the country to the Chinese and giving away civil rights. Mustaine’s solution was to “write my own (expletive) name in there” on the ballot come election day.

(It is curious that in the week following Obama’s announcement of an Afghani surge after running a campaign on ending the war, Mustaine would ignore these parallels for clichéd attacks.)

After peaking on the charts in the late ‘90s, Mustaine broke up the band in 2002. Two years later, he resurrected the name as the only continuing member, but has yet to regain drawing power as a live act. While the Beaumont was plenty crowded, tickets were still being sold at the door after the band had taken the stage.

If the stumble from stadiums to clubs frustrated Mustaine, it didn’t show. He took time before “44 Minutes” to express heartfelt thanks to everyone for letting them play, and long after the rest of the band had departed, Mustaine lingered onstage after “Holy Wars” to shake hands and congratulate fans.

Setlist: Dialectic Chaos, This Day We Fight, Wake Up Dead, Skin of My Teeth, Head Crusher, A Tout Le Monde, She-Wolf, Tornado of Souls, 1,320’, In My Darkest Hour, Sweating Bullets, Hangar 18, 44 Minutes, Trust, Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells. Encore: Holy Wars.

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(Above: One of the many deaths of Alice Cooper – and “School’s Out.”)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Friday’s concert was barely 15 minutes old when Alice Cooper was forced under the guillotine. The crime was impaling a roadie and the sold out Ameristar Casino crowd was witnesses to his guilt.

As his head flopped into the basket, Cooper emerged unscathed and unamused, briefly holding up his severed head like a “Twilight Zone” Hamlet before signaling his band to start “Welcome to My Nightmare.”

From the guillotine to the hangman’s noose to the iron maiden, Cooper’s Theater of Death definitely lived up to its name. More than a rock concert, the 90-minute spectacle was a brutal slab of rock theater set to a heavy soundtrack.

Backed by a tight, thunderous four-piece band, Cooper both opened and closed the show with “School’s Out.” In between he hit on nearly every phase of his massive back catalog. Flipping from blues-based hard rock to industrial metal, Cooper and co. did a good job unearthing album tracks and delivering the hits.

Big numbers like “I’m Eighteen” and “Poison” got the expected responses but lesser-known numbers were just as good. Cooper belted the “Ballad of Dwight Fry” from a straightjacket. Later he performed “Nurse Rozetta” from a wheelchair, setting up her PG strip-tease during “Be My Lover.”

The only time the group dialed down from 11 were the back-to-back acoustic numbers “Only Women Bleed” and “I Never Cry.” Cooper delivered “Bleed” with a lifeless Rozetta across his lap and “Cry” hanging from the gallows. The setting rendered the ballads less tender but more powerful.

Cooper uses props in the same way as the Flaming Lips. The added spectacle definitely makes the evening more entertaining, but would be worthless without the great music supporting them. Cooper’s band drove this point the two times they were given the stage alone. Deprived of their leader and all his tricks, they rocked hard and kept the audience riveted.

After an instrumental number, Cooper returned with some of his biggest numbers. It was hilarious to watch the group of graying mid-life dudes in the crowd go nuts over the silver Mardi Gras beads he tossed out during “Dirty Diamonds.” For the next number – “Billion Dollar Babies” – he presented a saber loaded with fake money, which was sprinkled over the front rows.

The main set ended with the one-two punch of “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and “Under My Wheels.” Although they’d been played to death, the band was clearly having a blast, duckwalking backward across the stage and grinning from ear to ear. It was hard to tell who was having more fun, the band or the crowd. Ultimately it didn’t matter. It was clear both sides lived for this stuff.

Setlist: School’s Out, Department of Youth, I’m Eighteen, Wicked Young Man, Ballad of Dwight Fry, Go To Hell, Guilty, Welcome To My Nightmare, Cold Ethyl, Poison, The Awakening, From the Inside, Nurse Rozetta -> Is It My Body, Be My Lover, Only Women Bleed, I Never Cry, instrumental, Vengeance Is Mine , Devil’s Food -> Dirty Diamonds, Billion Dollar Babies, Killer, No More Mr. Nice Guy -> Under My Wheels / School’s Out (encore)

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