Friday, October 31, 2008

Henry Rollins at Town Hall

I've made no secret of my love for Henry Rollins, but as it turns out, there are some fundamental differences between seeing him speak the first time and seeing him speak twice. The first time, it's a completely new experience, even with any preparation taken from recordings and the mind boggles at the sheer awesomeness of it all as it tries to take in both the experience and the knowledge pouring forth from the fountain's mouth. The second time around, expectations are in place: Will the product stand up to scrutiny?

Of course it does. That was a silly question and you lose five points for thinking about it. Rollins for the second time is just as mind-blowing as he is for the second time, albeit in a different way. There were pieces of the stories from the Provoked tour, sometimes with additions, sometimes in a different mix. There was some political commentary - this was the Recountdown Tour, after all - and whole crop of new material. But the message, the overarching theme, had changed. It wasn't politics, so much, or the "question everything" stance of Provoked, but a criticism of the society we've set up, a condemnation of a world where, despite the enormous amounts of wealth we generate, working hard doesn't mean you can stop worrying about the necessities. For example, he told a story about a guy he met who worked in a Subway in Seattle, an encounter that led him to wonder how much of a sandwich's $6.50 price went into the worker's salary and how long he had to work just to be able to afford one of those sandwiches, let alone things like rent and gas for his car and food for his family.

The message was an effective send-off, but the most powerful thing Rollins told us all night was a story about going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, to visit the Killing Fields outside of the city. During his walk, his guide stopped him and asked him to look at the ground. Confused, Rollins asked what he should look for. "Just look," the guide told him, "and tell me what you see." Rollins spotted what he thought was a stick and picked it up, only to realize it was a human femur. Turning to the guide, Rollins says, "I thought you guys got all of the bodies out?" "We thought we did," replied the guide, "but the rain moves the soil around and new bodies come up all of the time. You can put the bone over there; someone will come along to take care of it." Afterwards, Henry saw the ground in a new light: everywhere he looked, there were pieces of fingers and teeth and bits of cloth from clothing, all mixed together in one enormous monument to humanity's ability to adopt the guise of bestiality at the drop of a hat. Fight for change here in America, Rollins told us, because the descent into the madness Cambodia experienced isn't as far a jump as we might all think.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yngwie Part II: ANJ

So many stories, one blog post could not hope to contain them all!

Think about Yngwie for a second: limited compositional abilities (he says as he put in Trilogy for a spin), flair for Hendrix-style theatrics (a thought I had during the show: Yngwie Malmsteen is like Jimi Hendrix if Hendrix were Swedish, played three times as many notes and wrote songs that were a third as interesting), committed to the over-the-top performance for the performance's sake. What band would be a fitting opener, a match to his style without the polish of years of performance?

Enter ANJ. I had my first ANJ experience the Friday before the show, when a friend sent me a link to the video for their song "Gorbachov," a stirring tour-de-force where the titular character, in Conan the Barbarian form, defeats a horde of ravaging Stalin zombies, saving the fair (and busty) maidens and bringing the glories of capitalism (in the form of Twinkies) to Mother Russia. It's a brilliant video, but the music wasn't particularly impressive (see a theme coming?), so I expected to be disappointed. I have never been so glad to be wrong.

Imagine if a group of guys had purchased Rock Band last year and decided that the animated characters on their screen would be a good model for their band. Their MySpace page first describes them as "Megadeth after five bottles of Russian vodka" (looks like someone isn't up on their Dave Mustaine history), but then amends the statement with something closer to the truth: these guys really do want to be Dethklok. Their singer wears Joker-style corpse paint, has a bright yellow mohawk to go with his plaid pants and red vest and spent the first half of their set striding around wearing a Tartar helmet, demanding members of the audience sing along. Their lead guitarist, a prodigy who started doing session work at age 16, got his own two-minute, all alone on stage with the spotlights solo.

Let's take a second to contemplate that: ANJ had a half an hour on stage. They're an opening band...and yet they let one guy take a solo, all by himself. Have you ever seen a band do that? Because I certainly haven't.

Suitable for a Yngwie opener? It was beyond perfect.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Yngwie Malmsteen at The Blender Theater

There are many, many things I could tell you about how surprisingly awesome this show was, but I can sum it up in one story: at the end of the encore, Yngwie suddenly channeled all of his inner Sonic Youth by turning on all of his effects at the same time. During the resultant flood of sound that filled the theater and made me wonder how loud bass tones need to be for people to start shitting themselves, while the rest of the band randomly beat on their instruments and Ripper Owens screamed high-pitched murder, Yngwie took a sunburst Stratocaster (kinda like this model, but probably this model) and beat the crap out of it until it broke apart. Then he (carefully - no Dillinger Escape Plan-type violence here) threw the pieces into the crowd and said good night. After the physical mass of sound died away, I could still hear some intermittent shrieking noises. I thought they were some sort of after effect of destroying a guitar, but no: they were from the fire alarms.

Yngwie Malmsteen is so metal he set off the fire alarms.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fourth Amendment (to the Concert T-Shirt Manifesto)

I think I have a new corollary to my concert t-shirt wearing manifesto. I haven't actually encountered anyone who stoops to this level of douchebaggery - maybe I should start asking more questions - but it seems like a good amendment. I do have a question, though: why in God's name is Queensryche selling t-shirts that cost $50?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

When CDs Ruled the World

Reviewing Black Ice for this week's batch o' CDs in what turns out to be my last go - I've been replaced by another source of reviews, which makes me feel like I've now got some sort of cred with the factory workers who watch their jobs get outsourced to southeast Asia - and it inspired some thoughts about album length in the age of CD domination.

Remember back in the mid to late 90s when CDs finally became the dominant format and companies that weren't staffed entirely by black metal nerds stopped putting out albums on cassettes? Perhaps freed from the constraints of a shorter medium, perhaps pushed to fill the whole 74 minutes to equalize the production costs, perhaps for some other reason that doesn't actually exist because I don't really have any scientific data on the subject, bands started putting out 15 track monstrosities stuffed with enough fluff to fill an army of pillows. In reaction, people start downloading mp3s, CD sales plummet, the record companies suffer and the music industry as we know it slowly sinks into the mire, replaced by a shining new paradigm of more sensical commerce.

I may have made the last part up.

As a child of the CD generation, I grew up with the idea of the more tracks the merrier. As time goes on however, my patience has begun to wear thin, either as a result of listening to shorter, tighter albums from the pre-CD days, or just the kind of crankiness one develops about the bullshit of others as one grows older. Either way, I've come to the conclusion that unless you're playing grind or hardcore or some other genre where "long" songs are the ones that last 30 seconds, you really shouldn't have more than 12 tracks on your album.

To bring it back to Black Ice: AC/DC's latest not only finds them running over the same well-tread ground (should we call that "Pulling a Slayer"? I think we should), but doing so over 15 tracks, which is about five tracks too many. "Rock 'N Roll Train," "Big Jack," "Spoilin' For A Fight," and the superb title track are all excellent inclusions; "Anything Goes" just takes the formula and gets repetitive. Part of this issue is undoubtedly Brendan O'Brien's fault for not forcing the band to keep things short and Back In Black-style sweet, but AC/DC are big boys: they should know better. It's album making 101, fellas: just because you can put the song on your record doesn't mean it needs to be there.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Slash: Guitar Hero

While waiting in line for a beer at the Metal Master's tour this summer, I was fortunate enough to observe some of the geekery that can only happen between music fans. More specifically, drunk music fans: one drunk guy yelling at another drunk guy wearing a Guitar Hero t-shirt that "we need to make sure we teach kids how to play real instruments, or the sort of shit that's going on over there [gesturing towards the stage] won't have a future." I thought of that man and his anti-Guitar Hero crusade (I shudder to think of what he would say about the Air Guitar Championships) when reading this story from a Rolling Stone interview with Slash:

Has the huge success of Guitar Hero boosted your rep even further?
Yeah, but the flip-side of that is I met this kid who came up to me and was blown away by the fact I was the guy in the Guitar Hero game, and he kept going on about that. Ten minutes later he goes, “Do you play real guitar?”
Ouch, dude. Maybe Mr. Drunk Music Fan has a point...or maybe that kid needs to get out of the house more.

Via Kotaku

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

AC/DC Practices Redemption

Yesterday, they were idiots who can't get with the times. Today, they're sort of keeping it real for the dedicated fan. I think:
Season-ticket holders, some of whom have paid as much as 25,000 Norwegian kroners (approximately $3,900) to have the first crack at concert tickets at the venue, were denied the opportunity to purchase AC/DC tickets ahead of everyone else because AC/DC refused to allow anyone but the "real fans" to buy tickets (meaning that there would be no pre-sale at all).
My Norwegian language skills are rusty (read: non-existent) and Google's aren't much better (an example: "AC / DC was bone hard that no one other than their fans would come at the concert. De vil ikke se andre enn fansen sin. They will not see anyone other than their fans." Heh..."bone hard"), but it seems that AC/DC isn't as money-obsessed as Brian Johnson's comments about iTunes might lead one to believe...or they're looking to maintain the veneer of working-class respectability by keeping things open and real for the people. Either way, if they're so interested in making sure only true fans get to see them when they play in Norway (or anywhere else), they might want to consider going the NIN fan club route...assuming the technology doesn't baffle their minds.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Children of Bodom at the Hammerstein Ballroom

I'm starting to wonder if I should impose two year gaps between Bodom viewings...or that the theory I've heard about the band's inability to really rock a headlining spot has a ring of truth to it. Either way, I left this show feeling less pumped up than I had when Bodom played Gigantour earlier this year.

I suspect the problem might have been my own head space more than anything else: Bodom was the last night in a long string of late nights with no sleep, I had been rocked by GWAR while drinking heavily the night before, and frankly I couldn't bang my head with my usual alacrity as a result. I had also developed a morbid fear of accidentally smashing my head into someone's shoulder, which almost happened the night before. For me, the live experience is all about feeding off the energy and submitting to barely-controlled animalistic instincts for a little while; when I can't do that, or can't do it without letting go of the stream of conciousness of my ego, I don't enjoy myself as much.

So that was the bad. The good was in little things:
  1. The show was twice as long as I had expected in a good way: having not done any prep work, I missed the inclusion of both The Black Dahlia Murder and Between the Buried and Me.
  2. I hadn't heard Between the Buried and Me before that night and their performance proved to be an excellent introduction to their work. I didn't think "progressive deathcore" was possible as a genre, but clearly I'm not giving the deathcore guys enough credit. The recorded material I've heard so far seems pretty consistent with what I was hearing through my surprised shock, so Between the Buried and Me may have garnered themselves another fan.
  3. I spent the last two sets up in front, hoping to tap into a bit more of the life coming from the stage (makes me sound like a vampire, doesn't it?). At some point during Testament's set, the three small pits in the very front opened up into one long pit that ran like a wound parallel to the stage for about 40 feet. At one point, a guy who had to be a bit under six feet and well over 200 pounds decided it would be an excellent idea to run the length of the pit and plow into an unsuspecting group of concertgoers clustered at the end. Unfortunately for them, he made it. I'm surprised they didn't knife him afterwards for being such a douche.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

GWAR at Irving Plaza

GWAR, it seems has a pattern when it comes to opening bands: one thrash revival act, one "core" group, run for an hour and a half and then hit the stage. Two years ago, it was Municipal Waste and The Red Chord; this time around, we had Toxic Holocaust and Kingdom of Sorrow. The format might be slipping a bit: Toxic Holocaust is fun, but they're no Municipal Waste and I know I liked The Red Chord better than the modern metalcore stylings of Kingdom of Sorrow, a side project for guys from Hatebreed, Crowbar, and (because Kirk Windstein is off touring with Down) Type O Negative.

While taking refuge at the bar during Kingdom of Sorrow's set and discussing Guy Kozowyk's take on the origins of modern metalcore with my usual concert crew, I came to an important realization: one that could and should change this iffy form of music into some far more palatable. It's simple: anything that's not a breakdown (and I have no problem with the breakdowns: you can keep ripping off groove metal as much as you'd like) should be played at the same speed as a Slayer riff. Can you imagine how great that'd be? Instead of chopping along on eighth notes, all of those guitarists could tune in to the true brutality of sixteenth and thirty-second notes, channeling some Slayer-like energy into their lifeless riffs and drastically decreasing their suckitude at the same time. Think about it: everything tastes better with Slayer. Everything. And as an added inducement towards implementation, I say we ban Kingdom of Sorrow from using their kickass album graphic until they start applying The Slayer Method to their material.

So much for the openers. GWAR's performance was an evening of solid, sleazy entertainment. Three areas of note: first, GWAR seems to have finally realized that playing in clubs means people in the back can't see what's going down on the stage, and being a visual band, decided to fix the problem by using a video screen. It wasn't a complete success - some of the graphics looked like they were taken out of a digital special effects kit circa 1999 - but it helped give a bit more context to the action (unfortunately still rendered partially invisible by the heads of the taller people in front of me) on the stage. Speaking of action, we had a biology lesson: it turns out that breasts are full of green fluid. Who knew?

Second, Dave Brockie seems to love turning the words of his older material into complete mush. I'm not sure if it's laziness, material fatigue, or just a way to make fun of the bohabs, but the lyrics of the verses of "Sick of You," for example, were a wordless garble.

Third, Sleazy P. Martini came back for the tour. He set up the show's theme, killed a bunch of people in a revival of "Slaughterama" (easily the show's highlight, with the numerous faithful in the crowd supplanting Martini's role as host by shouting out the answers to each round's question), and announced his candidacy for President of the United States. I think you should vote for him.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Guy Kozowyk is a Witty Guy. Er, Man.

I saw The Red Chord a few years ago; I remember positive things, but that might be a gloss of time taking over. In any case, the highlight of the show was singer Guy Kozowyk heckling the audience while they heckled him, a performance that straddled the line of clever without dropping over into obnoxious. It was funny to watch him make fun of the haters, not ponderous.

That type of witty commentary seems to be Guy's stock in trade: the interview above, while lengthy, quickly establishes itself as worthy of the time spent. The high point is around the middle, when Guy goes into a lengthy exposition about the history of deathcore and influences from bands in the 1990s that comes down to one thing: modern deathcore owes its sound and posturing (and yes, posturing is the right word) to the likes of Korn and Limp Bizkit, while older deathcore (read: The Red Chord) pays homage to the likes of Morbid Angel and Suffocation. I think we know who wins the battle there, kids.

Via MetalSucks

WANT: Dethklok and GWAR Action Figures

I'm not a big action figures guy (I believe my collection, such as it is, consists of a Brainiac 5 figure my wife got for me at a McDonalds), but Deciblog still got me all hot and bothered with the headline, "Dethklok & Gwar Immortalized In Plastic" (all the more timely for its appearance mere hours before my next GWAR experience), noting the creation/recreation of Dethklok and GWAR action figures by New Jersey manufacturer Shocker Toys. Unfortunately, what they didn't mention is that a.) you can only order the figures by calling one of their salesmen and b.) their website looks like it jumped straight out of Google's 2001 index. Dammit people: it's the 21st century. I shouldn't have to talk to anyone if I don't want to and I should be able to spend my money online without feeling like my credit card is going to get a venereal disease.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dissecting the Disappearance of Scars on Broadway

New look, new name, same fun bullshit opinions. Let's do this.

As part of the announcement by Scars on Broadway that they were killing their tour yesterday, frontman Daron Malakian included a statement noting the decision to cancel the tour hinged around feelings that "his heart wasn't into touring at this time." MetalSucks gave the group the backhanded compliment of calling out their brutal honesty, but I'd prefer to take them to task for selling their fans (all five of them, apparently, since the album only sold 56,000 copies) down the river. Don't they know that the first rule of making music for others is following up on your promises, right down to doing the tour you don't want to do because not enough people bought your record or the tickets to your shows?

Maybe I've been reading too much Lefsetz Letter recently, but it seems so obvious that any band looking to make a living playing music needs to establish a solid fan base and cater to it as much as possible. I realize that part of the problem is that Malakian may have lost the desire to make a living playing music, but if he ever hopes to make a comeback heading up a project he's got to remember that trading in on a previous success will only get so far: if he wants to tap into the enormous power of word-of-mouth marketing, he's got to give that potential word-of-mouth group something to believe in. Instead, he's got blogs making fun of him for sulking over ticket sales and now he may never be seen as more than a money-grubber hoping to cash in on the eventual System of a Down reunion.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

German Engineering: Astounding Ingenuity

Damn you, KMFDM, for making me want to own a 12-inch vinyl version of a song I don't know just because it's a collectors item from a band I love. A collector's item at a seemingly reasonable price, no less! I don't even have a record player!

Actually, that's not true. I do have a record player, but it's in a box in my basement because I have no room for such things...and no record collection even if I did. Principle of the thing, though. Yeah.


I still want the single.