(NOTE: Sorry no photos, I couldn't secure a photopass in time and the club doesn't allow photography otherwise.)
Traffic crawled on I-90 as I attempted to get out of the city. It was rush hour (or close enough to it) and my first experience driving to a show in Worcester. Actually, it was my first experience going to a show in Worcester. I was definitely wishing I were on the train. With all that traffic, the travel time is about the same an hour and a half. Tolls are like $3.50 as well, which is pretty close to the $5.75 commuter rail ticket. Yeah, somewhere there was a point to all this.
Worcester reminds me a lot of Omaha. It has wide-open spaces in a downtown that seems to be trying to reassert itself, but is having only spotty success. As a result, the downtown area has the toothy grin of a jack-o-lantern. At 7:30, on-street parking was easy to find, so I was able to save the $4 charged by the numerous parking lots around The Palladium empty lots that once supported tall buildings.
Being uninitiated, I waited in a quick moving line that terminated at frisking bouncers at the front of the club. However, because I didn't have a ticket, I was funneled to another, slower moving line for guestlistees, those picking up tickets from online purchases, and those buying tickets at the door. After $22 and a quick pat down, I was ushered into the club.
The Palladium is palatial. Like other concert halls converted from more sanctimonious uses, it still contains many of the ornate details ceiling moldings, ornate wall carvings, chandeliers, etc. though many are visibly scarred by both neglect and the current all-ages metal and punk crowds catered to by the club. The stage is wide, wider than most. The chairs have been removed leaving the back portion of the club as tiers fenced with brass railings. The front portion is a confined, flat pit with a concrete floor. An iron barricade lines the area in front of the stage, as well as an access path along the sides. Passed photographers and security personnel wander this area freely while cute grrls who are friendly with the bouncers have access to this alleyway as well. I stationed myself up against the railing to the right of the stage and about twenty-five feet back. Moving forward would have been easy at this point in the evening.
While not scheduled to begin until 8:30, the localish threesome of Anal Cunt was ready at 8:15 and pushing the soundman to complete his monitor work. Vocalist Seth Putnam stalled for time by repeatedly reminding the audience of a show the band would be playing the next night in Boston. He explained that although A.C. would only be given a fifteen-minute set here in Worcester, in Boston they were big stars and they'd play ten times as many songs. When that commercial got old, Putnam offered the crowd a racist riddle. The audience applauded in appreciation. Though I winced, this is A.C.'s shtick, and I knew that coming into the show. While never tasteful or funny (in my PC Patrol opinion), it is impossible to take the band's insults and assaults seriously. After all, this is a band who recorded a song called "I Became a Counselor So I Could Tell Rape Victims They Asked for It."
Surprisingly (and to what must have been a disappointment to the assemblage), this was the end of Putnam's venom. That was it. The rest of the show was a quick spat of ten or fifteen songs nearly indistinguishable from one another with little crowd interaction at all. Putnam's vocals shifted from low, unintelligible growls, to quick, high-pitched, equally unintelligible screams. Often he shifted his vocalizations back and forth within a song as if having heated conversation with himself. With very few exceptions, Putnam spent the short set bent over with one foot set atop a monitor. His long curly hair not only covered his face, but also the microphone that seemed to be thrust into the thicket of his locks. His guitarist was similarly stationary, with movement only coming from a backwards tilt designed to allow maximum speed for the bursts of noise that mimic the vocals. Drumming was similarly frantic with quick sloppy stops and equally sloppy dynamics. Again, this is part of their appeal.
When the band had completed its fifteen-minute set, the audience seemed simply confused. Whether it was the short set, the simply brutal nature of the band, the lack of defining racism/sexism/homophobia or something else entirely, something did seem amiss. I was less critical I suppose. I like that there is an Anal Cunt out there, and the fact that they confused a thousand metal head onlookers only further endears them to me.
It'd been a while since I was last at a metal show. Sure, I'd been to black metal shows and death metal shows and grindcore shows and the like, but this audience was admittedly less extreme than all that. This was a Headbangers Ball sort of audience. This fact was best told by the aging hair-metal chick from the north shore who came to stand in front of me as Anal Cunt was removing its gear from the stage. With her light, nearly acid-washed jeans and big blonde hair, it was obvious where this 30ish's musical formative years were spent and where her allegiances still lie. When she talked I tried to look bored, and so she moved from fellow spectator to fellow spectator quickly, not getting many bites. Later she'd engage the bouncers, but more on that in a bit: now we're going to talk about metal.
What delineates all of metal's various offshoots is difficult to pin down. Four bands all metal performed on this evening, yet each belongs appropriately in their own sub genre, or in a recognizable blending of classifications. Anal Cunt, with their quick, loose bursts of punishing speed and alternating gruff/screamed vocals, are most often classified as grindcore. And while the band that followed them to the stage, DevilDriver, is easily recognizable as a metal band, the differences between these two bands outweigh their similarities. First, some history:
California's DevilDriver is the vision of one man Dez Farasa who once fronted nu-metal gothsters Coal Chamber. In 2001 Farasa had reportedly grown tired of the gimmicks, instead deciding upon a more straightforward metal approach. With this idea in mind, he assembled the additional players that comprise DevilDriver. And while there are still allusions to the band's nu-metal peers (they are, after all, a product of their times), the result is largely as planned- straightforward metal.
Unlike Anal Cunt, DevilDriver's music comes in recognizable forms. There are verses and choruses that repeat in expected ways. Furthermore, although Farasa croaks out his gutteral vocals, his lyrics are entirely comprehensible. The two guitars provide very little interplay, and seldom (if ever) solo. Mostly the guitars follow each other, creating big, often anthemic, riffs. Hinting at more modern influences, the guitars occasionally shift into the quickbuzzing mode popular in death metal. The extreme elements of death metal bleed into much of the band's material, and overall the band is certainly more aggressive than the other classic metal bands that serve as influences and reference points to the band's music.
As with most bands, DevilDriver states they are uninterested in writing for the current musical styles and trends. And while no band ever announces they're chasing after the latest trend, Farasa does have the makings of a new type of metal poster boy. If nothing else, his obvious attention to hygiene makes him an anomaly. Instead of the severe shaved head, or the long, stringy, greasy hair heretofore required by the genre, his hair is clean, short, and actually "floppy." A thin line of well-trimmed facial hair runs along his jaw line, further framing his face. A Motorhead t-shirt with cut off sleeves accent his large, tattooed biceps, while large-gauge captive bead earrings complete his aberrant image. The rest of the band were largely invisible in their uniforms of jeans and black concert t-shirts advertising the bands of their peers. In what must be an affront to Farasa's fashion sense, the remaining members sported only the genre's acceptable haircuts.
As a frontman, Farasa utilized only established and expected means of crowd interaction: offering the normal praises of the town and fans, making requests for mosh pits and the like. Irrespective of his normal speaking voice, all banter was produced in a throaty growl to maintain some impossible illusion of ferocity. The crowd, however, was happy to play along. Several dozen men responded to the call and made their way to the pit where swinging arms, thrown elbows and haphazard kicks were the norm. A few hardcore kids attempted to join in the sport, but their somewhat organized dance of acrobatic martial arts was completely discounted by the outright "seek & destroy" mentality of the majority of the pit. For these testosterone fiends, this wasn't about dancing, but simply about finding other males to push. Whether this is outright violence or ritualistic male bonding is the subject for countless books, but only the perpetrators know the real answer.
In an obvious juxtaposition of schools, DevilDriver's updated heavy metal was followed by the staid death of Morbid Angel. Morbid Angel formed in Florida nearly fifteen years ago heralding the birth of the new death metal genre. And while that genre has gone on to great new heights, Morbid Angel has held firmly to the rudimentary, base elements that defined the movement then. Namely, they focus on music that is incredibly fast (owing music to the speed metal forbearers like Exodus), and insanely brutal. Similarly, they have held true to the satanic shtick they initially borrowed from Venom and Slayer. As such, aside from personnel issues, Morbid Angel has changed very little since their inception.
At 10pm the roadies attached a 10ft banner to a lighting rig and raised it high above the band. A massive drumkit was brought forward. Just how big it was I couldn't say; I was able to count nine or ten cymbals, but from my vantage point I wasn't able to get an accurate count of the various drums that completed the kit. As with DevilDriver, screens were placed in front of the guitar and bass rigs. Whether the band sincerely didn't want us to see its equipment, or if this was simply another avenue to advertise the band's logos, I just have no idea.
The audience had continued to swell during the show, and judging by the thunderous applause when the four members of Morbid Angel walked onto the stage, the majority had come to see Morbid Angel. Vocalist/bassist Steve Tucker seemed to be taken aback by the response, and throughout the band's set he continued to comment on the large, rambunctious audience. Whether Worcester was truly one of the largest audiences of the tour, I dont know. Sadly, I didn't even think to ask about the total ticket sells of The Palladium.
After the initial niceties, Tucker introduced the first song as "Day of Suffering" and the band began. That uplifting song was followed by another equally cheery ditty introduced as "Pain Divine." While I'm not terribly familiar with the band's catalog, the majority of the material seemed to come from more recent albums. However, it was, as expected, the older songs (such as "Rapture") that pushed the crowd into the biggest frenzy. This classic, nearly textbook, speed metal song caused the mosh pit's biggest explosion of the night sending the smaller kids who inhabit the normally safe outer rings flailing into the heart of the audience. A few took up the challenge and ran into the fury pushing and shoving awkwardly and off balance, most just mouthed apologies to the other unwitting participants in this game of human pinball.
In fact, the activity of the mosh pit frequently stole the focus away from the performers on stage. And even though each band pushed the audience to respond to its music-in effect encouraging the audience to create their own performances-it must have been disheartening to see all eyes turned towards an entropic mass of unfocused fury. Aside from the expected pushing, shoving, and "body checking," this performance included: a tiny hardcore kid who incorporated flips into his ninja dancing technique, a vindictive mosher who took a well-timed elbow to the throat this was lovely pit justice and even the bouncers laughed through the winces at seeing this roughneck hit the ground, and a gal who was hoisted upon her boyfriend's shoulders in order to flash her eager breasts toward the stage.
Of course those in the immediate vicinity of the pit had an excuse for their fascination they must keep an eye on the activity in an effort to anticipate when its violence might spill into their personal space. Those not in the fray's periphery, but still looking for an excuse for their fascination, were given incentive by the dull stage show of Morbid Angel.
Although the band's performance was technically scintillating (or possibly because of this fact), the stage show was nonexistent. Tucker provided only tired banter from behind a microphone stand that he was seemingly tethered to. Similarly, each of the two guitarists was immobile, while drummer Pete Sandoval was completely hidden by his mammoth drum kit. Although I must admit a strange fascination with guitarist and co-founder Trey Azagthoth 's leather pants and white high-top tennis shoes, the technical guitar licks (lightning-fast buzzing metal riffs with occasional tremolo-bar enabled solo) kept him focused on his instrument, and not upon the audience. I can only assume the mind-blowing double bass work of Sandoval had a similar effect upon the visual elements of his performance. But then he has an excuse he's the drummer.
Favourite quote of the night, "This one's called World of Shit!"
For an audience that seemed willing to focus on music more than performance or personality, the calls and outright shrieks caused by the appearance of Hank Williams III seemed out of place. However, maybe out of place behavior is perfectly acceptable when discussing Hank Williams III. After all, the heir to a country music legacy, and occasional country music showman himself, playing bass in a marijuana-obsessed hardcore metal band is decidedly out of place.
While Williams and the other members of Superjoint Ritual wandered back and forth across the lit stage, seemingly wasting time, roadies busied themselves by removing the giant Morbid Angel banner hanging at the rear of the stage, and replacing it with a much, much larger one bearing the Superjoint Ritual logo a pot leaf superimposed over an inverted pentagram. Since the pot leaf is in the forefront, I can only assume that the band's allegiance is first to marijuana and second to the occult. "Worshipping Satan is cool and all, but let's finish this bowl first and then go get some tacos I'm hungry as hell!"
While considerable attention is devoted to Superjoint Ritual's famous bassist, the band is truly the project of Pantara vocalist Phil Anselmo. As such, the area around me was quickly inundated with younger, decidedly more mainstream metal fans, forcing out Morbid Angel's older, old-school fans. The dynamic between these separate camps was interesting, as the majority of the kids were drunk, excited and very social. The conversations they attempted to start with the older crowd invariably ended flatly. I was told I looked tired, even asked what was wrong. Nothing was wrong, but I was tired. It was after 11pm, and I should have been home sipping tea and watching Jon Stewart.
Our Gloucester gal alone inhabited the intersection of the two groups. She and her Amazonian friend had pushed and pleaded their way forward for Morbid Angel, and were continuing to work their way forward in anticipation of Superjoint Ritual. With mixed drinks in hand, they approached nearly every guy in the vicinity, attempting to strike up conversations about anything. You could still see the excitement in Ms. Gloucester's eyes even if it was tempered by the crow's feet.
Although I listened intently and unapologetically to her conversations with others, it was the conversations that I couldn't hear that I was most interested in. One particular bouncer seemed to be her favourite, and I could tell she was trying to convince him to allow her passage to the photo area between the barricade and the stage. While the PA played Rollins-era Black Flag, I watched our deer-in-the-headlights bouncer shrug and mouth, "I can't, I'll get fired." She was unrelenting though, and I'm sure fantastic counter-offers were made to sweeten the pot.
When it seemed most dire for the bouncer, when it seemed as though his obligations may have been swayed, he was suddenly called away to monitor the awakening crowd. Anselmo had taken the stage though I wouldn't have recognized him if he not have been standing center stage, clutching the microphone that was obviously intended for him. I suppose I was expecting to see the terrifying, bald behemoth of Vulgar Display of Power, but instead Anselmo was just another longhaired metalhead indistinguishable from the audience members. My misconceptions mounted when Anselmo quickly cemented his bond with his audience by announcing, "our stage is your stage." While the faces of all bouncers immediately soured upon hearing this proclamation, others could be seen mouthing much harsher criticisms. Even though I thought it a nice sentiment, I couldn't imagine the bouncers would allow it. The added liability would be monstrous. However to give credit to both band and the security staff, fans were allowed to scurry over the barricade, onto the stage, join the band for brief moments of bright-light glory, and then dive from the stage back into the crowd.
As with the other performers, Anselmo urged the crowd into the mosh pit, but provided the tongue-in-cheek instructions "and for you young kids, it's counter-clockwise. And it's a dance, not a fight." Wow, maybe I was wrong about Anselmo; the man I supposed to be a brainless ruffian was sounding more like Ian MacAye. And like MacAye, Anselmo's audience listened. When the first song started, the area immediately in front of the stage erupted in an enormous circle pit pushing out in each direction until structural restrictions forced its limits. Was it less violent? Oh gosh who knows, but the higher a pit's population is, the less likely it is that a particular hooligan can build up a head of steam and focus that aggression on a single co-participant. In that way, maybe, things were more reserved.
Of course there is a matter of the music. Although no one would question Superjoint Ritual's metal pedigree, the band took all that crunching power and aggression, and unleashed it as something a bit more hardcore than metal. I immediately made comparisons to Agnostic Front and The Cromags, as well as new school versions such as downset and Madball. Alselmo described the band as "hardcore heavy metal" quite apt. Also, quite good.
While I had attended the show with pure sociological intentions to discover what the headbangers were up to Superjoint Ritual had begun to win me over. The music of rusted pick-up trucks and rebel flags (yes, sadly the stars and bars was hung immediately in front of the drum kit) was embarrassingly accessible, positively primal, and yet simultaneously interesting. Enjoyable even.
Unfortunately, earlier in the evening I had agreed to an 11:30 departure. It was with an eye on my cell phone's clock that I stretched my time in the fray of Superjoint Ritual's chaos to its limits. Ultimately, the display flipped to 11:31 and I was forced to turn my back to the stage and weave my way through the crowd, up the aisles, up the stairs, and out of the club. Maybe I'll catch Superjoint Ritual again. Maybe next time I wont have to pretend I'm only going on a lark. Maybe next time I'll take the train.