Tag Archives: Venom

Another Carwreck Pileup-Summer 2017 Concert Round Up: Jarre Dead Ween Blondie Who Purple Coop Crowes Quadrophenia Venom Roky. And Seinfeld-Once More Around the World in 80 Daze

As chronicled last year here , summer is the time to get out there-preferably under the stars, and see rock shows like they did back in the day: grassy field, blankets and festival vibes. Like last year, this summer had a wide range of rock enticement. What was on the menu?

May 16-Jean Michel Jarre Boston

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Pray to the light machine…

This was a big one. I mean this guy never tours. His first album that broke him, Oxygene, came out 41 years ago. He’d played the States exactly once, a single show in Houston in 1986, 31 years ago. A detailed review of this Boston show written at the time can be read here. Jarre is a first generation French synth giant along the order of Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, the big three krautrock synth god founders of electronic music. The Bank of America Pavilion is on the waterfront, and the back of the stage is pretty much on the sea wall. Bass sequences set up standing waves in Boston Harbor, and Jarre shattered reality, profoundly Oddly, this show was completely unknown and literally unpromoted. (I wore the tour shirt to an electronic music festival later in the summer. An older fan who flew in from overseas said he was a huge Jarre fan and asked when I’d seen him. I turned around so he could read the tour dates on the back of my shirt. “Hmmm, ok, ok…..uhhhhh no, nooo, NOOOOOO!!! The tour is over?!? Why didn’t I hear about this?) Why indeed? Not one single Jarre fan I spoke to this summer had ANY idea he was coming, and all were genuinely pissed they missed it. No print ads, no radio. Unsurprisingly, the venue was only about 1/3 full. Jarre beckoned to the crowd “come closer” and gathered the faithful. He told us secrets. Setlist

June 9-Ween Cooperstown NY

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Richard ‘Dick’ Smoker, Left Field
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Mollusk.

Up next, and on the same date the summer concert blitz started last year, June 9 saw Ween at the Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown (home of the baseball Hall of Fame). This one was a camping overnight on site event. Things learned? Brewery + Ween + walking to campsite at end of show = uh oh. Bodies dropped left and right into the mud trying to navigate in the dark, and last call went until well after eleven pm-strong brewery beer. I’d seen Ween five or so times since the reunion…and this band has some deep catalog to draw from. This night was no different. Setlist here. a 26 song setlist of rarities and chestnuts. A double encore seemed to precede either an extended LMLYP or Poopship Destroyer, but the oh so clever brain cell challenged neo hippie jam band element thought they would provide entertainment and rewards for Deaner by pelting him in the face with glow sticks (the thin pixie stick kind).

In their heads, they probably imagined it looked something like this:

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In actuality it was much more like this:

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Hit me again you fucking fuck and I’m done

This phenomenon of pelting the band with LARGE handfuls of glow sticks started at Phish shows, but thinking the band will react in any fashion other than pissed off is evidence that repeated drug use might cause the brain damage that D.A.R.E. always promised. Deaner turned to the drummer and motioned ‘this is it, last riff we are done’ ending the song while glaring back at the crowd of idiots clustered in the front. Concert ended early. Good show, and Ween in an outdoor venue with camping? Hope they do this again next summer.

June 20 – Dead and Company SPAC Saratoga NY

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SPAC is a fairly legendary venue for the Dead. In 1983 I saw one of their performances of the decade here.  I’d seen them last summer in Boston, and the band performed one of their dream shows, still spoken of as the best show Dead and Company have ever  played. I mean Help->Slip->Franklin’s in the FIRST set? St. Stephen->Dark Star->Terrapin-> drums/space->Terrapin->Morning Dew to start the second set? Yeah that’s not likely to be topped. Combined with the rampant rumors that John Mayer tripped at the show for his first genuine ‘electric’ Dead experience, and well you have a show not likely to ever be topped. So it was with a little trepidation I rode out here, knowing that they will probably never top what I saw last summer. But hey, the Dead outside in the middle of a forest state park? Count me in. Rain is usually in the forecast, but this time blue skies guided the vehicle the whole way. Grabbed some lawn seats near the stage (this venue is notably difficult to see the stage from the field) and watched some puffy clouds gather. Then, during Looks Like Rain, well…. it started to rain. Something in 35 years of seeing the Dead that I had never seen happen before. Friends were incredulous. Definitely weird. Even weirder, as the song drew to a close, behind us this happened:

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Looks Like Rain? They’re a rainbow full of sound?

Yeah it was a fucking moment. Song list trended towards ordinary, and Lost Sailor/St. of Circumstance was arranged to a point where it was barely recognizable at first. This is why many go to so many Dead shows-a deceased Jerry hasn’t curbed their propensity for dodgy shows here and there. John Mayer has definitely learned how to do a proper Jerry, and Oteil can channel Phil Lesh with much more authenticity than his early turns in 2015. Good but not great. It is disconcerting to realize they might never top what I saw in Fenway Park last summer. Mickey Hart can still create some sonic mayhem though.

July 7-Jerry Seinfeld Springfield MA

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Funny and unfunny…they’re like this close

I had wanted to get down the NYC to the Beacon Theater to see Seinfeld in his residency there this year, and saw he was doing a quick one off in Springfield. His reason? “Just like you, I had nothing better to do on a Friday night, and I needed to kill some time. So I came here.” Seinfeld does a clean and non topical act-cursing and politics are off limits- and he revisited some of his older material from the show. Springfield Symphony Hall is a venue that can cater to decent sounding acts, but much of Seinfeld’s act was barely audible, inexcusable really. However familiarity with his patterns and riffs helped the long time fans keep following the thread. The free wheeling playboy Seinfeld has been hitched for a while, and semi-lamented his married status and new group of friends: “If you don’t have a wife, we have nothing to talk about. You have a girlfriend? That’s Wiffle ball. You’re playing a paintball war and I’m in Afghanistan with real, loaded weapons. A single guy is sitting on a merry-ground blowing on a pinwheel. I’m driving a truck full of nitro down a dirt road.” Funny, but one got the sense he doesn’t have to work very hard to create his act anymore. Legends are like that though.

July 20-The Who Mohegan Sun CT

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Rested Daltrey + Cunty & Pissed off Townshend = Amazing Show

The Who. Only the Beatles and the Stones have the stature and influence the Who have as originators of modern rock. In truth, this band has seen all eras of rock n roll. From their first angst ridden thrashes in dance halls in 1964 to 2017-the Who have seen it all, close up and personal. Roger Daltrey, the ace mod face, and also ‘The Voice” of rock has had his share of vocal difficulties over the past twenty or so years. From vocal cord surgery in 2011 to difficulties with smoke in the audience in 2013 to postponing their 2015 fall US tour, there have been problems. But at this show, Daltrey was well rested, and in the best vocal condition I had seen him, perhaps ever. And he knew he was in good form-vocal riffs ran scales from borderline falsettos suddenly hurtling octaves into a deep familiar bass growl to end songs. Townshend was in good form, prickly and extra cunty. “We’re grateful to be here. Well I’m not grateful but I’ll bet you are…” Daltrey shot him an incredulous stare from center stage and took over…..”We are very glad to be here tonight, right Pete?”  Townshend continued irritably prattling on about how he didn’t need the money and that he had just flown in to town in his million dollar private jet. Daltrey once again had to smooth things over. With Pino Palladino out on tour with John Mayer, John Button from Daltrey’s solo band stepped in, and things were quite different from the first legs of “the Who Turns 50” tour. Townshend said introducing My Generation: “I’ve written about a hundred songs, and every one is better than this one”. The song degenerated into the chaos it used to in the sixties and early seventies arrangements, and then…suddenly I looked up. What the hell was going on? The band had jumped the rails and was off in uncharted territory, with Townshend slashing random riffs and Daltrey riffing random improvised vocals. Soon it seemed to solidify into a vague version of Cry If You Want-

 

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Microphone seeks escape velocity

 

 

 

Woah. The Who hadn’t let things fly like this in a bundle of decades. Bargain and Overture also had some free wheeling improv sections. Daltrey stalked around in front of Townshend in repetitive short circles as Pete thrashed his guitar with frenzied rhythmic slashes that increasingly bore no resemblance to the song. Incredible explorations, albeit short and interspersed, that hadn’t been seen live in well over forty years. The signature scream at the end of Won’t Get Fooled Again, the trademark howl of two generations? Spot on. Perhaps the best time and tightest I’d seen them in the over two decades of seeing them. I’d still pick out the Quadrophenia ’96 tour as my personal highlight, but vocally and arrangement wise, this was one powerful fucking show. The Who were famously challenged by the punk rock bands in the 70’s as dinosaurs, but the punk comet burned out early and the dinosaurs still freely stomp the earth, bringing rumbling thunder and showing that this is no damn nostalgia act, they can still rip the roof off an arena. The highlight of the summer, if not the year. song list

July 30- Blondie and Garbage Bank of America Pavilion Boston

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70’s meet 90’s

I once again trundled to Boston to see Garbage and Blondie. I wasn’t really sure what this would bring, I mean Debbie Harry is much older than many think (she was in bands on major labels in 1968, and was literally born during WW2-1945 for you non historians). I’d seen Garbage last year on the first album commemorative tour, and was beyond pleasantly surprised. They were nearly as powerful as when I saw them on the first album tour twenty years ago. This time though, no such luck. Shirley Manson admitted to being way overtired and had just got into town. The setlist ignored most of their hits, and the band was listless. It was apparent that much of their set is electronically pre-recorded and triggered from the stage. Fifty grand in sound equipment but from the ninth row the guitars sounded like a Peavey Backstage and Line Six Spirit amps were in use. (translation for non guitarists-two really cheap beginner guitar amps). Butch Vig, soundcrafter extraordinaire, had no visible mics on his cymbals, indicating they were electronic as well. Odd for such a perfection based and studio sound obsessed band to have such a thin sound and low energy.

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Beehive queen

Blondie however, was a big surprise. Debbie Harry came out dressed as above, but covered with a cape emblazoned “stop fucking the planet”, resembling sixties legend Moondog, statuesque and shamblingly regal.  At nearly 72 years old one would assume she has the gravitas to let us know what’s up-perhaps more of an instruction in truth. Their new album, Pollinator, brings to theme Harry’s cause, which is to save the disappearing bees. The setlist was pretty much as expected, and four songs from Pollinator was a brave choice, but the new stuff really hung in there with the standards. Founding guitarist Chris Stein seemed a bit propped up on stage and shows some signs of his lingering illness that has hampered him for a long while, but his riffing quietly with Iron Man underneath band introductions…wish he’d continued it. Overall, I’d have to say one word for Blondie in 2017-impressive.

August 20-Chris Robinson Band Holyoke MA

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A show in the newly created Gateway City Arts in Holyoke was one of those ‘hey they’re too famous to play here’ vibes that new venues can get. But this is a solid place to see a show. CRB is the Chris Robinson led half version of the Black Crowes while Rich Robinson has most of the rest of the band in The Magpie Salute. Will the long admired original Crowes band traditionally combative brothers ever get back together? According to Rich, not very likely due his brother’s obsession with his Dead influenced CRB: “Chris is done with it and we’re done with him, in a weird way. And it sucks, because that band could still do a lot of great things, he’s just into the Grateful Dead. That’s all he really cares about. He makes his records sound like the Dead; he hangs out with the Dead. It’s fucking crazy,” says Robinson. “But that’s what he wants to do. And if he’s happy doing it, good for him, man.”

Remember that the Black Crowes are the band that had this famous exchange between the brothers at the beginning of a tour:

Rich: If anyone gives my brother drugs, they are fired (from crew)

Chris: If anyone refuses to get me drugs, they are fired

So I was well prepared for a Dead influenced version of the Crowes. Yet most of the material was surprisingly well afar from the Crowes, and the band sounded more like a hybrid of Bobby and the Midnights circa ’83 and the Jerry Garcia Band from around the same era- a Dead solo trip hybridization, a more timid version of the Dead if you will. One of their songs sounded quite close to Birdsong, which several in the crowd noticed.  Flickers of other Grateful Dead themes darted in and around what was essentially ‘Dead Lite’.

Back in the days of the Black Crowes, when Chris Robinson strapped an electric guitar on, it was an ‘oh shit’ moment. Anything could happen, often off kilter things not planned. Rich would often turn his back noticeably on Chris when he quietly riffed on a few songs. This night, Chris was an able and tasteful guitarist, trying to channel Bob Weir’s ability to lead the band places unexpected.  If your tastes run more to slow burn Grateful Dead, and not expecting too much of a Crowes experience, worth seeing. Setlist

 

August 27-Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Edgar Winter Mansfield MA

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Like last years summer kick off with Bad Company and Joe Walsh, this was another one I almost gave a miss. But when tix on Stubblehub dipped to fifteen bucks, I had to do it. I mean I’d worshiped Edgar Winter Frankenstein since it came out, had seen the holy album cover in school-a whisper time holy relic of big kid culture.

Albino Twins

They Only Come Out at Night

This was seriously traumatic and intriguing for a pre-teen in ’73. The allure of Frankenstein and to a lesser extent Free Ride (both have the signature synthesizer gurgle swoop sound in them) influenced me on an atomic level.

Since then, Edgar has been a noted Scientologist, and scored the soundtrack to the historically execrable Battlefield Earth scifi/scientology non blockbuster. His twin brother Johnny plowed a blues furrow for decades, and Edgar…? He seemed to fade. Yet the idea of seeing Frankenstein live was a bucket list type thought. A thirty minute traffic showdown on the MassPike caused a mad high octane dash to the venue…and running up the ramp to the amphitheater one could hear the opening strains of Frankenstein, clearly the last song of the set. Winter took solo turns on drums, saxophone and of course synthesizer during the song-impressive. Forty year wish fulfillment. (Actually heard Derringer’s Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo on the way in if I remember right.) Setlist

Coop

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Hello, Hooray

I really didn’t expect Alice Cooper to win the night. Recently I’d seen him headlining in a theater and was mildly impressed, and then saw him open for Marilyn Manson and found myself wondering if he really wanted to do this. Alice was never known for his vocal prowess even back in the day (it was known that it took many takes to get something good from this band), and to his credit, Alice hasn’t really deteriorated from his mid 70’s growl sing.

But this night-big stage big production dollars involved-things were different. The band played with a swagger, triple guitar attack. Songs and more expensive theater vignettes salted the show. Cold Ethyl was acted out as a love affair with a female corpse who gets brutally knifed by Alice. (Cold Ethyl is actually a love song to alcohol and a warning on its killing powers…oops. Alice was beheaded next). Seventies chauvinism was exalted and amplified at the altar of seventies excess in a paen to an era gone by. I’d only wish to see this show performed somewhere near Smith College as a writing prompt to a decade of collective indignant polemic. But in the haven of beers n bones Mansfield, no such consciousness was in evidence.  In odd juxtaposition to the shock on display, Alice has been a little know born again Christian for a while. Though the setlist was fairly close to those of recent years, new songs were snuck in. Halo of Flies was the highlight, Alice’s attempt to prove to the prog rock snob crowd that ‘hey we can do that King Crimson shit too’. Decapitation, sword attacks, straight jackets, ten foot Frankenstein, electrocution….you know, the usual suspects were there to flesh out the concepts. Clear winners of the evening.

Purple Passages

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Popeye? Never noticed…

Deep Purple. One of the second wave of British bands behind the Who, the Beatles, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. One of the kings of heavy, with only Led Zeppelin acknowledged as their peers in ability to improvise, vocal power (hell Ian Gillan was Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar), album sales and concert draw. One of the godlike bands of my childhood.

I worshiped at the altar of Made in Japan for decades. Whispers of Purple playing again was a heady concept. I’d known of Purple’s reunion circa 1985, that they were secretly rehearsing in New Hampshire at the time. When a sold out Worcester Centrum in 1985 announced on the radio that day of show the stage was a different shape and that 195 tickets would be released that afternoon, I bolted straight out there. The setlist of that tour stuck pretty close to Made in Japan, and during the opening chords of Highway Star, the opener, I leapt so high in the air I didn’t come down in the row in front of me, I landed TWO rows in front of me, right on top of some unsuspecting girl. I dusted off and scuttled away. They were fucking amazing, and in a form very close to their 1972 peak.

Since then, the departure of John Lord (RIP) and Ritchie Blackmore has impacted the band’s sound. Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse has been manning guitar since 1994, and Purple fans seem satisfied. Blackmore is the Hendrix vibe of unbridled chaos Purple survived on, warts n all. Morse is the Robert Fripp of the band politely filtered through country precision. But as founding drummer Ian Paice has said “Life’s too short to play with Ritchie Blackmore again”

Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Ian Paice,  Steve Morse and Don Airey still provide a formidable line up for any vintage rock band in 2017-essentially not one replacement part: three  original members Morse and Don Airey as a longtime keyboardist of Rainbow. (Stargazer intro in keyboard solo) make this a band that has the ability to kick ass and show off at the same time. Airey mostly carried the night on a variety of keys. Gillan’s increasing resemblance to Popeye was wryly noted on his choice of apparel. His once amazing four octave vocal range is now diminished, but the power to amaze still bubbles underneath. Three new songs probably give them the illusion that this isn’t a nostalgia act. ‘The Long Goodbye Tour’ might be a sign they are actually aware, so more power to ’em or springing some cool new riffs on unsuspecting ears. Were they close to Purple in 1985 with Blackmore? No. Were they still showing signs of being able to annihilate most post 80’s bands? Yes. setlist

(On a religious front, this is about as close as Purple got to Born Again, Gillan’s underrated 1983 alliance with Black Sabbath)                                                                                       Image result for sabbath born again

September 2-Pete Townshend’s Orchestral Quadrophenia: ‘Classic Quadrophenia’

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Alfie politely Roger’s Townshend

Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia is a work two decades in the making. From his first meeting with Rachel Fuller at a party in 1996, Townshend went into one of his periodic infatuations, and did everything he could to bed the then 23 year old up and coming arranger and film score artist. He finally landed her as a musical and then life partner, and realizing that his original premise to chat her up “uhh maybe we should get together, I need someone to orchestrate some Who” had to be followed up on…two decades later here we are.

Tanglewood in Lenox Massachusetts was the site of the opening night of this four city presentation. Seeing the Who within the last month was quite a juxtaposition of takes on Townshend’s underated compositional skills. Coming off one of Daltrey’s better vocal performances in decades, this one was likely to be some level of letdown. Daltrey’s place was split between two diametrically opposing fields of talent-the punk by Billy Idol (reprising his 1996 role with the Who’s first real Quadrophenia tour) and the rest by operatic tenor Alfie Boe. Pete Townshend showed up on a few songs as well. But how well can a well heeled opera and theater star fronting a top notch orchestra channel the pure angst and frustration that is Quadrophenia? This night, the results were mixed. First, the sound was spotty, with many sections nearly inaudible on the lawn. (I was front row lawn right behind the back row in the shed, so the sound deteriorated quickly as one walked back into the jam packed field). In the UK run in 2015, it was noted that Alfie was a bit too clean, no grit, and didn’t really capture the essence of the piece. At Tanglewood, it was evident he had taken steps to correct some of these criticisms, and was animated and excited. Still, the familiar growl of Daltrey is so intertwined with this album that one couldn’t help but notice some of the power gone. Also of note-Keith Moon and John Entwistle on drums and bass weave a powerful low end rumblingly delicate dance throughout the four sides of Quadrophenia. Here, the string bass and percussion section just couldn’t do justice to what essentially is the beating heart of one of the more dynamic works in the rock canon. Sure, the original album has some scattered orchestrations (mostly the work of Entwistle’s talent on all sorts of brass) which are nice reference points, but Fuller’s arrangements seemed a bit too polite in the long run. Tommy had been orchestrated in 1972, with similar mixed results, but a bit more able to capture the beating heart of that album. In the end, one question remains: “can you orchestrate one of the greatest rock albums ever? Yes. Should you?” That one is up to the listener. A noble failure.

September 3 – Venom Inc, Goat Whore, Toxic Holocaust, The Convalescence. Brighton Music Hall Boston

Venom Inc

Venom. The band that started Black Metal 36 years ago. Just a mention of their name can still raise eyebrows across many genres of fans of heavy. Hell, they were tagged as the primary inspiration for the notorious Norwegian church burning/murder scene of 1992 (chronicled here). The band had mostly dissolved with bassist and vocalist Cronos keeping the Venom name, and Mantas (gtr) and Abaddon (drums) left to their own devices.

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Abaddon, The Demolition Man, Mantas and spiritual overseer

But Satan had other ideas. At a festival in Germany, the promoter asked Mantas (Jeff Dunn) if he’d mind if Abaddon (Anthony Bray) came out to jam. They hadn’t spoken in well over a decade, but they jammed, the crowd went berserk and Venom was reborn.

So how does one follow up on Boston Symphony Orchestra doing the Who? A little Goat Whore and a lot of Venom. Arriving late with a posse, tired and still hung over, and amazed I’d talked people into driving across the state on consecutive nights, this night belonged to Venom. Brighton Music Hall holds about 400, yet there was a suspiciously large open area in the middle of the floor. A shirtless metal dude bobbed near the edge of the opening. I thought ‘hey nice place to see the band’ and then another thought crossed my mind. Before I could react, Venom hit the stage, and then something very much like this happened:

 

 

 

Bodies flew in all directions. Glasses flew in all directions. Bodies hit the bar-head first. Notes to self, when kids have the DRI logo on their jackets, beware. People started to rally and revive. One of our posse was fading and wanted to lie down in the car. Three songs in, all of us were head banging furiously, while one yelled out “Holy shit Satan healed me!”  Things amped up even further During Live Like an Angel Die Like a Devil, one of Venom’s faster tunes, but now delivered at a mind boggling tempo. Bodies flew, sweat flew, beer flew, blood flowed. Warhead, Die Hard, Countess Bathory, Black Metal, Leave Me in Hell….Metal at its finest. God bless Venom. Satan too. Setlist here.

September 11- Roky Erickson and Death Valley Girls Brighton Music Hall Boston

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If’n you’da seen what I seen…

The summer started with a legend, a cult legend to be sure, and ended with one of the most renowned ‘cult legends’ in the history of rock-60’s legend Roky Erickson. Roky’s tale is one that could easily encompass ten thousand words, but his short stint with the 13th Floor Elevators from 1966-1969 created a legend in the music world that still runs large ripples on both sides of the pond to this day.  In truth, Roky is America’s Syd Barrett, the US psychedelic pioneer that was subverting the youth of Texas and promoting the nascent counterculture of dope sex n rock (and eventually launching decades of psych fans across the planet) while gobbling prodigiously large amounts of acid before the Grateful Dead even existed. And then dissolving spectacularly into madness, incarceration and retirement from public view.

From the first glorious notes of the Cold Night For Alligators until the the last reverberating chords of You’re Gonna Miss Me, the night was something completely different that what one could legitimately expect. Why? Well, Roky’s return to the floorboards in 2007 caught many by surprise. The stories of his unbridled madness: junk mail covering his walls, radios, tvs and alarm clocks jamming his house, all on full volume -a cacophony of noise that ran 24/7… his sister allowed that if the noise stopped, Roky could hear the voices again. Like Barrett, his legend precedes him in most circles. So when I witnessed a young looking and shaven revitalized Roky at the Bowery Ballroom in April 2007, he shook everyone’s preconceptions quickly. I got to a meet and greet after the show, and far from clinically mad, Roky was erudite, quite lucid, in strong voice and in command of his guitar….and ripped off the roof off the ballroom:

 

People were ecstatic that his return, so unexpected, could be so successful and raucous. He toured sporadically after this and his appearance and demeanor plummeted quickly, going from this to this in seven short years:

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Seeing him in 2013 and 2014 I began to wonder what was going on. Roky blew lyrics on most songs, played very little guitar as it was slung prop-like over his shoulder, and seemed generally unaware of his surroundings. I began to wonder if elderly abuse charges needed to be filed against his backing band as they led him tottering to the stage, and then guided him painfully slowly off stage at the end. Roky did not acknowledge the audience as even being there.

This night, with a new band, Roky was led to the stage like usual, but this time a comfortable stool was front and center. And as mentioned, things were quite different. The new band was the most well suited to his material yet. His set list was unprecedented. 20 songs, 3 encores, NINE 13th Floor Elevators songs, an electric jug a la Tommy Hall? Christ,  this was one miraculous recovery.  Roky was still minimalist to non participating on guitar. But his vocals were sparkling, no cheat sheets in use (I was watching from the side of the stage), intricate lyrics delivered perfectly without any flubs. I watched as his left hand hung low by his side and twitched in an almost autistic fashion, wondering if he was suffering a level of torment. But after some observation, I realized that his hand was silently chording the guitar riffs right along with his vocal, an invisible and inaudible accompaniment, though the guitar hung unused on his neck. Fascinating insight into a mind that has been through the wringer of chemical madness. And an amazing evening with one of the last living legends of psychedelia. Brilliant stuff, akin to time traveling to a better golden age you’d thought had evaporated long ago. Yardbirds, Stones, Floyd, Beatles? Syd Barrett is long gone, but his American counterpart and pioneer is still out there infecting the masses with 50 year old vibrations. The pulse of acid inflected madness still floats in strength from Austin’s pioneering treasure, and I am damn glad he’s back in force.

Another amazing summer criss-crossing the Northeast, six outdoor shows sprinkled in. Get out there folks and spend next summer doing it right. The Who, Roky and Jean Michel Jarre were the top three shows of the summer, a fucking unbelievable summer.

Once again, let’s have Jerry Garcia Band bring us to the end:

Cats on the bandstand, give ’em each a big hand
Anyone who sweats like that must be all right
No one wants sometimes, no black eye
Just another cat beneath the stars tonight

Cats down under the stars
Cats down under the stars

 

Final tally: 14 bands, 9 venues, 2,095 miles traveled. Highway Stars.

 

 

 

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Norwegian Black Metal: Satanism, Church Burnings and Murder-What Hath Venom Wrought?

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In a winter covered forest, a small crowd of young men have gathered. The crowd is leather clad and masked by corpse paint. Their eerie faces are illuminated by a large flickering fire that is spitting and hissing legions of sparks deep into the night sky. They chant and laugh in bad Latin and ancient Viking language. In front of them, the source of the fire and reason for the gathering? A one thousand year old church is going up up in flames…in some sort of pagan ritual. Is this a scene from some B-grade Hammer Horror film? No, it is a real life scene that was re-enacted many times over in the early 1990’s at the behest of one of the strangest associations of musicians in the history of rock-the Norwegian Black Metal scene.

Rock n Roll has always been about rebellion and iconoclastic behavior. Satanism? Well that is another story. Apart from the legend of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the devil at the crossroads, there are few satanic trappings in rock until the late sixties, with Black Sabbath as the focal point for many. But most of the satanic shenanigans reside within the halls of heavy metal. The PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center)  in the United States famously went after rock music in 1985, and heavy metal in particular as a source of ‘negative influence upon our children’. Through their work in Washington, they organized a movement and finally Senate hearings to force record companies to put warning advisory labels on albums. Among their targets were what they called the ‘Filthy Fifteen’. Ensconced in the list, tipping in at numbers 11 and 14, were two very little known metal bands: Mercyful Fate and Venom. And here our tale begins.

In 1993, Norwegian Black Metal became an internationally known scene. The normally conservative Norwegian press became increasingly hysterical-I mean folks were getting murdered, ancient churches were going up like marshmallows at a weenie roast, and all fingers pointed to a small cabal of make up clad local heavy metal bands. Peculiar. What was even weirder was not only did the suspects not deny much of their misbehavior, they seemed uncharacteristically unrepentant. Unrepentant to the point of reveling in their notoriety and  showing absolutely zero level of remorse for their actions. This was different for even the most Mad Max anarchist scenario, but for staid and egalitarian Norway? Unprecedented, unexpected, and highly troubling. Who the hell were these miscreants that turned a country on its ear? First, a quick guide to their influences:

What in the Hell is Black Metal?

Many look to Motorhead as the grandfathers and the blueprint for most genres of extreme metal. Motorhead pioneered a speeded up version of heavy metal that folks duplicated, put their own touches on and ran with-hundreds of bands by the early 80’s had copped the Motorhead formula. As the 80’s wore on, sub genres came and morphed pretty quickly. Thrash metal of the early to mid 80’s (Metallica, Anthrax and Overkill are decent examples) quickly changed into Death Metal (Death, Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass) and band costumes went from surfer shorts and sneakers to black on black with leather on leather, vocals became strangled and unintelligible growls,  and lyrics got grimmer, bloodier and darker.

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In 1981, an unassuming album was released in the UK, Venom’s Welcome to Hell.  Light on musicianship, but heavy on the heavy with an accent on speed, it boasted an unprecedented level of Satanic philosophies. Critics savaged them in print.   With songs like the title track and “In League With Satan”, Venom were the signpost for the future of metal. The back cover sports their mission statement:

“We’re possessed by all that is evil, the death of you God we demand, we spit at the virgin you worship, and sit at Lord Satan’s left hand…”   This set an agenda that was taken quite seriously in Oslo and its environs. .

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But it was the follow up that really got the ball rolling. 1982’s Black Metal is the one that kicked off a whole scene and provided a genre a name. Black Metal. Replete with more Satanic imagery, Black Metal laid it out. (Bathory also deserves credit for refining the sound further, and Mercyful Fate for pioneering corpse paint and furthering deep occult Satanic lyrics) Not many bought this hugely influential album when it came out, but people in Norway were listening. Here is a taste of Venom

Welcome to Helvete

Euronymous
Euronymous

The Black metal scene in Norway revolved around the Helvete (Norwegian for hell) record store in Oslo run by Øystein ‘Euronymous’ Aarseth, founder of the band Mayhem, and the Deathlike Silence Productions label run by him. The list of characters in this scene is amusing to say the least. Euronymous’ best friend  and chief rival for the leadership of the scene was the leader of a rival band-Burzum’s Varg ‘Count Grishnackh’ Vikernenes. Bård ‘Faust’ Eithun (who murdered an innocent man in a park to “see what murder felt like”) was another young leader of the scene. (The maximum penalty for murder in Norway is 21 years) A myriad of fanciful names soon festooned the populace, seemingly comical but deadly serious… Metalion, the writer for the scene and publisher of an early Black Metal fanzine called Slayer; others went by the handles of Faust, Maniac,  Necrobutcher, Occultus, Grim, Infernus, Storm, Samoth, Fenriz, Ihsahn, Blackthorn, Hellhammer, It, Mortiis  and Dead (more about him later) You get the idea. Like characters from some kind of Satanic dungeons and dragons fantasy game, but acted out in real life, with real weapons and real deaths, the leaders gathered minions. The bands also had two other things in common: corpse paint and band logos that were impenetrably difficult to decipher. The Norwegian Black Metal scene took  to corpse paint to indicate the difference between them and the death metal bands.(the actual difference between death metal and Black Metal is difficult for the novice to discern-much like the  goth kids and the vamp kids on South Park) Here’s some corpse painted 1993 era Black Metalers and some logos:

historymayhem immortal emperor

dark throne unleashed emperor logo 3_MayhemThese bands were different, but the country was not prepared for exactly how different they were from their predecessors. Hellish fantasies, flames, death and Satanic trappings were no longer the domain of lyrics and costumes-they were about to vividly bleed into a whole full blown lifestyle.

Dead

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The first to go  was Per Yngve Ohlin, better known to all as “Dead”. Dead was an other worldly person prone to sitting alone in the woods, cutting himself for attention at parties, and alienating most who came in touch with him. His devotion to death was admirable: he is credited for being the first to introduce corpse paint to the scene, burying his stage costumes in the earth before shows to appear and smell more corpse like, carrying dead animals around and inhaling them from a bag and rubbing them on himself before shows to “sing with the stench of death in his nostrils”  He would occasionally bring decapitated pig heads to shows and put them on stakes around the stage He was the lead singer for Euronymous’ Mayhem, and soon soured on the whole life trip. He had insisted he had died on the table in hospital at age ten from a ruptured spleen and didn’t belong on this planet anymore. (partially true). He would cut himself on stage (years after Iggy had pioneered this trick). “Dead was a very private person, no one knew him very well” was a quote from an associate. When in 1991 at age 22 he found his depression too much to take, and at the urging of Euronymous, Dead cut his wrists and his own throat, and then when this didn’t seem to be working, blew his head off with a shotgun  (the ammunition had been a Christmas present from Count Grishnackh.)  Here is where the story gets weird. Supposedly Euronymous found the body and photographed it (this ended up as grisly bootleg album cover), took bits of his brains that had fallen into Dead’s lap and boiled them into a stew to sample human flesh, and finally took the sections of his skull that had scattered over the room, cut them up, and made necklaces for the inner circle of Black Metal acolytes. (this part has been confirmed by more than one member of the scene.) “Dead died for this cause and I have declared war!” exclaimed Euronymous weeks after the suicide. What was the war against? Poser false metal bands and their fans, only extreme black metal bands were permitted in this world, and the extermination of those deemed unworthy was planned. (cue Manowar here). Death threats flew around (mostly directed at Swedish metal bands). Dead’s death initiated a surge in interest and activity for the Norwegians. Mayhem was without a lead vocalist, but now possessed a legend. The next phase of Black Metal was initiated. The most dangerous music in the history of rock was about to  make some real noise in the world. Here is a clip of Dead performing with Mayhem.

Kerrang

Kerrang cover story

It was the March 1993 issue of the British metal magazine Kerrang that brought this stuff to the world. The article in here was so over the top it was very hard to believe. I bought this issue the week it came out and shared it with my friends. It strained credulity. I’d worked at a prominent metal store for a while and thought I’d literally seen everything. These guys were bragging about murder and church burnings like it was their latest one night stand conquest. The main characters Euronymous and Grishnackh fairly gushed: “We are but slaves of the one with Horns”  and claimed they are part of a Satanic terrorist organization devoted to overthrowing society.  Are they serious? The British band Paradise Lost came back from a Norwegian tour with tales of horror and Satanic terrorist aggression. The Kerrang article stated:

British Doom Metal band Paradise Lost were also victims of satanic Terrorist aggression. While on tour in Norway, the band’s tour bus was set upon by Black Metal followers.They were upset at the falseness of the band and lack of genuine evil.

“They’re fucking nuts!” exclaims Paradise Lost singer Nick Holmes, “but the attack on us was blown out of proportion a bit. The little disciples are all about 10 years old – fuckin’ embryos!”

“It is quite frightening,” he considers. “It’s a Manson-type cult thing. It’s like the fucking Nazis in East Germany… the same kind of power game.”

Nick was closer to the truth than he may have guessed. This scenario, a group of corpse painted early teens trying to attack and burn a tour bus is fairly far fetched. The police had ignored the many leads that led to the “Black Metal Circle” for a while, and dismissed it as all too implausible. But soon their attention turned towards the group revolving around the Helvete record store. Could it be possible that the current  wave of violence, murder and arson were the work of a homegrown Satanic terrorist unit based in a record store? They began to take the idea seriously. And their attention was drawn to what the excellent 1998 Lords of Chaos book called “A Blaze in the Northern Sky”, as churches combusted regularly (also the aptly and prescient title of the seminal 1991 Darkthrone album). The cat was out of the bag.

The Attack of the Black Metal Circle

Things started to amp up after the suicide of Dead. The rebellion against clean sounding studio production values and staying true to rawness in sound now blurred into a rawness and rebellion against the cleanliness of society. Lawlessness and illegality were the new watchword as they seemed to dare each other to increasingly outrageous crimes. The circle gathered their main players and began to plan in earnest. Meetings were held,  band leaders of Mayhem, Burzum and Emperor became leaders of arson squads… and churches started burn. Nine churches burned in 1992 and the country was stumped. Arson wasn’t even considered at first. But the pattern of burnings and some loose lipped teenagers pointed to the Helvete store as a possible lead. (over forty churches burned in a five year period). Varg and Faust began to brag along with Euronymous, and their dark hints of involvement became more brazen.

“There is no such thing as mindless violence,” comments Vikernes. “Just to walk down the street and kick a boy is stimulating.”

“Whenever I go out, I always have guns,” he discloses. “Right now, I’m wearing a chain mail, and have a big knife. People don’t dare to attack us, and if they do, they never survive. We are the Vikings, who kill for their own pleasure. We are not fucking humanitarian Red Cross idiots.”

The party ended as quickly as it had begun. In August 1993 Vikernes inexplicably murdered his rival Euronymous in his apartment, his chief rival for leadership of the Black Metal Circle. He claimed that Euronymous had planned to take him into the woods, tie him to  a tree and torture him to death. He undertook a pre-emptive strike. Aarseth was stabbed 24 times. Whether this was a planned or spontaneous event, Vikernes seemed unconcerned. In an interview he said:

“Bam! Through his skull. I actually had to knock the knife out, it was stuck in his skull and I actually had to pry it out…” bragged Vikernes from his prison cell. “I hit him directly into his skull and his eyes went boing! And he was dead!”

Faust noted that he had been in the news twice in one day-once for the recent church burning, and on the same newscast for the recently discovered murder. And he wasn’t even a suspect in either crime yet. In an interview he said:

“I didn’t care much about the value of human life. Nothing was too extreme. That there were burned churches, and people were killed, I didn’t react at all. I just though ‘Excellent!’ I never thought ‘Oh this is getting out of hand’, and I still don’t.   Burning churches is okay…”

Vikernes had bragged to him that he had burned a church and how cool it was, how anti Christian. This point is one little discussed. Many of the participants thought that Christianity had come in unwanted under 1000 years ago, and erased a far more ancient and powerful religion-an Asatru Nordic vestige of a tradition that ran through their ancestral blood. Many of the circle said in interviews that they thought Christianity was an abomination and the burning of churches was a logical extension of this rationale. It was quite logical to all involved that a short term interloper of a religion in their eyes needed to go to restore a religion that went back over five thousand years. Vikernes said:

“Christianity was created by some decadent and degenerated Romans as a tool of oppression, in the late Roman era, and it should be treated accordingly. It is like handcuffs to the mind and spirit and is nothing but destructive to mankind. In fact I don’t really see Christianity as a religion. It is more like a spiritual plague, a mass psychosis, and it should first and foremost be treated as a problem to be solved by the medical science. Christianity is a diagnosis. It’s like Islam and the other Asian religions, a HIV/AIDS of the spirit and mind.”

If this was an actual motivation, some of this makes sense. But I have my doubts…

The police closed in and over sixteen were rounded up. Police found Vikernes from a Burzum flyer that depicted a burning church and had his home address printed on it. He ended up being released but shortly after the murder, the net tightened, and the Count was nabbed once again. Bard and the Count took the main heat for murder and the country was aghast. Before his arrest he accidentally predicted his own future:

“What happens to us doesn’t matter. If I had a great enough reason to kill, I’d gladly serve 20 years in jail.”

This would come true far sooner than he would imagine.

Even in custody, Varg maintained his solid Satanic unrepentant outlook:

“It’s too nice in here,” he moans. “It’s not hell at all. In this country prisoners get a bed, toilet and shower. It’s completely ridiculous. I asked the police to throw me in a real dungeon and also encouraged them to use real violence!”

The scene fell apart in 1993 after Euronymous had been murdered (he had already  closed Helvete in the face of growing police pressure before his death, much to the dismay of Vikernes who thought the current wave of publicity would translate into huge record sales).  But the legacy of Norwegian Black Metal was secured permanently.

          

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L-R Dead, Faust, 
Count Grishnackh, Euronymous and Dead without makeup 

In re-reading this article, it’s hard to believe this shit actually happened. Take a look at these guys (above-note the two Venom shirts) It’s too cartoonish, too over the top for anyone to believe that any of this was done by kids–bad-ass deluded metal heads who  turned the word misanthrope into an art form–but kids nonetheless.  Nobody in their wildest dreams or nightmares would imagine this could ever come true in such an anomalous outburst of criminally violent anti social behavior. What started as a theatrical over the top metal band scene was taken to a whole other level.  Kids take heavy metal fantasies into a real Satan fueled terrorist war against society?  How the hell is that even possible? Who is to blame for this? The fake theatrics of the 80’s death metal bands had been put into actual practice-no longer were bands singing about it, they were now doing it and encouraging others to follow their example, which I suppose is the next logical step. I mean where is there to go beyond heavy?. Bands in the scene were quick to point out that Venom had laid the blueprint down in 1981-1982. When told that Venom weren’t actually Satanists, but had done it for attention, that didn’t matter.

Well where are we today? Count Grishnakh and Faust are out of jail already (Varg in 2009 after 15 years in prison and Bard in 2003 after 9 years–Burzum albums were allowed to be released from jail with Varg on solo Synthesizer). Their legacy is a laundry list of PMRC nightmares and beyond: murder, self mutilation, corpse desecration, animal torture, arson, burglary, cannibalism, child abuse, weapons dealing, assault, suicides, church burnings, sedition, explosives (strangely drugs weren’t a huge part of the scene)-ticking boxes on a list that Tipper Gore never imagined could exist in real life. If she had been confirmed in her beliefs by the infamous teenage metal head “Say You Love Satan” murders of Long Island in 1984, this event would have made her head explode like the dude in Scanners. This cast of characters made Ozzy look like Mr. Rogers. But real life this was, and real life this is. Enough black magic was genuinely thrown in around in amateur fashion with predictable results-things unraveling quickly and ending poorly for the main players of the scene, ending in deaths and incarceration.

Is this Venom’s fault as the main players in the scene claim? It is clear that they played a major if unwitting part in the fertilization of the scene, and the lyrics were taken as gospel. The single mindedness of this group and unity of conception and purpose launched by Venom’s early releases could have inadvertently launched something bigger.  Could it be that pushing the envelope of grinding rhythms, snarling vocals, Satanic trappings, unwitting lyrical spells….did this conjure up something that manifested as this nearly unique heavy metal nightmare?  Perhaps.  Norway is on the map musically to this day for this scene-but in the words of someone wise: “Be careful what you wish for”. Because apparently things sometimes come true. One wonders whether the names the players assumed invoked some kind of unexpected ‘familiar’ karma induced spell that hastened the events. But in the hazy world of black magick, wishing is fraught with peril, and sometimes things come true in a fashion that they would never conceive, but is exactly what they had conjured. Euronymous was correct in an interview before his death trying to explain Black Metal :

“There is an ABYSS between us and the rest…we must kick them in the face and be guardians of anti-morality”