Symphony X / The Devin Townsend Band @ Metro

November 24th, 2003

o Symphony X/The Devin Townsend Band @ Metro, 11/24, $15
I walked into the venue just as Twelfth Gate was playing their last notes, so that was the second time I’d missed a chance to seem them (both at the Metro). Bummer.

Didn’t miss Devin though, and he was great. The last couple times I’d seen him it had been with SYL, so it was nice to hear his other stuff agin. I think I liked this set even more than ProgPower, although that could be just because I knew the songs more. The sound was perfect, and the whole band just does an amazing job of recreating the sonics of the CDs in a live situation. I love the drummer, and he really lends some hard-hitting, crisp tightness to the band. Devin is known these days for his unique songwriting style and guitar sounds, and as a producer, but I was reminded that his first claim to fame was as a vocalist for Steve Vai. Because he’s really great singer, and that almost gets forgotten. This may be sacrilege, but I think his vocal performance was much better than Russell Allen’s, especially when it comes to reproducing what’s on record. The crowd, although clearly there for Symphony X, was generally polite and appreciative, probably even a little more than Devin was giving them credit for. He did play the instrumental “Away” to show off his wanking skills to the crowd. Oh, and I finally figured out that the bass player reminds me of Reese from “Malcolm in the Middle”. I think the setlist was

Seventh Wave
Earth Day
Away / Deep Peace(?)
Bad devil

Symphony X was good as usual, although for some reason they’re a band that never blows me away like they seem to for so many other people. I did stay for the whole set this time though, and it seemed like they played a lot of my favorites, so that was cool. It was my first time hearing “The Odyssey”, and while it seemed like a cool song, it really didn’t make me feel at all like I was in ancient Greece! My favorite part of the show was when I walked up and saw two people right at the front rail wearing corpsepaint. I thought “Is there a black metal band playing at this show?” But then I looked closer, and realized they were wearing makeup in the form of the Symphony X masks, and even had the appropriate hooded capes. Ha!

Cradle of Filth / Type O Negative / Moonspell @ Riviera Theater

November 22nd, 2003

o Cradle of Filth/Type O Negative/Moonspell @ Riviera Theater, 11/22, $28
Moonspell is my favorite out of the three bands, so it’s unfortunate they were first, but they still kicked ass. Luckily right when they started, a small group of Moonspell fanatics came up behind me, so I wasn’t the only one making noise in a sea of Cradle kiddies. Most people seemed totally unfamiliar with the band, but they got the crowd a little more involved as the set went on (which is good, since I think if you crossed CoF and TON, you’d get Moonspell). I always forget how good the drummer and guitarist are, since Moonspell isn’t a band that makes you think of instrumental prowess, but they’re great to see live. The bands aesthetic was much more “metal” than the last time I saw them. They played:

In and Above Men
From Lowering Skies
The Southern Deathstyle
Full Moon Madness

o Type O Negative was a full co-headliner, so they had a complete stage set-up, which was actually pretty cool. Drums and keyboards were split on either side of the stage, both on 5-foot high risers with chain-link fence and barbed wire in front of them. The backdrop was an old stone prison watchtower, and then they had big red spinning police lights and strobes. The intro music was “Bad Boys” (think “Cops”), and I half expected to see NWA come out to play a quick set. But no, it was the Type O guys, all dressed in orange prison jumpsuits. Peter’s bass strap was a steel chain and with his fu manchu and hair tied back with a bandana, he really fit the part and looked quite a bit like Lemmy. The unfortunate thing about all this was that they seemed to play music to fit the image, focusing a lot on their punk/speed metal songs rather than their more epic gothic side. That stuff is fun and all, but this was my first time seeing Type O, so I wouldn’t have minded some more of the wussy stuff. They still played “Love You to Death”, “Christian Woman”, and “Black #1” though, so that was enough to satisfy me.

o They had to totally tear down Type O’s stage, and then totally rebuild Cradle of Filth’s stage, so of course it took forever for CoF to get going. CoF had ramps and platforms and stuff, which was quite a bit to set up. The lights went down, and when they came back up, the band appeared with two gargoyles sitting on the platforms. After the first song, the gargoyles started to move, eek! They did that for a few songs, trying to frighten Dani, and then left. After another song, a guy with stilts on his arms and legs came walking giraffe-like onto the stage, with a scantily-clad woman riding on his back. They did some demonic sexual stuff with each other, and then the woman climbed up off his back onto a hanging curtain/rope. The band came back onstage and played a song with her twirling and twisting in the curtain 20 feet above the stage. Quite impressive, and the level of acrobatic professionalism was far above the writhing metal skanks they usually have on stage. Unfortunately, none of that could hide the fact that the music was boring as hell. Since I had just seen Dimmu Borgir, I was comparing the two in my head, and thinking that Dimmu has four or five guys in the band RIGHT NOW that can write great riffs, while it seems like in the million band members Cradle has been through, they haven’t been able to find even one guy who can write one. So I left after 6 or 7 songs.

Estradasphere / Soulvasq @ The Note

November 21st, 2003

I was lucky(?) enough to see three good shows in the last four days, so here are my reviews. First, for the fun of it, I’ll rank all the sets, with my favorites first:

1. Estradasphere
2. The Devin Townsend Band
3. Moonspell
4. Type O Negative
5. Symphony X
6. Soulvasq
7. Cradle of Filth

o Estradasphere/Soulvasq @ The Note, 11/21, $8
Soulvasq was the local opener, although they said Estradasphere (from California) actually got them the gig. They fit in well with E-sphere, playing a fairly eclectic mix of styles with an overall funk/Faith No More-ish backing. The lead singer wore tails and a top hat and carried a cane, and they passed bubble-making toys around. That just about tells you all you need to know. For me, their best stuff was when they went heavy, or when they played a Santana-inspired Latin number, complete with a guy on the bongo/conga.

Estradasphere was amazing, as usual. This was my third time seeing them, and every show has been totally different, yet equally incredible In a day when I look up setlists beforehand for all these other bands on the Internet, it’s so refreshing to see a band that crafts a completely different set every single night. They played for approximately forever, but that was only apparent after finding out that it was 2:30am once we got outside. We got the usual mix of gypsy jazz, death metal, bluegrass, some nu-metal, Walk Like and Egyptian, a Stairway to Heaven/Every Rose Has its Thorn/Money for Nothing medley, the Super Mario Bros. theme (played right along with video projection of Level 1-1), and a shitload more. All played with some great chops, although they didn’t quite reach the level of mind-blowing tightness that I saw from them last time. However, it was still plenty good enough to keep them right at the top with the best live bands I’ve ever seen.

Dimmu Borgir / Nevermore / Children of Bodom / Hypocrisy

November 10th, 2003

I went to see multi-national bill of Dimmu Borgir, Nevermore, Children of Bodom, and Hypocrisy on Sunday at the House of Blues. It must be difficult for some to see that four mighty Swedes have to play first, ahead of some Finnish children, some fat Americans, and worst of all, a gang of ugly Norwegians! But overall it was quite an evenly matched show.

My warmup for the show was going to see Ween play for nearly three hours the night before at a sold-out show being filmed for their DVD. Luckily Ween shows are pretty tame, so I didn’t get too worn out there.

I figured the Dimmu show would sell out too (it did), so I bought my ticket a couple days in advance, to be picked up at the will call window. Doors were set to open at 5:45, with the show beginning at 6:15, so I went inside the venue to pick up my ticket a little before 6:00. However, I still had to go back OUTside, to get in the entry line. And this was a LINE. It literally stretched around the building, south down Dearborn, and completely across the Chicago River. At least it’s a pretty cool place to stand in line, looking down the river from the bridge at portions of the lit-up skyline. At one point a couple of kayakers passed beneath us, quite an unexpected sight on a dark evening with temperatures in the 30s. Of course they received their fair share of cheers and jeers.

It seemed like the doors opened about on time, and the HoB staff was operating efficiently, but it simply takes more than half an hour to get 1000 people into the venue. So by the time I got in, the place was nearly full, and Hypocrisy was playing their second to last song. Which kinda sucked, but at least their last song was “Roswell 47”, which of course is the song to see if you’re just going to see one. The crowd was pretty tame, but a “Hypocrisy!” chant did go up when they finished, so maybe they weren’t too old-school for all the kiddies on hand as I thought they’d be.

While the curtain was closed when Children of Bodom was setting up, someone played a couple of keyboard sounds to make sure it was plugged in. And a huge cheer went up. What a sad state the metal world has fallen to, when everyone gets excited by gay-ass keyboards! And this is an “extreme” metal show too! Anyway, they got going in short order. Yep, Alexi does look like Avril Lavigne. The keyboard player did something I’m surprised I’ve never seen some prog-metal keyboard-wanker-showoff do: he had his whole keyboard tipped downwards, facing the audience, so we could all see what an ivory-tickling badass he was. Ooh! At first I thought he was a new keyboard player, since he wasn’t the little kid that was playing with them when I saw them at the Milwaukee Metalfest in 2000. But I guess he just grew up. I had been standing about in the middle of the floor, but as soon as CoB started, the crowd surged forward, and I was pretty much right in the middle of the crush, about six rows back, for the rest of the night. CoB played about half an hour (like Hypocrisy), and gay as they are, they’re a fun band. Excellent sound too.

When Nevermore started up, the crowd was fairly motionless for “Narcosynthesis”. But then as Warrel Dane always does, he encouraged the pit to start up again for “Seven Tongues of God”, and it basically didn’t stop after that for the rest of the night. I was pretty well-isolated from it though, since there were still a couple more rows of the crush squeezing me in from behind. Nevermore seemed to focus on mostly more brutal stuff; I dunno if they were trying to compete with the other bands there, but that was kinda unnecessary since they would have been the heaviest band no matter what they played. And a bit more melody would have satisfied the CoB-fanboys more anyway. Their churning-thrash sound was a lot more muddled than CoB, but about normal for Nevermore. I’d say the Warrel Drunk-o-Meter was only at about 3 or so, and while his vocals weren’t the greatest, at least they weren’t embarrassing either. Looking at him I was reminded that he ain’t no spring-chicken anymore. They played about 35 minutes.

While waiting for Dimmu, the crowd was still surging around all over the place; I even heard a girl near me mention that she was getting seasick. Finally, Dimmu’s light show intro began, with a bunch of swirling backlights that were actually pretty cool, mostly because they managed to keep from blinding the crowd as such lights usually do. With the drums and keyboards being set up on opposite sides of the stage, there was a sort of pyramid of lights in the middle. Sometimes they’d light up Galder’s bald head, and the light would shine through his ears, making them bright red while the rest of his head kept the white-corpsepaint look. Quite stylish! Costco must have had a deal on knee-high spiked boots, because all four guys up front were wearing identical pairs. And perhaps they had a “Buy four, get a free codpiece!” promotion too, and Shagrath got to wear that. About halfway through he stripped off his leather jacket, and then for the encore he was bare-chested, presumably so he could show off the tattoo across his stomach, much like Tupac’s “Thug Life” tattoo. Except Shagrath’s said “Shagrath”. Ha! I guess it’s so he never forgets. Oh, and the music? It was excellent as usual. Dimmu Borgir really has to be one of the best “metal” bands out there, they’re heavy, intense, melodic, complex, rocking, epic, and fun to watch. Pretty much the whole package. They played about 90 minutes. Though if they didn’t have to hurry to come back and finish up their encore before curfew, I’m not sure if they would have come back, since the crowd was really pretty quiet (as it had been the whole night). Everyone was certainly into it, and there were plenty of people, so maybe it’s just part of the extreme-metal ethic or something to not make too much noise. Anyway, it was still a great show all around.