Saturday May 4th, 2002 at El Torreon in Kansas City, MO
Manowar, Immortal, Catastrophic, & Havochate
This is genuinely one of the most fucked up shows I've been to. Not because of evil bands from far-a-way evil lands or anything so obvious, just because everything was so not usual.
I arrived at 8pm to a parking lot half full of cars but over it's quota on tour buses. Two giant "Home Sweet Home"-style busses and a 20 something foot moving fan. Oh shit. Big bands.
The promoter is out front sweating his ass off because the club has exactly the same number of roadies inside as it does paying guests. I'm no help there so I slip in and ready my camera.
Still though, not normal. The stage is full of gear. Like different monitors and cabinets and all of it crammed up front. I felt so sorry for Havochate as the singer couldn't move an inch. The band in total looked like they had been on the road for 35 years despite the fact that they're recent additions to the metal scene. They're likely to see worse, but this will rank right up there.
To the right of the stage was a giant mixing board used for the band's monitors. It was probably larger than the El Torreon board and powered by a larger PA as well. Replacing the snack bar was another even larger mixing board used for the house sound. With all the additional gear in the club maybe it was a good thing that the turn out was small. Where would they have put the fans if they had shown up?
I took a couple of quick shots of the guitarist to test the lighting conditions. They were horrible. It was all horrible. Something was up with the stage cannons and only half of them were on, and there were this nasty little moving laser-spotlights on the side of the stage flashing occasionally only blinding the band. I'm not sure where they came from (either the tour or new to the club) but they need to go back. They were designed for someone's living room and Pink Floyd Ultradiscs, not a live music venue.
As I adjusted my camera to pump up the light sensitivity (knowing full well I'd get horrible hot spots due to the few cannons that were working) I was nabbed by security. After stepping away from the speakers it was explained to me that the band had requested "no cameras or recorders". In an attempt to remedy this I sat outside of the Manowar tour bus for 25 minutes waiting for the tour manager to come out. When I was finally greeted he was professional but cocky. He explained that Manowar doesn't allow ANY photographers no matter where I was from, and that even if I were from the LA Weekly, there would be no photographs. I figured the members must be fat or balding or hideously ugly. Maybe all three.
John continued on indicating the band's label would be happy to provide promo ready stills. Dandy. Shitty rock star policy but John's only doing his job right? He kindly escorts me to the other bus where I get the nod to take pictures of the two opening bands, but to get permissions for Immortal I need to talk to someone else. Knowing that Havochate's set was almost over I slipped back into the club, told the security guy I was blessed, and watched Havochate walk off the stage. Damn.
So Havochate. No pictures. No account.
Next up were Catastrophic from somewhere NYC. Again they were pressed so close to the edge of the stage that singer Keith DeVito had to step over the drum kit to pace the stage. It's hard to be hardcore when you've got to keep your feet in the same place, but the band gave it their best. Mixing in a simple directness of hardcore with the intensity of new metal the band kept the crowd satisfied. It is noteworthy that the bigest audience cheers came when DeVito introduced guitarist Trevor Peres as a former member of Obituary. Talk about a shadow.
While Catastrophic played on, making whatever sorts of loud noises they make and kids like, I went in hunt of Immortal's tour manager. She's a slight gal who wasn't nearly as tough as she would have liked her lip piercings and boots to make her. After quizzing me on my camera's recording capabilities she gave me a pensive approval but noted she'd have to check with the band. Later she'd give me a thumbs-up from across the room. Nice gal.
Anticipation was high for Immortal as the unindoctrinated asked questions like: "Are they really from Norway?" "Do they wear make-up?" "Are they fast?" Yes grasshopper, they are all of the above.
The lights were shut off while Immortal scurried up to the stage. When the lights and sounds returned three evil Norwegians were in full death-metal stride. My misconception before the show was that Immortal were epic black metal, however they just seemed more death than anything else. With so many line up changes and seven albums, it was really a toss up to who would show up anyway. Besides, metal is the most splintered genre of them all so distinctions between sub-sub-sub-genres are somewhat subjective anyway.
For about the first half hour of the set, the crowd was intently focused on the show and the band's sweet-smelling fog machine. However, as the show stretched longer, the novelty of this corpse-painted threesome seemed to wear off and only the diehard fans remained to throw devil horns of appreciation to the band between songs. My musical interest in the genre is somewhat passive save a few very specific cliques (I absolutely love Viking metal) so while I enjoyed Abbath's throaty croaking and the art of the absurd, after a while I retired to the back of the club to play Tetris on my PalmPilot.
As Manowar were preparing to take the stage I packed away my camera as instructed and clawed my way as near the stage as I could. Lazlo has some sort of sick infatuation with Manowar so I quizzed him to find out what songs I should be yelling for in the rare moments of silence. He excitedly offered details concerning the swords and motorcycles we'd soon be witnessing.
As any regular reader knows, my love of Manowar is never ending and I'm quite possibly their biggest fan. ...Either that or I've never listened to them. You decide. A trio of instrumentalists (bass, drums, & guitar) began the set with a decidedly melodic metal crunch only to be joined moments later by a disembodied voice. Soon Eric Adams revealed himself as he skipped out from behind a giant guitar stack with his wireless microphone. Now that's an entrance.
But wait, Adams wasn't the only one without strings both bassist Joey MeMaio and guitarist Karl Logan were also untethered and able to move about the now-larger stage. With all of this rockstar power and experience the band went straight to work. The band had barely hit their first guitar solo before Adams motioned to the sole grrl in the front row that she should consider lifting up her shirt so that he might see her breasts and derive prurient pleasure from the sight. From my position I couldn't tell if she obliged him, but it did make me realize I needed to change my vantage point the show wasn't going to be on stage, it was going to be in the faces (and on the chests) of the fans in front of the stage.
What I was able to determine in my short hour with Manowar and their fans can really be summed up in a simple equation: Manowar == Dungeons & Dragons. Nearly every song is about warriors and comrades with strong sexual overtones to tantalize the audience who can only imagine such power and fulfillment. My early teen years were a blur of D&D campaigns with geeky outcasts whom, in most ways, were indistinguishable to the headbangers at the show. In fact if it were not for the ten to fifteen elapsed years, I would have had no clue to separate the two.
Although I intended to stay for only a few songs, I was soon wrapped up in the show and found myself riveted to the stage (nearly literally) for the entire set. There were guitar solos and bass solos (but no drum solo) and a fair amount of nudity (she obliged) and I began to recollect the repressed memories of rock clubs in the late 80s. On closer inspection the band were wearing the black "Stretch Fuckin' Jeans" uniform, and both Adams and Logan sported the pointy boots of the period as well. Logan's even had the silver buckles surrounding the ankle and the chain running under the heel. Manowar have been on tour a long time.
Although I was intrigued by so much, the bass player's instrument perplexed me. What does he play? With three pickups, and lighter, more reponsive trings he often contributed chords as a second, deeper guitar. Although he would rumble on occasion, he typically blended into the mix much more than most bass players. It got my indie-rock brain thinking...
I witnessed so many things that night that it would be impossible to describe them all to you. Highlights might be the guitar solo where after some impressive double-handed finger tapping, Logan fell dramatically to his knees, arching his back so that his long golden locks touched the carpeted stage. Maybe the highpoint was Adams placing his microphone into the cleavage of the grrl in the front row and later attempting to return and sing into the lodged microphone. Or maybe the apex might have been the bass solo that included a banjo effect and sent Adams into a knee slapping frenzy grinning offstage, just out of view of the audience.
Or maybe it was the way the band seemed to be enjoying themselves even as they played a small venue incapable of supporting a stage show that normally included things like swords and motorcycles and probably flames and other explosions. Sure, it's possible that they were smiling because it was either laugh or cry, but if it was, the band didn't let their fans know it. And that was enough to impress me despite their rockstar "no cameras or recorders" policy.