March 16 – 22, 2017
On the cusp of the release of their eagerly awaited, earthshattering sophomore full-length album, Darkness Remains, California old-school metal heroes Night Demon embarked on a six-week U.S. tour as direct support for Canadian veteran pounders Anvil. Sacramento, California’s Graveshadow is also on the tour. My friends in Night Demon graciously invited me to ride with them for a few shows, so of course I accepted. I’m far too inept and generally clueless to be classified as a roadie, but I did what I could to help haul gear, rock out, drink beer, and otherwise partake of life on the road. Here’s how it went down …
Thursday, March 16, 2017
My flight arrived at Jacksonville International Airport on the Atlantic Coast of Florida just before 1:00 p.m. on a sun-drenched but unseasonably cool March day. I hopped an Uber downtown, and spent the afternoon wandering through the downtown area and ultimately walking through the beautiful Five Points neighborhood en route to tonight’s venue (which was located roughly 3 miles west of downtown). Along the way, I stumbled across the King Street entertainment district, a cool stretch of bars and restaurants cutting north-to-south through the neighborhood. Some of the bars were open, and I had some time to kill before the gig, so I meandered into one place called The Garage, sat down and enjoyed a couple of nice local brews and a chat with friendly bartender Megan. One of them, a Pinglehead Cookie Monster, went down really easy, and then Megan told me it was 11%. Whooooah. Anyway, the whole area was setting up frantically for tomorrow’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration, so that was fun to see. Eventually, I wobbled out of the bar and made my way down to the venue.
Nighthawks is what you might call an intimate venue, just a cozy little dive bar in a residential area. I arrived just after 5 p.m., minutes before the Night Demon van pulled into the parking lot. It was, of course, great to see the guys again and to meet their tour manager/tech/merch guy/mascot Waldo. Everybody seemed to be in high spirits and fully engaged in tour mode. A few minutes later, Robb Reiner from Anvil walked over to the Night Demon van and hung out with us for two-plus hours, just shooting the breeze, telling stories, and regaling us with the life and times of Anvil. Perhaps my favorite part of the conversation was when Robbo pulled out his phone and scrolled through a list of album title candidates for the next Anvil studio album. Some were hilariously awesome, and some were just plain hilarious. Also, there were train tracks running alongside the venue. Whenever a train would come rumbling through, Robbo would stop talking, walk over to the tracks, and take photos/video of the passing train. Dude’s obsessed with trains. It’s awesome.
As darkness fell, the temperature plummeted and the local bands started warming up the Nighthawks crowd. Armed with my shiny new Anvil tour laminate, I made it inside the venue just in time to see tour openers GRAVESHADOW. My first observation was just how tiny the stage was, less than a foot high with barely enough room for Anvil’s gear, much less anyone else’s. But that’s alright. You don’t need a big, fancy stage to rock, a fact that Graveshadow proved immediately. I was not previously familiar with the band, although I did know vocalist Heather Michele’s work with her former band, Helion Prime. Graveshadow are a bit different stylistically from the other bands on the tour, being much more in the power/gothic/symphonic sort of style, in terms of both music and image. The band’s scrims depict a scantily clad sorceress in a darkened graveyard, raising the dead. And Heather Michele takes the stage in full-on regalia, with a black dress and fingerless gloves. Graveshadow impressed me with their tight, five-song, 30-minute performance tonight. Heather moves effortlessly from powerful clean vocals to a menacing growl, guitarists Aaron Robitsch (whom I had actually met briefly on the 70000 Tons of Metal cruise in February) and Will Walker have the requisite chops and hair-flailing action, bassist Ben Armstrong is a hulking beast alongside the diminutive Heather, and blond drummer Roman Anderson pounds his kit. The best moment of Graveshadow’s set for me was when Heather came into the crowd to rock out arm-in-arm with a little girl, maybe 8 or 10 years old, in the audience. No doubt it was a highlight she’ll remember for a long time. Setlist: Namesake, Exhumed, Blink, Lycan Lust, Blood and Fire.
I was super-excited to see NIGHT DEMON tonight because I knew they’d be performing some of the Darkness Remains material that I’d never seen them play before. The gig ended up both expected and unexpected for me. A surprise right off the bat was when the houselights went down, the familiar Conan intro was nowhere to be heard; instead, they went straight into the short intro tape for new single “Welcome to the Night.” The song rips, and it really is a perfect opener for the live set, both for its energy and its lyrical content. Then the band tore into a batch of beloved older songs, moving seamlessly from “Ritual” to “Heavy Metal Heat” to “Mastermind” (nice coordinated stage moves with that song which I hadn’t noticed them doing before) to “Howling Man.” By now, Night Demon are a fine-tuned, precision killing machine onstage, both lethal and unflappable. No longer can guitarist Armand John Anthony be deemed “the new guy,” as he’s got at least 100 Night Demon gigs under his belt by now. Truth be told, Armand is a lot of fun to watch on stage. He’s got flair, he’s got style, and he’s a monster player. Multiple times, he and bassist/vocalist Jarvis Leatherby came together at the front of the cramped stage and actually stepped down onto the single step leading to the stage, placing them just inches from me and the other people upfront, sweating, rocking out, and giving it all they have. Much the same can be said for drummer Dusty Squires, who performed admirably despite not feeling well and being forced to use the Anvil drumkit because of space considerations. Robbo’s kit is much bigger and more spread out than Dusty’s minimalist kit, which creates challenges for Dusty in playing the songs, but you’d never know it by watching him. The man is a machine behind the drums. The other new song aired tonight was “Hallowed Ground,” one of the absolute highlights from Darkness Remains and a clear choice for a follow-up single. (The band are even selling “Hallowed Ground” themed t-shirts on this run, complete with a snippet of lyrics – the last lines of the song – printed on the back.) “Hallowed Ground” belongs in every Night Demon set from now until the end of time – it rules, and takes on an even more powerful character live. With the closing trilogy of “Screams in the Night,” “The Chalice” (complete with the traditional appearance of mascot Rocky) and “Night Demon,” the 45-minute set ended in the blink of an eye. The delivery was rendered all the more intense by the fact that Jarvis kept the talking to a sheer minimum. The band blasted from one song to the next, and I don’t think Jarvis even addressed the audience until after “The Chalice.” Night Demon tore it up tonight, no doubt. Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Ritual, Heavy Metal Heat, Mastermind, Howling Man, Hallowed Ground, Screams in the Night, The Chalice, Night Demon.
After the Night Demon set, I slipped into my roadie role and helped with the load-out into the frigid night air of the Nighthawks parking lot. If I’m going to be along for the ride, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and lend a hand whenever and wherever I can. As I helped the guys break everything down and load the gear into the van, I was struck by the fact that they were calmly, coolly analyzing the evening’s performance, talking about what worked and what could have worked better, thinking about ways to make the show even better tomorrow. This mentality is part of what sets Night Demon apart. They’re never satisfied with what they’ve done. Complacency is not an issue. They’re always looking for ways to improve. Tonight, the consensus was that maybe it would work better to swap “Screams in the Night” and “Hallowed Ground” in the running order, so it was decided that would happen in St. Petersburg tomorrow night.
By the time load-out was completed, ANVIL were already several songs into their headlining performance before a small but enthusiastic Jacksonville audience. I have a great deal of respect for the band’s longevity and their stubbornness, and they’re lovable underdogs who are easy to root for. Songs like “Winged Assassins” and opener “666” (which I heard from outside in the parking lot) still sound great today, and the new cut “Daggers and Rum” is loads of fun too. Vocalist/guitarist Lips is a big goofball onstage but his exuberance is infectious, whether he’s telling stories about Lemmy, Ozzy and Anthony Hopkins, or yelling into the pickups of his guitar, or busting out the vibrator during the extended instrumental break of “Mothra.” Without question, though, the highlight of this Anvil performance (and every Anvil gig I saw on this run) was the Robb Reiner drum solo during “Swing Thing.” As a general rule, I detest drum solos. But not Robbo’s. The guy’s a master craftsman with a unique style (at least among metal drummers) and an amazing feel for his instrument. After “Metal on Metal,” I was surprised to see Anvil return to the stage for a quick encore cover of “Born to Be Wild.” Setlist: March of the Crabs, 666, Ooh Baby, Bad Ass Rock and Roll, Winged Assassins, Free as the Wind, On Fire, This is Thirteen, Mothra, Daggers and Rum, Swing Thing, Die for a Lie, Metal on Metal. Encore: Born to Be Wild.
As the night wore on, I enjoyed several pints of Dukes Brown Ale from the bar, but I began to have a nagging concern: We didn’t have any place to stay after the show. The Night Demon guys just laughed and assured me it would all work out. And it did. We literally were the last people remaining in Nighthawks, long after the music had ended and everyone else had gone home. A kindly bartender generously offered to give us a place to stay, so that’s what we did. We left with her as she locked up the bar for the night and headed over to her place. Jarvis and I were hungry, so the two of us took a detour via Uber to a nearby Waffle House. You haven’t lived until you’ve been inside a Jacksonville, FL Waffle House at 3:30 a.m., I tell you what. Somewhere around 5 o’clock, I drifted off to sleep on an air mattress in Collette’s living room, with fitful dreams of howling men and unholy grails.
Friday, March 17, 2017
It was only a four-hour drive from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg, but we got off to kind of a late start. Consequently, it was after 6:00 p.m. when we arrived in the alley behind The State Theater. The other bands had loaded in already and the first of three local openers were about to start playing, so there was no time for us to load in and set up just yet. In stark contrast to last night’s venue, The State Theater is a large, classy facility situated in a very cool part of St. Pete, with plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance. Big stage, pro lights (including groovy lasers emanating from overhead on either side of the stage to the back wall of the room), pro venue staff/security, large crowd. Everything felt different than last night. It’s fascinating how adjacent tour stops can be so diametrically in contrast with each other. Early on, I spotted my friend Dustin Hardman (U.S. rep for AFM / High Roller / Frontiers) in the audience and had a good chat with him. (Got the scoop on the new Dirkschneider guitarist and everything!) Downside to a big venue like this was that beer options were limited and expensive, so I made do with $6 Corona tallboys for the time being.
It was great to see Graveshadow receive such a strong, positive reaction from the St. Petersburg crowd. Watching them play a second time definitely helped me to click with their music and their stage presentation (I am, after all, rather defiantly narrowminded about these things). I was pleased to note that Heather, once again, went out of her way onstage to acknowledge each of the local openers by name, which is a very classy move, indeed. Also, it’s awesome that she fearlessly hops off the stage and works through the audience on multiple occasions during every Graveshadow set. By the end of tonight’s performance, I had decided on a favorite Graveshadow song, the one that Heather introduces as being about werewolves (I later learned the title of that one is “Lycan Lust”). It’s an insanely catchy tune, and the growly vocals are kept to a minimum. Anyway, it was a stellar night for Graveshadow.
The crowd had grown to a quite healthy size by the time Night Demon went onstage at 9:45 p.m. or thereabouts. I loved getting to see the band play on a big stage with their own gear and a fired-up audience. It was especially cool to see Dusty Squires playing his own drums (including the kick drum that now features the Night Demon symbol in black on a white background), as he looked far more at ease and was able to rock out a bit more while he played. (Incidentally, Dusty had been fighting an illness over the last 24 hours, including a vicious fever last night in Jacksonville. That he powered through and played as strong as he did both last night and tonight is a testament to the man’s road warrior spirit.) Setlist was the same as last night, except that “Hallowed Ground” and “Screams in the Night” were switched in the running order, just as they’d discussed in the parking lot in Jacksonville. It’s a very strong set. There are no lulls, no time to catch your breath, just 45 minutes of Night Demon pummeling you right between the eyes, which is exactly as it should be.
After helping with load-out, I went back inside the venue to watch Anvil’s set. They did well, but it was disappointing to see the room slowly emptying out during their performance. What the hell, St. Pete? It wasn’t that late, and besides, it was St. Patrick’s Day. Everybody ought to bring their A-game on St. Patrick’s Day, for crying out loud! Pros that they are, Anvil did not allow it to affect them, although they did conclude their set with “Metal on Metal” and did not return for the “Born to Be Wild” encore.
When the show concluded, Dusty and I were hungry so we wandered down the street to a good, versatile restaurant called Angelo’s Grill, where we enjoyed gyros, wings, fries and cold Yuenglings. Eventually we met up with the rest of the guys and rode across the bay back into Tampa to stay with our hosts for the night, who were friends of Waldo’s. Accommodations were very comfortable, and after some more beers I found a nice corner of sofa and a blanket to curl up for the night. There was even a hot shower in the morning! This felt like the lap of luxury.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
As we headed off for the next show, we first stopped at a Wawa for lunch. I’d never had the pleasure of eating at Wawa before, but the ND guys seemed quite enthusiastic about it, so I rolled with the punches. Probably the best gas-station food I’ve ever had, and I didn’t get sick or anything, haha! It was not a lengthy drive from St. Petersburg to the town of Sanford (about an hour on the other side of Orlando), but it was a time-consuming one. Traffic in the Orlando area was awful (I guess because it was Saturday, lots of theme-park traffic, and maybe even March Madness traffic since those games were going on in Orlando), so we took the toll road to try to expedite things. That was fine, except that they nickeled and dimed the hell out of us by making us stop every five miles or so to pay another incremental toll of 50 cents or a dollar or something. At any rate, we made it to Sanford with ample time to spare.
Tonight’s venue was the West End Trading Co., a multi-room bar / music hall whose sign boasted it is “Sanford’s Premiere Bar and Live Music Venue.” The weather was beautiful when we arrived, and there were food trucks lined up along the street, with lots of locals out enjoying their Saturday and partaking of the experience. Strangely, you couldn’t buy a beer (or use a restroom) inside the music hall portion of the venue; instead, you had to go over to the bar side to do that. They were doing a 2-for-1 happy hour when we arrived, so we loaded up on cheap Yuenglings to start us off right. I had a bad feeling about this place from the start: small venue, tiny stage, no people to begin with, and the sign at the front door called the band “Night Demons” with an “S.” It just goes to show you: never rush to judgment. Tonight was definitely the most fun of the three Florida shows, at least for me.
I went right upfront for Graveshadow’s set tonight. By now, I was sufficiently familiar with their material that I knew what to expect, but I wanted to experience it up-close. They did not disappoint, but instead delivered another consistent, powerful set. Each time I’ve seen them on this tour, I’ve come away more of a fan than I was before. And Night Demon were on fire tonight. Due to the severe space restrictions, they left much of their gear in the van. Dusty used the Anvil drumkit, just as he had done in Jacksonville. They only brought in half-stacks, rather than the full stacks of cabinets. Even the black scrims with the crosses on them were omitted tonight. And poor Waldo had to set up the band’s lighting units on the floor in front of the stage because there was no place to put them on the stage itself. To top it all off, today was Jarvis’s day to feel under the weather (Dustin had mostly recovered by now). On paper, it looked like it was going to be a disappointing night. But none of those things mattered in the end. Night Demon came out breathing fire and kicking ass. Jarvis sounded, to these ears, better tonight than he did at either of the first two gigs I witnessed. They played the same tour setlist they played last night, with nary a chink in the armor or a weak link to be found. During the “Night Demon” set closer, Armand even worked in a tribute to Chuck Barry (who passed away today) as part of the solo, which was just rad as hell. Heather from Graveshadow came upfront beside me during “The Chalice,” and the two of us rocked out and sang every word at the top of our lungs together. It was great fun. The icing on the cake was that the room, while certainly not crowded, had filled to a respectable turnout, which makes things more enjoyable for everybody. After helping load out Night Demon’s gear, I came back inside to watch the last two-thirds of Anvil’s set. They seemed to be having a really good night too: appreciative, sizeable audience; good sound; strong performances; lots of smiles, and Lips even adding his own tribute to Chuck Barry in introducing one of the songs. Sure sign of a good night: the “Born to Be Wild” encore made another appearance.
Our plans for after the gig were to drive straight through to my house in Alabama, more than 500 miles from Sanford. It certainly was not glamorous to pile into the Night Demon van, sweaty and tired, for a nine hour drive so soon after a triumphant show, but that’s precisely what we did. By 9:30 a.m., the Night Demon guys and I were sitting around my breakfast table enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal that Jen had made. Talk about worlds colliding …
Sunday, March 19, 2017 – Monday, March 20, 2017
These were off-days from the tour, so there’s not too terribly much to report. On Sunday evening, Graveshadow came to my house (as I had invited them to do the night before in Sanford) and joined us for an epic night of jambalaya, orzo salad, beer and marathon music DVD-watching sessions (KISS at Budokan ’88, KISS in Australia ’80, JUDAS PRIEST at US Festival ’83 were among those aired). My parents, my brother Kevin, and Jen’s parents (plus a couple of other relatives) also came over, lending a real family feel to the evening. I wasn’t sure we could fit nine touring musicians into our home for a good night’s sleep, but it all worked out marvelously. On Monday, Graveshadow left to go explore New Orleans, and I had some time to take the Night Demon guys into downtown Mobile. It seemed surreal to be taking them to all my favorite spots: the 34th floor bar overlooking the city, the barbecue place where Jen and I always go, the dive bar where we got engaged. But we did it all, and it was great fun. Our fortune took yet another upward turn on Monday night, as a result of Armand and Waldo’s decision to stay out downtown after the rest of us came back to the house. They made their way to Alchemy Tavern (my favorite downtown bar where Jen and I are regulars on Fridays after work) and somehow convinced the owner, Matt, to allow Night Demon to play a free show there on Tuesday night. I’d been trying for months to make that happen, but Matt had politely declined. I guess it was different when he actually met them and realized they were good guys who knew their stuff and were going to be respectful and responsible with his equipment. This revelation changed our Tuesday plans considerably.
Tuesday, March 21, 2017
We had always intended to host a big crawfish boil in our back courtyard for Night Demon this afternoon, so we did. After work, Jen picked up 8 pounds of boiled crawfish, plus loads of corn, potatoes and Conecuh sausage. She brought it all home and spread it on a big table out back. As we ate (and yes, the band plus Waldo managed to consume that entire quantity of crawfish and fixins, plus a good amount of pizza and green salad!), we talked about the setlist for tonight, with Armand writing down options on the butcher paper we were using to line the table to protect it from crawfish juice. The plan called for Night Demon to use tonight as kind of a glorified rehearsal in a no-pressure environment since it was assumed that only Jen, Kevin and I would be there. After all, they have a record release party in California on April 17, and they want to be sure they are able to play all 10 songs from the new album to give them maximum flexibility for that show (not to mention the dozens of European shows to follow thereafter). So the thought was for them to play a whole bunch of new songs, and also throw in some unusual/different cover tunes, plus some of the favorites from Curse of the Damned and the EP that they weren’t able to play on this tour. Even if it was to be a “glorified rehearsal,” the boys were taking it seriously. I watched Armand sit on my sofa and at my dining room table warming up at length, paying particular attention to his play-through for the new song “Dawnrider.” One part in particular was giving him fits, and he said, “I hate it when I write a part I can’t play.” But he worked at it doggedly, and entertained us in-between with off-the-cuff renditions of “Master of Puppets,” “2000 Man,” and a bunch of other stuff.
We all arrived at Alchemy Tavern at around 8 p.m. The music hall is upstairs, with a turning staircase, so load-in was kind of a bitch, but well worth it. I saw Matt – the venue owner – downstairs and went in to thank him for allowing Night Demon to play. He seemed pretty blasé about the whole thing, but that’s okay. We got all the gear set up tonight, just like it was a proper Night Demon show: ND banner hung behind the stage, full stacks, Dusty’s drumkit, scrims with crosses, fog machine, lighting boxes, the works. At around 9:30 p.m., Night Demon fired up in front of an audience that consisted of me, Jen, Kevin, and my non-metal buddy Cliff from work who had literally never attended a metal show before in his life. To warm up, they played through cracking versions of the KISS classics “Cold Gin” and “Deuce,” doing the patented KISS choreographed stage moves in both and obviously having a lot of fun. Then the lights were dimmed and – much to my delight – the Conan intro music rolled. YES!!!!! For the next 85 minutes or so, they either played whatever they wanted or they asked me to call out some songs, which I did. They did a five-song block of Curse of the Damned tunes that aren’t in the Anvil tour set, including “Full Speed Ahead” and “Curse of the Damned” (both of which I had dearly missed hearing at the Florida shows), plus a fantastic medley that started as “Save Me Now” before morphing into Black Sabbath’s “Into the Void” and ending up as “Mastermind” (the latter of which they are playing on tour, but it worked brilliantly in the medley).
Then came the pure gold part of the night, at least for me. Night Demon played all eight Darkness Remains songs that they are not doing on the Anvil tour, even though many of them were unrehearsed and several they’d never played on stage before. “Maiden Hell,” “Black Widow,” “Life on the Run” … holy crap. It was too much awesomeness for one stage, and to think this was happening in my hometown for what amounted to a private show was quite literally a dream come true for me. (It wasn’t entirely a private show. There were a few folks sitting at the bar in the adjacent room looking on with interest, but just the four of us in front of the stage.) I had always imagined what this moment might feel like. The reality far eclipsed my wildest imagination. There were a few flubs, a few rough parts, as one might expect given the unrehearsed nature of these songs, but for the most part it sounded spot-on to me. “Darkness Remains” gave me goosebumps and convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will work as a live song. “On Your Own” was funny because Dusty started the intro drumbeat and Jarvis began singing KISS’s “Do You Love Me?” over the top of it (“You really like / My limousine / You like the way the wheels roll”). They seemed confused for a minute as to which song they were actually going to play, haha. Then there was “Dawnrider.” Oh my God, “Dawnrider,” which is quickly becoming the (un)holy grail of Night Demon tunes for me. I hadn’t expected them to play it because I knew they were having trouble with the live arrangement. But they did and it was magnificent. Oh, and the part that Armand had been wrestling with unsuccessfully in my living room? He freakin’ nailed it. Then they went into “Stranger in the Room,” and I got shivers and chills of a different kind. Love love love that doomy song, and it immediately took me back to Frost & Fire last October in California, where they had aired “Stranger in the Room” live for the first time.
Having ripped through all eight non-tour songs from Darkness Remains and being loosened up and happy, Night Demon polished off their set in a very unexpected way. They played KISS “Love Gun” and asked my brother Kevin to go onstage and sing with them. It was heartwarming and cute, but dammit Kevin got nervous and forgot the words. So his big brother (me) came to the rescue, hopped on stage and sang the second verse and chorus with him. Okay, let’s not romanticize it. I sang quite badly. I’d been battling a sore throat for four days (because of tour excesses and all the damn pollen in the air) so my voice (which is basically shitty even on my best day) was pretty much a hoarse croak. But it didn’t matter. Everyone was having a blast. At the end of “Love Gun,” Kevin and I left the stage and Night Demon roared into “God of Thunder.” Spellbinding! I called out Iron Maiden “Wasted Years,” because they had told me they’d played it at some of their South American dates. Their faces lit up and Jarvis handed Kevin his pick, so he could play bass with his fingers, Steve Harris-style. But then Kevin called out for the Curse tune “Run for Your Life” (great call, by the way) and they decided to do that one first. So Jarvis retrieved his pick from Kevin, they ripped through a scorching rendition of “Run for Your Life,” and then hit the big finish to their set with “Wasted Years” which was so killer it prompted some of the barflies to walk over to investigate. Armand absolutely nailed the “Wasted Years” solo by the way, and generally did the work of Adrian, Davey and Janick all by himself.
The deal with Matt and Alchemy Tavern had always been that they needed to finish by 11:00 p.m., so Night Demon honored that deal. They came offstage, hung out, drank some beers, shot some pool with Kevin and talked to the barflies. By all accounts, Night Demon were done for the night, having had a blast and played one of the longest sets (20 songs!) in their 400+ show career. Then something interesting and entirely unexpected happened. Apparently, word got out on Dauphin Street that there was a bad-ass metal band from California kicking ass upstairs at Alchemy for free, so people kept walking in wanting to know where the band was and whether they would play some more. One person after another after another asked for it, so the Night Demon guys finally said, “What the hell?” and returned to the stage (with the venue’s blessing, of course). Somebody had asked them to play “War Pigs” so they started the second set with that song, and even remarkably had the air raid sirens intro available and cued up with their samples. I looked around as they launched into the song, and saw maybe 15-20 people around me in front of the stage, singing the words, banging their heads and cheering on Night Demon. I never in a million years imagined this happening in Mobile, Alabama, where I live and work. But it did. I’m still dumbfounded. Then the band ripped into an abbreviated 5-song version of their tour setlist, which seemed like child’s play after the difficult/unrehearsed stuff they’d been pulling off all night long. During “The Chalice,” I was tasked with making my onstage debut as Rocky, the band’s hooded skeletal mascot hoisting the namesake drinking vessel. (Many thanks to Waldo for bestowing this honor on me. I am truly not worthy.) I had about 60-seconds notice to get changed into the costume, and what happened after was all kind of a blur. I couldn’t see shit through the eyeholes of the mask, and I remember being really worried that I was going to trip over the band’s gear or fall off the stage as I leaned out into the crowd. But it was totally awesome and totally fun, even if I kind of felt like a dufus because I didn’t know what to do while I was out there. Waldo (and his predecessor Andrew) always make it look so easy. By the time their eponymous tune wrapped up the second set, Night Demon had performed 26 songs spanning two hours of on-stage time. It was a dream come to life, a special set I’ll remember as long as I live.
When we were loading out, lugging all that heavy gear back down the stairs, I bumped into Matt, the owner of Alchemy. It was as if someone had turned on a switch inside him. He was raving about how fantastic Night Demon were, insisting how much he would love to bring them back, and expressing confidence that he could pack this venue for a ND show if he had time to promote it and they played here on a weekend. He shook every band member’s hand and told them they’d “killed it” tonight. Seeing is believing, my friends. This is the Night Demon way, and this is why they will win. Everywhere they go playing in front of first-timers, people count them out before they even start playing. Then they get up onstage, they do what they do, and they win people over. It happens every single night. I’ve seen it. They plant seeds of Night Demon fanaticism everywhere they go. The next Night Demon show in Mobile may not be 26 songs long, but I am now absolutely certain there will be a next Night Demon show in Mobile, and there’ll be a lot more people than there were here tonight. They came. They saw. They conquered. Just like Julius Caesar. Or, come to think of it, Conan.
After another round at a dive bar downtown, surrounded by new friends and fans, Night Demon came back to my place. We heated up all the leftover pizza, drank a lot more beer, and watched the RAVEN DVD and listened to old Night Demon demos until 5 in the morning. Perfect ending to a perfect day.
Setlist: Cold Gin, Deuce, Full Speed Ahead, Curse of the Damned, Satan, Killer, Save Me Now/Into the Void/Mastermind, Maiden Hell, Black Widow, Life on the Run, Flight of the Manticore, Darkness Remains, On Your Own, Dawnrider, Stranger in the Room, Love Gun, God of Thunder, Run for Your Life, Wasted Years. Intermission. Second Set: War Pigs, Ritual, Screams in the Night, Heavy Metal Heat, The Chalice, Night Demon.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
I woke up today a bit sad (a tad morose, you might say). All good things must come to an end, and today marked my final day with the Night Demon family on this run. I was bound and determined to make the most of it, though. Shortly after 2:30 p.m., the ND van left my house en route for New Orleans, and Jen, Kevin and I followed suit at around 3:30 p.m. We arrived at Southport Music Hall in New Orleans shortly before 6:00 p.m. I rather like this venue. It’s quirky as hell because it’s typically used as a reception hall, but it has a nice big stage, a capacity of around 700 in the big room, and (I learned today) a very comfy green room upstairs with sofas, stocked refrigerator, laundry facilities an shower. The Night Demon lads had nearly completed load-in by the time we arrived, so we helped with the last bit of that task, then hung out for a while. I had a chance to visit with Robbo from Anvil again (what a sweet guy, just a big teddy bear), and was very pleased to introduce him to Jen. Then I chatted with Jarvis at length while he was changing the strings on his bass. During that wide-ranging conversation, he mentioned his blue back-up bass in the van. I asked him if he had occasion to use it on this tour, and he said no, he hardly ever does need it, given how reliable the black one is. (This is what we like to call foreshadowing, in the literary arts, haha.) It was also great to reunite with the Graveshadow folks and hear about how they had spent their time off in New Orleans. And I introduced Kevin and Jen to Anvil’s tour manager, Dalila, who is all kinds of awesome.
Only one local opener tonight, and they were some kind of angry/folk/acoustic thing, performing while seated. They would have been a sludgecore New Orleans band if they’d been plugged in, but they weren’t. Interesting. Decidedly less interesting was the fact that turnout at Southport Music Hall tonight was downright lousy. Not many people, and not many people who were there seemed into any of the bands onstage. So it was setting up to be a tough night. Nonetheless, Graveshadow came out and hit it hard with everything they had for their allotted 30 minutes. All of their tour songs are embedded in my brain now, so it felt like old friends to hear stuff like “Lycan Lust” and “Blood and Fire” again. Cool songs from a cool band. (By the way, I’ve now heard their CD, which is also quite good, but the songs are way more powerful live: More guitars, fewer keys, and a more commanding vocal performance!) However, I was more distracted than I had anticipated being during Graveshadow’s show. Around the third song of their set, I received a text from Jarvis inviting me to select the Night Demon setlist tonight. Whoah! My mind was racing and I deliberated with undue concentration about what should be included in their nine-song window. An obvious choice was “Ancient Evil” from the EP because I hadn’t heard that song at all on this run of dates, even at the epic show in Mobile last night, and I dearly love that tune. I also thought it’d be cool to insert another new song into the playlist, but not one that would be too tricky or that they still needed to work on, so I ruled out “Dawnrider.” It came to me in a flash: “Black Widow.” That’s the ticket! They’d said they were really comfortable playing that one live, and besides it rules, so boom, that one made the cut as well. Plus I had to add “Full Speed Ahead” and “Curse of the Damned” because I think they belong in every ND set. (If I’d thought about it harder, I would have remembered “Living Dangerous,” which turned out to be the only original ND song I did not hear played live this week. Sigh.) I found a Sharpie and some sheets of paper, scrawled out my list a few times, and handed it to the guys. They agreed.
I had retained “Welcome to the Night” in the top slot because, again, that song is an ideal opener, plus it’s the new single from the forthcoming album so it ought to be featured in the set. About halfway through the song, Jarvis turned around, walked back to his bass rig, and frowned. Not good. The band finished “Welcome,” but then Jarvis signaled to the guys he had a problem. Waldo sprinted up the stage, and for the next 3-4 minutes, the two of them frantically worked to resolve the issue while Armand quietly noodled out stuff like “Victim of Changes” and the like, with a bit of impromptu jamming with Dusty on “N.I.B.” even. Eventually, Jarvis’s blue back-up bass appeared, and he was ready to resume. (Dammit, I must have jinxed him by asking about it earlier that evening.) He went to the microphone and said, “We’re Night Demon from Ventura, California. And that was fucked up.” Then, blam, they ripped into “Full Speed Ahead” and the rest of my carefully constructed setlist. It was a race against the clock because they only had 45 minutes to work with and they’d lost valuable time with the technical issues. I figured they’d have to cut something, but they didn’t. They eliminated the pre-recorded intro to “Howling Man,” which resulted in a bit of confusion when they started the song. Otherwise, this was Night Demon at warp speed. When “Hallowed Ground” started, I reluctantly (only because I didn’t want to tear myself away from the gig) ducked backstage to change into the Rocky costume once again, with Jen’s invaluable assistance. While I was changing, Lips from Anvil walked by with a quizzical look on his face, and a couple of the Graveshadow guys saw me, smiled and threw me the horns. I was ready to be Rocky tonight. I wasn’t nervous. I had thought about how to fill the on-stage time, and decided the key was to be slower and more deliberate with my stage movements. It’s all in the pacing. You want to look ominous and menacing, not wound-up and jittery. The flow seemed much better, and I pointed and gestured wickedly at the audience members upfront, put my arm around Jarvis, and raised horns skyward exultantly. What a rush! I came off stage at the appropriate cue, and Jen helped me out of the costume. Heather from Graveshadow was right there to congratulate me for rocking “The Chalice,” which I really appreciated. Then I sprinted out front to rock one last time with the boys during “Night Demon.” Custom Designed Setlist: Welcome to the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Ancient Evil, Curse of the Damned, Black Widow, Howling Man, Hallowed Ground, The Chalice, Night Demon.
Afterwards, I went into load-out mode as I had every night on tour, getting the Night Demon gear offstage and outside as quickly as possible. The guys were understandably bummed by the bass rig problem and the lackluster crowd. They apologized that my time with them on this run was ending on a downer, and they joked about “the curse of New Orleans.” I’ve seen all three shows that Night Demon played in NOLA, and unfortunately not a single one has been successful. Despite this damper on the evening, I was still on Cloud 9 from my Rocky stint and setlist-writing responsibilities, and nothing was going to bring me down. After getting the van loaded, I went back inside to join Jen and Kevin as they watched Anvil for the first time. They played their full set (excepting “Born to Be Wild,” of course) and thanked the die-hards for coming out, but you could see in their faces they were a bit bummed to be playing in front of such an uninspiring audience (in terms of both turnout and enthusiasm). Still, Anvil are consummate professionals and they did what they do, and I derived extra enjoyment from watching it through Jen’s and Kevin’s eyes. (Kevin, who has led an extremely sheltered life, commented afterwards how cool it was that Lips had used a “bullet” during his guitar solo. I didn’t correct him, haha.)
Then there were lots of photographs, hugs and goodbyes because here is where I was parting company with this fantastic tour. My sincere gratitude goes out to everyone involved in the tour for making me feel welcome and for giving me such amazing memories. And of course my deepest thanks go out to my brothers in Night Demon … for everything. Y’all, Darkness Remains is coming out on April 21st. It’s going to kick your ass. It’s almost certainly the album of the year for anyone into traditional heavy metal. Do yourself a favor and check it out, and go see Night Demon when they come near your town. Support real, honest, true heavy metal.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~