October 5th, 2009
If you had told me a couple of months ago when I started writing this blog, that it wouldn’t be until show #10 that I did a review from the legendary 9:30 Club, I would have called you a liar. You see, of all the venues in the D.C. area, and quite frankly in the country (I can’t speak for venues outside of the States…yet), the 9:30 Club is far and away my favorite. The place is truly a concert goers dream. It feels big, yet it’s actually quite small (capacity is approximately 1,000). The main level of the place is a large open space (perfect for the swirling mosh pits that open up from time to time) with two bars on either side and an additional window for ordering food (which is surprisingly quite good…and healthy too!). In addition, there is a two tiered balcony that encompasses the entire venue, so you can watch the show from any vantage point you like (i.e. looking straight on at the stage, or from the left or right of the stage). On the second tier of the balcony (all the way at the top) is a third bar. Finally, for those who want to get away from the action altogether (and perhaps have a drink with one of the band members) there is a fourth bar in the secluded basement, where there isn’t any view of the stage. I’m writing this description because my next few reviews, and probably quite a few more over the course of this project, are all from the 9:30 Club…as always, enjoy!
The first band of the night was a 5 piece death metal outfit from Encino, California, playing in D.C. for the first time. Quite honestly, I knew it wasn’t my thing as soon as vocalist Derek Rydquist opened his mouth and let out the first of what seemed like a never-ending stream of growls. It sounded as though Oscar the Grouch had taken over the mic at the 9:30 Club. The one saving grace for The Faceless was guitarist Michael Keene, whose classical style of playing was evident, especially during his solos. Unfortunately, aside from his solos, Keene was drowned out by the bludgeoning rhythm section (and I use the word rhythm loosely) of guitarist Steve Jones, bassist Brandon Giffin and drummer Lyle Cooper (who wore the band’s influences literally on his sleeve, by sporting a Nile t-shirt). Rydquist almost seemed bored as he addressed the crowd, and as far as I’m concerned, the feeling was mutual.
3 Inches of Blood
This was my second opportunity to see 3 Inches of Blood, having caught them on the second stage of Ozzfest a few years ago. Lumped in with a dozen other metal acts in a festival setting, I don’t remember being all that impressed. Tonight however, the boys from Vancouver completely won me over.
If you aren’t familiar with 3 Inches of Blood, they are a throwback to the time when good old fashioned thrash was all the rage. As soon as they hit the stage, I felt like I’d been time-warped back to the late 80’s. The chugging guitars, double bass and glass shattering, high pitched vocals were in a word…awesome! When vocalist Cam Pipes (has there ever been a more appropriate name for a metal singer?) screamed "Unleash Hell!", I knew I was in a for a pummeling.
Pipes is a vocalist that could bring a tear to Rob Halford's eye...seriously. Looking like he rode in with a group of Hell's Angels, he and guitarist/co-vocalist Justin Hagberg stormed through a set of Dungeons & Dragons themed music, with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. These guys definitely do not take themselves too seriously. As a matter of fact, when Cam screamed "gee-tar" mid-song, right before Hagberg launched into a solo, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or bang my head unmercifully.
3 Inches of Blood, who are rounded out by guitarist Shane Clark, bassist Steve Erickson and drummer Ash Pearson, are about the most fun you can have watching a metal band. When they announced "we've got one more for ya DC...this is your last chance...kick your buddy in the balls!”, I decided that laughing and banging my head simultaneously was a perfectly acceptable option.
Between the Buried and Me
Spaz-core juggernaut Between the Buried and Me were up next and I'll say up front that these guys were the surprise of the night for me. Like 3 Inches of Blood, I had seen Between the Buried and Me on the second stage of Ozzfest a few years ago and found their set to be annoying at best. In this setting, their complex sound was easier to discern and the results were astounding.
There's a lot going on here folks, this stuff is not easily digestible. But if you can learn to appreciate it...to expand your musical palate so to speak, the end result is a truly remarkable experience. For lack of a better description, I'll say that Between the Buried and Me sound like a mash up of progressive metal and jazz. They sound like Meshuggah mixed with Rush with a sprinkle of John Coltrane. Interested yet?
The five piece from Raleigh, North Carolina sounded downright epic when they launched into "Selkies: The Endless Obsession". Tommy Rogers alternately sang/snarled over his etheral sounding keyboards, while guitarists Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring somehow managed to stay on track even though at times it seemed they were playing two completely different songs. I have to reiterate, this is some complicated shit! How bass player Dan Briggs and drummer Blake Richardson managed to keep up is beyond me.
It was evident that not everyone in the crowd "got it" though, as someone yelled "you suck!" at one point during a break in the action due to some technical difficulties. The always clever metal crowd was ready with an answer though, as another fan screamed "fight him with a battle axe!", to which Rogers answered "I would if I could see who said it"...ahh metal heads, gotta love em'.
By the end of the set, Between the Buried and Me had won over the majority of those in attendance. Rogers thanked the crowd for checking out his band and then went on to mention that he'd always wanted to play the "legendary 9:30 Club...I mean fucking Bad Brains played here...shit". When he announced "White Walls" as their last song of the evening, the crowd let out a collective moan of disappointment. The vocalist reassured them though, by reminding them that "it's a long one". And long it was as the band didn't actually finish their set for another 15 minutes. I have to say, I was sorry to see it end.
Before headliners In Flames even made an appearance, you knew it was their show just by the shear amount of equipment packed onto the stage. The drum set perched high up on its riser, the walls of amplifiers and the impressive lighting rigs would have looked at home in an arena, much less a club. As the house lights dimmed, the legendary Gothenburg, Sweden five piece took the stage to a roar of approval from the D.C. crowd.
With founding guitar player Jesper Stromblad sidelined for this tour due to personal issues, the rest of In Flames, vocalist Anders Friden, guitarist Bjorn Gelotte, bassist Peter Iwers and drummer Daniel Svensson made it their goal of the night to initiate fill-in guitarist Niclas Engelin by hazing him constantly. During an early break in the action due to yet another technical difficulty (unfortunately involving Engelin's guitar), Anders looked across the stage at the new guy and jokingly said "you're this close to being fired". He then proceeded to make the poor guitarist do his best Scorpions pose, which Engelin pulled off perfectly, nearly doing the splits on stage...hilarious!
As for the music, In Flames seemed like they were out to prove something to their longtime fans. You see, this is a band who has taken a lot of heat recently for focusing their more recent live performances on newer material and neglecting to play songs from their older albums. That wasn't the case tonight, as the set list included songs that spanned the last seven albums of the In Flames catalog, going all the way back to 1997's "Whoracle" and including everything up to their most recent album, 2008's "A Sense of Purpose" (only their first two albums, "Lunar Strain" (1994) and "The Jester Race" (1995) were omitted).
Anders seemed in rare form tonight, going out of his way to make sure the crowd participated. At one point in the show he leaned down to the front row and actually handed the microphone to an unsuspecting fan, allowing him to handle the vocal duties. And then a few songs later, as if to outdo himself, Anders actually invited a fan onstage, gave the kid his microphone and then left him alone out there. The young fan stood there at first, a little dumbfounded as to what he should do next. But as the rest of In Flames tore into "Square Nothing", he realized what Anders was asking him to do and he laid down the vocals for the entire song, all the while banging his long-haired head and encouraging the rest of the crowd to sing along. During the guitar solo, Anders reappeared, handed the would-be singer a beer and then proceeded to leave the stage yet again. It was an unbelievable sight, watching this random kid take over vocals for one of the most influential melodic death metal bands of all time. When the song was finished, the new vocalist got a rousing ovation from the crowd and Anders bowed to him onstage, saying “maybe I should think about retiring”…very cool indeed.
Later during the show, Anders pulled yet another fan onstage, this time a girl who was shooting pictures of the band. He explained that she’d get a better angle from onstage and insisted that she share her videos with everyone else on YouTube. The girl seemed to have a blast dancing around, snapping pictures and taking video as the band played on. Before she left the stage, Anders gave the lucky fan a chance to say something to the crowd and the girl responded with her best attempt at a death metal growl, to which the vocalist replied “that was some real Arch Enemy shit right there”, referring to another Swedish band’s female vocalist Angela Gossow. This set was full of some truly clever and funny ad lib by Friden.
Unfortunately however, things weren't all smiles between the band and their audience. After jokingly asking the crowd "which side of the balcony is the old timers section?", a heckler fired something back that clearly struck a chord with the vocalist. Anders stopped the show long enough to address the culprit, even inviting him to come onstage and take over the mic if he thought he could do better. Once the short delay was over, In Flames wasted no time picking up right where they'd left off, but it was evident that the incident had gotten under Friden's skin as he continuously glared back up at the balcony throughout the rest of the show.
Whatever the complaint may have been, it was lost on me as I was in my own little heavy metal heaven watching In Flames tonight. When two of the 3 Inches of Blood guys came storming across the stage and dove head first into the crowd towards the end of the show, you couldn't help but throw the horns in the air. Anders mentioned that this would be the last time we'd be seeing In Flames for quite awhile since they'd be heading back to Sweden after this tour to record a new album. Let's just hope we don't have to wait too long.
Embody the Invisible
Delight and Angers
The Mirror's Truth
The Quiet Place
Take This Life
My Sweet Shadow