Tuesday, July 22, 2003

In Flames, Chimaira, and Soilwork, Commodore Ballroom, July 21
It was nice to see a big turnout last night. Smash and I mulled over the fact that 10 years ago a show like this might have filled up the Starfish Room, but here we were wading through the crowd in the Commodore, which is three times the size. It seems that Starfish audience is still around, along with a newer, equally well-informed, wave of fans. Quality metal tours that make it up here are as rare as ever, so the local metalheads showed up in force.

Soilwork came on first, for some unknown reason—maybe the opening acts swapped positions from gig to gig. Soilwork are extremely popular, no doubt about it. The floor filled up, and the band had people’s attention all the way to the back. Dressed in matching In Flames tour shirts (3/4-sleeved baseball tees in Swedish national colours), they charged into “The Flameout” from Natural Born Chaos (I believe), battled through some sound problems, and delivered a really strong set culled mainly from their last two albums. New drummer Richard Evensand had a great relaxed style. Some drummers are able to assert absolute authority over their kit without being dicks about it, and this guy was one of them. The bassist was trying too hard to be the life of the party, but at least his playing was bang-on. Big bald singer Speed worked the crowd well—as I said, people were well into it right to the back. Soilwork’s main songwriting strength—catchy, cleanly sung choruses—suffered a bit in concert. It came off well half the time and got lost in the muddy opening-act sound on other occasions.

Chimaira were up next. They were ten shades heavier than Soilwork, they tuned about ten steps lower, and they were ten times worse. Take Fear Factory and Sepultura, remove all personality and songcraft, and you’ve got Chimaira—an utterly unnecessary band. I couldn’t pick out a single worthwhile fragment of music—just heavy, heavy, heavy, boring, boring, boring. Lots of junting on “E” (or was it “B”?), and guitar solos that made Kerry King sound like Jeff Beck. I took to watching my plastic beer cup vibrate across the table. I’ll admit that some of their slow bits sounded promising, and I appreciated the fact that their frontman talked to the crowd like a human being, but otherwise…that’s 45 minutes of my life I’m not getting back.

Did I hear Radiohead on the P.A. between sets? Smash and I agreed that it’s wise to play music from outside the genre between sets at metal shows. It’s so much better for priming the senses. And as Smash says, what’s the point of playing, say, Sabbath over the P.A.? It’s not like the band that’s about to come on is going to deliver anything better than that.

In Flames were very pro, with their own light show and huge Swedish flag backdrop. They delivered a similar product to Soilwork—melodic Swedish speed metal—but with tons of harmony guitar lines and some mysteriously deployed technology to augment the sound. I wondered if the drummer was playing to a click track because sequenced synth sounds and canned background vocals popped up during various songs. Soilwork could have used some of that trickery to bolster their vocal parts, too. In Flames also had the best sound of the night— headliner privileges again. They played a good cross-section of material from 10 years’ worth of albums (where does the time go?), and didn’t seem to favour the new stuff too heavily. Singer Anders Fridén, sporting some HM dreads, thanked the opening bands, thanked the crew, thanked us for being the best crowd of the entire tour (hmm, yeah) and threw the horns a lot, and everyone answered with gestures in kind. I’ve personally stopped throwing the horns because of this. There was no encore, which I didn’t mind. I was pretty metalled out by the end of the set. It was also the last show of the tour, so maybe the band was anxious to get back on the bus and head home.

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