Apocalyptica @ Starland Ballroom

SAYREVILLE, NJ—We all know that St. Patrick’s Day is known for people of all ethnicities to have an excuse to drink on a weekday while claiming to be Irish. With drink specials being offered all night at the Starland Ballroom, in addition to the green bottled Bud Light’s, perhaps that is why the parking lot was packed. Or maybe it was because New Jersey natives Beyond The Element were opening for the Finnish cello rockers Apocalyptica. My thought was that, on an Irish holiday, metal from Finland wouldn’t be the hottest ticket in town, even though they are a one of a kind talent. But whatever the case may be, the venue seemed to have been filled the maximum occupancy.

I walked in a few songs into Beyond The Element’s set. If you’ve ever been to Starland, you know that it contains basically two floors. The first floor was absolutely crammed, with little room to roam, so I stood center stage by the bar in the back. Fans seemed like they were really into the local rock/grunge band. I thought lead singer Bob Crowell put on a great show and got fans into the performance early and often. He could even pass for Lost’s Jorge Garcia. As they exited the stage, I asked a few audience members what they thought of their performance and not one person said something negative. “Impressive” and “solid” seemed to be the consensus.

There was a 35 to 40 minute intermission between Beyond The Element and headliners, Apocalyptica, who originally were supposed to play on Dec. 8, but were forced to postpone it due to issues with cellist Perttu Kivilaakso’s health. The scene was filled with people of all ages, many sporting Metallica shirts. The crowd went into an uproar when the first cello was brought onto the stage. Apocalyptica kicked it off at 9 p.m. sharp. With Paavo Lotjonen to his left, Perttu to his right and Mikko Siren on drums, Eicca Toppinen took center stage.

They opened their set with the relatively slow track “On The Rooftop With Quasimodo.” Some fans were into it, along with the second song, “2010,” but others were talking loudly, as the drums rang out over the cellos. They got much clearer and louder, however, with “Grace.” Perttu stole the spotlight with a sensational solo and the audience went nuts.

When they performed “Master Of Puppets” they gave the line “pulling the string” a new meaning. The place went chaotic and even a small mosh pit erupted, while most of the audience sang along. Like on most songs, Paavo seemed to be a fan favorite and was constantly getting the crowd into it. Vocalist Tipe Johnson made his debut on “Not Strong Enough,” which was followed up by “End Of Me.” Towards the end of an excellent rendition of “I’m Not Jesus,” Eicca abandoned his cello, grabbed a drumstick and repeatedly smashed one of the drum cymbals, which was electrifying to say the least.

The fans were also in for a treat, as they covered a few more Metallica songs, one of which was “Nothing Else Matters.” Another, “Whiskey In The Jar,” gave fans some laughs. The band came out in some sweet looking green hats, lights and Mikko even dressed up as a leprechaun. As Eicca told me in a recent interview, their versions of Metallica songs are all instrumental but in this case, Tipe was on vocals. “I Don’t Care” and “Hall Of The Mountain King” rounded out their performance. Apocalyptica even stayed around after the show to sign some autographs and take pictures.

In short, they put on an epic performance, something that I will always remember. My only complaint about the show was that a highly inebriated college kid passed out on a barstool, fell over and spilled beer on me and a few others, including a little boy. But hey, it goes to show that everyone had a good time. Except maybe that little boy.