Rammstein / Deathstars – Newcastle Metro Radio Arena

Deathstars
Deathstars (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

DON’T READ THIS REVIEW OR LOOK AT THE PICTURES IF YOU’VE GOT A TICKET FOR THE TOUR AND HAVEN’T SEEN THEM YET! SPOILERS AHOY

[Talking of pictures, the full sets are on Flickr here: Deathstars and Rammstein (of which there are around 300!)]

First of all “damn you, SECC, for not having an insurance policy that allows the use of flamethrowers indoors” as I gather that was why I ended up having to drive to Newcastle to see these bands. It was either that or Manchester and, let’s face it, Newcastle is always going to win given that choice.

The long trip was made more awkward by a physio’s appointment in the late afternoon which got me out of work a little early, but kept me back later than I would probably have been had I worked to the end of the day. Ah well. With a couple of hours to get down there, we jumped into Gillian’s car (more fuel efficient, but far less fun) and barrelled down the M74 and A69, pulling up in Newcastle around 6:30. Not bad going at all.

We were joined by Wendi and Dean O’Dinosaur (and his handler). As a pleasant surprise we bumped into Lainy and Adam inside the venue as we partook of overpriced beer, pizza and doughnuts. A word of warning for the Newcastle Arena – if you’re on a limited budget, skip the pizza. It’s crap. On the other hand, the doughnuts are great.

With the performance due to start at 7:30, we headed into the arena proper slightly early and got a good place off to stage left. I must point out that the nice lady who took our tickets is the proud mother of a lad who managed to hit Jedward with a (empty, plastic!) bottle at Leeds Festival recently. I shook her hand on all your behalves. Oh, talking of tickets – if anyone has their stub from the evening and wouldn’t mind passing it on I’d appreciate it. I have my tickets from every gig I’ve ever been to, but didn’t get to retrieve on as we poured out post-show 🙁

Rammstein
Rammstein (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Deathstars took the stage at 7:30 and played an enjoyable, if short, set of around 35 minutes. I’d have been tempted to see them the night before at The Cathouse in Glasgow, but I was utterly buried in work. A shame as they were pretty good and do know how to put on a show. Certainly, they didn’t look out of place on the large stage making more than full use of the smoke machines – something I doubt they’d have been able to do in the Cathouse.

They’re very much a “goth metal” act – both in appearance and musical style. Imagine a slightly more thrashy version of Sisters of Mercy.

This is a band who knows how to pose, gesture and perform. Personally I think they were an inspired choice to open for Rammstein. Dark, but otherwise musically different from the headliners. Good with the audience, too. They had a fair portion clapping their hands and cheering for the German behemoths on several occasions.

After 35 minutes or so, they packed up and headed off, leaving us to wait for Rammstein to amaze, astound and entertain.

Which they did. Oh, my, how they did.

THIS IS THE POINT TO STOP READING IF YOU’RE GOING TO SEE THEM ON THIS TOUR!!!

Rammstein are best known for their live show. Don’t get me wrong, their music is good enough as it is and I’m sure they’d do well if they didn’t have the stage show that that do, but I seriously doubt they’d be selling out arenas. I’ve seen them once before – a superb 90 minute headlining slot at Sonisphere in 2010 where, in my opinion, they blew Iron Maiden away. Impressive given that I knew exactly one song.

Tonight’s show was a shade over 2 hours. Even with the fairly high ticket price, it was worth every single penny.

Ever the mould-breakers, Rammstein kicked things off by appearing not on-stage, but behind the audience in the loftier seating areas off stage right. Marching slowly down, bearing flags and flaming torches, they made their way down to floor level and up onto a platform. A walkway descended from the ceiling allowing them to walk over the heads of the crowd to the stage itself.

Rammstein
Rammstein (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Every song Rammstein played was accompanied by some kind of on-stage firework, explosive, lighting trick, prop, performance… Rammstein aren’t just musicians, they’re performers. Watching them live is like a stage show with an incredible sound track, rather than a music show with some props.

Lead singer Till Lindemann does a good job of almost ignoring the crowd for the entire set, only really speaking to them at the very end to say “thank you”. From his bizarre dancing and somewhat overzealous use of fire to keyboardist Christian Lorenz‘ off-kilter performance, the whole band are very much part of the show.

While it’s not unusual to see the occasional band member crowd surfing, Rammstein are the only one I’m aware of who routinely have a keyboardist in an inflatable raft “sailing” over the audience. They’re certainly the only one with e lead singer who wears huge, flaming angel wings during an encore performance.

Flaming bows and arrows; huge flash pots (Metallica – you had one one stage and your singer burned himself on it – these guys have dozens of them!); the best light show in the business which actually moves around; flame throwers; burning hearts; fireworks on their clothes; showers of sparkles; a huge foam cannon shaped like a penis… All part of the show. Utterly incredible.

A highlight was the band coming on-stage after a quick break to that walkway descending again. This time, they crawled back across to the small platform from where they’d begin the gig. This time it was prepared with a full set of instruments and they played a good handful of songs from there – far closer to the audience than you’d normally get at a stadium concert.

Rammstein
Rammstein (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

As well as the excellent performances, I met a couple of really nice people at the gig. One admired my camera (hi, Ant!) so I’ve pointed him at the photos. Another had come down from Glasgow, just like us, and started talking to me because he liked my shirt (“If you can’t mosh to it, it’s not worth listening to“).

Two hours just flew by. I would gladly fork out the money to see them again, and although the drive home exhausted me, it was absolutely worth it. If you’ve never seen Rammstein live before, then it’s something you simply have to do. People pay similar amounts for theatre tickets and probably don’t get half as spectacular a show as we got for our £50.

Roll on the next album and next tour.

 

 

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Theory of a Deadman / The Crave – Glasgow Queen Margaret Union

The Crave
The Crave (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[For more pictures, see the sets on Flickr for The Crave and Theory of a Deadman]

We had no idea of the support for this gig and therefore the stage times, so I gave them a call earlier in the evening. I got a wonderfully unhelpful (though he did try!) chap who guessed that with a door time of 7, the main band would be on at 8. Yeah, erm, ok.

I’m glad we aimed for 8:00 anyway as the Queen Margaret Union is your typical student union place and therefore, for reasons I’m sure nobody can adequately explain, insists that you provide them with your name, address and email so they can admit you as a “guest”. This resulted in a queue about 150 people long as each person used the one frigging pen they had on the door to fill in their details. Seriously, QMU, it’s a gig. People have paid for tickets. I think they’ve earned the right to be a guest without having to stand in the cold for 10 extra minutes.

Anyway, the venue itself was moderately small but with lovely staff – the upside of most student venues. On the downside I was reliably informed by one of the security staff that “crowdsurfing is illegal – we’re supposed to drag anyone out who tries it” and also that moshpits are not allowed. Although, in fairness, he did say there would be no bloody way he’d try and stop a crowd of people kicking crap out of each other if they were happy with it. So just in case any death metal, thrash or hardcore bands are considering playing the QMU – don’t.

We missed the first support band (we didn’t even know there were two), but I managed to get a drink from the crowded bar just as The Crave came on stage. They’re not bad, a bit middle of the road and took a while to get going. As their set progressed, the songs got a little more catchy and energetic. After a slow start, I quite liked them by the time they finished.

Theory of a Deadman took a little while to hit the stage, wandering on at around 9:40. They kicked things off with “Gentleman” and managed to go straight into the “which side of the crowd can sing the loudest” competition midway through their second song.

The most apparent thing was that the sound was actually worse than I’d come to expect at the Academy. Really murky and difficult to make out the instruments and the vocals at times. I guess it comes down to the size of the venue with sound waves bouncing all over the place, but it took a long time to get used to it. Even the speech between songs was muffled at times.

Theory of a Deadman
Theory of a Deadman (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

This is a shame as the band put on a decent performance, though nothing as energetic as last week’s Shinedown gig – which, in fairness, is likely to rate as one of my gigs of the year even by December. The last time I saw Theory was opening for Alter Bridge a few months ago and we only saw the end of their set. The sound at the SECC was far better that night, so at least I know what they can sound like. The sound on the video I took was warbly as well – the only venue this has happened at.

While I’m whinging, the lighting was poor as well. Only the centre of the stage received any reasonable amount of light during the evening, hence the small number of photos I’ve uploaded.

Still, it wasn’t a bad gig. Like the support, ToaD warmed up as they went through, saving the more popular songs for later in the set. They do offer a good mix of material though, as singer Tyler Connolly admitted, they’re well known for their prodigious output of “break-up” songs. Of which they played a few. No harm when they’re good material.

Not a classic gig, mainly due to the poor acoustics, and I’d like to catch them again somewhere better. In future I think I’ll be wary of the QMU. My apologies to anyone who works there. As I said, the staff were lovely – it’s simply the size and the shape of it that makes it pretty poor for a loud concert.

 

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Oldie but Goldie: Pestilence – Testimony of the Ancients

Testimony of the Ancients
Image via Wikipedia

Number two in my occasional little “ooh, I forgot how good this album is” series is Testimony of the Ancients by Dutch band Pestilence. I’ve got it on my phone and it gets regular plays in the car.

The history behind the band and album is interesting. Without repeating too much of the Wikipedia entry (worth a read – it’s not too long), the band went through a lot of line-up changes. With each change and each album (up to and including their fourth and last for an extended period, Spheres), their music style ducked and dived considerably. Testimony of the Ancients is their third and, in my opinion, not just their best but one of the best death/thrash albums I’ve ever heard.

It’s a novel piece of work with an unusual sound to it. Not as fast as some thrash, but with more tempo and less of a tinny, treble-y sound than a lot of death albums of that era. Simply, the production is superb. Given that it’s a Scott Burns job, this isn’t really that surprising if you have a look at the list of classics he worked on.

Each main track is separated from the next by an unusual atmospheric “outro”. These range from half a minute to just over a minute long and could be used in the soundtrack for a horror-based video game. A nice little extra to throw on there.

What makes TotA such a good album, in my opinion, is its accessibility. It’s easy to listen to and an excellent portal into the world of death metal. Along with Death’s Spiritual Healing (also a Scott Burns production), it’s amongst the first albums of this genre I heard and I still listen to both frequently.

I recall seeing Pestilence at Graspop a couple of years ago and they were superb, playing a fair part of their set from this album. I also swear I have a ticket from the early 90’s somewhere which tells me I saw them at the Riverside in Newcastle possibly before this album came out. So many bands, and too small a brain to retain all the memories!

Having lauded such praise on it, it’s a shame to then say that I wasn’t impressed with follow-up Spheres, which melded the likes of jazz fusion with the death metal sound. It just didn’t work for me. The band broke up for 16 years after that one and have since recorded two more albums I wasn’t aware of. Time for a dig in the online shops…

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Shinedown / Halestorm – Glasgow O2 Academy

Halestorm
Halestorm (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

[Many more pictures of both bands on these Flickr sets: Halestorm / Shinedown]

There was a third band on the bill for this gig, Liberty Lies, but we missed them. We caught about the last half of their last song and all I can say is that they sound far better live than the couple of songs I listened to on YouTube would have had me expect. Maybe another time.

Halestorm opened for Disturbed and Papa Roach when I saw them in December 2010 and I missed them due to the early doors at that gig. Judging by tonight’s performance that was a shame as they’re pretty damn good. Fronted and drummed by a sister/brother pairing, they’ve got a handful of decent songs as well as being very comfortable on stage.

Lzzy Hale is pretty damn hot, it must be said. And any woman who can play a full set, including jumping around, on 4″ heels deserves some respect. Her voice was a little… I dunno. It didn’t really work for me. It did work for Gillian, though, who bought their CD from the merch stand and is enjoying it immensely.

The band are good value for money, and drummer Arejay is worth watching. He’s not one of these “sit here and hit things thump thump” drummers, but very much a showman who makes the most of being stuck somewhere fairly stationary. If you’re not too caught up in the songs, keep an eye on him.

With a rather decent cover of Skid Row‘s “Slave to the Grind“, Halestorm filled an entertaining 40 minutes or so and deserved the good reception they got.

Shinedown
Shinedown (Photo credit: Iain Purdie)

Shinedown hit the stage slightly later than the 21:30 start time we expected, which is a shame as they were so damn good I’d have lapped up every extra minute they could have given.

Opening with “Sound of Madness” and into “Devour”, they kicked everything off as they intended to continue. Loud, brash, bouncy. Frontman Brent Smith seemed to ignore the criticism he’d received on the last tour of talking too much and waffled a bit between songs. But you know what? So does Bruce Dickinson, and nobody gives him any crap about it.

With a new album out in April (I think), there were a couple of newer songs. A shame the notoriously poor sound at the Academy didn’t do them the justice they needed – in particular, and as ever, the vocals being mixed right down. Am I the only one that likes to hear the words in my hard rock? The main audience reaction, though, was for the better-known material and in particular that from the best-selling second album.

Shinedown are excellent live. They’ve just been confirmed for Download so if you can make it (despite the shit headliners and sub-headliners, and the fact that it’s not during the Scottish school holidays), make sure you catch them. They give a solid, fun performance and the smiles on their faces are infectious. It’s great to have a band look like they’re having the time of their lives on stage without them having to tell you every five minutes.

I also have to say that Zach Myers gave a hell of a show. That man’s a beast of a guitarist. I’m not taking anything away from the rest of the band, but he is awesome. Between his playing and Brent’s posing, you’ve got a superb pair up front. Eric Bass (aptly named…) and Barry Kerch complete the lineup though they never seemed quite as involved as the other two. Maybe it’s just the way the stage is laid out.

Talking of which, what’s with the Mike Myers (Halloween, not Austin Powers) mask off to the right of the drumkit? And the stagehands wearing bizarre headgear? Anyone?

Near the end of the set, things calmed down a little with a couple of ballads. Highlight was, of course, “Second Chance” – a song even better live than it is on album. Deservedly their highest-charting single to date. I do have a video of this, it may well make it to YouTube.

Given the very low ticket price of around £16, this has to be one of the best value gigs at a mid-sized venue I’ve been to. Gillian, Wendi and myself all had a great time and left with big smiles on our faces. Looking around the sell-out crowd spilling out into the cold, I don’t think we were in any way alone in this.

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“The Western World” <> “The USA”

Sorry, but I had to. I was reading a simple review of a computer temperature-monitoring program on VikiTech when  I read the following words:

“While the western world uses Fahrenheit as its temperature of choice…”

*face palm*

*seeing red*

*attempts not to paint all Americans with the same brush*

My response to them:

“While the western world uses Fahrenheit as its temperature of choice…” – sorry, but bullshit. The USA is not the total sum of the western world, only a small part of it. Europe uses Celsius, and it’s very much a part of this western world.

Population of Europe: 731 million
Population of USA: 307 million

On that basis, the USA is a minority shareholder in determining what temperature scale is “of choice” in the western world. Add to that the population of South America – on the same landmass as the USA, but also using Celsius these days – and your comment looks even more ludicrous.

In fact, let’s refer to Wikipedia (I know, I know – it’s not 100% accurate) which states that ” The temperature scale [Fahrenheit] was replaced by the Celsius scale in most countries during the mid to late 20th century, but it remains the official scale of the United States, Cayman Islands and Belize.”

So your “western world” consists of three nations with a combined population of approximately 735 million out of a world population of 7 billion, the rest of whom use Celsius.

Stop being so self-important and realise there is a whole world beyond your borders who aren’t quite so caught up in themselves.

Did I over-react?

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