Life always seems to get the in the way of my plan to write the great American show account. So while there's no time for literature, here is a quick hit on the evening.
Trollfest began, as planned, at 7pm. I arrived a few minutes later, also as planned. It's not that I dislike Trollfest, but imagine a metal band playing polkas, arranged for maximum discomfort by Captain Beefheart, with a wacky stage show choreographed by Reel Big Fish. Now make each of the musicians dirty, shirtless, bellied, and bearded Finnish men. Oh and there's a Britney Spears cover in there too. It takes a special sort of madness to sign up for a ride on that short bus. Still, contrary to my prejudices, it wasn't the moments of intensely muddy metal (courtesy of guitars and basses that each had two-too-many strings), but the band's Balkan folk dance numbers that I enjoyed the most. The sold-out crowd that packed into the Brighton Music Hall concurred as well, clapping along, with impudent smiles on their faces and their outstretched arms supporting the steady stream of crowd-surfing band members. The frenzy reached its peak as the band capped off its generous 45-minute set with "Helvetes Hund Garm," a song that had the entirety of the audience (literally) barking along gleefully – well everyone except me. I stood behind the stage, stubbornly determined to remain glum, and finding it quite difficult.
If one were to draw a line between opener Trollfest and headliner Ensiferum on a sheet of graph paper, that line would certainly pass through support act Korpiklaani. Korpiklaani is another large Finnish ensemble determined to weld folk and metal using the power of red-hot accordion. In recent years Korpiklaani have moved further from metal, and happily embraced traditional (sounding at least) drinking songs. "Happily," as it turns out, is key to describing the band. There is nothing menacing about this band; no pagan body paint, or Viking chain mail, merely six unchoreographed men dancing about on the stage as fiddle, whistle, and accordion blend with bass, drums, and electric guitar at a most frenetic pace. Like the band before them, Korpiklaani's set delivered straightforward metal (including one number with a delightfully sludgy Sabbath riff, and another that recalled Metallica's thrashy roots), note-y polkas, and every drinking song in between. But with Korpiklaani there was less levity, less banter, and a bit more atmosphere. It certainly wasn't sinister, but it wasn't barking mad either. Expectedly, fan-favorite "Vodka" got the biggest response of the night, but neither band nor fans let up despite a very long 90-minute set.
Curfew was evidently a concern when the promoters booked this all-ages show. And although Ensiferum's 9:50 start time was a long way from the magical hour when the full moon wakes ancient tree spirits from their frosty slumber to rise and fight alongside the Valkyrie to bind the wolf Fenrir (or whatever), it was going to get me back to the hotel before midnight. Odin be damned, I need my beauty sleep.
Ensiferum's set continued the evening's arc as frivolity was replaced with ever-darker themes. No longer were there dancing sprites on stage, but Viking warriors pummeling the audience with war drums and menacing guitars. There were still solos offered at the edge of the stage, with instruments held high over the clenched fists of the audience, but there was also a sense of danger. It seemed entirely possible that Norse god (and bassist) Sami Hinkka might produce a war hammer and crush an insolent audience member or proselytizing Christian. And although frontman Petri Lindroos didn't have the same connection with the audience as Korpiklaani's Jonne Järvelä, he had face paint! Ask any Kiss fan, the paint means a lot.
Throughout its sixteen-song set, Ensiferum provided the folk-inspired verses and epic full-band choruses that have defined the Finnish band's long career. And while the set was heavily weighted toward material from this year's One Man Army (2015, Metal Blade Records), the band included two songs from each of its previous five albums for good measure. Unfortunately keyboardist Emmi Silvennoinen wasn't on tour to play (or trigger) the required Wagnerian symphonic climaxes, but the magic of backing tracks meant the songs still packed the same punches. In an effort to replace Silvennoinen's presence on stage, the band tapped accordionist Netta Skog (late of Turisas) who held the line well. In fact, when the band returned for an encore, Skog donned a leather cap, shuffled the players and their instruments, and led a fun retelling of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law." Afterwards the players returned to their normal instruments to close the night out properly with live staples "Token of Time" and "Iron."
Once the encore ended and my camera gear was packed, I made a line for the door, passing the merch tables and their arrays of alluring black tee shirts printed with all manner of warrior and wolf. Those not already waiting in those lines were queued outside the tour buses in hopes of an autograph, a group photo, or something even more memorable. As much as I would have loved to test my powers of seduction on Skog, instead I found my way back to the interstate, the hotel, and reality. That's life for you, always getting in the way of my plans.