METAL CHURCH - Easter Eggs In The Big Apple

March 29, 2016, 2 years ago

Mark Gromen

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Mr. Howe, meet Mr. Vanderhoof, as this, unbelievably (but true) marks the first time the two have recorded, or shared a tour stage together! I have quite the history with Metal Church. First time they came through Cleveland, Ohio for the debut (not even picked up by Elektra yet), was drafted to serve as merch guy for the night, making $20, a t-shirt & baseball cap. Wish I still had the apparel. Through the years, saw them with David Wayne, Mike Howe and Ronnie Monroe. Think I'm one of the few who enjoys Howe's work on Hanging In The Balance above most of the others. Loved the lineup with ex-Malice guitarist Ray Reynolds, actually hosting them, to headline the BW&BK 6-Pack Weekend, in 2004. In the dark days of the ‘90s, saw them open for Metallica, for what was the last date of the tour, outdoors at the Allentown (Pennsylvania) Fairgrounds, as well as part of the ill-fated Operation Rock n Roll tour, In the new millennium, there was the final tour with original drummer Kirk Arrington (before diabetes forced him to retire), in front of tens of thousands on the main stage at Wacken and playing to just a handful of people, at the Pirates' Den, in NJ. Met Kurdt Vanderhoof in Morrisound Studio (Florida) while working on his solo album, as well as Trans-Siberian Orchestra material, but man, it always comes back to those songs. 

With their new XI disc in stores for just a day or two before starting the tour, didn't figure to hear much, during their March 28th appearance at BB Kings, just off Times Square, in Manhattan. With Howe back in the band, for the first time in more than two decades, lots of time to make up for, so why confound the situation with a bunch of material no one's heard yet? However, there was a trio of newbies on offer. As a matter of fact, the same three that open the album. Shocking enough that TWO songs off Hanging were aired, just one less than the total number of cuts performed from the initial pair of Wayne era albums, combined. Wow! So final score: Wayne 3, just released XI disc 3 and a pair off each Howe contribution, apart from The Human Factor, which also added three. Another nice surprise was the inclusion of Chris Caffery (Savatage/TSO), filling in for Rick Van Zant, who had to have surgery to reattach his retina. The guitarist is reunited with his Tage/TSO drummer Jeff Plate, who pulls double (triple?) duty, with Metal Church.

Only a few days into the tour and with a guest player, not much chance for going off script (in this case, setlist), even if the mood called for it. Opening with a vigorous, strobe enhanced “Fake Healer”, was sort of strange seeing Howe with short black hair, looking more like an accountant or pro golf than the hairy blond rock star of the ‘90s. His bulging eyes and facial expressions were prominently displayed throughout, as he moved about the stage and into the wings, to connect with the long absent crowd. Lots of singing along, this older, male dominated audience, a video screen to the band's right simulcasting the action. At times, Vanderhoof and bassist Steve Unger add backing vocals. A gritty “Start The Fire” sees Caffery wander to Vanderhoof's side of the stage, the singer repeatedly motioning the mic over the heads of the crowd. “Reset”, which kicks off XI, was the first new tune aired, beginning with a frenzy of staccato guitar and, tonight, flashing strobes. Glad people got to hear guitar driven “Gods Of Second Chance” my favorite off Hanging In The Balance. At several points, Howe and Unger are nearly a cappella, an interesting juxtaposition to the Flying V shredding from the Savatage/TSO rental. Caffery earns his paycheck on “Date With Poverty”, Howe's high pitched whine punctuating the titular chorus. Following red lit “No Tomorrow”, the slow building intro to “Watch The Children Pray” sees Vanderhoof offstage, leaving the guitar duties to Caffery. A turbo charged “No Friend Of Mine” (who still thinks Hanging was a bad album?) begins in the dark, Howe with his back to the crowd, before bouncing around the stage.

While “Beyond The Black” closes the proper set, a mosh pit breaking out, Caffery once again venturing to the opposite side of the stage. They returned for a two-song encore, Howe encouraging a clap-along for “Badlands”, which under green lights, sees Caffery soloing. The “Human Factor” finale sends people home happy, although the entire band mingles with fans, afterwards: signing autographs, posing for pictures and catching up on lost time. None of that paid meet & greet here. As they get ready to head overseas, undoubtedly to larger stages, one hopes that once their touring footing has been established, the guys with stringed instruments will be a little more mobile and whether Van Zant returns (or rent-a-Caffery is still in tow), they add in at least one more Wayne era classic (“Ton Of Bricks”? “Gods Of Wrath”? Signature track?). All praise Metal Church!

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