Monday, May 13, 2002 @ 9:25 PM
Iced Earth, In Flames, & Jag P
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It's funny how all the recent real estate development in Hollywood (the city, not the perfumed shit movie factory) has turned this town even more into a checkerboard of poverty versus posh. I mean if you just stand at the now-fugly corner of Hollywood & Highland and throw a rock, you might hit two homeless people and a shiny Chevy Suburban stuck in traffic. On the other hand, when I made my way to the Hollywood Palace this Tuesday, it all seemed to make sense again.
A half-hour before this long-awaited (at least to me) show, the line to get into the venue snaked about 2 blocks and around the corner of Hollywood & Vine. Therein, I could see a who's who of real metal fans in L.A. Posers were actually quite few (not that I pretend to be any "real deal.") At the still-sleazy intersection, I felt that there was still a home for me here, a rock-n-roller for years. I must admit, my heart was warmed even more when me and my bro noticed a little boy at this show, his long-haired and bespectacled father guarding him. He had on an Iced Earth T-shirt, which looked like a mumu on him. I noticed him only because he was so young. He must have been five years old, my brother guessed four. This gave me cause to reflect that there was still hope for the passing on of honest culture in humanity (at least the humanity that could afford concert tickets). Or if you allow me to repeat a lame cliché, perhaps I saw myself in this young fan. Anyway, I had little more time to reflect, because there was 4-dollar beer to be drunk and music to enjoy.
I could tell from the first notes of Jag Panzer's set that these guys were no ordinary opening act. I knew this band had been around since the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but I mean, they actually had real lights, unlike so many opening acts we've all seen before. All kidding aside, they took the stage with enthusiasm, big smiles and waves to the crowd, and the crowd liked them from the beginning. They opened with some famous tune that might be England's national anthem or something. And then, they played some of the most "British heavy metal" I have ever heard, if you get my meaning.
The guitar riffs consisted of chiming, twisting notes, rather than the thumping power chords to which I am more accustomed. Okay, go ahead and compare them to a ridiculously melodic Iron Maiden. The singer was great, with his sincere and successful attempts to rile up the crowd, although the generous amounts of vibrato were too much for my taste. Plus, the two guitarists postured in some of the most tired heavy metal poses I have ever seen. If they weren't playing so well, I would have laughed myself silly looking at those guys. A couple of the songs were epic-sounding romps which I really got into. One of the poppier songs was called "Straight to the Sky." They closed their set with a song called "Licence to Kill," about which I got the impression that it's not part of their usual performance on this tour. I had heard some of this band's stuff before, but was not too impressed, because it seemed too melodic to me at the time. I think this show has changed my mind about Jag Panzer. I must say, this band impressed, and the crowd let them know it with their boisterous approval.
In Flames' set was very well received by the crowd. The mosh pit promptly started when they took the stage, and did not let up till they finished. No wonder, I think they were co-headliners. In any case, they unleashed a set that plainly demonstrated their past forays into different genres of metal. Their styles include death metal blast-beats, lots of melodic metal with soaring riffs, and poppier versions of the aforementioned from their latest album, Clayman. Highlights for me included "Gyroscope," a mid-tempo, synthed-out cruncher which I have always loved, and a surprisingly raucous version of "Pinball Map," which the crowd just ate up. However, in my opinion, In Flames would really do well if they got a better singer. You can't understand anything he sings, all he can really seem to do is scream, and he just did not look like he was that much into things this night. Come to think of it, he never does (I've seen In Flames 3 times now). These are some of the few things that prevent me from counting In Flames among my favorite of the "True Metal." Despite this, I enjoyed their set reasonably.
Then, came the reason I showed up to this concert, Iced Earth, who I have never seen live before tonight. Iced Earth is a band that I believe is truly special, and I do not say that lightly. Those of you who are already a fan of Iced Earth already know what I mean. While their music is spiced with some of the most elaborate "window-dressing" I have ever heard from a metal band (their song "Angels Holocaust" opens with a cheesy-sounding part from a famous classical music piece), in short I believe this band truly defines the oft-coined phrase "True Metal." The soaring riffs, the elastic solos, the vibrato, Iced Earth has it all. But most importantly, Iced Earth does it all with sincerity, as they demonstrated this evening. Even the cheesiness.
Iced Earth treated the crowd to a set that, in my mind, showed their willingness to venture into the heights of frenzy and the depths of melancholy with equal vigor. They opened their set with the frenetic "Violence," from the album The Dark Saga, which I think the crowd didn't expect, because it is neither one of their new songs nor I believe one of their most famous. Consequently, the mosh pit did not get started until the second song. But when it did get started, you had to look out, let me tell you. Early on, the band lunged headlong into "Wolf" and "Damien" from their latest album, Horror Show. The live setting for the former song gave singer Matt Barlow the opportunity to truly present a tortured, nightmarish tone to the vocal appropriate to the subject matter, while the latter is such a lush, muscular monster of a song (no pun intended, considering the horror movie theme of Horror Show) that it could only sound better echoing throughout a concert hall. The little boy could now be seen right near the pit sitting atop his father's shoulders, holding up, as if painstakingly trained, two tiny hands showing the devil horns pointing at the band. The Iced Earth evening was well underway.
The band played a great deal of material from The Dark Saga, which, while that release dates a few back, is justified in my mind because I think it is one of their finest. Tonight they played "Slave to the Dark," "Vengeance Is Mine" and one of my favorite Iced Fucking Earth songs to sing along to, "The Hunter." Another selection that they played from Horror Show was "Dracula," a song that I never paid particular attention to when I listened to the CD, but blew me away when I heard it live. Barlow introduced it as illustrating a story that is oft misunderstood, a story "about the darkest of loves" or something like that. I was swept away by the sadness and sweep of the song. Another highlight was the "Something Wicked Trilogy," which is a spectacular suite of heavy metal songs that seemed quite appropriate in this setting of a sold-out crowd of 1100, with it's meandering grandeur. Even the barely-tolerable, cheesy ballad "Watching Over Me" took on a little new life for me, I think because the crowd was so into it (I know I will get flamed for this one, so go ahead). The whole crowd was singing "Oh I know, Oh I know," even the little boy, who at this point I wanted to go up to and teach him "Fade To Black."
Throughout the night, heads banged in unison for Iced Earth. Rarely have I seen a rock-n-roll audience of such like mind, perhaps not since I saw Bruce Dickinson back again with Iron Maiden. Toward the end of their set, the audience was all singing and swaying along (most of us know, L.A. audiences don't do that for just anybody) to the onslaught. They closed their set with but one song in their encore, the song "Iced Earth," and I sorely missed "Burning Times," for they did not play that one. In any case, I left the Palace that night convinced that I had just experienced a defining moment, so to speak, in my taste for what we call True Metal. The mosh pit was still raging to the end, and the little boy laid his head down sleepily on top of his dad's. Once again, I felt akin to the boy, for I was spent, overwhelmed perhaps, and hoping that this time of seeing Iced Earth will be the first of many.