At 6pm there was no snow, but I knew it was coming. I grabbed my heavy coat, put on my boots, tossed gloves in my bag next to my camera and a bottled water, and then ran out to catch a bus. Once I transferred to the train, I saw someone fumbling with a Ticketmaster envelope, so I asked what time doors opened – 7:00. It was about 6:20.
Still no snow when I popped up at Boylston Street. Where was it? On my way to the Roxy, I grabbed a slice of pizza; I wasn't sure if the club would let me in with it and not wanting to risk it, I folded the pizza over and swallowed it before I had walked the remaining block to the club. Of course the risk of indigestion was entirely for naught – a velvet rope defined the start of a line that fed back for another block.
I waited in line for twenty or so minutes behind several hundred hardcore kids, punk rockers, goth kids, and a handful of Dungeons & Dragons geeks. Between making snap judgments about strangers based on their footwear and watching the sky for snow, I inserted myself into the private conversations of those around me. I also worried that I wouldn't get into the show.
I was scheduled for a 7pm interview with the singer for Kataklysm, but I hadn't heard from him all day. While I was a bit hesitant to do the interview, I definitely didn't want to lose my in to the show. Just a tad before 7:00 I got nervous and called the cell number I had for the band. No answer, no voicemail. I hoped for the best.
After more-than-a-little confusion around my bag and camera, I was finally escorted to a table servicing will call and guestlist attendees. My name was not only on the list, but also on the list with a (to be unused) +1 and a photo pass. I was handed my pass, given a special blue bracelet and freed into the club. Despite the apparent mix-up on the interview, the rest of the arrangements worked out as planned.
Though the Roxy is a very large venue, the pit in front of the stage was already beginning to fill up. Fans were stacked six or seven rows deep in front of a large metal barrier that divided the audience from the performers. While I'd been to the venue several times before, this was the first time I found the barrier. I took a post far to stage left, directly in front of blaring speakers, but at least I was nearly in the front row. I put in my earplugs, pulled out my palm pilot, and waited for the first band.
I honestly had no idea who the opening bands would be, and it didn't really matter. Although the first band introduced itself as Eyes of Fire, the name meant nothing to me. The band seemed to expect this. While touring with Danzig is a great boon for a small band, it's also quite a shock for a band that is used to performing for its own adoring fans. Singer/bassist Matt Fisher began the set warning the audience that this was going to be "interesting."
The quintet draws from many musical ventures; however, they are basically a new-school hardcore band. The standard elements of metal, screamo and emo are evident in its music, but the band has a more mature feel than its musical peers. Along with the expected hardcore surges, I noticed a lot of dirgy guitar parts, atmospheric keys, and pseudo-tribal drumming. The dual vocals of bassist Matt Fisher and guitarist Dan Kaufman provided a different take on the screamo playbook, as Fisher's lead vocals were a throaty, effected croak (think Killdozer), while Kaufman's backing vocals were typically higher and cleaner – the opposite of how the genre normally plays it.
The duo of Fisher and Kaufman has played together since 1989 when it formed LA's Mindrot. This makes the duo (and not-coincidently the rest of Eyes of Fire) 10 or 15 years older than the kids who typically play this brand of new hardcore. Unfortunately these 30-somethings still adopted the prescribed fashion of the genre – gauged earlobes, a folded bandana in the back pocket, spiked belts, bedhead hair, etc. While there were moments when I wondered why these veterans were insisting on playing a game designed for kids, the members of the band did deliver a respectable no-nonsense set free of pandering or pretense. With the exception of a minute-long feedback fest tacked onto the end of the band's 20-minute set, the quartet marched in lockstep – never stopping to engage an audience that it must have felt it couldn't have won over anyway. The band's instincts were probably right; however, while Eyes of Fire may not have won many fans that evening, it was well received by an audience that obviously couldn't care less about the opening acts.
Following Eyes of Fire was the equally unknown Trivium. This California quartet offered up another take on new school hardcore, focusing on sing-a-long emo choruses and quick metal leads. Vocalist Matt Heafy screamed his vocals ala James Hetfield while bassist Paolo Gregoletto provided the high smooth backing vocals to woo the gals in the audience. What the band lacked in originality, it attempted to make up for in cheese and shameless promotion.
Heafy spent every break cursing at the audience to get its attention (I guess this is necessary with Generation Y). My favorite three quotes of the night were "Are you fucking alive Boston?" "Don't just fucking stand there!" and the shockingly obscenity free "Bang your heads just like we do." The audience was constantly told to get the circle pit going – much to the chagrin of the over-anxious security at the club. Surprisingly the band's stage show was slight; it was dominated by a squatting Heafy who bent deeply to reach his lowered mic stand, and only livened once when both the guitars and the bass lined up at the front of the stage, 80s metal style, during a musical moment inspired by Judas Priest. There were no jumps and, despite the wireless equipment on the instruments, very little motion. In a final moment of affectation, the members of the band completed their set by conspuing their drumsticks and guitar picks at the audience.
While all the posturing merely made me feel queasy (in my the same way that seeing Jupiter Sunrise does), the rehearsed showmanship did energize a good portion of the audience. I, on the other hand, know I would have enjoyed the band's set a lot more if I weren't constantly being told to get my "fucking hands in the air."
After Trivium's set the audience began to compress. My personal space shrunk to half its original size, and new faces popped up in front of familiar ones. A new arrival to my right thought she had made her push just in time for Danzig, and was disappointed to learn that she had to make it through one more band. I imagine the majority of the audience would have been sympathetic to her dilemma, but I was actually looking forward to Kataklysm's set.
While I had just seen Kataklysm a few months earlier opening for Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse, I imagined this set would be quite different. Not only had the original drummer returned to the band (replacing the astonishingly excellent Martin Maurais), but also the band would likely ape for the more commercial audience present at a Danzig show. As it turns out, my assumptions were largely incorrect. Rather than catering to the audience, singer Maurizio Iacono covertly warned them while thanking Danzig for having "the balls to take a death metal band on tour with him." Iacono then added, "This guy's for real." With that announcement made (and that question answered) the band began a brutal set quite similar to the one I had seen in November.
To say Kataklym play straight up, old school death metal is an understatement. There are few flourishes or solos from the quartet. A double bass and single guitar provides a constant buzzing base, and force the bass guitar to provide the energy to drive the songs. While the band does include an occasional stomp-worthy break down, more often its songs contain blast beats designed for hectic moshing.
Despite the band's French-Canadian origin, Iacono has a harsh New York accent. While not noticeable in his only-occasionally recognizable lyrics, it was particularly pronounced when he spoke to the crowd and the security staff. He began by chastising the bouncers, telling them to let the crowd "do what they want," and clarifying that this "wasn't a Backstreet Boys concert." When it became apparent he was making no headway with security, he offered the crowd encouragement, saying, "They can't throw all you mother fuckers out." I imagine that was of little comfort to any that might have been ejected.
Although this banter was expected, the notoriously uncontrived Iacono did surprise me with the sappy line: "Boston, we will tear your souls apart." This isn't a band that will tear your soul apart, merely a band that will push you through some hard-hitting death metal. Kataklysm doesn't try to shock you with corpse paint or spiked costumes, or wow you with soulless, technical guitar solos. All of that is beneath them. Kataklym doesn't need to prove anything – especially not to Danzig's audience.
On Kataklysm's last tour, despite the short opening set, the band did make time for a drum solo – I suppose to ease fans' fears concerning the new drummer. All the same, I hoped that current drummer Max Duhamel might put his considerably larger kit to use in response during this tour. When guitarist Jean-Francois Dagenais broke a string and had to replace it himself (having no guitar tech at ready on a tour this large is both odd and admirable), the timing seemed perfect. Instead the stage was silent forcing Iacono to explain the delay and apologize. Duhamel definitely missed an opportunity to prove he isn't the band's second choice.
So that leaves us with Danzig, right? The band everyone came to see? Well not really. Some weeks earlier it was announced that Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein would join Danzig on stage for a mini The Misfits reunion. While the audience was excited about Danzig, they were drooling over the prospect of The Misfits. I definitely count myself in the latter group.
Before Danzig went on stage, the photographers were all briefed on the rules. We could only shoot during the first two songs, and there would be no flashes allowed. These were the same rules that were, more or less, followed for each of the other bands. We were also told that we could come back and shoot another song when "the guitarist for The Misfits comes out." An over-anxious fan with more camera than IQ spent a considerable amount of time going over these rules with the uninterested security staff. He kept pointing to a piece of paper (ostensibly the printed email from the publicity person who provided him with his photo access) explaining he was promised something different. Security tired of this as quickly as those around him, and several members of the audience could be heard plotting the demise of this Patriots-capped, lanyard-wearing fan with credentials.
While previous band intermissions had gone quickly, this one was taking surprisingly long – especially since most of the stage had already been assembled. The HR Giger imagery upon swords at the sides of the stage, the sinister backlit gates on each side the drum riser, and a tapestry bearing Danzig's horned skull logo hung at the back of the stage were all in place. The only remaining task was the installation of a small riser at the front of the stage. Ostensibly this was to add yet another branded logo to the set, but in reality, this six to eight inch lift was probably requested by the height and body-conscious Danzig. That modification in place, the audience began chanting "DANZIG DANZIG" in an effort to hurry the performer out.
At the prescribed time, the house cued intro music "Wotan's Procession", and band members began walking onto the stage one by one. Danzig, of course, came out last. There was no "Hello Boston!" to mark the start of the band's set – this was only the preamble to a set devoid of friendly audience interaction – the band hastily opened with "Skin Carver" from the new album. While the band stuck closely to new material for most of the night, there were visitations of past "hits," and a careful avoidance of the sub-par pseudo-industrial output that frustrated fans in the late 90s.
While the audience waited patiently through the new material, Danzig suffered from horrible sound issues. Almost immediately his microphone began alternately cutting out and feeding back. Several times during the set he stomped offstage – presumably to confront someone about the distracting technical difficulties. Unfortunately the problem was never fully rectified, putting Danzig in a visibly foul mood.
As one might imagine, the rest of the players in a band named Danzig don't count for much. That isn't to say the new line-up isn't effective. Guitarist Tommy Victor (Prong) was as solid and heavy as ever. His industrial metal and thrash pasts play well in Danzig, and he was able to recreate the classic dirty-growl guitar tone perfectly. Bassist Jerry Montano's (Nothingface, The Deadlights) technique was appropriately more powerful than graceful. Despite the ominous tones of Danzig's music, the mammoth Montano smiled broadly throughout the set, pointed to friends and fans, and tossed out waters and beer to the tiring crowd. While tour-only drummer Johnny Kelly (Type O-Negative) was given a grand ovation when he initially took the stage, he was, unfortunately, merely a fill-in drummer with no opportunity to present his own personality or style.
It is, however, Danzig's swallowed howl that sells the band. Well, that and Danzig's pectorals. But something may have been amiss there as well. When Danzig took the stage he wore a small leather jacket. After a song or two, he removed it, but he remained in his t-shirt the rest of the set. Danzig is always shirtless in videos and publicity stills; was it normal for him to keep his shirt on during a show, or was he a few bench presses and dozen crunches away from top shirtless showman form?
While Danzig was initially bothered by the poor sound quality, his ire grew as fans began heckling him while they chanted for Doyle. When it came time to bring Doyle to the stage, Danzig did it almost reluctantly. In fact, it reminded me of the tired dinosaur rockers who refuse to die – the way the audience groans when Steve Miller announces he'll be playing something from the new album, and cheers once he swallows hard and launches into "The Joker" for the two millionth time. Who can blame Danzig? This is his past, and an impossible one to live up to. Even hinting to audiences that The Misfits could reconcile is a dangerous gamble that is great for short-term publicity but has horrible long-term possibilities. Remember David Lee Roth on stage with Van Halen a couple of years back? Have you cared about Van Halen since that implied reunion went bust? Van who?
However, for the seven songs where Doyle transformed Danzig into The Misfits, things were glorious. Doyle looked great – shirtless and buff with the appropriate shin guards, makeup, and, of course, black devilock. He paced the stage pounding upon his dangerously pointy custom-made Rand Annihilator guitar, adding motion to the formerly stagnant stage. While that energy spread throughout the band, Danzig remained grumpy. Not only did he (deservedly) dog Metallica for their treatment of "Die, Die My Darling," he also berated the audience for not measuring up to the Boston audiences of 1982. 1982 is, coincidently, also the year the majority of the audience was conceived. That fact didn't stop the kids from singing along to every word of "20 Eyes," "Skulls," "Earth AD," "Mommy Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight," "Hatebreeders," "Die, Die My Darling," and "We Are 138."
After Danzig's half hour revisit of Misfits material, the stage went dark, to allow the crowd to clamor for more. A reenergized Danzig returned for "Twist of Cain" and MTV-hit "Mother" – the latter eliciting a response nearly equal to The Misfits songs minutes before. Danzig definitely left the show on top. Despite the crowd's continued chanting, and the lack of clues from the lighting and sound folks, there was no second encore. Fans continued to chant and I was hopeful for "Godless" or "Sistinas", but when I saw the sound staff removing microphones from the stage, I took that as the definitive statement and headed for the door.
After a quick dash down crowded curving stairways, I was confronted by an open door, and a blast of cold blowing snow. To the utter dismay of my fellow concertgoers, four inches had already fallen and it was blowing down in blizzard fashion. The girls exiting the show in their big boots and short skirts were simultaneously prepared and completely underdressed. Together we trudged up to the Boylston Street T-shop and filed into he subway as a steady mass of cooling sweat, residual excitement, black hair die, running eyeliner, and melting white flakes.