What concerts have you been to that blew you away and stayed in your mind? For me, in rough order of how much more I cherish them, are my answers:
- Ozzy Osbourne with the Tea Party - In retrospect, this concert wasn't very good, but it was the first one I'd ever traveled to see and spent my own money to attend at the tender age of 15, which has got to count for something. The Tea Party are some alt-rock joke my country shat out in the 90's during the alt-rock explosion whose singer appears to think he's some kind of dark version of Jim Morrison, and I waited them out indignantly for the opportunity to hear Ozzy croak and yodel old standards with what little energy he could. At least his band was spot on, and their biker guitarist did his shtick with the blues scales halfway through, which was absorbing at the time for me.
Fondest memory: Zakk Wylde playing the American anthem with his teeth.
- Slayer with Soulfy and In Flames - Again, this one's here more for sentimental reasons than anything. Back before In Flames basically decided that they wanted to become a Swedish Korn and Max Cavalera hadn't gotten drift of the fact that retro-metal was becoming highly marketable, they went out in support of another metal icon who could fart on a record and still expect boffo sales. I enjoyed In Flames' set enough that I decided to venture out of the stands and into the strange, hostile crowd, and then right back out again when Soulfly hit the stage for the amusement of all the frat boys who liked slow noodling twanging. I hope somebody took a picture of all the longhaired dudes in leathers and cutoff tees at the back of the venue scowling, just for the hell of it. When Slayer finally did come onstage, they were obviously a little worse for wear, but with Dave Lombardo behind the kit, there was no way they could go wrong, even if they did play far more mallcore off the album they were promoting at the time.
Fondest memory: The guy in the leather jacket roaring "WHADDYA DO WHEN THEY FALL DOWN?" and everyone else in the public washroom shouting "PICK 'EM UP!!" over and over like a sergeant drilling troops, or the second most intense mosh pit I've ever seen in my life during Angel of Death.
- Deicide with Immolation and Skinless and other shit - I was really excited about this show leading up to it, and it was still pretty good when it was all said and done, but I wound up enjoying Skinless a lot less after that show when I took a thought to how their music sounded. It turned out to be featureless, unimaginative death metal for dumb jocks and skinheads to mash into one another to, and after I nearly broke my nose on one occasion, I decided these people weren't much fun and sat out until their set ended. Immolation more or less made this evening what it was for me, their unique atmosphere and droning, almost ambient guitar tone offers a kind of take on extreme music that you don't hear all that often, as sonorous as it is fierce at times. Deicide were a step backwards for me, however, and didn't seem very enthusiastic about being let back into Canada for the first time in a decade. Glen Benton's bass playing was sloppy and careless, and the new guitarists, Jack Owen and Ralph Santolla, didn't seem to be that much more into it. It was enough to simply hear some Deicide standards for me and then I left feeling ambivalent.
Fondest memory: scrambling onstage during "Serpents of the Light", stealing Ralph Santolla's cigarette, and taking a running leap off the center stage monitor, right over the crowd in front and directly into the mosh pit. They ain't so keen on catching you in that part of the crowd, just so you all know in case you ever decide to try it.
- Overkill with some shitty Edmonton local metalcore band - Overkill are the first ever thrash metal band in existence. They beat Metallica to the studio by a matter of months, and thank goodness for that, because time has told which of the two has carried that mantle better. After catching up on some sleep during some generic tuffguy metalcore set, I was more than ready to hear those maniac vocals and aggressive riffing with some distant punk influence, and they didn't disappoint. For a band that's been doing music this intense for 25 years, it sure as hell didn't show, and he sparsely populated room turned out to offer some of the most aerobic mosh opportunities I've ever had, letting participants smash take running starts at one another and smash each other into gravy. Bobby Blitz, the singer, liked it so much he leaped right into the crowd himself and promptly left a nice red bootmark on some poor girl's face. I'm glad I saw them when I did, because I doubt they'll be back and they've jumped the shark now anyways.
Fondest memory: Shooting the shit with Bobby Blitz himself outside their tour bus on the street. The man had a story for every album and every tour, and believe me, that's a lot of stories.
- Suffocation with Hypocrisy and Decapitated - Okay, so this was technically a Fear Factory show, but I didn't want to stick around and waste my time with that nonsense. I'd seen Suffocation once before and that I'll leave to the next entry, so that leaves Decapitated and Hypocrisy. Decapitated played Polish death metal that wasn't always the fastest, but locked into chugging grooves with sharp arpeggios overtop of them that encouraged the most enthusiastic headbanging possible. I'm glad I saw them when I did, because their drummer, an incredible young talent by the stage name of Vitek, died in a car accident in Russia months ago, and is deeply missed.
Hypocrisy took the stage next, and it was at least as entertaining to take in their relatively cheery style of melodic Swedish death metal as it was to see their new brute of a drummer pummel his set, none other than Horgh of former Immortal fame.
Fondest memory: talking with a troubled discharged soldier who'd served in the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in between sets and helping him to enjoy his evening.
- Suffocation with Cryptopsy and Aborted - Three of the world's major death metal scenes were represented that evening and gave me well worth the price of admission. Belgium's Aborted opened with their unique compromise between melody and dissonance and managed to put me in the right mood. Cryptopsy, whom I'd already seen once and would go on to see a third time, literally attacked the crowd with their rivet-tight Quebec technical death metal, and while the singer, Lord Worm, didn't offer wine or worms from his goblets to the crowd as he did the first time I saw them, his vocals gave me the shudders nearly as often as their drummer, their guitarists and their bassist managed to, demonstrating they were still the most potent force in technical metal to that point. Fortunately no less than Suffocation from New York were up next, because any lesser band would've been immediately forgotten. What their music lacked in technicality, and it wasn't much, they more than made up for in sheer brutality. Their guitar tone was enough to flatten skulls and when put behind those blastbeats, I was so flabbergasted I damn near forgot to mosh.
Fondest memory: Mike Smith, vocalist for Suffocation, waving his hand like the Queen on meth along with the blastbeats during "Pierced From Within".
- The Noctis Valkyries Festival featuring Melechesh, Inquisition, Infernal Majesty and others - I would never get the chance to see Israel's premiere black metal band OR the reunions of an American black metal legend and Canadian thrash metal mainstay in one place ever again in my life, so it was a given that I'd see this festival come hell or high water, especially given that it was on my birthday. I was ecstatic on more counts than I could possibly catalog, so thankfully there was plenty of time beforehand to collect my thoughts while the bulk of Calgary's usual roundup of local acts went through their sets, which as these things tend to go, winds up meaning a lot of predrinking.
Infernal Majesty's first show outside British Columbia since reuniting delivered a pummeling precision assault that only a thrash metal band of their stature could manage. Inquisition was probably the only time I'll ever see that much punishment come out of merely two musicians. I never suspected that just a guitarist and drummer could utterly crush me musically and whip the entire crowd into an uncontrolled frenzy of bodies slamming the way they did, it left me gasping for air. I didn't wind up staying to see much of Melechesh's set, which seemed more ornate than I thought necessary, but they proved to be faithful to their albums and energetic enough to satisfy the crowd.
Fondest memory: catching the drumstick that Infernal Majesty's drummer threw into the crowd with my face, and then repaying him the favor when he entered the mosh pit during Inquisition's set.
- Martyr with Neuraxis and Gross Misconduct - The opening band for this show, Gross Misconduct, was actually crashing at my place the night prior, and the bassist plugging the toilet just as we had to leave could've taken the fondest memory spot easily if it wasn't such a pain in the ass at the same time, pun unintended. The venue was well known to me, so I helped them in and set up their gear and waited for my friends to show up. Lo and behold, none other than Voivod's original bassist, Blacky, was the soundman for the evening. I didn't waste the opportunity to go over and introduce myself and take advantage of the chance to get some firsthand insight from one of the men who personally helped build the foundations of extreme metal for an hour and a half. When my guests finally took the stage, I was shocked. Their CD had come across as bland and uninspired if competent, but live, even on a tiny riser like the one they had, their presence exploded into the room and called to mind Death, late Carcass and Dimension Zero at their best. I should've been more mindful of what what was to come and saved my energy, because Neuraxis came onstage and demonstrated why Quebec death metal is regarded to be quite possibly the finest in the world. I hardly believed that the singer was green and that they were short a bassist, because their energy and performance was enough to break bones, literally as one mosher found out.
After they left the stage, I was probably ready for a rest, which I did take briefly, but once Martyr hit the stage, I couldn't have left if I tried. Describing how outrageous their performance was would leave me clutching at superlatives for pages without success, but I'll just say this much; coming in and seeing them do their sound check in glasses and tied-back hair made me think that I was going to hear some very precise and well-executed music played without any energy or feeling, because theirs is a very technical and demanding style of death metal, and they seemed to just scream "conservatory jazz nerd" in the way they carried themselves. It turned out I was only half right, though, because while their music was carried out without so much as one single audible error, they performed with a ferocity that I've seen matched in my lifetime by fewer bands than I have limbs. They started playing the moment they set foot on stage and probably caught the entire crowd by surprise, because I certainly wasn't expecting the guitarist's mop to start whirling in my face like a deranged octopus when it happened. As it turns out, a friend of mine took video of that very concert, which you can see here if you're so inclined, along with a guest appearance by my hair. A better video of the same song can be found here.
Fondest memory: pretty much every goddamn moment of the overwhelming heat and intense headbanging that I couldn't stop if I tried, peaking whenever I'd see Dan Mongrain whip out another incredible but tasteful solo with both complete ease and fierce showmanship, all less than three feet from my face.
- The Philip Glass Ensemble - one of these things isn't quite like the others, is it? We don't often get performances of 20th century composers work here in Alberta, and minimalism isn't really my thing, but hearing that Philly G himself and his band of trusty rogues were going to be playing the score to Koyaanisqatsi live in sync with the film as it played on a giant projector, I traveled the 700+ kilometers and paid the $50 each for me and a friend to attend without hesitation. I couldn't honestly describe how the live performance of that went down without leaving a sour taste in my own mouth. I was honestly unwilling to look anywhere other than the screen and stage, it was as though an entire lifetime passed by in the span of that performance. The musicianship that kept them in perfect time with the film as it progressed was humbling as much as any direct musical element, too. I don't think I touched my guitar for a while after that.
Fondest memory: probably "Pruit Igoe" or the final scene, my spine was alight with shivers through the entire thing. Honorable mention goes to me walking into the reception hall at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in a leather jacket, jeans and biker's boots with hair down to my waist and getting funny looks from all the tuxedos.
If you read through all of that, then I congratulate your perseverance, because even though I could probably go on, this is unnecessarily long as it is. Now please, tell me what concerts have captivated you.