May 14, 2024, a month ago

By Mark Gromen

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Knicks... Rangers... all week, Madison Square Garden played host to the second round of the NBA and NHL playoffs. However, on Sunday, May 12 (Mother's Day), the hottest ticket in town was not at the proverbial "World's Most Famous Arena," but about 10 blocks north, in Times Square. The Palladium was home to a great twin bill that saw metallic royalty and their handpicked new generation opening band dish out a musical feast, fit for even the most finicky metalhead's appetite. 

Blind Guardian has been touring North America for four weeks now, and while much of the setlist has remained constant, night-to-night there are several options and they do take requests! Open with the grand "Imaginations From The Other Side" and two things are evident right away: these people know the words/came to sing along and there's a certain contingent who want to crowd surf. Yes, to Blind Guardian! "Blood Of The Elves" is appropriately illuminated in red. Stage left, silver haired guitarist Marcus Siepen looks like embodies one of the Lord Of The Rings' elves. Stage right is guitar partner, Andre Olbrich, who rarely looks up from his fretboard, the entirety of our time in the photo pit (3 songs), not that his hair isn't already obscuring his face. Center stage, conducting it all, is ringmaster Hansi Kursch, in a playful mood, deadpan between song delivery (with a hint of well-placed snark) and conducting the thousand voice choir assembled tonight. Witness the blue/purple lit "Nightfall".

Early on, the singer said to his bandmates, "I told you New York people are nice. They knew we're tired and don't want to play a lot of songs, so they'll do the singing, and you did." Thanks the crowd. Later he would recant the idea of a short set, claiming that lot of what he says onstage is "bullshit." Regal "The Script For My Requiem" came next, in pulsating hues of green/blue, akin to laser fire, in some sci-fi drama, as the guitarists switch sides. "Violent Shadows" could have been renamed “Violet Shadows”, based on the color scheme. Rotating blue/white lights are at stage level. Head down, Olbrich is tapping madly, at the foot of the stage. It ends with Hansi unleashing a sustained, falsetto scream. Brief respite as the axemen seat themselves on bar stools, each armed with an acoustic guitar (and not for the last time tonight), for "Skalds And Shadows". Aqua lights sweep the stage as cell phones capture the memories, including folks who crowd surf to what is essentially a ballad.

Marcus headbangs and violently shakes his gray mane during red lit "Into The Storm". Some cryptic stage banter from Hansi, citing death and drugs, leading into "Secrets Of The American Gods", which begins with muffled cymbals, as white rays backlight the band. As it progresses, copper lights take over. The singer visits all corners of the stage and uses slight flicks of the wrist, or just a few fingers, to accentuate notes, or instruct his "congregation." One of the greatest moments in any Blind Guardian show (the bigger, the better) is a rendition of "The Bard's Song - In The Forest". Here, authentically reproduced with acoustic guitars (Marcus and Andre again on bar stools) as the crowd sings. Actually, it starts from the first strains, the throng offering "woah, woah", singing the guitar melodies. As green and white triangles of light bath an uncharacteristically immobile stage, Kursh is happy to simply mouth the words, directing the crowd with his index fingers.

Storming "Majesty" is next, an old school speed metal anthem, in purple/blue. Come the titular chorus, it's another sing-along. The front portion of the stage is green, while the back is blue, as fog (for the first time this evening) envelopes the band, for proper set ending "Lost In A Twilight Hall". Of course, they return for an encore. Initially, it's without Hansi, as the musicians have a chance to strut their stuff, guitars blazing away, on an otherwise orchestral "Sacred Worlds". Asymmetric blasts of white light pierce the fog. Hansi stands center stage, splay legged, one foot in front of the other, both hands braced atop his left thigh. Both guitarists are poised at the lip of the stage.

Not sure "Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill) warrants a spot in the encore (especially in light of the other "vintage" options they've uncovered, in that spot, on this tour), but a minor complaint. If "The Bard Song" provides the quintessential, emotional Guardian moment, then "Valhalla" is its metallic counterpart. Simple, yet effective, the fans still shouting aloud, despite almost two hours in. A rollicking tune, it's made memorable by the repeated, (particularly at the end) a cappella renditions that threaten to never end. NYC did not disappoint. Nothing can really top that, but another classic, "Mirror Mirror” ends the evening on a good note. Love the accent on heavier material. Come back any time (hopefully sooner, rather than later).

OK, Night Demon are not exactly newbies (mainstay/bassist/singer Jarvis Leatherby has gone through several line-up changes in the course of four studio albums, a live offering and an EP, in almost fifteen years), yet upwards of 90% percent of the Blind Guardian crowd were probably unfamiliar with the Ventura trio, prior to being announced as the support act (at Hansi & Co.'s insistence). Many remained uninterested, until the Demon was in their face, on the stage and rocking out. After every night, the social media pages are filled with comments like, "Never heard of/seen you before, but now I'm a fan for life." 

The boys actually went on three minutes early, to the Outsider album intro, leading right into the title track. Jarvis and guitarist Armand John Anthony pinball around the stage, switching sides and (particularly the six-stringer), jumping up on lightboxes/risers/wedge monitors, at the front of the stage. These guys are used to clubs, with no barricades, so they stretch to get as close as possible to the crowd, who fuel the adrenaline. Oldie, "Screams In The Night" follows, a rapid one-two punch to introduce themselves to an unsuspecting assembly. After "Escape From Beyond", a trip around Brian Wilson's kit kicks off "Dawn Rider".  When not banging out bass notes, or tethered to the mic, Leatherby is at the front of the stage, headbanging ferociously. Actually, that's a lie, he's often doing all three, simultaneously! He gets the crowd to yell along, during the slower galloping section.

The lights go dark, as the pre-recorded sound of rainfall introduces the Twilight Zone episode inspired, "The Howling Man". Armand extends a sustained, opening note, as icy blue lights and strobes flood the stage. Yellow spotlights oscillate overhead as the brooding tempo changes, seemingly with the flick of a switch. It's nearly white lights, can clearly see the guys, to begin "Beyond The Grave", as a rumble of bass commences. Without prompting, a clap along ensues. Armand lifts his instrument vertically. Sporadic notes and military cadence drumming kick off "The Wrath", as the two face off, center stage. Smoke plumes erupt, at opposite ends of the stage, as the sky goes red.

From here on out, it's classic Night Demon (leave the new converts with a fast dose to remember). Shades of purple, blue and green highlight "Welcome To The Night". It screams from the speakers, as the guitarist mounts the monitors, center stage. Clenched teeth, bathed in red, Jarvis kicks into "The Chalice", which sees Rocky, the bug-eyed skeletal mascot, appears and implores all to "Drink from the chalice," brandishing the namesake drinking vessel. Cell phones in the crowd capture the action, particularly those who had never seen the band before. After thanking the crowd, Jarvis sent everyone into the intermission, with the band's signature tune, ringing in their ears.  Lit in green, the ending is extended, with both Armand and Jarvis atop a lightbox, engulfed in billowing smoke. Quite the visual! 
Tour has been profitable for both acts. Hopefully we, as fans, will see more of these types of packages, moving forward!

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