Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Nail Your Mouths Shut

Greetings and salutations.

Another long week, and the promise to deliver a sarcasm-soaked review, on schedule, looms over my head. There’s been very little time to reflect on the show from this past weekend, and I know there are people counting on me. Some folks might crack under such pressure, but not I. Rather than let these kind of issues weigh upon me, I beat the stress by burying the fear and nervousness deep inside of me and pretending it doesn’t exist. If I ignore it long enough, it will just go away. That seems like the adult way to handle it.

But since I have a limited amount of time out of my day to do this, let’s get right to the point. Friday night was the “Southwest Virginia Metal Fest,” and your faithful Phantom was there to bring you all the action. Featuring War Theory, Speak of the Devil, Solace Requiem, Bullistic, Doom Syndicate, Dark Ruin, and Vital Remains, you can imagine that it was one big continuous mosh pit for most of the night. Due to the number of acts who performed, however, I’m not going to attempt to review them all individually. Instead, I’ll focus on the whole night, otherwise I risk breaking the record for most uses of the phrases “thrash guitar” and “screaming vocals” in a single column.

In fact, I’m not really sure what one can say about the music of a “Metal Fest” that you wouldn’t be able to conclude for yourself by me simply setting the scene. Put 80% of the 2005 inventory from Hot Topic in one room, add a bunch of biker-looking guys (I say “biker-looking” rather than “biker” because the number of those guys far outweighed the number of actual bikes in the parking lot), and set the tempo to around 160bpm or better. Set the bass guitar low so that it growls and ride the double bass drum until you feel a consistent pounding in your chest. High or low, just make sure the voice screams at regular intervals, and make sure to yell at those jerks in the back who paid $15 but won’t come up front like you want them to.

If it sounds like I’m generalizing, take heart. What I think really doesn’t matter in this case. Not that it ever does, obviously, but this isn’t your usual weekend show review. These are not the kinds of bands who really need me to analyze their music for them on a night like this. They are what they are, and they’re not caught up in the usual musical game of trying to make sure their public gets it. The people who get it show up, and the people who don’t stay home, or hang outside the fray and observe so they can write smart-alec comments about it later. Each band and their fans are bound by a strong sense of community and loyalty that exists because each knows what the other wants. Nothing I could really offer would sum it up any better than to say that each and every band did exactly what their audience needed them to, and in return, they were worshipped for it.

Music aside, my biggest concern heading in to the show was how that many bands were going to be handled effectively. Disorganization is a disease among musicians, and I’ve seen some otherwise good shows go completely down the tubes because people couldn’t get their act together in the back. When you talk about two or three bands sharing a bill, the thought of 20-30 minutes between sets for teardown and setup isn’t really all that bad. Make it seven bands, though, and suddenly you’re talking about roughly 3 hours worth of time out of the night spent changing the stage. To spend half of a 6 hour show loading and unloading doesn’t make much sense, so I was impressed at how efficient each and every act was at having their stuff set and ready to go. Most bands were off in 5 and the next band up in 5, so the whole process moved very smoothly. It sounds like such a small thing to be that prepared, but it’s considerate not only to the people in the crowd, but to the fellow bands.

The other notable non-musical observation is on the crowd. Forget for a minute that you may be a fan of any of these bands and/or the scene, and consider what sweeping opinions the public tends to pass on shows like this. The music is most definitely an acquired taste, and a frenzied pit is not everyone’s idea of a good time. While it is an ignorant assumption to classify everyone in black leather, makeup, chains, or spikes as a potential troublemaker, more than a few popular venues in town have been closed down over the years due to people who fail to elevate themselves above the stereotype. Unfortunately, the ritualistic expression of anger through energy has earned the metal crowd a reputation as a volatile, if not dangerous, gathering that not everyone wants in their backyard.

Not wanting to damage anyone’s “cred,” I won’t say people were on their best behavior, but it was obvious that the majority of fans wanted and appreciated the show, acting no more out-of-control than any of the random groups of drunk 40-year-olds I’ve seen stumbling around bars to beach music. The pit was furious, but isolated and contained, which is really where I draw the personal line on that stuff anyway. As far as I’m concerned, people can castrate themselves with a butter knife at a concert, and as long as they don’t interfere with my enjoyment of the show, it’s not a disruption.

It’s hard to say that the show was anything but a success in the eyes of the fans, and like I said last week, it’s always great to see the kind of support these acts give each other. More importantly though, the positive impact this gig made not only increases fan bases, but the overall likelihood that more places in town would consider shows like this a worthwhile endeavor. Coming soon to your backyard…

That’s enough out of me for this week. I’m actually posting this on time, so when I’m done, I’m going to go over and sit for a few minutes to catch my breath. Thanks for reading, and keep those emails coming. I’ll have no idea how much of a self-righteous ass I am unless you tell me! Until next we meet…

- The Phantom