When I first arrived and saw the closed doors at the Pearl Room I thought “oh fuck, they better not have canceled this”. Luckily they didn’t, but the move to the bar wasn’t much better. I’m still not entirely sure on the reason. Do they actually save on anything by not opening the Pearl Room? I guess maybe a couple bartenders’ wages? Seemed like plenty of security guys were still around. I can’t imagine it’s just to make the bands feel better by playing to a less-empty room, because surely they feel like losers playing on a 6-inch stage in the corner of a bar. So in the end, I counted about 160 people before Amorphis went on. At $20 a pop, that’s $3200; with 3 bands from Australia, Switzerland, and Finland, once again, someone was taking a serious bath on this one. When combined with unsavory reports from the Helloween debacle, I have to wonder, is this Mokena experiment coming to an end? Or is it simply an unlucky stretch? Either way I can’t imagine there will be a bunch of bands standing around the Wacken water cooler next year telling each other how great the Pearl Room is.
Anyhow, if the bands felt like they were losers, they did a good job of not showing it. First I saw was Urn, who, play gothic renaissance metal. On record, it sounds like their writing can actually support their stylistic ambitions, but their live sound wasn’t so hot. Good on them for having a girl drummer, but she was pretty wooden, and only occasionally would the sound mesh together into something impressive. My favorite part was when the black-clad, corseted keyboard/flute player would bend down between songs and pick up the true drink of a medieval witch princess: a 48oz bright-yellow Wendy’s cup.
Virgin Black were the ones that revealed Urn’s bad sound, because at first I was going to blame it on the crappy venue PA; but VB sounded so great that at first I couldn’t believe that the keening operatic vocals were actually being sung live rather than flown in. They sounded that perfect. Not a single word spoken during their set, just pure operatic doom closed out by one hell of a tortured scream. Credit to them for having a girl (guitar-player!) in the band who they keep almost completely hidden, not whoring her out for cheap attention.
Samael did their best to create their normal strobe-light-fueled atmosphere, but it was pretty hard to pull it off given their uninspiring surroundings. So the songs were good, the performance was professional, the guys were engaging, and the electronic sound stayed crisp and powerful, but it couldn’t beat the times I saw them in ’99 (even though those venues weren’t THAT much better). But then again in a post-Great White era maybe I didn’t want to see that fire-juggler that they had back then. Oh yeah, and the powers that be came with a surprise to cut their set off two songs before it was supposed to end.
Amorphis was much better than the two previous times that I had seen them. Much is due to the new singer, but a lot of that is an indirect benefit that comes from the fact that they put together a more powerful setlist than they ever did with Pasi at the mic. Every time Joutsen (who the stage revealed to be quite short) made the transition from growling to singing, it took him some time to really grab the melody by the throat, but once he got there, he was quite good. And actually it highlighted that a lot of the clean Amorphis vocals (especially on the older stuff) are probably fairly hard to sing. So yeah, great setlist, with plenty of heavy, plenty of grooves, plenty of space, though I’m not sure why they close with Black Winter Day since it’s probably the worst song of the whole set.
So despite the big downside going in, it actually turned out to be a rather good show.