I don't review a lot of concerts anymore. About ten years ago half of the reviews posted on this site were of live shows. At that time i was going out to concerts a few times a week. Now i am lucky if i make a concert a month.
But i have been trying hard to take in more live music, and that means pushing myself a little. Instead of seeing indie rock in crappy dives, i have been forced to venture out to more conventional venues that keep more regular schedules. Knowing that the band will be done by midnight makes it easier to think about going out to a show.
Funny coincidence: the last live review posted here was when i went to see Yob in 2018. I liked that show and have spent a lot of time listening to Yob records since then. So when they came back on a new tour i grabbed a ticket.
I arrived just before 8pm, and Hell was packed as the first act was already on the stage. This was Belgian post-metal band Amenra, and they were creating a slow drone with loud clanging percussion as a black and white movie was projected onto them.
I grabbed a spot on the crowd, and noticed that the two guys i was standing behind both had biceps the size of hams. One of them had an odd tattoo on his neck -- some kind of splotch. The other had on a "Church of Ra" t-shirt. And they were really into it. I thought it somewhat odd that these two bodybuilder bros were so into this odd metal music. But okay. The place was pretty packed, and lot of people seemed really into it.
The band droned on, the music building tension as the odd clanging percussion sounded out randomly. As some point the crowd shifted and i saw that in addition to the two guitarists, bassist, and drummer that i could see, there was another band member kneeling in front of the drum kit, and he was clanging two pieces of metal together to make the noise.
I thought, "Wow, these guys are a great post-rock act" as the drone passed its fifth minute since i entered, when suddenly the guy on the floor leapt to his feet and the whole band threw down with massive, intense power-riffing. And the guy from the floor, his back to the crowd, started to do that death metal growling scream thing into a microphone he had been holding.
I normally don't care for that vocal style. But the vocalist in Amenra was flat in the mix, meaning that his voice was not out front but instead blended with the two guitar wall and the shuddering bass and pounding drums. Whoever was mixing this show did a hell of a job.
Amenra screamed and thundered and chugged, and the song ebbed and flowed. At one point, after another 5 minutes of the chugging and screaming, the song paused for a second and one guitarist picked a slow melody that could have been a coda. Some people in the crowd cheered and clapped, but the bodybuilders shook their heads in disdain, amused and irritated that these non-fans had been taken in by a false ending.
And indeed, Amenra tore back into it shortly.
Their whole set was like that: slower post-rock passages that showed that the guitarists were both really talented, the drummer channeling Stewart Copeland at times with some nice jazzy tapping, and the vocalist actually singing at times. His singing voice was sweet and normal, melded into the mix just like his screaming was.
And boy did the crowd get into it. In fact, this was the most crowded The Masquerade was all night. I guess people came to see Amenra and then headed out.
Watching them play, i had a feeling of duende, that feeling that music gives when it touches you deep inside. What Amenra were doing was not unique -- they took elements i have heard in a dozen bands before, but they melded those sounds together into one cohesive sound. And it is that melding that caused the feeling, that touch that great music gives you when you see the connections and, briefly, see how the world is connected.
Or something like that. I felt something there, as they played. They transcended the concepts of "post-rock" and "metal" and even "band" and instead channeled something deeper.
It was impressive.
After that feeling passed through me i was left thinking that i had witnessed the future. That Amenra pointed a way forward in a manner that not a lot of other bands do. They have just released their sixth studio album and have been at this since 2003. Apparently, they have a bit of a following. I can see why.
There was a rather long intermission after Amenra geared out while the next band took the stage. They had backdrops to set up. This was the long-running (36 years, they pointed out) Canadian band Voivod.
I had a friend in college who had an early Voivod tape (yes, we still listened to music on cassettes when i was in college -- i am older than dirt!), and i remember enjoying it. And then in mid 1990s Jason Newsted left Metallica with some bad feelings, and he joined Voivod. I remember enjoying what i heard then. And that was my impression of Voivod going in -- pretty good for what they do, but nothing that i needed to rush out and buy a CD of.
They started kind of late, as far as i was concerned, going on just after 9pm. They were older metalheads, as i had kind of expected. And they played fast old-school thrash metal, again, as i expected.
Their singer, who apparently goes by "Snake" was a surprise. He was charismatic, bouncing around stage, flinging his arms out dramatically, contorting his face as he sang. He was fun to watch.
Otherwise, well, some of the songs they played on this night were rather good. Some were okay. Nothing was terrible.
However, Voivod stayed on stage for a little over an hour. To be honest, that felt like too much. They played too long.
This is just my opinion. I was bored with them by the time they left the stage and think that had they played a shorter set i might have a more favorable impression of them. However, as befits a band still going after 36 years, there were people in the crowd who knew every word and riff, and who cheered excitingly when they recognized the new song that had just started. These people had a blast. It was obvious that they were having a lot of fun, and the band seemed to be having a really good time as well.
So, i suppose that Voivod were okay. I was a little tired when they left the stage, but, as i have previously pointed out, i am older than dirt.
While Voivod's gear was taken down and Yob's was set up, i chatted briefly with the vocalist of Amenra. His name is, oddly Colin, which does not seem like a very Belgian name to me, but okay. Oh, and that wierd blotchy tatoo the muscled guy had? It is some kind of Amenra logo, on shirts and records and pins, etc.
As i chatted with Colin, i was struck with a sort of contrast between the two bands. To me, Amenra really seemed to point towards the future. Their music seemed very fresh. Voivod on the other hand are totally a band of the past. This tour was a sort of victory lap for them, since they finally won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) for their new album. Everything about Voivod pointed to the past and nostalgia, while Amenra seemed to point towards the future.
I wonder what the two bands thought of each other? I guess i should have asked Colin what he thought of Voivod, but it didn't occur to me at the time.
Yob set up relatively quickly and took the stage to an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Some of whom, i might add, where shotgunning beers as Yob started. I guess it was a metal show...
Yob sounded great tonight. I mean, really great: Masquerade has done a wonderful job with the sound in Hell. This is my third show there, and everything i have heard has sounded very clean. It's a good room.
As to what Yob played, i know that they played The Lie that is Sin off of The Great Cessation and Beauty in Falling Leaves off of their latest record, which came across beautifully in concert. They played for about an hour, and those are the only songs that i could put a title to.
Yob's complex guitarwork and shifting vocals came across great too. Mike Scheidt's guitar was clear as it riffed or soared in a solo or chimed under distortion. His voice was clear too, as he sang, growled, or yelled in that way he has, which reminds me of Ronnie James Dio.
Anyway, to tie Yob's performance in with what i thought about the other two bands, Yob does not seem to represent either the past of Voivod nor the future of Amenra. I guess that means that they are of the present. Yob are very now. I suppose that in the future i will look back on their records and think "Wow, that is so twenty-first century teens!" in the same way that i listen to Superchunk records and am reminded of the late 1990s.
I guess that from a concert going perspective, this was a pretty good setup. Start with something challenging and forward thinking, then give the people some classics and remind them of how they got here, then hit them with stuff that is fresh but not too out there.
It was a good night, even if i was pretty tired at work the next day.