We’re a happy family (with eternal gratitude to Johnny Ramone)

Last night, I went to see The Tossers, one of my my favorite Celtic Punk bands. Definitely not a band cut from the same cloth as everyone else. They combine a traditional Irish sound with slacker lyrics and punk attitude. The end result is a great time. I could bore readers with a play by play of their show, but I won’t. If you’re really interested, check them out on YouTube. (If you have Amazon Prime, their entire catalog is available for free download.) As much as I enjoy the band, that’s not the point this morning. The point is how once again I am amazed at how a community works together.

The show was at Atlanta’s The Masquerade, which I have written about to the point of nausea. Sorry, it’s 1) convenient and 2) has a steady stream of bands that I like playing there. Last night’s show was in the recently renovated Purgatory club, which now has more room, but is still similar to playing in a closet that smells like week old spilled beer. I have to admit, that for the crowd that was present (maybe 75 to 80 folks), it was perfect.

It was in this perfectly picked place in time time and geography that I observed chaos move into a finely choreographed ballet. As the three opening bands (all of which where very loud hardcore punk) performed and the audience moshed, listened and enjoyed, there was no derision noted. It was as if everything that happened during this time was hand selected and designed to fit seamlessly. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a huge fan of hardcore punk. Some bands were pretty good and some were not. That’s not the point. The point was the unity and harmony in the midst of chaos and violence. It never ceases to amaze me that something that is viewed by outsiders as ugly and mean is in reality an expression of brotherhood.

I watched the crowd as much as the bands through the night. There evidence of animosity towards anyone. Even when someone was knocked to the floor by an errant elbow, they were immediately helped to their feet and encouraged to continue moshing. I got flipped off dozens of times, each time by smiling, laughing and happy concert goers who saw it as more of a way to engage a stranger than as an insult.

By the time The Tossers took the stage, the crowd was sweat soaked and weary, but they took to the floor one more time. I had never seen people mosh to traditional Irish music before, but this crowd kicked into high gear anytime the musical tempo increased. I even saw a guy who must have weighed 220lbs stage drive and crowd surf. There was magic in the air and it was obvious.

At the end of the night, I observed hugs between crowd members as we all went our separate ways. I thought about the differences between what I had observed at the show and the behaviors that run rampant online. I stick to my belief that internet trolls and bullies need to spend more time at concerts and less time online. I think it would make them happier people and the world a better place.

It’s not easy being green (with thanks to Kermit)

Today is one of my favorite holidays. I’m not Irish, not even a little. I’m about as English as bangers and mash, but I thoroughly love St. Patrick’s Day. My wife swears I was an Irishman in a previous life. I suppose it’s possible. I have a love of all things potato. My dream vacation is to tour Ireland by motorcycle. And I have enjoyed cranking up Thin Lizzy since I was 15 years old.

I discovered Thin Lizzy by accident. Stephen King made mention of “The Boys are Back In Town” in his short story “The Raft”. I sought out the album JAILBREAK to finally hear the song. It became one of my all time favorite albums. Sure, the title track and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town” get all the airplay, but “Emerald”, “Angel From The Coast” and Running Back” are well worth the price of admission. A fantastic soundtrack to many nights of teenaged beer drinking, cruising the strip in my buddy’s 351 Ford and those down times at military school, when Phil Lynott’s lyrics were the only escape I could find from the dreary days.

I picked up Thin Lizzy albums where I could. This was the mid to late 80’s, when music stores had me on a chain. There was no Amazon, no Internet. I could special order albums, when i had the cash and when they were available. I slowly built a collection. CHINATOWN, JOHNNY THE FOX and LIVE AND DANGEROUS all made their way into my footlocker. During my college years at East Carolina, I managed to get copies of BLACK ROSE and FIGHTING. My tastes for other music broadened and changed, but my love of Thin Lizzy never left me. I recall blaring “Jailbreak” from my low end stereo the day I finished my exams my freshman year, waiting for my old man to pick me up and drive me back home, where a summer of long hours working construction awaited me.

I can’t say I’ve been a fan of the reborn Thin Lizzy. To me, the band died with Phil. He was the heart and soul of Thin Lizzy. Just as Lemmy is Motorhead, Phil was Thin Lizzy. The reformed and revitalized band sounded great, but I didn’t care for them until they changed their name to Black Star Riders. It just didn’t seem right, even if it sounded good.

This St. Patrick’s Day I’m listening to Thin Lizzy’s LIFE, a fantastic live album documenting their final tour. It’s not as ballsy as LIVE AND DANGEROUS, but you can feel the pain and ache as the band prepares to go their separate ways. (Plus, it’s a free download on Amazon Prime).

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, wear some green, enjoy form corned beef and cabbage and crank up some Thin Lizzy. And may you be in Heaven an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.

Taking a number at the complaint department

Another one of the joys of being a metalhead in the modern era is that there is no shortage experts online. No matter what one decides to post, blog, vine, YouTube, tweet or otherwise publicly declare, there is a small army of folks waiting to point out an error you have made, decry you as a “poser” (a term that makes me chuckle to this day) or otherwise lambaste you as an idiot. How is this a joy? It’s taught me to both appreciate the opinions of others and to accept that there’s a jerk in every crowd (sometimes, it’s me).

Social media seems to be such an opposite of real life metalhead interactions. People are both violently defensive of their own opinions and openly callous towards those of differing views. This is nothing like my personal real life experiences. I fondly recall my experience at a Red Fang show when i entered a conversation with the members of a Pantera tribute band. They asked if I liked Pantera. To most metalheads this is a definite yes. Not for me. I honestly answered that I like a few songs, but I really enjoy Down. (No offense to anyone who flies the Dimebag flag. I appreciate that Pantera had a huge impact on modern metal, but they weren’t my bag. Down, however, is straight up my alley). The guys in the band didn’t become hostile. The became curious. I explained my opinions (which at times is akin to explaining why I like the color blue: I just do) and I listened to them recall their various encounters with meeting members from Pantera. We ended as friendly acquaintances and I enjoyed my night thoroughly.

If I made that statement openly in an online metal group, I would be skewered by Pantera fans. Online, people remove their filters and hide behind distance and anonymity. In a way, it’s actually more cowardly to attack someone online. What reprisal can there really be for these individuals? They may get banned from one group, but there are no shortages of online groups in which they can spout their bile and venom. (No, I have not encountered this recently, but I see an increasing amount of it in several groups i moderate). There’s no real way to punch the bully in the nose online, therefore they continue with their unbridled actions.

I have wondered how these people really act at concerts. Are they truly the kings of the mosh pits, as they claim? Do they even attend concerts? Are they the equally cowardly individuals who hide behind the wall of fans lining the pit and reach into to push an unsuspecting mosher from behind?

Maybe I have simply been blessed. I try to be laidback at shows. I’m not the guy who has to muscle my way to front and center of the stage every show. I’m there for the music and the energy. I have nothing to prove anymore. I have as much fun sitting on the lawn at an amphitheater show as I do in the pit at a Hed PE concert. As a result, I am willing to talk to anyone and everyone and give them my honest appraisal of the music in question.

It’s been the increase in troll like behaviors that is driving me away from online groups and piquing my desire to hang out with metal fans in real life. I have disagreements with my metalhead friends, but they don’t typically end in an argument. We talk about what and why we feel how we feel and laugh about life. The same thing happens at live concerts. I have yet to be attacked for disagreeing with an opinion from a fellow concert goer. The opposite is true. We spend a few minutes discussing why we like what we do, shake hands and get ready for the next band.

An online friend of mine frequently admonishes members of his groups to demonstrate unity. I believe there is unity between metalheads, but we need to spend more time face to face to appreciate that fact.

Questions to keep you awake at night

It’s another gloomy and rainy day in Metro Atlanta. Days like this are good for reading, sleeping and listening to good music. So far, I’ve accomplished one of the three (Sabbath’s 13 album has become my favorite rainy day soundtrack). As I was taking my first sip of coffee this dismal morning, my wife asked me a question that is still unanswered:”What is your favorite band?” She clarified that it’s not an argument to prove what band has had the most influence in modern music, who has sold the most albums or even who I own the most music from. It’s a deceptively simple question. “Who is your favorite band?”

I see this question to the point of boredom and nausea in metal groups online. I used to try to answer it, but the reality is that lately, I haven’t the foggiest clue as to my favorite band. Oh, i have those bands I have enjoyed for most of my life. Rush used to be my immediate choice for favorite band, but the reality is that I listen to Rush infrequently these days and when i do, it’s only a select few albums. HEMISPHERES remains a favorite album in general. 2112, PERMANENT WAVES and A FAREWELL TO KINGS are still enjoyable. Unfortunately, the albums that brought Rush into the modern era, starting with PRESTO and running through CLOCKWORK ANGELS aren’t my favorites (COUNTERPARTS would be the lone exception for me). There are great songs here and there, but Rush steadily went from being a band who could do no wrong in my ears to becoming a band that followed the herd. They still have amazing musicianship and still challenge the listener to think, but it’s gone from being the music that grabs my attention to the music that makes me grab the off switch.

Motorhead is another band that I have long touted as a favorite. I certainly have a warm feeling of nostalgia for classic albums like 1916 and NO SLEEP TIL HAMMERSMITH, but, truth be told, Motorhead is a great one trick pony. A lot of their music runs together for me and I am not that excited by new releases. They remain at the top of my bands to see before I die, but can I call them my favorite? No.

Judas Priest is a band that I still burn a candle for. From ROCKA ROLLA through DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH, they provided the soundtrack to my teen years. I gave up on them when TURBO came out. Sure, PAINKILLER was great and I finally gave REDEEMER OF SOULS a fair listen, shelving my anger over a Priest album that doesn’t feature KK Downing long enough to say this album is fantastic and stands next to PAINKILLER in the great Priest album list. However, I don’t say that Priest is my favorite band. I listen to them a few times a month, but they are no longer a “go to” band, those bands that get played, no matter what.

Iron Maiden has always been both a band I really enjoy and a band that doesn’t immediately get played in my setlists. In fact, Maiden’s anthology ends for me with SEVENTH SON OF A SEVENTH SON. I am well aware of the other twenty five plus years of music they produced, but I have yet to give it a fair listen.

AC/DC falls into the Motorhead camp for me. They do one thing and do it amazingly well. They also fall into the Rush camp of producing a string of albums that have one great song surrounded by filler. Not my favorite band, though i wen through a phase where I listened to them non-stop.

Black Sabbath is a band that lived on the periphery of my musical life and became the center of it only as I aged and let go of childhood fears (mostly centered in religious beliefs). Sabbath is another band that produced many amazing albums, but also went through a long slump of producing crap. I am quick to put on a Sabbath album, but I am not as quick to call them my favorite band.

I could go on for hours with the pros and cons of bands. Megadeth and Metallica are both great in my mind, but both produced some real stinkers. I’m not a huge Slayer or Pantera fan. I respect them both, but can list maybe five songs from each band that I like. Modern metal powerhouses like Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold, Slipknot, Lamb of God and Black Label Society are all amazing bands (regardless of what trolls and haters like to spew forth online every day), but also bands that i binged on for long periods and now listen to infrequently. Not their fault, just how the cookie crumbles.

Suppose maybe I’ve reached that point in life where I don’t really have favorites, though that’s not true. THE BIG BANG THEORY is my favorite comedic show, GOTHAM my favorite dramatic show and EAST OF WEST my favorite comic book series. Orange makes my favorite guitar amps and Krispy Kreme still makes my favorite doughnut. I still have a favorite pair of jeans, a favorite jacket and Triumph remains my favorite make of motorcycle (no offense, Harley guys). So what is it about music?

I think I may have traded my youthful passion for logical analysis of modern metal. Maybe it’s time to stop trying to stay on top of what’s being discussed online and simply find a good album and learn to love and enjoy music again. Maybe it’s time to find one band to support again, the way I did with Rush as a young man? Nah, that train has long derailed and I like having a varied taste.

I have to admit I don’t have a favorite band. I have a favorite music. I’m a metalhead, though long in tooth and grey of beard. I’ll be headbanging and moshing until they put me under the earth. It’s just how it must be.

I think the best riffs and the best songs come when you’re jamming and having a good time. Scott Ian

A lot of people try to be serious about music. In my opinion, that’s missing the point. I got in to metal because it was the first music I heard that had energy and sounded fun. It made me smile then and still makes me smile today. If your taste in music isn’t making you smile, you need to find a new genre to listen to. Music doesn’t have sound happy, but it should definitely be making you happy.

Pleasant surprises

One of the joys of living in today’s world is the ready availability of new music via the internet. All one has to do is Google a band and odds are there are multiple entries available to listen to for free. As a man who has fought against technology for much of his life, i have recently learned to embrace this gift and use it to educate myself regarding the myriad of metal bands I see mentioned online daily. There have been quite a few surprises this past week, bands that I simply didn’t take time for in the past have raced to the front of the pack for me. Here’s a few choice bands:

Kreator- This German thrash band never made it on my radar. I had heard a song or two over the years, but after giving them a second try, I have to admit there is real talent here. It’s a good thrash sound that could rival the Big Four. Check out their HORDES OF CHAOS album

Carcass- I had erroneously assumed this was another Black Metal band (no offense to BM fans; it’s just not my bag). Man, I was way off. I gave their HEARTWORK album two full listens and realized these guys mean business. Great production and fantastic guitar tone hooked me in, then the quality of the songs finished me. “Carnal Forge” is a personal favorite.

Vintersorg- I am not a Black Metal fan, but I have an online friend who is an avid BM devotee. I generally read his statements, log them for trivia use and move on. My past BM experiences have been disappointing, with poor production, buried vocals and tinny sounding guitars. This band was much different, almost Prog in sound. Clean vocals and orchestrated songs created a sound I was not prepared for. I have listened to Odemarkens Son several times now and if all BM could sound like this, I would be a convert.

There have been a few others, but those are the highlights from this past week. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to expand my horizons from the comfort of my home and place a few more bands on the calendar to see live, should they make it to Atlanta.

I encourage all of you to take advantage of what resources you have. I have talked with people on Facebook who bemoan the lack of a metal community in there locale. Create one. Thanks to the internet, there is an almost unlimited resource of music available. Share it with your friends. Sure, the big name bands may not come to your area, but that doesn’t have to prevent you from spreading the word about your favorite bands.

Until next time, horns up and have fun, that’s what it’s all about.

PS: A big hello to my new readers in The Ukraine and The Philippines. Keep your metal flag flying!

For me, I’ve never talked about my private life. It’s always been about Black Sabbath. It’s strange to open up and talk about me as a young lad, my relationships, marriages and what not. Tony Iommi

In today’s world, we often feel entitled to know every detail about the lives of our heroes. We forget that reason we liked them in the first place was the music. This leads to disappointment when we find our favorite artist has different political views or likes a different flavor of ice cream.

Keep it about the music and flow with the rhythm.