Alice Cooper at Vetter Stone Amphitheater (June 9th, 2017)

There is a certain vibe in the air when you enter the venue where an Alice Cooper concert is about to happen. You get the feeling that you’re inevitably about to experience something that is going to give you a sense of awe and wonder. This feeling is not one that has diminished over the years, even if the overall impact that Cooper has nowadays is different than in his heyday. The climate of popular culture looks much different in 2017 than it did in, say, 1972. The fact that Cooper remains a vitally important and excruciatingly youthful live act is the ultimate testament to his legacy. On Friday, June 9th, Mankato, Minnesota was made witness to all of this.

The opening act was Shannon Curfman, a blues-rock guitarist who managed to put on a more than competent set with her backing band. They kept things pretty low-key, perhaps a conscious decision to further amplify Cooper’s coming onslaught. Nevertheless, it was a fine set. There definitely seems to be a quality to heavily blues-influenced music that makes it the near-perfect middle ground for an audience. Most people, regardless of the core of their musical tastes, seem to be cool with this type of music, particularly in the live setting. This set, with all of its grace and comfortability, played a vital role in acting as a pre-show ritual to put the audience at ease. Curfman seemed to be quite aware of the juxtaposition of herself and Cooper on the same bill and she used this acute awareness to play things as earnestly as imagined possible.

By the time Cooper and his band came out on stage, the energy in the arena took no time in changing its tune. Appropriately enough for the change in atmosphere, the band immediately ripped into one of Cooper’s heaviest tracks, “Brutal Planet”. Cooper is a relentless live performer, unapologetic and playing the role of the villain. Nothing about this has changed. In fact, at the age of 69, his ability to grab ahold of the audience and strangle them lifeless is just as good as it’s ever been. This time around, he carried a set that was full of deep cuts and little known gems that hardcore fans like myself have long dug (“Pain”, “The World Needs Guts”, “Escape”, etc.). Perhaps the single most impressive thing about this show was the absolute ease that Cooper was able to maintain his posture in character. There are no slip ups. None. He is the villain, period, and yet he is the villain that you can’t help but sympathize with. You understand why the villain does what he does and, of course, his lines are always much better and fulfilling than anything the boring hero has to say. The undisputed highlight of the set was the most spirited and nightmarish rendition of “Ballad of Dwight Fry” that I have ever heard. With sweat streaming down my face and the hairs on my arms raised as high as they can be, I was filled with the sense that what I was experiencing was something that was truly part of something that could never be again. Cooper is the best of a breed of artists that just doesn’t exist anymore. You can’t help but wonder if this undeniable fact is what keeps him so invigorated and inspired at this stage in his career.

Seeing Alice Cooper live is not something that a blogger like myself is capable of doing justice in explaining to you. It’s something that you absolutely have to experience for yourself, otherwise you’ll never know what you’ve been missing all this time. There is no other live act that can follow him up. Not one. He’s the best there is and that’s quite simply all there is to it. With the release of his upcoming record ‘Paranormal’ (which will be reviewed promptly on this site after its release) proves that he isn’t interesting in slowing down any time soon. This couldn’t be better news for the world of popular culture. At this stage in his career, Cooper knows that he isn’t the transgressive force of shock value that he used to be. Luckily, he’s smart enough to understand this and plays it all off today as nothing but pure entertainment and a celebration of all that has ever been great about rock n’ roll and heavy metal music. He’s a true treasure and it’s good to know that he’s not going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Do yourself a favor and go see him work his craft.

5/5

Advertisements

Pallbearer at Vaudeville Mews (May 27, 2017)

Downtown Des Moines, Iowa was treated to a wide variety of heavy metal when Pallbearer came to town with Inter Arma, Gatecreeper, and local band, Green Death. There was a great range of moods being tested throughout the night and for anybody squeamish enough to fall for the “heavy metal is stupid” fallacy, I’m sure the sounds bombarding the streets were enough to keep them up at night. There are many facets of this show that warrant appropriate response, least of which being the up close and personal feel of the venue itself. This sort of phenomena, of course, is something that originated in the early days of punk and would become commonplace once punk became its more hardcore variant. This venue’s layout makes it highly conducive for moshing, which is another phenomena that we owe to hardcore punk. Personally, I stay away from the mosh pit, but this particular event had its fair share of animalistic, primal mischief going on in that circle.

The opening act was local band, Green Death. These guys play a brand of heavy metal that is in equal parts guttural and clean in its vocal delivery and taking equally from quick punk-type stuff and slow, sludgy metal-type stuff, musically. Although it seems to be quite commonplace for concertgoers to not be all that crazy about the opening act, you won’t find me sharing this contempt. Well, at least this time around. These guys are essentially about as solid of a heavy metal opening act as you could get. Are they fancy? No. Do they do anything original? Not really. What they do accomplish quite well is setting the precedent for the rest of the show to follow. They warm up the crowd and do it well, instinctively. The truth about an opening act is neither that they have a massive responsibility or no responsibility, the responsibility of the first band on the bill is to decide whether or not they’re simply passing time before the other acts come out or whether they want to impress the crowd in their own right. Depending heavily on this spectrum, the opening act can either decide to be the most important band on the bill in own unique reasoning. Green Death seem to take a lot of responsibility in this particular role.

The next band that performed was Gatecreeper who, incidentally, happened to steal the show. These guys were just as good as Pallbearer would turn out to be. Also, unsurprisingly, Gatecreeper were the most brutal band on the bill. Death metal to the core; in a concert environment, there are few settings more dangerous to be in. Something happened to click on for me during their performance: the dangerousness of this style of music is what makes it so enthralling in a live setting. The band almost certainly made the majority of the audience wonder if they were going to be making it out alive and that’s the testament of the band. They (along with Chicago grindcore band, Macabre) are without a doubt the most brutal live act I’ve had the pleasure to witness. Performing much of their debut record ‘Sonoran Depravation’ was perhaps more accurately described as throwing the audience into a meat grinder and smiling throughout the scene to see if there were any survivors in the aftermath of the event. This is somewhat indicative of the nature of humanity. We always have a soft spot for the mysterious and the forbidden. Perhaps in that reasoning, it’s appropriate to view death metal and bands like Gatecreeper as representative of an innocence long lost. A particular piece of ourselves and our own predicament that got lost out on the shores somewhere along the tides of life. This is a corner from which we become faced with the utmost blackest of our consciousness. Chances are that Gatecreeper are the band that your parents and your school guidance counselor told you to stay away from when you were a kid. Nevertheless, they’re here and it serves you right.

Inter Arma, a curious little concoction of a band, were up next. Experimental at their core with traces of death metal and stoner metal thrown in to shake things up even further, they served as a well-traveled bridge from Gatecreeper to the headliner. Aside from having the best drummer of any band on the bill, though, their set tended to be rather slow and full of testiness. Even with that said, there were moments in their set when true ambition was shining through. This is a band that clearly has some sort of vision, even if it, at times, seems confused and unfocused. Maybe that’s precisely the point. Who knows? Regardless, they pull some surprises out of their bag of tricks that, as the audience would soon find out, shocks you. The largest moshing event of the night occurred sporadically and out of nowhere just as the band seemed to be lightening up and winding down their set. The band’s versatility make them a band that would make sense on just about any heavy metal tour and/or festival (they did just get off tour with Carcass). It’s also highly likely that this band is on the upswing and that they will only get better as they continue to form their craft and deliver on the goods that their set list hinted at.

The headlining band, Pallbearer, certainly didn’t disappoint. Pallbearer have become quite the metal band over the past few years. Their strength in their performance as well as their strength as a band on their studio recordings is a sort of refined, understated brutality. They aren’t the kind of band that beats you over the head repeatedly with a hammer until you can’t take anymore. Their style is quite unique and though they are without question a metal band, a doom metal band, specifically, their vocal approach is something that wouldn’t sound out of place in any kind of alternative music circle. This adds an interesting dynamic to their music. Their music is of a highly emotional sort, best evidenced in the band ripping through “The Ghost I Used to Be” off their 2014 record ‘Foundations of Burden’. The band also treated the audience to material off their newest record ‘Heartless’, full of emotional interludes and instrumental passages of pure bliss that make you feel as if you’re soaring through the air. It became quite clear throughout their set that these guys are a band that is on the cusp of exploding into the stratosphere of popularity. Their highly emotional material is something that allows these guys to appear to a wide variety of music fans. Their onstage demeanor is also one that is in direct contrast to the other bands on the bill (especially Gatecreeper) in that they aren’t a band that goes straight for the jugular. This is a band that exercises great poise and patience as they perform. This poise and patience is what puts the audience in a sort of trance throughout their performance.

All in all, this was a very good show that showcased a large variety of metal music. The highpoints of the show were undoubtedly dominated by the performances of Pallbearer and Gatecreeper. Putting these two bands on the same bill was something that just worked, even in all of their differences. More than anything else, what it proved was that metal is indeed not dead, contrary to what many of the cynics might think. What metal has done is quite spectacular, it remains arguably the only broad genre of popular music that has remained exclusively underground (well, for the most part). This element still lends a lot of strength and appeal to the metal subculture and shows like this are where all of these ideas become solidified objects. A metal show is something that everybody needs to experience at some point and those who don’t like the music will never truly know what they’re missing out on and furthermore, that they are missing out an entire portal of music that opens up a dimension of the mind and of the universe that no other genre of music is capable of opening. Perhaps this is yet another reason why metal will always survive changing musical tides, because it isn’t inhibited by what else is going on around it. It’s eternal, timeless, and is self-assured in its pathway and delivery. Expect much more from Pallbearer and Gatecreeper in the future, thank God.

4/5