Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews


Review By Los Muertos
Pictures and Commentary by Ice Maiden

 

Graceland Club, Seattle, WA: April 27, 2002

It’s been years since I’ve done a “double header”--seeing a show in two different locations on successive nights--and let me tell you, it’s not as easy today as it was years ago! The mighty Iced Earth, arguably the best of the truly well-known American metal bands, gets the nod for my second double header in a lifetime. The first, I might add, was Metallica.

Our trip up to Seattle was a blast. There were seven in our party, myself and Ice Maiden included, and the notion to rent a van instead of taking a caravan of our own cars made things much easier--plus, we could all enjoy lots of great metal on the three-hour drive there! (Ice Maiden’s Commentary: I always love a road trip-and a road trip on a Saturday, with a van-load of good metal friends ranging in age from 16 to 40-something is pretty damn cool! Our friend Witch Hunter brought all of his new metal releases for us to listen to-the new Dark Moor is excellent! Check it out!)

The excitement built as we rolled into town on this lovely afternoon, with spring sunshine glimmering off Seattle’s bizarre neo-gothic skyscrapers, and treated ourselves to a posh dinner at…Subway. Our bellies full of greasy submarine sandwiches, we soon discovered the Graceland Club was a dump. It’s merely a tiny concrete box on a dead-end street under a busy highway. We also heard the show was sold out. A burly Seattle metal warrior in line behind me commented that this was the worst venue in Seattle and it was ludicrous to try to cram so many metal fans into such a small place, particularly for a great band like Iced Earth. As it turned out we waited in line for over an hour. Once we got inside we discovered he was right--the place was run-down, shabby, cramped, hot, and smelly. But when faced with a lineup like this, thankfully such privations fade into insignificance.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: We needed an extra ticket for one of our friends. I had already purchased a ticket, but I hoped to get a pass at the venue so I could give our friend mine. After knocking on In Flames’ bus door I was directed to their promoter inside the venue, who fixed us up on the spot so our friend didn’t have to hang around all night outside. Plus, they let us into the venue first-sweet! Front and center for Jag Panzer. The Seattle metal scene was out in full force, and the guys from Nevermore were hanging in the bar.)

 

JAG PANZER

JAG PANZER blasted out of the gates with full power, and their performance was absolutely stellar. Foolishly I skipped the Jag Panzer set at Wacken, but I’m certainly glad I had the chance to see them in a small club. Musically they were perfect. Leads were crisp, the vocals of Harry Conklin were melodic, powerful and clear, and every song was played with conviction. I confess that I haven’t been tremendously moved by Jag Panzer’s studio stuff, although it’s very solid--but as a live band, Jag Panzer are second to none. A mere 45 minutes into the show, as Jag Panzer ended their set, our three-hour trip to Seattle was already well justified.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: Argh-how I would have liked to make In Flames the opener, and Jag Panzer the second act! They needed more time! They were only given the chance to play 5 songs-License to Kill, Tyranny, Take to the Sky, Black, and Iron Shadows. Like Muertos, seeing this band live led me to go home and dust off all of my Jag Panzer albums AND order their DVD. Conklin is one strong vocalist and Chris Broderick has to be one of the best metal lead guitarists out there-just watching him puts me in awe and makes my finger tips hurt. He gets into this groove where he leans out over the crowd and making his “vicious” face-very metal. This is a band that knows how to perform and bring out the enthusiasm of the crowd. My one complaint, besides the short set, was that the guitars were totally muffled, like they weren’t quite coming through the speakers. WTF? Even with the poor sound quality in the venue, however, Jag Panzer wowed us.)


 

IN FLAMES

I had somewhat mixed feelings about IN FLAMES. This was my fourth time seeing them, and the last time (at Wacken 2001), while their performance was terrific, I noticed many ominous trends that suggested these Gothenburg destroyers were on the verge of selling out. I’m sad to report that those trends have not been reversed, and in fact have worsened. The grotesque dichotomy between the material from “The Lunar Strain” and “The Jester Race,” which filled out most of the middle of their set here, and the “Colony” and “Clayman” material, was painful to behold. I don’t think “Clayman” is a mallcore album and in fact I happened to enjoy it (and still enjoy it) a lot. However, In Flames’ approach to the “Clayman” songs was to make them sound as mallcoreish as possible. The butchery done to “Only For The Weak” (which did include band members jumping straight up and down and imploring the audience to do the same) was, in a word, depressing. That said, In Flames did an excellent job on the early material. Sadly you could tell from the closely-packed audience that In Flames has, or will soon have, a serious shift in fanbase. The metalheads who cheered the early stuff stood still while the younger kids in red ball caps jumped up and down to the newer material, and vice-versa.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: I wasn’t sporting a red ball cap, and I wasn’t jumping up and down, but I still liked In Flames’ set. I don’t think Clayman was a “sell-out” album and I get a smile on my face every time I hear “Only for the Weak.” Jesper hammed it up for my camera and flashed me the double horns. That said, the lads did seem very tired at this show. By this point I had moved to sit on the stage after a security guard advised me to do so I wouldn’t get mauled while taking pictures, and I was about a foot away from Jesper. He kept leaning against a pole in the middle of stage. This just wasn’t a comparable set to the previous ones I’ve seen from In Flames. Their playing was a little lax and imprecise. It could be because the true metal fans had yelled very loudly “In Flames are sell outs!!” while the band was setting up. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that In Flames chose as their set up music that ‘60s theme song from “Austin Powers.” M’kay-interesting choice-made me want to break out into the “Pony” and that dance where you put your fingers over your eyes like Travolta in Pulp Fiction. Iced Earth improved on this by playing “The Best of the Beast” as their set up music-it was pretty cool when the entire venue spontaneously started singing along to “Aces High.” Excellent metal moment.)

 

ICED EARTH

ICED EARTH were the stars of the show, and they knew it. After several minutes of appropriate build-up with sound samples, epic music and lighting effects, etc., Matt Barlow came on-stage with an American flag in hand, while Jon Schaffer played a metallic “Star-Spangled Banner.” I don’t know whether this schtick was standard for Iced Earth before September 11 (since the only time I’ve seen them before was not on U.S. soil), but it certainly struck a chord in the crowd tonight, and, at the risk of annoying Ice Maiden, I have to say it’s refreshing to see some good old-fashioned patriotism in the metal scene! Despite the tapestries of various characters from horror movie lore--which were obviously intended to evoke their newest album, “Horror Show”--Iced Earth’s set was a laundry list of hits and highlights covering all of their albums pretty much equally. While my favorite tune of theirs (“Night of the Stormrider”) was missing, that certainly did not detract from the show. Matt Barlow’s surly but melodic vocals, backed by Shaffer’s top-notch riffing, carried the band from one triumph to another. My one complaint with the show is not really a criticism of their performance or playing style, but more their songwriting. Just about every third Iced Earth song begins the same way, with an ominous little guitar twangle and a kick drum. In concert this pattern is particularly evident. Again, this is a very minor nit-pick.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: You know, Schaffer was my new hero at this show (until I saw Manowar this last weekend, now Eric Adams is). The national anthem isn’t an easy one to play, and though the flag waving vaguely sickened me (just kidding), the heaviness was really awesome. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face as I sat, now a foot away from Jon, and let the waves of energy wash over me. Plus, Jon handed me his pick!

The set list consisted of the following: Pure Evil, Wolf, Damien, Hunter, Melancholy, Jack, Scarred, Slave to the Dark, Question of Heaven, My Own Savior, Jeckyl and Hyde, Watching Over Me, Dracula, Birth of the Wicked, Coming Curse and Iced Earth. The chorus of “Hunter” was incredible, and every person in the place was singing along.)

Iced Earth played for a very long time, right up until the midnight curfew for all-ages events, which is apparently rigidly enforced in Seattle. With tired feet, aching backs and clothes smelling thickly of cigarette smoke, we shuffled back to our van for the long voyage home. While it may not properly have a place in this review, our trip back was made immensely enjoyable by some great metal CDs, including the new slab by the power metal band Dark Moor that left all of us in the car basically speechless. I stumbled home at around 2:30 AM, hoping to catch a few winks before Sunday’s repeat…which, thankfully, was on home soil.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: As we drove back I started to doze lightly to the metal playing on the stereo. It was a full moon that night, and very bright but eerie, and as I crept in and out of sleep, warm in our little rented van, my mind basically created its own little music video to the songs. I share this personal tidbit only because it shows how content I felt. That’s what a good show does-builds you up, makes you burst with excitement, then leaves you feeling content. No wonder people analogize a good show experience to something a little more…personal.)



 

Roseland Theater, Portland, OR - April 28, 2002

JAG PANZER

Harry "The Tyrant" Conklin - JAG PANZERIf Graceland was a sold-out show packed rafter-to-rafter with enthusiastic metalheads, the scene at the Roseland Theater in Portland was pathetic by comparison. Barely more than 300 people showed up and many of them were kids. Granted, the mallcore contingent was not overwhelming, but we did see a fair number of tykes who, while at least making good-faith forays into the world of metal, were all of seven or eight when “The Lunar Strain” came out and probably think a Gothenburger normally comes with a side of fries. It was a shame, because they were ill-equipped to appreciate another blisteringly good JAG PANZER performance. Tonight frontman Conklin looked even more like the “Dudley Moore of Metal,” but thankfully looks are deceiving. While it seemed the band was a little more tired than the previous evening, and they did not have the benefit of a terribly energetic crowd, their set was remarkably good. I would venture to say they had the best set of the evening. Jag Panzer absolutely refuses to give anything less than 666% at every show. The mark of a metal band that will be around for a while, and deservedly so, is a fundamental understanding of what the fans want and will respond to. Jag Panzer have that lesson down cold. After their second skull-crushing performance in a row, I don’t even care what their studio albums sound like--as long as they keep coming, and continue to give the band an excuse to tour!

I might also add that the Jag Panzer guys were out in the audience immediately after their set, and their responsiveness to the fans was terrific. While Ice Maiden and I chatted with Mark Briody and Chris Broderick, several young fans interrupted us to shower the band members with praise, and more than one of them commented that they’d never heard of Jag Panzer before tonight. Overall I was impressed not only with Jag Panzer’s performances but their devotion as metal fans in their own right.

 

IN FLAMES

IN FLAMES could take a lesson or two from that devotion. While I confess the Empire Strikes Back-style banner they raised behind the stage was pretty cool, after only about two songs into their set, several of us bolted for the downstairs bar. There we consumed several Black Butte Porters and India Pale Ales while watching the decline and fall of In Flames on a closed-circuit TV screen. I suppose my two friends and I cut pretty pathetic figures--aging metalheads sitting alone in a bar, drinking beer and grousing about bands selling out, the pernicious scourge of mallcore, and how much better the metal scene was X number of years ago. Hey, I’ll be the first to admit it--I’m pathetic! You can sum up our mood of the evening--and In Flames’s set--by telling an old and not very funny joke. How many metalheads does it take to change a light bulb? Two--one to screw in the bulb, and another to bitch about how much better the old bulb was.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: I have to admit, part way through their Portland set, In Flames lost even me-a fan. I ventured down to find the rest of the clan grousing downstairs. Old farts. ;) ).

 

 

ICED EARTH

ICED EARTH faced a smaller crowd and less energy, but that certainly didn’t crimp their style. We were safely back upstairs when the band took the stage, again with American flag and various patriotic sentiments. All things considered, the set was just not quite as powerful as it had been the previous night. The chief advantage of doing a “double header” show is comparing the band’s performances from night to night, so it’s my prerogative to mention such a comparison. In fairness, however, when you’re talking about a band like Iced Earth, the subtleties between one show and the next aren’t materially important. Had I seen only the Portland show I would have gone away completely satisfied. These guys continued to give it their all, and presented their material in an honest, powerful and entertaining way.

(Ice Maiden’s Commentary: The Portland show was definitely a little lower energy, most likely because the crowd was so significantly smaller and in a larger venue. Also, the Portland venue ropes off the stage so that people can’t stage dive, which means that the fans couldn’t shake hands, sing into the mic, etc. as they got to do in Seattle. Mark Briody of Jag Panzer later mentioned that it made it a lot harder for the bands to commune with the fans, though they still did a great job. The ropes did give me clear shots from the very front of the stage without getting jostled, and basically it was just me and John Tetley (bass for JP) in the very front snapping pics. That said, I’d have traded in my comfort for a chance for everyone to be up there interacting with these great bands.)

 

Doing two shows in a row hammers home a point that many of us fans take for granted: the metal business is a lot of hard work. These guys are on the road much of the year, living in buses and hotel rooms, playing squalid fleatraps like the Graceland and spacious theaters like the Roseland, enduring delays, equipment failures, incompetent promoters, dickish security, and hyper-critical fans. When your job is to play metal--when you have loved ones at home who won’t eat this month if you don’t go out there with your guitar or your drumsticks every night and give it your best shot, whether you’re hung over, pissed off, not feeling well or whatever--the shows and the tribulations of being on the road probably blur together after a while. As fans, each time we go to a show we see but a mere snapshot of what bands experience on a major tour like this. Not only do they have to get out there and work every night in a different environment under a different set of circumstances and unique difficulties, but when it’s over they have to endure the nit-picks of hacks like me whose job it is to lionize their performances, or vilify them. The bands who do their jobs best are the ones who keep their spirits high and their enthusiasm for metal flowing. There was a lot of that kind of professionalism on display at both of these shows. It certainly made the difference.

 

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