2011 marks my 25th year of going to the Commodore. My first show at this grande dame of local venues was Marillion on the Misplaced Childhood tour. It’s still a great hall, but with most metal shows happening at the less ritzy Rickshaw Theatre these days, my trips to the Commodore have become increasingly rare.
Going to a show solely to see the opening acts can be risky. I’ve been burned in the past with tour lineups getting reshuffled or smaller bands getting turned back at the border, leaving me holding a ticket for a different gig than I’d hoped to see. This gig, however, went off as planned. Seeing as the three bands opening for Children of Bodom constituted a sort of mini Progressive Nation tour, I couldn’t miss out.
A decent crowd of keeners arrived early to catch Obscura, who were the main draw for me. I’ve been digging their last two albums and their Necrophagist/Cynic/Death-style shred death. Opening with “Septuagint,” they put on a slick half-hour show. My favourite section of “Vortex Ominium” got spoiled by some guy who wanted to take my picture because I reminded him of some dude he knew. This has been happening to me a lot when I'm out by myself lately. Guess I just have one of those faces.
My friend Chris claims the seven-string guitar is “an asshole’s instrument,” but in Obscura’s skilled hands they are weapons for tech-death domination. Dedicating “Ocean Gateways” to all the real Morbid Angel fans (fans of the pre-Illud Divinum Insanus Morbid Angel, I presumed) was a nice touch, seeing as that track is pure “Where the Slime Live” worship. Like I said, this was a polished performance. I was especially impressed with how Steffen Kummerer fit most of his stage raps into the songs themselves. There was even an extended jam section at the end of the set. Of the three openers, Obscura came across as the most solid, traditional metal band. I’m a bigger fan than ever now.
I was a Septicflesh (or Septic Flesh) fan around the time of Esoptron and The Ophidian Wheel, but only caught up with their recent work with their latest, The Great Mass. Their stage setup was more elaborate than Obscura’s, with twin backdrops and some kind of alien dragonfly bauble on Spiros Antoniou’s mike stand. Their set was rousing, all right, but it didn’t quite do it for me. While the new album skilfully balances classical orchestrations and metal, in concert this translated to very prominent backing tracks to recreate the sound. As a result, Septicflesh came across as more of an act than a band. Antoniou is a bassist in the Tom Araya mold, playing the most basic parts only occasionally. (He still needed to retune after the second song!) The crowd loved them, but I got tired by the sixth exhortation to go “Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” as the backing track churned away.
Wow, what a transformation Devin Townsend’s undergone. His Strapping Young Lad persona could be summed up in the “buy a t-shirt and eat a dick!” sort of remarks he’d fire off at the crowd. The crotchety, skulleted DT has been replaced by a gleaming superbeing who wants only to spread joy through his music. He mugged and gurned up a storm for an adoring crowd, introducing the band as the evening’s “nerd contingent” and ordering the tough guys in the pit to “get happy, man!” I don’t have the money or free time to keep up with DT’s output—Ocean Machine, Terria, and Synchestra are enough for me to ponder for a lifetime—so the setlist was a mystery. I think he opened with something from Ziltoid. After tuning down to B mid-set, the sound turned into a horrible pudding and I couldn’t discern what was happening at all. I blame extreme downtuning as much as the iPhone for impeding my enjoyment of live music. You can still make cool music in standard tuning, you know. But whatever my preferences, it was still a triumphant display. As the crowd hailed him as the hometown hero he is, he promised he’d be back this fall.
Having seen what I paid for, I headed out before Children of Bodom. Three pro bands and a good night’s sleep for 40 bucks—not a bad deal at all.