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Monday, August 30, 2004
The Commodore Ballroom
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Let me say right off the bat that I have been a W.A.S.P. fan since 1985. I have followed the band through various ups and downs for nearly twenty years. When Blackie Lawless dropped the shock rock and got ?serious? on 1989?s THE HEADLESS CHILDREN, I was there. When he experimented with the brilliant, yet pretentious, sprawling rock opera on 1992?s THE CRIMSON IDOL, I was there. Try as he might, even the slower STILL NOT BLACK ENOUGH and the industrial-influenced KILL.FUCK.DIE couldn?t shake me of my W.A.S.P. fanboy-ism. Over the last few years, there have been hits (THE NEON GOD) and misses (HELLDORADO), but here I am, still waving the flag of The Winged Assassins. The one thing missing from my life of W.A.S.P. worship, though, was a live concert. It had been fifteen years since the band last graced the shores of Vancouver and I was still a malleable youth living on the Canadian prairies at the time?miles from seeing them, or even knowing they would be there (remember this was 1989 and long before the Internet). Sure there were the live albums LIVE?IN THE RAW and DOUBLE LIVE ASSASSINS, but to witness the spectacle of a W.A.S.P. show could not be appreciated through pre-recorded audio alone. Each successive album would be released and small club tours or far-off European stints would be all I would hear of.
Then it was announced?W.A.S.P. would be visiting our fine city as the third last gig on THE NEON GOD World Tour. The days ticked by slower than molasses in January and then, just as the band hit Canada, the controversy began. First the Montreal show was cancelled due to an inadequate stage to hold Blackie?s thousand pound microphone stand. The following night?s show in Toronto went on, but then Ottawa had the plug pulled when the tour manager felt the security barriers were not far enough away from the stage. The next two shows suffered a similar fate when Blackie got a case of pneumonia and was then hospitalized for food poisoning. With four out of five shows cancelled, ugly rumors swirled that poor ticket sales were the real reason and that the remaining dates of the tour would be cancelled. There was never a statement from the band or any road reports confirming the shows were still on, so naturally, I thought the worst. ?O! Woe is me,? I cried, as W.A.S.P. was nearly within reach, only to be yanked away, like stealing candy from a baby. This cruel and usual punishment led me to wonder what I had done to be branded with such karmic misfortune, but then, just five days before the Vancouver date, a posting on our own Metal Rules forum announced that the band was indeed still on the road and would be hitting Canadian soil to finish the final few dates of the tour. I held on with baited breath as the day neared, absorbing any and all details that I could find of the shows that lead up to the Vancouver date. Finally the day was upon us and, yes, it seemed that my long elusive date with Blackie would finally become a reality!
In a strange move, W.A.S.P. opted to have local bands open for them along the way rather than bring someone along. The openers of the Vancouver date were entirely forgettable and were a poor fit with W.A.S.P.?s theatrics (maybe that was the whole point?), but the crowd seemed to give them a decent response. Still, there was no denying who the crowd was here to see and as 10:00 neared, the masses were getting restless. W.A.S.P. are notorious for hitting the stage late for no apparent reason other than the fact that they can and Blackie?s prickly personality had me on edge until the lights actually lowered at 10:20. The sound of ?The Overture? from THE NEON GOD PART ONE?THE RISE began to echo through the speakers as the figure in black soon emerged from the shadows?the man himself, Blackie Lawless! Standing well over 6 feet 5 inches in his boots and clad in an Oakland Raiders Tim Brown jersey with the Raiders logo on his guitar and skin-tight black leather pants, Blackie was an ominous sight. Up close, he is definitely getting older (aren?t we all) and is beginning to show every one of his forty eight years. Still, through his thick black hair and piercing eyes, he looks quite menacing. His long-time partner in crime, Chris Holmes, has been gone for a few years now, having been replaced by former Tuff axeman, Darrell Roberts, after the recording of 2001?s UNHOLY TERROR. Long-time touring drummer Stet Howland and bassist Mike Duda rounded out the band. W.A.S.P. has never had a steady lineup and I wondered how this bunch would fare, especially Roberts, who had to tackle Holmes? immortal riffs. Also, would Blackie keep his temper and play a full show?
Blackie strutted across the stage with all the bravado and swagger he is known for as fans chanted, ?W.A.S.P.! W.A.S.P.! W.A.S.P.!? before the band launched into a medley of ?On Your Knees,? ?Inside The Electric Circus? and ?Chainsaw Charlie (Murders In The Rue Morgue)?. Reports of Blackie having lost his voice can certainly be dismissed as he hit all the notes he is known for with only one or two exceptions, most notably, the screaming outro of ?Animal (Fuck Like A Beast),? which was forsaken altogether. The crowd was going wild for W.A.S.P. as the band breezed through ?L.O.V.E. Machine? and when Blackie asked, “Is there anybody here who fucks like a beast? Then you must be an animal!” the place went crazy! The hits continued with ?Wild Child? before drawing on ?What I?ll Never Find? from this year?s THE NEON GOD PART ONE?THE RISE. This is certainly one of the standout tracks from the new album, but live, it is absolutely incredible. Roberts? extended solo left the crowd in awe, while Blackie?s mournful vocals made for quite an atmosphere. A surprising inclusion was ?My Tortured Eyes? from KILL.FUCK.DIE.. During the song, Blackie climbed atop the microphone stand, smeared himself in fluorescent green paint and with the help of lighting effects, created quite a creepy scene on stage. The microphone stand is a sight unto itself. Emblazoned with motorcycle handlebars and a grotesque metal skull and spine, the monstrosity certainly lived up to its hype. Five roadies heaved the thing on stage and Blackie must be topping 200 pounds these days, so it certainly must be a brawny structure to hold him as he literally rides it. ?The Real Me? and ?I Wanna Be Somebody? rounded out the set, with a thunderous response from the crowd to the latter. Before the final song, Blackie announced that August was the twentieth anniversary of the release of the first W.A.S.P. album?my how time flies?and asked if Vancouver ?could still get it up.? We could and we did! Of course the band returned for an encore, as Blackie strode out with only an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder. He began to croon a medley of ?The Idol? and ?Sleeping (In The Fire)? over a hushed audience which once again silenced any critics of his vocal and musical abilities. The rest of the band joined Blackie for an energetic rendition of ?Blind In Texas? to finish off the evening.
For me, this show was worth the wait as W.A.S.P. truly put on a dazzling, albeit brief, show. At barely eighty minutes, a band celebrating its twenty year anniversary should be onstage for at least two hours, but other than that, it was a stellar evening. The band was tight, Blackie was in top form and the crowd couldn?t have been more responsive. Fans young and old were in attendance and not a disappointed face left The Commodore on this night. Despite all of Blackie?s peccadilloes and alleged temperament, he seemed genuinely happy to be in Vancouver. Happy enough, I hope, to narrow the fifteen year gap between this visit and his next one.
The Overture (Intro)
On Your Knees/Inside The Electric Circus/Chainsaw Charlie (Medley)
Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)
What I’ll Never Find
My Tortured Eyes
The Real Me
I Wanna Be Somebody
Titanic Overture/The Idol/Sleeping (In The Fire) (Acoustic Medley)
Blind In Texas