70000 Tons Of Metal - Day 2: TGIF (Thank God It's Fosters!)
February 3, 2015, 4 years ago
Perhaps it was the robust velocity, steaming to make Jamaican landfall in a matter of days, but despite people's claims they didn't usually feel the motions of a cruise ship, it was kind of living on a perpetual earthquake fault line, the ground shaking (perceptibly) almost constantly. As Metal Tim got ready for a slew of in-person interviews, I headed upstairs, to a buffet brunch, where I discussed the previous evening's gig with Primal Fear bassist Mat Sinner. Amorphis guitarist Esa Holopainen stopped by to say hello and inform me that today's show was canceled, as the outdoor stage was still under construction and might not be done until sundown! Five bands, nearly seven scheduled hours, would have to be made up, shoehorned into an already loaded itinerary. Didn't help there were back-to-back listening sessions (Blind Guardian and Apocalyptica) tying up Studio B for the same time period, leaving just the mini-Sphinx stage and massive Platinum complex.
This marked the official, live debut of Refuge, having played only a sole gig (under another name), prior to boarding. So why bother with a new, inexperienced band? Well, they are actually the Rage trio: Peavey Wagner (bass), ex-Grave Digger guitarist Manni Schmidt and drummer Chris Ephthimiades, reunited to play material from a half dozen of that German outfit's late Eighties-early Nineties albums. Needless to say the Platinum hall was invaded by their countrymen, young and old, some eager to hear songs long forgotten by the touring entity Rage (of which Wagner remains the sole constant), as well as youngsters who missed out on that era and wished to see what all the fuss was about. Sort of appropriate then, that they'd open with "Firestorm". As the now silver haired Schmidt moved all over the stage and upon edging towards the photo pit, not sure who was more surprised, him, at seeing/recognizing/acknowledging me or me, for the fact he recognized/acknowledged me, though we'd not met/talked in more than a decade! "Solitary Man" met with a blitzkrieg of strobes. Throughout the weekend, each frontman attempted to greet the fans with a novel spin on the fact we were asea, however the braided goateed Wagner's "Hello boat people" was my favorite, connotations of refugees (pun intended) aside. He and the guitarist reminisced aloud about the last show together (as Rage) had been 21 years earlier, in Tokyo. Enjoying the moment, the bassist joked, "We are the oldest newcomers and we have no NEW material," so onto the abruptly ending "Nevermore" (off The Missing Link), before amber lights greeted "Certain Days", which faded out, Stepping back to '89, it was the groove of "Light Into The Darkness". German accented voices in tow and the closing signature track. Quite the debut!
Speaking of old school acts, next up was D.A.D. (or Disneyland After Dark, as the Danes originally christened themselves, before a threatened lawsuit by the US based theme park chain made them abbreviate the moniker, at least on this continent). Their No Fuel For The Pilgrim debut (1989) was a hotly tipped signing for Warner Brothers, back in the day, and I saw them play a minuscule Cleveland, Ohio club as part of the label's promotional tour, Always struck by the strange antics and two-string bass of Stig Pedersen (who, while out on the sunny deck, wore a leisure suit!). Have run into them a couple of times, in Europe, before 70,000 Tons and am pleased to announce that the onstage quirks remain intact. Jesper Binzer (vocals/guitar) sported a Flying V and suit coat, while brother Jacob (guitar) donned a top hat for the occasion. Then there was Pederson, a giant (well over six feet, before the heels) with blond, Shirley Temple curls, head-to-toe glossy black pleather and a see-thru acrylic bass, with just two fuchsia strings, that he only exchanged for the equally outlandish (and oversized) instrument with an Iron Cross body and Red Baron tri-Fokker headstock! Opening with a rousing "Jihad", a word that has completely different connotations, globally, than when the song was penned, 25 years ago, by "Isn't That Wild", Jesper was singing from the audience. Aptly, "Point Of View" saw Pedersen perched atop the drum riser, a frequent spot throughout the show. "A New Age Moving In" and "The Last Time In Neverland" were included, but the closing pair, "I Want What She's Got" and their biggest hit, the "Sleeping My Day Away" finale, stood out. At one point, Jesper teased the drummer, saying "Laust (Sonne) wanted to go on a jazz cruise." Cue booing. "For the first time, he's going to play thrash metal," as the whole band broke into the most aggressive instrumental segment of their show. Always expect the unconventional/unexpected, from D.A.D.
Headed over to Studio B to make the acquaintance of the aggro-punky all female Swedes, Crucified Barbara, for the first time. As a result, only got to see a bit of Cannibal Corpse ("Scourge Of Iron", "Evisceration Plague"), but undoubtedly, Metal Tim (who supplied them with Brave Words jerseys) will fill in the details. Meanwhile, the Barbaras were tuning up, before hitting the stage to "In The Red". Unlike most 80s all-girl groups, these hellcats can play and rock, offering "Lunatic #1" and the tongue-in-cheek "I Sell My Kids For Rock n Roll"just in case you missed the point. Sweaty, stringy hair flailing and sticking to faces, never mind the primping, this is guitar driven hard rock. Fun stuff.
Word soon filtered around the ship that the canceled performances on deck would be made up at the expense of the next day's proposed international hockey tourney, much to Metal Tim's chagrin (or perhaps relief, as it freed up more of his time in sandals, rather than skates). Meanwhile, it was time for Michael Schenker (alongside shaggy hair and mustachioed Doogie White on vocals, plus Scorpions alumni Francis Bucholz on bass and drummer Herman Rarebell). Like the last US tour, the set was predominately UFO/Scorps material, with the odd MSG track, but almost nothing from the recent Temple Of Rock albums. "Doctor Doctor" began the show, the perennially hunched forward Schenker on a half black-half white Flying V, a toque over his short blond hair and a pair of dark sunglasses resting top the knit cap. Paradoxically, he wore a sleeveless leather vest, unzipped to display he was sans shirt underneath. A keyboard laden "Armed & Ready" kept the voices in good steed, the sizable crowd mouthing all the words, thus far. Long a fan of the live UFO album Strangers In The Night (one of the best in-concert discs, of any era), still (pleasantly) surprised by the inclusion of a blue lit "Natural Thing", which begins said disc. Switching to a red/black V, in equal proportions, the pink hued "Love Drive" was recognizable by the Americans/Scorpion-only fans in attendance and allowed Buchholz the chance to come stage front for the first time. It was followed by their instrumental "Coast To Coast", with White offstage and a trio of stringed instruments across the front. They dedicated "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" to Ronnie James Dio, before claiming "Lord Of The Lost And Lonely" was a drinking song (like we needed any on this cruise!), a sea chantey. "Shoot Shoot", another classic UFO track (but not one of the biggies) was welcome to these ears, before the lull of "Vigilante Man" and the obligatory, albeit completely unnecessary inclusion of the scorpions' biggest hit, "Rock You Like A Hurricane" (who needs a hurricane aboard ship?). Only Rarebell had anything to do with its creation. After the fact, sapped of momentum, even the massive guitar workout "Rock Bottom" proved anti-climatic.
Ten hours late, the outdoor stage was finally set, scheduled to kick off with Soulfly. Not really my thing, so opted to check out a few songs from veteran New Jersey thrashers Whiplash, prior to seeing Wintersun. Starting with "Last Man Alive" the trio were in fine form, opting for a healthy dose of old school. While "Killing On Monroe Street" is from the original line-up's reunion album, 98's Thrashback, it was the likes of "Stagedive" and "The Burning Of Atlanta" that most came to see/hear. Would have been funny to dust off "Walk The Plank", given the surroundings! Downstairs, the speedy, symphonic accentuated Finns were ready to tear it up. Taking the stage to the exaggerated, majestic intro "When Time Fades Away" Jari Mäenpää (doesn't this guy look like Snow Miser, from Year Without A Santa Claus?) and crew whip themselves around the stage as effortlessly as the electric fans blow their blond locks. Platinum was packed, for the first time today, many yearning to get a blast of fleet fingered technicality, beginning with "Sons Of Winter And Stars". Onboard, titles like "Land Of Snow And Sorrow" seem as distant as our home port, but certainly were devoured as easily as those free, late night pizza slices. Could stick around to hear "Time" and a portion of "The Way Of The Fire", as people started to exit, undoubtedly headed for the start of the Venom show, some nine decks above.
Although a slight chill (compared to the glaring sun of mid-afternoon) in the night air, the ring around the Pool stage was at least three people deep, straining for a sight of the Newcastle trio. Small Union Jack stickers were visible in the corner of the Marshall cabinets, although Cronos took a swipe at the airline who lost their equipment. He also thanked Arch Enemy, who apparently loaned them what they needed. Waited in line, mere minutes before we entered the photo pit, a sleek figure, head disguised by a cowl, came over to me and said "Nice to see you again." It was Adam 'Nergal' Darski, founder/leader of Behemoth, who would play later on. With that, he was off, into the safety of the crowd, as the Venom intro began.
Ripped, sleeveless band t-shirt and ski cap on his head, Cronos might not have as much hair, but he still has those original red/maroon leather, knee-high wrestling boots, embossed with an inverted cross. A opening shower of compressed carbon dioxide shoots skyward to the opening strains of "Black Metal". Sort of strange hearing "Hammerhead" so early in the set (second), especially since this was the live debut of that song! A two mic set-up allowed the bassist to sing from anywhere, repeatedly criss-crossing the stage (not as much as bald guitarist La Rage, although drummer Dante has enough of a mane for all concerned). "Bloodlust" is augmented by more compressed "smoke" and 70,000 tons of strobes, as a couple crowd surfers breach the barricade. "Countess Bathory" is also in the mix as I leave to check out a few songs from Triosphere. However, only arriving in time to hear "The Heart's Dominion". Sadly, most of the late night attendees are less interested in diminutive powerhouse vocalist/bassist Ida Haukland than the Sphinx rooms' comfy chairs.
With a new album set to drop, thought maybe Blind Guardian would offer a teaser, but thankfully, it was mostly high level classics, beginning with "Into The Storm". The band was all in black (new bassist and keyboardist in view), singer Hansi Kürsch was impressed by the response. As the jam packed Platinum crowd chanted the band's name, he deadpanned, "You don't have to stop." Later, when his announcement of "Tanelorn" met with just a smattering of applause, he sarcastically said, "I'm overwhelmed". The audience filled in the title and sang along to "Welcome To Dying". The singer's fake muscular poses and rah-rah enthusiasm felt like a school principal trying to get kids excited at a pep rally. "Nightfall" saw Kürsch return to his usual stance: feet splayed, right foot ahead of the left. Of the guitar tandem,Marcus Siepen showed more emotion, headbanging throughout, while André Olbrich was more reserved. Personally, felt a sense of pride that after more than 20 years of writing about this band that people were finally getting those older songs (even if it was 70,000 tons of imported Europeans, it was still in my hemisphere!). The only time the set bogged down was "Fly" and "Bright Eyes", neither quintessential Blind Guardian in my book, so glad they placed an aggressive dual leads, speed metal-ish oldie, like "Lost In The Twilight World" between them. Throughout, the lighting was dark, with purples and red the lone splashes of color. The concluding run, however, would be difficult for any Guardianite to fault, including a robust "Majesty", "Valhalla" and departing "Mirror Mirror" In a word, glorious!
If ever music could kill, this would be the performance: Behemoth. A couple hours earlier, Venom gave a comic book version of Satanic evil. By comparison, this was the real McCoy, complete with burning incense, ritual and a maniacal (possessed?) frontman. Tomorrow would be the voodoo island, but tonight was the devil incarnate! Arms outstretched overhead, his back to the crowd, Nergal gave praise to his master, before laying waste to all before him. The stiff night winds mixing the smell of incense and rotting, sweaty leather as we still awaited the first notes. sporadic strobes pierce total darkness and female shrieks usher in "Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel", with enough strobes to mimic daylight and repeated plumes of smoke. Following the building crescendo, the band, but especially the guitar toting frontman, are ablaze. After the first song, they remove their stage coats, a leaner/meaner version unearthed. By night's end, Nergal would be bare-chested beneath his robe (all hoods up for the "O Father O Satan O Sun" finale), his bone jewelry accoutrements hanging from his neck.Red lights pulsate on the drums, to pre-recorded beats. Inferno, on drums, pinwheels his hair, all the while bashing out an insane pace. Staples like the military rasping snare of "As Above, So Below", "Slaves Shall Serve" and "Conquer All" are up early. Magikal night.
In bed around 2AM, as to maximize my time/experience on the beaches of Jamaica.
Check out more photos from Day 2 here.
Mark Gromen's Day 1 report can be found here.