Sabaton/Best Buy Theater/October 18, 2014
Melodic heavy metal band Sabaton formed in 1999 in Falun, Sweden. The band is best known for lyrical themes based on historical battles, including World War II’s Battle of Kursk, Warsaw Uprising and Battle of Midway; the Winter War; the Thirty Years’ War; the Great Northern War. At the Best Buy Theater, the five members of Sabaton wore similar camouflage pants and black shirts. Charismatic frontman Joakim Brodén wore a sleeveless faux-armor-plated shirt, mirrored aviator sunglasses and a close-cropped Mohawk haircut. (The rest of the front line was comprised of avid hair spinners.) The band played searing metal, and Brodén sang gruffly, backed by bombastic gang vocals on the choruses. He seemed to smile for the whole set, enjoying the rabid response from the cheering audience. Beginning a career retrospective with “Ghost Division,” the group played power metal tightly and smoothly. Brodén poked fun at the band’s wardrobe, referencing the Village People and getting the metalheads singing along to a few bars of “YMCA.” Later he jokingly claimed that Sabaton was as Viking as the evening’s headliner, Amon Amarth, before charging into another story song of war and valor. In a cluttered field of sound-alike look-alike metal bands, Sabaton curated a unique and memorable performance.
Amon Amarth/Best Buy Theater/October 18, 2014
Amon Amarth are a melodic death metal band from Tumba, Sweden, founded in 1992. Amon Amarth’s lyrics largely re-imagine Norse mythology and history, resulting in the band often being branded as playing “Viking metal.” Headlining the Best Buy Theater, Amon Amarth’s stage set included the prow of a Viking longship, complete with smoking dragon head and beaming red eyes, jutting from center stage. The backdrop, a scale drawing of the band’s most recent album cover, depicted Ragnarök, the last battle between the Æsir gods and Loki, accompanied by the army of the dead. Amid flashing lights, fog, and cheers, Amon Amarth took the stage and opened with “War Of The Gods” from the 2011 Surtur Rising album. Johan Hegg, the band’s large, long-haired, long-bearded bellower, was an imposing, hulking frontman. By the end of the second song, “Runes To My Memory,” from an earlier album, Hegg was singing from inside the bow of the ship as the colored lights on the fog added a mysterious flavor. Throughout the set, Amon Amarth played a haze of epic-sounding thrash aggression with decimating force, while songs were held together with melodic guitar leads, contrasting Hegg’s growling roar. After 22 years as a band, Amon Amarth still delivered crushingly brutal metallic fury.
Spin Doctors/B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill/October 19, 2014
The New York-based Spin Doctors in 1998 began playing jam band clubs like New York’s Wetlands Preserve and hit commercially in 1992 and 1993 with “Two Princes” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” Several personnel changes began in 1994. In 1999, singer Chris Barron lost his voice to a rare acute form of vocal cord paralysis and Spin Doctors soon disbanded. Barron’s voice returned in early 2000, and the original lineup of Spin Doctors reunited for the first time in 2001. Spin Doctors easily brought a party atmosphere to B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill. The band performed old favorites, newer songs and deep cuts. The show opened with “What Time Is It?” and “Traction Blues” before revving the crowd with “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong.” Most of the set was funky and upbeat with a taste of Southern rock guitar. Surprises included seldom-performed songs like Prey To Bears” and the first full version of “Hey Dick” since 1993. (A more recent attempt in 1994 was foiled when Barron forgot the lyrics and the band aborted the song.) The group played well and Barron spoke frequently with the audience between songs, but the real attraction was more than the music—the attraction was that Spin Doctors put on a fun show.
Unearth/The Studio at Webster Hall/October 19, 2014
Metalcore band Unearth formed in 1998 in Winthrop, Massachusetts. The band tried to recruit vocalist Trevor Phipps while he recovered from appendicitis, but he was reluctant to join. However, when Phipps showed up to a jam session for one of guitarist Ken Susi’s side bands, Unearth was practicing instead. Phipps agreed to join after hearing the song “Shattered By The Sun.” Headlining The Studio at Webster Hall, Unearth gave its fans a relentless hour of pure headbanging metalcore. The core of the fist-pumping music was rooted in harsh growling vocals, neck-breaking guitar riffs and fast drums, powered occasionally by either harmonic guitar lines or burly breakdowns for an aggression-filled combination of death metal and thrash metal. Unearth provided a nonstop barrage of hammers to the skull.
Live/Gramercy Theatre/October 22, 2014
The rock band that came to be known as Live initially formed for a middle-school talent show in York, Pennsylvania. Live achieved worldwide success with 1994’s Throwing Copper album, which sold eight million copies in the United States and more than 20 million albums worldwide. Live’s original lead singer Ed Kowalczyk left the band in 2009. A reformed group returned from a hiatus in 2012, with Chris Shinn as the new lead singer. Live is composed presently of Shinn and three original members, guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey. At the Gramercy Theatre, Live came on stage dressed in black but looking like they were hit with a bag of white flour. The band introduced four new songs, but the remaining 12 songs were all from the 1990s. Live rebooted its mega hits, including “Lightning Crashes,” “I Alone,” “All Over You,” and “Lakini’s Juice,” all of which were pillars of the ’90s. The songs fused sometimes spiritual lyrics with heart-tugging melodies and rocking arrangements. This is another decade, however, and except for their nostalgic value, the songs sounded tame, dated and entirely too predictable. New vocalist Chris Shinn was a good singer and showman, but even the new songs were formulaic with obvious build-ups and safe bridges and choruses. Live’s last three albums with Kowalczyk bombed perhaps because the audience tired of corporate-sounding hard rock, and the new lineup failed to further these boundaries.