Monday, November 22, 2010

A review of Blind Guardian, Nov. 21 at Worcester Palladium

Until last night, Blind Guardian was on a short list of heavy metal bands that I’ve always wanted to see live, but for whom time and circumstance always seemed to run interference. Now I can scratch “best German power metal band of all time—see live” off my list of things to do before I die, though after the excellent show they put on Sunday, November 21st at the Worcester Palladium I’d certainly welcome the chance to see these guys again.

I must say right off the bat that the Palladium was a rather unexpected venue in which to see Blind Guardian. As my friend and I stood in line in the chilly Worcester air waiting to get in, we both noted that seeing a band the caliber of Blind Guardian at a venue this small was both a shame and an amazing opportunity. Overseas Blind Guardian is a band that plays to stadiums and packed arenas; in the states they largely play small clubs in front of hundreds. We were both amazed and perplexed by this phenomenon. I personally don’t understand why Blind Guardian isn’t bigger over here in the states. I suspect that U.S. audiences are more fickle, and that classic-sounding heavy metal has become a bit passe’. Which is a shame, because just like classic literature classic metal never ages. It may also be that Blind Guardian, though they’ve been around for 22 years (their debut album was 1988’s Battalions of Fear) was a “late-comer” on the metal scene and so never developed the hard-core loyal following that bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath still enjoy. I doubt Blind Guardian was doing any serious touring of the U.S. back then, and just a few short years later metal was out, and grunge was in. Europe meanwhile marched to the beat of its own drum of music fashion. Of course, it doesn’t help that Blind Guardian gets absolutely zero radio air-play, either. Even Iron Maiden gets some occasional “Run to the Hills” or “Number of the Beast” lip service. When have you ever heard “Valhalla”?

But onto the good: seeing Blind Guardian at the Palladium allowed us to view the show probably 50-60 feet from the stage. We were standing on a riser that gave us a great view over the top of the mosh-pit and crowd-surfers, nearly at eye-level with the band. I must say I was a little surprised by the moshing—not so much during Holy Grail, whose heavier music leant itself to moshing, but I was surprised when it continued for Blind Guardian, who has their heavy songs but are more melodic. Still, I was safely on the sidelines and so didn’t mind the frenzy of thrashing, flailing bodies. Everyone was into it in their own way: Most of the crowd just sang and clapped along and pumped their fists in the air, self included.

We got to the show early and so were able to catch both opening acts. Holy Grail, who took the stage second, featured a good singer and accomplished what a good opening act should—get the crowd riled up, and me interested in their music. My two second evaluation: They’re pretty good. Seven Kingdoms was average at best. They featured a female lead singer who was decent but in general lacked the sound and stage presence of Holy Grail. Holy Grail did have a classic Spinal Tap moment pre-concert when they brought out a tapestry no larger than those I used to hang on my bedroom wall. Two guys spent a good 5-6 minutes fiddling around with the stand to try and get the banner taut and the logo readable, and immediately after walking off stage the whole thing did a slow tilt right and collapsed to the delight of the crowd.

On to Blind Guardian. As pleasantly surprised as I was with Holy Grail, it was shocking to see the difference between the opening acts and Blind Guardian. Without denigrating Holy Grail or Seven Kingdoms, Blind Guardian played with a whole new level of sound and presence. The best way I can describe it is professionalism. You can just tell Blind Guardian has been doing this very well for a long time and are on top of their game. And of course Kursch is almost without parallel as a singer and showman.

Overall I was very pleased with the setlist which you can view here in full at Blind Guardian’s official website if you're concerned with spoilers. Some personal highlights included:

Sacred Worlds. I like it as the intro to their new album, but it worked even better live. A great way to kick off the concert.

Nightfall. One of my favorite Blind Guardian songs and I was stunned by how well this worked live. I love songs with big, powerful choruses and this was a high note. My heart skipped a beat when lead singer Hansi Kursch gave his typical Tolkienian intro: “Let’s see what happens to the Noldorian race after… Nightfall.”

Time Stands Still at the Iron Hill. Yet more Tolkien. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: It’s great to see material like The Silmarillion get such serious, epic treatment. Blind Guardian was born to sing songs like this.

The Bard’s Song. A crowd favorite, and again a reminder that Kursch can really sing wonderfully (as well as scream). This might be my favorite ballad by any band, ever.

Born in a Mourning Hall. Just like “Nightfall,” this one has a big chorus and when you’re in a packed hall, singing it out loud, it’s chill-evoking.

Bright Eyes. This is a great song and was thrilled to hear it live.

The Lord of the Rings. Singing “Mordor, dark land under Sauron’s spell” along with Hansi Kursch at the top of my lungs=worth the price of admission.

Mirror, Mirror. A fine song and always an excellent closer.

I had a couple minor disappointments, foremost not hearing “Mordred’s Song,” which is one of my top 5 BG songs ever. Also, I still think “Valkyries” is the best song on the new album and I would have preferred that or “Curse My Name” over “Wheel of Time.” But overall I can’t complain with the setlist. It was really a great mix of old and new.

There were a few rather humorous moments worth mentioning: The crowd chanting for “Majesty,” Hansi pausing dramatically, then saying “no,” was one (they wound up playing "Majesty" anyway). The other was the band playing through an almost entirely dark stage during “Sacred Worlds.” My first thought was that something was off, but then I thought perhaps the effect was intended (you could see the band, albeit as silhouettes). But as it turned out the stage lights had malfunctioned. The band got a good laugh out of it before the second song.

A couple final notes:

I was pleasantly surprised by the relative youth of the crowd. A few recent shows I’ve attended were dominated by late 30 and 40 somethings; BG seems to have attracted a younger crowd along with older dudes like me, which gives me some hope for the future of metal.

A $30 ticket price (including all fees) was a steal. I think I paid $30 back in 1992 when I saw Iron Maiden on their No Prayer on the Road tour.

As is the case with all metal concerts I had fun crowd watching. Some oddities included a guy with a sleeveless jacket that I think was denim, but was in effect a near seamless quilt of patches of bands ranging from Burzum to Megadeth. Some other dude had a Bob Seger concert tee (hey, I like Seger too, but it seemed a little out of place here).

It was good to see my friend, whom I see maybe once or twice a year at most. We both commented on the changes that had occurred in our lives since our last show at the Palladium circa 2001. He was living in a different place and we both had different jobs. I was kidless. Oh yeah, and we were waiting in line to see Ronnie James Dio, who of course is no longer with us.


Matt Johnsen said...

Blind Guardian didn't get a domestic release of their music until the late 90s, when Century Media reissued some of the older titles and issued Nightfall in Middle Earth when it came out. You wouldn't believe how hard it was to get Blind Guardian CDs in the US in 1993! Their first show in the US was at the ProgPower fest in Atlanta in 2002. Where they were blown away by Angra :)

Falze said...

I think the best compliment I can give on too little sleep and without further reflection is simply: they were worth the wait.

Michael said...

Absolutely loved this show. I caught the drum head threw out at the end which is a great memory to have. This was easily ny favorite topping previous favorites primus, and mastodon. If and when they come back to boston I will be sure to make it to the show.

Andy said...

I'd love to see these guys when they come to my town - they're playing at a club that's literally just a mile down the street from me - but that'll be around Christmas and I'm not sure the timing will be right.

Brian Murphy said...

Matt: That would certainly help to explain Blind Guardian's limited appeal over here in the states. It's a shame, because if you look at some of the bands back in the late 80s/early 90s that were filling arenas, BG is far more talented and has had a much more substantial career.

Falze: Absolutely.

Michael: You caught a drum head? Awesome! I hope you didn't suffer any blows to the head from the crowd-surfers.

Andy: Well, if you can make it, do so. You won't be disappointed.