Thursday, April 2, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Metal-Aged Guy

(This shameful re-run of a re-run was originally published April 5, 2009.  I have subsequently brought my youngest daughter to a metal concert in Calgary, while Island Mike's son (14 at the time) has grown into a strapping young lad who attends university and played baseball with the Edmonton Prospects last summer.)

Today's post will be familiar to some, as I sent it around via e-mail in December of last year. It was the response I got from this, however, that prompted me to start the blog in the first place, so I had always intended to include it. Besides, with half the household up all last night being sick (on Glory's birthday no less), it was either this or a posting called "Happy Birthday to (hugh)". What follows is an exhortation to my friend Mike who lives on Vancouver Island to cross the Strait with his 14 year-old son to see the "Ultimate Beatdown Tour" that was playing in Vancouver the following evening.

Warning: the following post does contain traces of pottymouth. Forewarned is half an octopus.
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Why should you see the show? First of all, you have a serious obstacle to overcome in the form of a major waterway just to get to the show, and I respect that, but remember that you will not have to deal with waiting for 45 GORRAM MINUTES in MINUS 25 DEGREE COLD. Damn, that was awful, I could barely remember the sensation of even having a big toe by the time we got in to the Edmonton Event Centre (formerly Reds at WEM). And as soon as we are in the doors, it is the mandatory coat check, which slows the line up AND keeps us close to the soul-chilling temperatures of the great outdoors. And then we find out that the only food in the place is the Funky Pickle pizza stand, AND because it is an all ages show, you can't take your beer out of the cordoned area in front of the stage, so if we want to beer it up (and, not surprisingly, we do), we are going to have to go and stand by the bar where Pete has at least recce'd us a sweet spot and made friends with the bartender. So, in short, at least your venue will not suck nearly as badly and you probably won't freeze to death waiting for the doors.

Secondly, the opening acts. I had not heard of either opening act, so I was prepared to listen to two sets of badly produced amateur speed metal with no sense of either grandeur or irony in order to get to Dragonforce, who are pretty cool and clearly have a decent understanding of that "take your work seriously, don't take yourself seriously" thing. so when the first band comes up on stage wearing the oversized Frank Frazetta shoulder pads with spikes and all, I'm rolling my eyes and thinking, "oh brother, 'ere we go...", when they rip into a big instrumental that not only sounds well played, but strangely familiar. Is it classical? No, more like folk music...Russian maybe?

Then it all clicks together: I am listening to a speed metal interpretation of "Kalinka", a Russian tune most famous for being the music from Tetris, and the band is called Powerglove (like the old Nintendo accessory), and they are the premier purveyors of "video game metal". Possibly the sole purveyors, but it matters not. And they are a riot: they introduce themselves and state plainly that they are here to "fuck up your childhoods"; no vocals to speak of, except the finale, and they play bits of Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario and Final Fantasy VII. After asking if there are any warriors in the crowd (to an enthusiastic response), the frontman says "good, because we need about 15 skeleton warriors to wield these INFLATABLE SWORDS!" and the crowd goes apeshit, "And this MIGHTY CLUB!" which is an oversized neon pink inflatable baseball bat. About midway through the set, Pete notices that frontman's shoulder pads are actually the turtle shell thingies from the Mario games, a nice detail. For the finale, Powerglove rocks up the crowd with a stirring rendition of the "Power Rangers" theme. A great time, and I bought their disc.

So then the second act comes on, and Mike, Pete and I have reconciled ourselves to the fact that the other opening act could not POSSIBLY be as cool as Powerglove. So the lights go down, the stage is black and a Finnish accent booms out "Edmonton.. are you ready for BATTLE METAL?" and from the response, apparently a number of the crowd really are. So this band, Turisas, hit the stage, rocking the Battle Metal with what I would call a significant hardness, with a six piece band, all decked out in furs and red and black striped warpaint reminiscent of the hedonism scene from Conan the Barbarian's. They've got a vocalist, bass, lead guitar and drums, as well as a crazy ass guy with a cut down violin and.. a female accordionist. I know, I know, you've seen one Finnish folk-metal band with a female accordionist (or as Mike says,'accordionatrix'), you've seen them all; and yes, she was cute; Pete compared her favourably to Sandahl Bergman in the aforementioned Conan, but I think that sells her a little short), but I am new enough to the world of international metal that it was still a novelty for me.

And this band really does rock. Yes, I bought their CD, "The Varangian Way" too, and not just because it references the Varangians mentioned in those John Ringo 'Kildar' novels. They remind me of a less orchestrated, rougher version of Rhapsody/ Rhapsody of Fire. The folk influences are deffo there (violin and accordion, hello?), but the vocals are growlier, and there are a lot of sing along choruses that would not have been out of place in a Viking mead hall. Early in the set, I turn to Pete and say, "You know, these guys would do a positively kick ass rendition of Rasputin, eh?" and he agrees emphatically, so when, not three songs later, a familiar beat is followed by "There lived a certain man, in Russia long ago..." Pete is convinced I am psychic.

Their lead singer and warlord, according to the liner notes, ran a very thin line between getting the crowd warmed up for the headliners and formally inciting a riot. "these guys up front look bored, I'm sorry to say. They are security, and it is their job to keep the stage secure. You aren't giving them very much to do, ARE YOU MOTHERFUCKERS? they are getting paid to do nothing, and it probably pisses them off. I KNOW IT PISSES ME OFF!! START SOMETHING!!!" But thankfully, order was maintained, even though Turisas have enough of a presence in the metal community that a number of young fans were kitted out in warpaint and furs as well.

And Dragonforce? Just an excellent show with absolutely breathtaking guitar work by the two leads. Great crowd participation, band interaction, the works. There are enough videos and the like on YouTube that you can certainly get the idea (esp. "Operation Ground and Pound") of what to expect, but I maintain that watching highly trained and skilled professionals who clearly love their work are a joy to watch in just about any field, doubly so in music, and even more so in heavy metal.

One of the guitarists is named Sam Totman, and Mike has informed us that it is a rare enough name in England that who knows? they may be related. Watching Sam onstage and seeing a multitude of Mikely mannerisms manifest themselves was just about enough to convince me, and there is certainly a passing similarity, even if Mike is about a foot taller. After the show, we ended up talking to both Sam and the accordionatrix while we waited 40 minutes for the coat check tide to subside, so Mike and I got our Turisas discs signed, and Mike got his picture taken with Sam after telling him the relativity theory. Sam wished his Dad was there "because 'e'd be all 'oo,er, family tree" et cetera, but yeah, nice guy, funny, sarcastic, and enough like Mike that I would not bet against them being related to some degree. Oh, and Pete and I read on Wikipedia that the accordionista is a step-in player filling in for the original bloke who "disappeared under mysterious circumstances while in Amsterdam." No shit.

Had I taken Fenya, she would not have been close to the youngest person there at age 10. I saw a lad of probably five riding on his dad's shoulders, wearing a Dragonforce t-shirt. And aside from a gratuitous amount of f-bombs and the occasional lewd gesture, there was nothing in the show I would have called age-inappropriate, unlike the previous show I saw at Reds, which was Gwar(!). Fenya had asked to come, as she likes the non-growly metal in general and Dragonforce in particular, and having experienced the show, I wish now I had taken her along. You have an opportunity to go and experience with your boy the spiritual inheritors of the music of your youth. they are no Iron Maiden, but very decent musicians with great showmanship and tremendous humour. It could be a year or two before another show like this comes to your neck of the woods, making your son 16 by then, and either insanely busy in the family tradition, or just unwilling or uncomfortable doing such things with his dad. I just don't want to see you down the road, listening to Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle" holding a picture of better days while a single tear tracks down your unshaven cheek, et cetera... but I think you get my point.
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Unfortunately, with the limited amount of lead time they were given, Mike and his son were not able to attend the show, but he let me know that he appreciated the heads up, and that my experience had given us both a lesson in terms of seizing opportunities. On the other hand though, I am helping some friends arrange the music for their wedding reception this summer, and since playing "Rasputin" is practically an obligation in such circumstances, it is nice to know I can spice things up a little bit, courtesy of Turisas, and my mates who brought me along to the show.

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