Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Review: Testament - The Chance Theater, Poughkeepsie, NY - 7/13/07

I don't usually drive two hours out of my way to see a show, but Testament and I have a little history: I was supposed to see them at the exact same theater almost two years ago, prompted by one of the opening bands - I knew the drummer - and ended up not going because the band in question broke up before the show. Stupid reason, I know, but thus are stories made. However, since Testament refuses to tour anywhere closer to New York City and I gotta have me some Chuck Billy and Alex Skolnick, off I went.

The Chance is a charming relic. A remnant of an earlier age - it was originally a movie theater in the 1920s - it's preserved its faded glory character and soldiers on unrestored and with dingy grace as a rock venue. In appearance it reminds me of The Palladium in Worcester, MA and Irving Plaza in NYC, although it has one unique quirk: all of The Chance's useful sitting space sits high above the entrance, accessible through doorways and stairwells hidden by large crowds. Walk in after a show has started, as I did that Friday night and low ceilings, the overhang of the balcony, the blocky shapes of the bar and the soundboard all confront, pushing you inexorably towards the front, towards the built-in pit.

I found myself on the right side of the stage, the stairs to the pit - I know, how civilized - yawning towards me like temptation in wood-and-steel form. 'Come down,' they called to me. 'You don't have your camera, nothing to break - you'll be fine!' With the restraint of saint - and the experience of a man who knows the pit far too well - I shrugged the idea off.

Testament arrived late, taking the stage a good fifteen minutes past their announced starting time of 11:15, but when that blessed moment finally came, everything - the long drive, getting lost in the spread of Poughkeepsie, waiting through Merauder (real NYHC, which seemed to consist of not playing quite fast enough, coupled with a singer who was way too drunk/messed up in general to be on stage) - was worth the wait. Chuck Billy could fill a room with his mere presence alone. Always front and center, striding around the stage that suddenly seemed too small to contain him, Chuck Billy and his microphone stand, a three foot voice-amplifying baton that he carried at all times, were the centerpieces of much of the show. When Chuck Billy wasn't singing into the mic, he was air guitaring the solos on it. When he wasn't recreating the solos, he was using it to conduct, or to pull vocal contributions from the sweaty, eager crowd.

Alex Skolnick, meanwhile, held his own. The band didn't switch positions much, so I didn't get to see Skolnick's fretwork up close, but the sound was more than enough to satisfy as he and the rest of the band tore through a set list that drew mainly from the first three albums. In addition, a treat: "The Afterlife," the first new Testament song in six years, which seemed a worth addition to the catalog and a tantalizing reminder of the new album scheduled to come out next year.

There were some problems, of course: the mix on the first three songs was wretched, as if someone gave the volume knobs on the board an uncorrected spin, pushing the drums over the top and simultaneously alerting me to the previously unknown difficulty of trying to head bang without a guitar rhythm. I don't recommend it. Testament promised us an "eighteen or nineteen song set," a warm up for an upcoming festival appearance in Germany, but either the late start or some sort curfew ended the night, without encore, a few songs early. On the balance though, Testament put on an excellent show more than worth the travel and price of admission.

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