Chez Shaffner

Thursday, April 12, 2007

An Intimidating Crowd: Stone Sour @ Avalon

Above, left: The author on a typical night at home; above, right: the typical face in the crowd at the Stone Sour concert on Wednesday night.

This is a story about attending a heavy metal concert.

Allow me to present my credentials: The first audio cassette I selected for myself was Appetite for Destruction. A few years later, my CD collection began with the eponymous debut album from Black Sabbath. High school wrestling practices drew their tenor from Metallica and AC/DC. Saturday nights I watched Riki Rachtman’s Headbanger’s Ball on MTV (my favorites included Type O Negative, Tool, and White Zombie). Finally, my “pump-up” mix featured Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth, Ministry, and Pantera (among others).

Despite this documented predilection for hard rock and metal, I never became much of a headbanger: I’m far too uptight and clean-cut for that. It didn’t help that my high school and college friends preferred wispier fare.

My musical tastes have always been diverse. Even in high school I would swap out the Black Sabbath for Garth Brooks from time to time... (Shh, keep that between us). These days, my iPod has a bizarre assortment of tracks: Beatles, Deftones, Imogen Heap, Tiësto, Morphine, Sublime, Zero 7, Dr. Dre, Gabriel & Dresden, Queens of the Stone Age, Metallica, Jeff Buckley, Daddy Yankee, 50 Cent, Cowboy Mouth, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Audioslave, The Clash... In other words, a hodgepodge of dissimilar sounds.

All this by way of introduction to my rave review of the Jagermeister Concert Series, and its headliner, Slipknot side-project Stone Sour.

Couple months ago I got an email from Dave, alone among my friends an aficionado of heavy metal and/or hard rock. “Stone Sour is coming to Avalon. You interested?”

I hemmed and hawed. “Slipknot side-project” gave me the willies--and a sense that perhaps I wouldn’t fit into the crowd. We’re talking about guys who wear masks on stage. Now picture the fans, especially the rabid ones. But still the notion intrigued me.

“What the hell?” I said. “I’m in.”

Wednesday, April 4th, at the Avalon Ballroom in Boston, I marched into the fray, wearing my uniform (black jeans, black tee-shirt, black boots).

Lizard Man (he of the forked tongue and bone implants where his eyebrows should be) emceed the night’s festivities. From what I witnessed, his emceeing consisted of riffing on oral sex and shooting Jagermeister. I thought he was pretty funny, in his own way, but some of the crowd disagreed. The gigantic man beside me implored the band to take the stage (though he expressed it rather more explicitly).

As we passed the long line awaiting body cavity search, I saw that my suspicions on the crowd were true--to a point. Metal shows are more diverse than one might suspect. You’ve got your host of hard-core metal-heads. And you’ve got the contingent of near-convicts. Then there are teenagers and their reluctant mothers. Then a selection of people lured to the show by the slow tempo of a handful of Stone Sour songs that made their way to the mainstream airwaves--these tracks do not aptly represent the show to come.

Above: Demographic profile of the audience for the Jagermeister Concert Series

By the time we arrived (around 8:15), two opening acts had already played. Fortunately, we arrived in the nick of time to catch Springfield’s favorite sons: thrash metal band Shadows Fall.

My personal preference is for melodic metal, where the vocalist soars above the tuned-low guitar snarl. Others prefer that the instruments (guitars, bass, drums, vocals) blend together into a wall of noise, with the lyrics barely perceptible as a swirl of growls and shouts. Death metal doesn’t include much of what one would traditionally refer to as singing. From the first thirty seconds of Shadows Fall’s set, they exuded the death metal vibe. A low chugging and throaty growl. Hm. Not my cup of tea.

But, by the end of the second track, I was into it. Far from the illicit mosh pit (Avalon doesn’t permit moshing, in the name of insurance liability), but enjoying the show nonetheless.

Stone Sour came on at close to ten o’clock and played for an hour and change. Except for a brief acoustic set two-third of the way through the show, they played an aggressive selection of tracks from their first two studio albums. Particular highlights included “30-30/150,” which everyone in the crowd seemed to know, and “Made of Scars.”

Among my problems with the heaviest metal is that it becomes difficult to discern talent. Stone Sour, gentler than Slipknot and the group preceding them on stage, still plays hard and fast, but the lead guitar soars and the vocals are allowed to harmonize. After the show, I hurried home to buy the albums from iTunes.

Midway through the performance, Corey Taylor slung a guitar around his shoulders and took a solo spin through Stone Sour’s downbeat fare, including the song that put them on the map—“Bother” from the Spiderman soundtrack. As embellishments, Taylor belted the first few bars of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” (which always conjures in the mind of men my age an image of Helena Christensen in black-and-white…). Then, after the audience matched him lyric for lyric on “Through Glass” from the newest album, Taylor rewarded us with “Sweet Home Alabama.” It was a fun interlude, but by the fourth slow track, the crowd clamored for aggression. “I think you guys were expecting something a little harder,” he said, as the band joined him for part two of their aural onslaught.

It was a helluva show… and not all that frightening after all.


At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Kelly Spitzer said...

I've never heard of these guys, Jason, but the concert sounds fun. My first concert was, like your first album, GN'R. For my 13th birthday. Or maybe it was my 14th. Can't remember now. It was a helluva show. The mosh pit was fun for like three seconds, until I realized I was way too young and too small to be doing that kind of stuff! Keep writing these concert and album reviews--great stuff.

At 8:21 AM, Anonymous Shaffner said...

The Stone Sour albums are a lot more mellow than their show. I've been listening a lot SINCE I saw them live...

Thanks for the praise! I'm planning upcoming reviews of Cowboy Mouth, Jess Tardy, Harry Connick Jr., Edwin McCain, and the new Tiësto album. They're fun to write...


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