In the presence of evil

This past Saturday (May 9th) I attended the Marilyn Manson show in Chattanooga, TN. It’s a decision that took little effort to agree to and one that I have to admit, I rather enjoyed. Manson has a long standing reputation for putting on a good show and I figured this was my best chance to see him in a small venue (Track 29 holds about 1800 bodies). The tickets were a bit more than I like to spend (more than double my usual price), but I figured I deserve a treat.

As is my usual behavior, I was more than happy to brag to friends and online folks about my ticket to the show and my excitement with the upcoming event. I was a bit shocked with responses I received. A friend from work said I was sponsoring a serial killer. Another friend from work said I was praising Satan by attending the show. Online, I received everything from homophobic accusations to questions regarding my legitimacy. I can say of all the bands I have seen, this one polarized friends against me more than any.

My friend Matt and I left for the show three hours before doors were to open (Chattanooga is approximately an hour and a half drive for us), with the plan to be first in line. When we arrived to Track 29, we found we were not the only ones with this idea.We took our place in line and began engaging the folks around us in conversation. My own preconceived notions of Manson fans began to crumble. As conversations focused on jobs, families, bands we like and life in general, the stereotypes I had created for my fellow music fans dissolved. There was no army of trenchcoat wearing school shooters in training; instead it was relatively normal (at least by society’s standards) folks who were simply looking forward to blowing off some steam and enjoying the night.

Track 29 is basically a warehouse with a stage. Concrete floors and metal roof/walls greeted us. This generally doesn’t make for the best acoustics, but as the night progressed, it wasn’t bad. The biggest issue I had was the concrete floor after four and a half hours of standing on it, my back was screaming for relief.

The crowd started off compacted and cramped, with everyone trying to position themselves as close to the stage as they could. It was a tight fit, but everyone seemed genial and polite, overall. This would fade as alcohol permeated the brains of some attendees and the excitement of the music took hold, but at the beginning, it was ok.

The opener was Knee High Fox. Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of them; neither had I. They were not bad, a mix of The Pretty Reckless and In This Moment. The lead singer was a young attractive woman with a penchant for flashing her panties to crowd, but her voice was nice and I’m old, not dead. They played a decent hour long set (pretty amazing, considering most openers in Atlanta are lucky to get 45 minutes) that set the stage for Manson and left most folks fairly satisfied (at least based on the conversations I had with those around me).

Manson finally hit the stage and the crowd that had been fairly docile literally exploded with energy. As sweat soaked, drunken behemoth of a woman attempted to barrel over me. I was glad I have taken up lifting weights as a hobby, was that new found strength is the only thing that me from being beaten to death by her grotesquely large bosoms. As Manson played an electric version of “Deep Six”, the behemoth skank began rubbing herself against me. I pushed her off and thankfully a opening appeared in the crowd and absorbed her. I still feel so dirty…ugh.

With the smell and residual skank sweat gone, I was able to focus on the show. Manson truly delivered the goods, keeping the crowd engaged and delivering his biggest hits, as well as new material and old goodies. I do have to say, however, that I have never seen a crowd behave the way they did that night.

Long time readers will know I prefer to see concerts at Atlanta’s Masquerade, a venue with a loyal clientele and unwritten rules of decorum. Moshing is frequent, but fights are rare at my beloved Masquerade. Track 29 would do well to take note of this. There was plenty of attempted moshing, but no one was willing give up there spot in the crowd, which snuffed that idea. This unfortunately led to “crowd jumpers”, those people who feel it their right to dislodge you from your spot so they can stand with their friends, who have little interest in the show, other than to text each other pictures of themselves at the concert. These crowd jumpers led to tempers flaring and a rather nasty fight developed next to me.

I will say I am not a large man, a man skilled at fighting or a hero on any level. However, I have dedicated my life to helping others and I can’t abide violence, if I have the ability to stop it. So, I found myself alone in breaking up the fight. As Manson belted out a fantastic song and was backed by a world class band, I found myself standing between a 300lb mass of muscle and a drunken idiot who was provoking him. They finally calmed down and I said a silent prayer, thanking God for following through on the old saying (you know the one:”God protects fools and children.”).

The remainder of the night was relatively tame on the crowd front. Maybe it was my no BS attitude, but I think it had more to do with my desire to let Manson’s music carry me away. And he did that, very well. I didn’t know more than five of the songs he played, but he engaged me completely.

I have heard people badmouth Manson as lame, old, fat (all of which I relate to completely) and washed up. I saw none of that. Sure, he’s put on a few pounds, but so have I. He still has personal energy that commands respect. And, as he’s aged, he is less arrogant. One of the touching moments was when he acknowledged his father, who was off stage, and thanked him. This is not the same guy who did anything possible to shock and dismay the Christian Right. This is more of a guy I could see myself playing cards with and not minding when he cheats.

The night ended and the ride home was a true labor. I was exhausted from the night, but grateful for the music. And that’s the feeling I had been missing for quite some time. That’s the feeling that has us all going back for more.

Snap your fingers…

I write often about the positive benefit of living in the suburbs of a major US city and how that allows me the privilege of attending a lot of metal shows that others are denied, simply based on geography. There is a down side to this: it’s impossible for me to see them all. Marriage, work, pets, sleep and the constantly too low bank account all conspire together to keep me out of the show and in real life. Those dastardly fiends!

This year has been a bit tougher on the wallet than most. Blame the government, the economy, drought, big corporate greed or whatever, but they all end in the same result: fewer concerts for That Nerdy Metal Guy. I complained at first, but looking at this summer’s schedule, I’m ok with it. I’m missing out on a few shows, but it’s pushing me to expand my listening to newer, younger bands and older bands who play smaller venues. It sucks to miss MayhemFest for a fourth year in a row, but it has also encouraged me to investigate bands more thoroughly before I lay down my money to see them live.

Prong is a band on this list (it’s $16 bucks for the ticket. That sounds like chicken feed, but to a metalhead with no money, it’s a fortune). I read they were coming to The Masquerade (older readers will recall this is my favorite metal venue in Atlanta) November 7th and at first I blew it off. I liked RUINING LIVES, but that was my only exposure to the band. I then stopped and thought:”I DID like their last album. Why don’t I check out the rest of their stuff?” This isn’t an illogical progression for most metalheads. We are notorious for wanting to listen to and devour an artist’s entire catalog, memorizing every word and every note. I had gotten away from that ritual. I had allowed myself to become caught up in the daily grind of life, losing the joy that my favorite music brings. The same albums were getting played over and over, in dull repetition. I had really forgotten what it was about metal that had ensnared me so many years ago.

I did what anyone with internet service can do into today’s world: I went to google and looked up Prong’s Wikipedia page. I read about the band and found the list of their albums to date. I went to YouTube and listened to RUDE AWAKENING. I liked it. I then put on CLEANSING. I also liked it. I made a decision: this music makes me smile, smiling is good, I will find a way to go see this band.

Again, $16 is not a lot of money. Many readers will spend more than that when they go to a fast-food restaurant (not me; I can’t eat that crap). For me, it felt like a small fortune. I eliminated a couple daily rituals and got the money (as well as money for Crowbar in July, but that’s another story). Plus, I feel better (I eliminated a daily diet soda that turns was causing me to retain weight and feel like crap). I now can say proudly that I’m going to be in the pit in November.

It’s kind of funny to me that a cheap ticket to an underground band is more exciting to me than my tickets to larger acts. I think it’s because I feel genuinely rejuvenated. I’ve rediscovered part of me that was lost, that kid that would spend hours reading every word printed on an album sleeve or CD booklet to learn about a band. We all have that kid inside us, that bonafide metal nerd, who wants to be able to show off their metal knowledge to their friends. Adulthood and life around us robs us of that enthusiasm. I can tell you it is worth restoring. I learned that by eliminating certain needless rituals of adulthood, I had time to reacquaint myself with the music I love. Not for the ability to talk about it online and not out of boring habit. No, it is because this is the music that fires our guns. At least it does mine.

I’m still a broke guy. I’m still having to work myself into an early grave. But, I can do it with a smile and know there’s a payoff, even if it’s seeing an underground band in a heavy metal bar. That makes it all worth while for me.

I’d like to welcome our readers in France! It warms my heart to see readers from all over the world enjoying this blog and I hope you all have a great day. Horns up and crank it loud!

Recycling (again and again and again)

I was reading some articles online this week and it dawned on me that the metal community is basically consuming and regurgitating over and over. That’s not abnormal. You’ll find most forms of entertainment and media get caught in patterns until something mind blowing comes along to upset the norms. MTV did that with THE REAL WORLD, launching the reality TV boom that dominated for over a decade. AMERICAN IDOL did that, spawning multiple ‘bash the contestant’ shows. And for metal, it was grunge that derailed the train of over polished metal from the late 80’s.

This is not a column about the impact of grunge on metal. I’m not a grunge fan and am not the guy to produce such a column. I’m a guy that was there, however, when I literally went to sleep with Cinderella on the radio and woke to NIrvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains. I watched (from a distance, mind you) as established metal acts fell to the grunge onslaught. It started with new comers and smaller acts: Enuff Z Nuff, LA Guns, Trixter, Firehouse, Winger and on and on. All fell to the change in attitude.

The result of that change was not a bad thing. A lot of long time metal bands began producing some of the best music they’d done in years. Others just faded away, without a whimper. A few tried to jump on the grunge bandwagon, only to be laughed out of the business.

What does this have to with metal today? It’s getting to the pint that another major shake up is needed to refresh the waters. Today there are so many genres and sub-genres and acts crossing over between genres that it it’s starting to sound the same. A jackhammer drum beat, buzz saw guitar and hoarse screaming vocal are becoming metal’s trademark. There’s still some great bands out there with actual singers, drummers who can do more than pound out a double bass rhythm and guitar player who create great riff and hooks, but as I listen to the myriad of new bands coming across my laptop each week, they are starting to blur together.

What will it take to bring something fresh and exciting to the masses? Will it truly take the old guard of metal (Maiden, Priest, Motorhead, Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Exodus, Testament and the mighty Black Sabbath) finally retiring, once and for all? Will their absence allow bands that have languished in their shadows the opportunity to grow and thrive? Or will we remain a community hung up on nostalgia and simply want for ‘better days, when we got to see Sabbath (or Priest or Maiden)…you know, REAL METAL.”

I am a champion of younger bands and give them all a listen. Some are quite good (Exes for Eyes is a current favorite). Some are not so good (I don’t want to call anyone out in an international blog). Sadly, few seem ready to take the torch and shake things up. Maybe tomorrow, but not today. No, today we remain caught in a pattern. But, I always have hope for tomorrow.

Opening the door

When I was younger, it was popular for adults (mainly parents and teachers) to warn against the evils of using tobacco, alcohol and marijuana by saying that they opened the door to harder drugs. The same warnings came with sexual activity, staying out too late and other activities elders frown on young people enjoying. They called them ‘gateway drugs’ or ‘gateway activities’. those items and events that open the door to Hell and send you spiraling down into the pit of despair. Warnings that went unheeded by yours truly.

Modern metal can be separated in the same way. There are those bands that are easily accessible to almost everyone. Five Finger Death Punch, Avenged Sevenfold, Metallica, Megadeth, Ozzy and the majority of bands you see headlining today’s metal festivals. These bands became headliners by becoming popular and they became popular by adjusting their music to make it more accessible to others. No shame in that, no matter what the elitists hiding in mommy’s basement may say.

Then there are those bands that have a small, but loyal, group of fans. These are those bands that give modern convention the finger and do it their way and only their way. We all know those bands. The bands that produce albums in a friends basement using a beat up laptop and a second-hand, second rate microphone. The bands that say,”We are real metal and screw anyone who says otherwise.” Because you must be impoverished, hungry and unpopular to be metal, right? Wrong.

The elitist mentality gets so wrapped up in it’s falsely assumed superiority that it forgets that musical taste is progressive. The same way holding hands leads to kissing leads to sex or drinking beer leads to drinking wine leads to drinking liquor, it’s more common for metalheads to start with an established, more common, more popular band before trying something else. I meet a lot of metal fans on a regular basis and I have only met a handful that started with black metal or death metal. Most started with something played on the radio or shared by a friend. Something safer, less threatening.

As we grow in our knowledge of metal, we may become arrogant at times. We may look at our collection of Woods of Ypres, Carcass, Obituary, Dying Fetus, Graveworm and Bathory albums (yes, I know I mixed genres there) with pride and sneer at those who are still listening to Metallica, Slipknot, Lamb of God, Hellyeah, Godsmack and other bands elitists love to say are not metal. We forget how far we have grown, however.

I do have a point to these inane ramblings: quit beating up on your fellow metalheads. We all have to start somewhere. I started with Def Leppard in 1983. Def Leppard today is so pop driven that it’s sad, but back then it was great. The same can be said about Metallica, Slipknot, Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold and other bands that take a mountain of crap for changing with the times and becoming successful. These bands are gateway bands to other things. Some of the music they opened up for me is great. Some sounds like democracy being killed with a garage door opener (to quote the immortal Samuel Furr). We all like what we like and we are all moving down the musical path at our own speed.

A quick hello to readers in The Philippines and Canada! Thank you very much for taking a moment to check out my blog.

Pointless thoughts in a razor sharp world

I have new habit. It’s a harmless one, but it’s definitely a habit. It has consumed me more than caffeine, nicotine or alcohol ever did. It’s writing. You wouldn’t know that by the one or two blogs I generate a week, but it’s a definite reality. I write a mini-album review every morning. Actually, I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment. I pick an album and write a blurb about it. Yes, that would be more realistic. Reviews are long winded ramblings about every nuance contained within an album. I don’t do that. I pick an album I like, share it with the world and tell a little bit about why I like it. Maybe that’s an endorsement instead of a review. I’ll ask my friends that are English professors to explain in terms I’ll never comprehend.

I think my new habit is rooted in a true love of music and a desire to share not just the music, but my passion for it. “Why does this matter?” some readers are asking. It’s because we are all in the same boat. This is a nerdy metal blog and you wouldn’t be reading it if you didn’t exhibit the exact same passion for music (either that or you’re one of a few loyal friends that want me to feel like someone cares what I have to say). For many metalheads it is not enough to love and cherish our chosen musical genre. We want to spread the word about what gets us off. We (ok, I) have fantasies of our favorite bands displacing the current load of crap riding the top of the airwaves.

Is this possible? Can one person make a difference? Yes. If you are the only fan of a band in a certain area and you convince just one other person to listen to that band, there are now two fans in an area. Slowly it becomes three, then four. Next thing you know, there’s a bonafide fan base in your town, attracting the attention of the band you’re promoting and increasing the reality they will tour in your area.

Does this really work? Yes. Iron Maiden, one of the most popular Heavy Metal bands in the world, has repeatedly said they look not only at where their album sells, but also at where their album is pirated most frequently when they plan a tour. They want to both earn those concert dollars and keep providing their live music to fans. Did they start that way? No. They started as a struggling group that had a word of mouth campaign. It’s hard to imagine Steve Harris a young man with only a beat up bass guitar and idea, but that’s what he was then. Now, many years later and thanks to the tireless efforts of the band and their fans to spread the word about them, they reign at the top of the metal pile.

I find myself trying to spread the word about bands I enjoy often. I share songs on my facebook page, write about bands here, discuss bands in metal groups and notify these bands of my support for them. In the end, I’m just a fan who loves good music.I encourage all of you to embrace your inner fan and spread the word to the world about your band of choice.

Performing without a net

I am a bit notorious for giving very little slack to aging metal artists. While I give performers from other genres plenty of leeway, I really bust the proverbial balls of over the hill metal artists. Heck, I typically ignore blues artists under the age of 45, believing they have not truly paid their dues. So, why am I so hard on metal acts who are facing their sunset years?

I turn on my tv and tune into THAT METAL SHOW (side note: this is an entertaining and well done show that deserves to be watched) and see aging artist after aging artist. Some I like, some I don’t, but that’s not the point. The point is that these dinosaurs are being dragged out of mothballs over and over with the hopes of squeezing a few pennies from the hands of nostalgic fans. Or so I used to think.

It’s no doubt that these “nostalgia tours” are created for the sole effort of making money. Heck, that’s why any of us go to work. As much as I love my regular job, I can not see myself doing it for free. I don’t begrudge these guys for dusting off the spandex one more time and going on a quick weight loss diet to get ready to shake their money makers in the hopes of one more payoff. Let’s face it: there is no safety net for a career in music.

I had conveniently forgotten that tid-bit. I work in healthcare (and have for 18 years) and while my salary could certainly be higher, I’m guaranteed a payday every two weeks, I have company provided insurance and I get paid time off. These are things that are not afforded to even the biggest names in music, let alone the grandfathers of metal.

Consider Tony Iommi, who is battling lymphoma. He has had to cancel tour dates and studio time to receive treatments. While I don’t know his insurance status (or how the healthcare system in Britain works), the loss of wages alone has to be staggering. The same thing goes for Bruce Dickinson and his recent fight against throat cancer. These two are certainly multi-millionaires, but long term treatments for a devastating illness can quickly drain those bank accounts. This leads to the need to generate income in an increasingly hostile musical environment.

Consider next other artists, those who maybe had hits at one time, but are considered washed up. We all know the ones I’m talking about: Great White, Queensryche, Dokken, Fates Warning, Poison, etc. The bands that just don’t die. With Great White and Queensryche, there are multiple incarnations of each band, spending more on legal fees and personal battles than they are making on the road. What about these guys, who show up on syndicated programs talking about their fifth stay in a drug rehab center or their thirteenth divorce or how they deserve the name of the band because they wrote one song in a twenty five year career? They have one option and only one: keep rolling.

I had never really thought about the fact that things I take for granted are all but foreign to professional musicians. Few have health insurance. They have accountants and lawyers, but no family physician. They place so much trust in others to manage their affairs and get burned over and over again. The papers are filled with stories of musicians who were burned by shady accountants and lawyers, robbed of their fortunes, but left with large tax bills. The cost of life on the road. So much time planning for putting on a good show and no time left to balance the checkbook.

I have decided to soften my attack on these geezers and I appreciate that they are trying to earn a living the only way they know how. I am not sure how many tickets to ‘nostalgia festivals’ I will purchase (if any), but I am willing to at least hold my tongue about how they are shadows of their former selves. Heck, so am I. I’m middle aged with spreading middle. I have little room to talk about not being the men they once were.

A little advice to those who are pursuing a career in music, learn from professional wrestler Mick Foley. Foley was a rabid fan of the WWF (before it became the WWE) and wanted badly to become a pro wrestler himself. He finally talked wrestling legend Dominc DeNucci in to training him. DeNucci agreed, only on the condition Foley stay in college and learn something he can fall back on.

Food for thought on a Monday morning. Enjoy.

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.