September 19, 2016, 2 years ago

Mark Gromen

gallery heavy metal grave digger blind guardian

Together again! The renowned pair of German metallers are on the road, making good use of the 12 months a performance visa grants them. The balcony of the main room at Webster Hall hosted an industry party beforehand, both bands stopping by to chat. An early show (10:30 curfew) saw Grave Digger onstage at 7:20, before all the attendees were in the house. Essentially the same setlist witnessed at Bang Your Head, in July, there were a couple of songs heretofore rarely (if ever) played Stateside. In black & white stripe pants (Matching the pattern on Axel Ritt's guitar), founder/frontman Chris Boltendahl worked the crowd, letting them know when the response wasn't good enough (mimic noose around the neck, then pulling the rope). Old school rouser, "Headbanging Man" kicks things off, straight into top gear.

"Wedding Day" is one of those deep cuts, not typically aired on US tours. Ritt contorts his body into obtuse angels, shaking his wild mane the whole time. Bassist Jens Becker begins the red lit "Seasons Of The Witch." "Knight Of The Cross, while not a rarity, is another tune not performed that often. By contrast, "Excalibur" (three syllables, "Ex - cali- bore") is a concert staple, Boltendahl repeatedly thrusting his arm overhead. The crowd follows his lead. Piped in bagpipe accompany "Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)" sees an almost a cappella crowd singing along. As always, "Heavy Metal Breakdown" closes the show. Afterwards, right before the group bow, Boltendahl gets the audience to shout, eventually to his satisfaction. With a wink and a glint in his eye, Grave Digger said good night.

Never thought I'd be lucky enough to see Blind Guardian three times in a little over a month, with them playing Imaginations From The Other Side (in its entirety) on two of those occasions! To hear a crowd of Americans singing along to "Welcome To Dying" makes me feel (in some small way) vindicated. Someone/something that I discovered decades ago (and was chastised for: "Who are those guys? Why do you listen to German bands? Etc.) is this band and I have both grown up along the way and the Guardians are now a top international draw, with singer Hansi Kursch's sense of humor and commanding stage presence going a long way towards raising their stakes. 

Even before they began (a little delayed, due to technical issues), time constraints made the road crew scratch "And Then There Was Silence" from the setlist (scheduled for the encore). Too bad! As they've done almost everywhere (apart from Montreal, where a 45 minute time limit rendered a 9+ minute opener too extravagant), "Ninth Wave" kicks into action. Plenty of fog (maybe too much?) and after a pair of oldies, the aforementioned "Dying" and crowd sung "Nightfall" (cue hand directions from Hansi) newbie "Prophecies" (one of just two choices off last year's Beyond The Red Mirror) rounded out the pre-Imaginations material. While the full-album setlist isn't to my liking, having to hear the likes of "Bright Eyes," at the expense of "Valhalla" and/or "Majesty" (neither of which were aired), but great to reacquaint myself with "I'm Alive" and "Born In The Mourning Hall" deserves to be heard at any gig. With legs splayed one in front of the other, as the pace quickens, Kursch nod his head side-to-side as predominance of blue and purple lights are punctuated by strobes.  

Tonight, after the Imaginations set, there's only time for the obligatory, acoustic tinged "Bard's Song" and rollicking "Mirror, Mirror", which is a shame, since the NYC crowd seems to just be getting warmed up, judging from the frenzied reaction to the yellow hued finale. Trotting out an unscripted oldie (like either of the above omissions) might have blown the roof off at this juncture. Maybe next time. Hopefully it won't be too long!

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