Friday, May 22, 2009

May Gigs: Paganfest and Gojira

Paganfest II, May 13 at the Commodore Ballroom
With a few days left before Paganfest II hit town, I realized that I’d be a fool to miss a chance to see Primordial. So I plunked down $35 at Scrape Records and got my ticket. I went solo, Billy No-Mates style. I should have dragged a friend or two along, because attendance turned out to be dismal. The Commodore was only about a quarter full. The troo pagans in the crowd—some sporting horned Viking helmets and one bloke in chainmail—must have felt right at home on the open tundra of that famous dance floor. I missed Swashbuckle and Blackguard, arriving just in time for Moonsorrow. Based on the half hour tracks on V: Hävitetty, the only Moonsorrow album I have, I expected them to play maybe two songs. They edited themselves, though, and raged through a handful of numbers, all perfectly enjoyable aside from a few distractions: their vocalist’s pasty man-boobs (complete with nip ring), the silly buggers in the crowd getting up some serious slamming momentum in the vast expanse of the pit, and some overly twee musical interludes that brought to mind a Spirit of the West show, only with fewer lesbians in the audience.

Primordial simply slayed. Alan “Nemtheanga” Averill is a fearsome frontman, the kind of go-for-the-throat performer who commands/demands the attention of every punter in the place. I don’t throw the horns at gigs anymore (the gesture having been tainted by Avril Lavigne and a million other clueless douchebags), but when Nemtheanga asked us to throw ’em, I sure as hell did. The seven-song set, drawn mainly from the last two albums, was pure power and emotion, from opener “Empire Falls” to “Heathen Tribes,” and marred only by a guitar malfunction during an otherwise staggering “The Coffin Ships.” It was like seeing Marillion on the Misplaced Childhood tour; a slightly surreal experience that I think about now: “Did that really happen?”

After having witnessed the gig of the year (so far), I didn’t have much hope that Korpiklaani could make any impact on me. Nothing short of the classic Skyclad lineup performing all of Prince of the Poverty Line could have rivalled what Primordial threw down. It didn’t take long to confirm that Korpiklaani were basically a partyin’ polka band, albeit a very heavy and professional one, with a full-time fiddle player and accordionist putting a little too much “folk” into the folk metal. If your only care in the world is finding your way back to the bar for the next beer, they’d be the perfect entertainers. As it was, I headed to the coat check.

Gojira, May 17 at Richard’s on Richards
I arrived too late to catch more than a couple minutes of Car Bomb, and The Chariot were no great shakes in the middle of the bill—lots of energy, but no riffs or songs to speak of, and Botch did it all better 10 years ago—so it was up to Gojira to save the night. They did so easily, with an impeccable set of cyber metal performed with 100 per cent commitment to a packed house. Call them Meshuggah-lite if you want, but it turns out that Gojira are the band I wished Meshuggah had been both times I’ve seen the Swedes. They have distinguishable songs, they have energy and charisma, and they play proper 6-string guitars. Opening with the pulsating hammer-on riffs of “Oroborus,” Gojira were a precision team throughout, separating only to let ace drummer Mario Duplantier take a solo. Placed late in the set, it looked like an exercise in sadomasochism, seeing as the poor guy was already drenched in sweat and grimacing his way through the rhythmic demands of the material. My bones shudder at the thought of having to do that night after night. Guitarist/singer Joe Duplantier (evidently a Beatles fan, judging by his t-shirt) took his own lumps, weathering the occasional crowd-surfer coming feet first at him on the stage. Seeing how the band celebrated the end of the gig by diving in and doing some crowd surfing themselves, they couldn’t have been too offended by the disruptions. Damn impressive stuff from a band on their way to bigger things.

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