Friday, October 11, 2013

NWOBHM Sandwich

After a steady stream of great shows all summer, October has seen a crazed torrent of gigs so far. This week I took a deep breath and hit up three shows in three nights.

Raven and Diamond Head, October 8 at the Rickshaw Theatre
Locals Titans Eve opened up with a set of decent melodic death/thrash. A few twin lead passages caught my ear. They kept their stage time short, politely making way for the mighty Raven. Featuring the original core of brothers John and Mark Gallagher and drummer Joe Hasselvander, they opened up with mission statement "Take Control" and proceeded to play a wildly entertaining set. John sang through a headset mic, enabling him to mix it up with his brother. They scurried around like mad things, forming in effect a two-man mosh pit on stage. Their energy put the crowd to shame, really. Those in the audience dug it, though, even if they were largely unfamiliar with the band's crowd participation set pieces. Raven closed their set with an extended "Break the Chain" which incorporated a medley featuring bits of Black Sabbath, Cheap Trick, Budgie, AC/DC, more Sabbath, The Who, and Humble Pie. I thought for a moment that they were going for their own version of Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written, but then the "Break the Chain" chorus returned and we bade the three sweaty geezers goodnight.

Who'd want to follow that? Diamond Head were a good deal tidier but no less eager to please, entering to a recording of "Mars, the Bringer of War" and proceeding to pull out all the key cuts off Lightning to the Nations. Seeing original guitarist Brian Tatler rip into those legendary riffs was pretty satisfying. The guitars sounded great and the bass punched through in a pleasing way. The only worry was that they were breaking in a new vocalist Chas West (ex-Jason Bonham Band) who had to be summoned at the last minute because of a death in regular singer Nick Tart's family. But despite a few missed cues and a few verses sung while hunched over his lyric sheets on the ground, he did a great job, and his Coverdale-like voice worked well with the material. A few gigs into this tour, and he'll be nailing it. By the time they encored with "Helpless," they were raging, and so was the crowd—one poor girl had a hard fall on the Rickshaw concrete and had to be helped away.

Anciients, Scale the Summit and TesseracT, October 9 at Tom Lee Music Hall

First show of the tour for this trio of proggy acts of varying heaviness. After two kiddie metal acts who were absurdly irrelevant to my interests (tacked onto the bill as the last show of their own tour), Anciients came on and set things right with riffs, riffs, and more riffs. Opening with "Raise the Sun" into "Overthrone," it was clear they've become a tour-hardened machine. "Giants," "Faith and Oath," and "Built to Die"were all pounded home with groove and authority. The acoustics in the hall were very nice. Kenneth Paul Cook, their main singer, was clear and audible throughout. The intricate flow of every song reminded me of the fact that Heart of Oak is one of the best albums I've heard this year—it's high time I reviewed that magnificent thing.

Scale the Summit are the nerdliest of the nerdly and I love them. I don't know what music school they all went to, but it apparently had a two-semester course entitled "From Cynic to Gordian Knot: Studies in Advanced Jazz Metal". The instrumental four-piece combine talent and taste across compositions that never become too indulgent, although every second of what's happening on stage is jaw-dropping. I've been enjoying their new album The Migration for a couple months now, and live they reproduce its songs exactly. It's a damn impressive feat, but part of me wishes they'd take it a step further and devote a bit of time to improvisation. It wouldn't have to be a lot of time. Watching them build something out of nothing over, say, five minutes would be really cool.

TesseracT were the lesser act. I can see why people are into them, but that kind of syncopated low-string pounding non-riffing is the same kind of thing that has sent me walking out of Meshuggah shows in the past. I checked them out for three songs and then went for a beer on Granville with my buddy Smash.

Saxon, October 10 at The Venue

Now for the final course in the feast of NWOBHM that I started on Tuesday. I arrived at 9:30 and saw most of Fozzy's set, which was too bad. It's been almost exactly 30 years since I last saw Saxon. While I thought about this and my old guy status, Gerald the Rattlehead walked by sporting a "Saxon Euro Tour '81" satin jacket that I assure you was not a reproduction. Put things a little more in perspective, I guess. Saxon took the stage about 10:40 and played for nearly two hours, peppering tracks from their new album, Sacrifice, amongst unassailable classics like "Power and the Glory," "Dallas 1 PM" and, most righteous of all, "The Eagle Has Landed." They're a bit craggy, the Saxon guys, but they are unstoppable. I was especially impressed by Nigel Glockler, who must be one of the best drummers to come out of the NWOBHM. Dude had some chops. Biff Byford looked to be in an especially good mood (probably looking forward to flying home the next morning), accepting the gift of a Canadian flag augmented with a Saxon logo, draping it between two cymbal stands on the drum kit for all to see. On "Denim and Leather," he invited everyone from the opening bands on stage to sing along—there were at least a dozen of them up there. It was a damn fine way to celebrate the end of the tour, and a great end to my metal show triple-header this week.