Civic Theatre, New Orleans, Louisiana
November 15, 2015
King Diamond and New Orleans seems like a match made in … errr, ummm, hell. However, it’s been a great many years since the master of macabre had made an appearance in the Big Easy. Needless to say, Jen and I were thrilled to learn that King Diamond was bringing his much-ballyhooed ‘Abigail’ tour, plus Bay Area thrash legends Exodus, to the Civic Theatre in downtown New Orleans on a Sunday evening in November. To celebrate the occasion, we made the 140-mile trek to the Crescent City early that day, and proceeded to spend a delightful sundrenched 70-degree November afternoon meandering through the French Quarter (where every bar and restaurant had televisions tuned in to broadcast the Saints’ merciless beatdown at the hands of the Redskins in our nation’s capital), drinking a lovely local beer or two in the streets (Reasonably Corrupt black lager for me, Shiner for the lady), and exploring the brand-new Crescent Park built on the remnants of old port/dock facilities on the banks of the Mississippi River. By 6:45 p.m., we made it down to the Civic Theatre, a beautiful restored old concert theater where we’d witnessed Amon Amarth and Sabaton last year. The crowd was bigger, older, grayer, and tamer tonight, but it was damn near a full house, as well it should have been for the spectacle that was to come. It was interesting to see the seated area in the balcony fill up with patrons long before many people ventured onto the floor in this general-admission event. This crowd wanted to be able to sit down and rock out in comfort, I guess. Still, that played directly into our hands, as Jen and I found a nice spot on the rail on the far side, directly in front of stage left, where we spent the evening, entirely free of the jostling, elbowing, kicks in the head, etc. that so often accompany such premium vantage points.
Eventually, the Faith No More “We Care a Lot” intro tape rolled, and it was showtime. Straight up at 8:00 p.m., drummer Tom Hunting (clad in his traditional Golden State Warriors shirt) led his Exodus bandmates onto the stage in front of a large backdrop depicting the same futuristic scene – sans flesh-eating zombies – depicted on the cover of ‘Blood In Blood Out.’ Guitarist Kragen Lum struck the first chords of “Exodus,” and it was off to the races with a full-scale, undiluted Exodus attack. Early on in the band’s namesake tune, frontman Zetro Souza (decked out in Exodus workshirt) spotted me singing along word for word, came over, pointed, and sang right with me, mano a mano. It was awesome. (When I saw Zetro outside the bus after the gig, he shook my hand and said, “There’s the guy who was singing every single word.” Then he gave me grief for wearing a Heathen shirt instead of an Exodus shirt, haha.) Exodus had a few obstacles tonight. First, there wasn’t much room on stage, given the enormous King Diamond stage production set up behind their backdrop. The result seemed to be that the band, aside from the constantly moving Souza, was more stationary than usual. Guitarist Lee Altus never visited us over at stage left, and bassist Jack Gibson only ventured over our way one time. Second, it was definitely an older, partisan King Diamond crowd. Consequently, there wasn’t much recognition of the Exodus tunes, and there definitely was not much of a pit, which had to have been a tad disappointing to the band. Nonetheless, Souza was careful to praise and thank the audience at every turn rather than criticizing them for being weak and lame. As he puts it, “You catch more flies with honey.” Third, there’s the Gary Holt factor. Gary’s on tour with Slayer in Europe, so my longtime friend Kragen Lum from Heathen is, once again, acting as his stunt double. That’s not a problem for me; to the contrary, it’s incredibly awesome to see my friend tearing it up onstage with a band I’ve loved since I was 14 years old. But some folks grumble that it isn’t really Exodus if the bandleader isn’t there. I understand that viewpoint, but man, Kragen absolutely nailed his parts tonight and fits that band like an iron fist in a velvet glove.
Anyway, Exodus only had 45 minutes to work with tonight, but they made every second count, covering a great selection of classic tracks plus a couple off the ‘Blood In Blood Out’ record. They also did a nice job revamping their setlist from what they’d performed on their US spring tour with Testament, rotating in the likes of “Body Harvest” (a manic, vicious number which went over huge), the aforementioned “Exodus,” and even pre-‘Bonded by Blood’ cut “Impaler” co-written by Paul Baloff and Kirk Hammett. (Only hugely glaring omission was “A Lesson in Violence,” but something had to give, I guess. I also missed “War is My Shepherd.”) The slower, pounding “Blacklist” was an easy favorite in the set, and “Bonded by Blood” (complete with taped explosion intro) ruled supreme, just as it has for three decades. “Strike of the Beast” ended the Exodus portion of the evening on a high note, albeit way too soon, as Zetro’s attempt to incite a ‘wall of death’ mostly fizzled. I love Exodus as a live band, and they were killer tonight. By the time their set finished, I was bathed in sweat, sore of neck and hoarse of voice. The Exodus attack, indeed. Would love to see them deliver us (to evil) a proper headlining set sometime soon, but this will tide me over for now. Setlist: Exodus, Blood In Blood Out, Body Harvest, Impaler, Blacklist, Bonded by Blood, Toxic Waltz, Strike of the Beast.
I had some misgivings about remaining on the rail for the headliner performance. Having seen King Diamond in Atlanta on his comeback tour in October 2014, I expected tons of theatrics, stage props and an elaborate stage setup. The problem with staying upfront is that from up close, it’s hard to absorb the full scale of the production, as opposed to just the small piece that’s unfolding immediately in front of you. Nonetheless, Jen and I elected to stay put. Promptly at 9:15 p.m., after the somewhat unexpected choice of Uriah Heep’s “The Wizard” as intro music, the lights went dark and the curtain was lifted on King Diamond’s amazing stage set. Just like last year, it was a two-level affair, with stairs running up each side of the stage, and an overhead catwalk connecting the two. (Where was the fence along the front of the stage that KD used last year, though?) Behind the stairs on either side were massive inverted crosses, and a huge pentagram/goat loomed above the center of the catwalk. Lighting was even more over the top than in 2014. Of course the crosses and the pentagram lit up at suitably strategic, dramatic moments. Not only were there arcs of constantly changing, blinding bright lights along the side of the staircases, but there were also strobes beneath the stairs, copious amounts of stage fog, and an ever-shifting array of scrims along the side and back walls of the theater, that roadies would pull down in between songs to expose new/different backdrops. Speaking of the roadies, whenever they came out (for example, to bring acoustic guitars or adjust the drums), they wore black robes and hoods. There was a priest character who surfaced a couple of times (like in the song “Abigail,” when King croons, “I’ll get a priest / He will know how to get her soul back”). And there was the truly magnificent actress Jody Cachia, who delivered a spellbinding dramatic performance whether she was hobbling across the stage in a rubber mask as Grandma during “Welcome Home,” enacting the dark ritual during “Come to the Sabbath,” being burned at the stake in “Eye of the Witch,” becoming demonically possessed by a stillborn 68-year old infant as Miriam Natias, or being pushed down the stairs as Count de la Fey’s cheating wife on the 7th day of July, 1777 (that last being my favorite effect, as the pulsing strobe light and her deliberate movements made it look like you were watching her fall in slow motion). Jody rules, and is a huge part of the visual appeal of a King Diamond live gig. The props ranged from cool (Abigail’s miniature coffin, the cradle emitting smoke, the long-stemmed roses that King threw to the audience, including one to Jen) to kind of hokey (the Abigail dolls, mostly, including the overstuffed one that King pitched over the back of the staircase after “The 7th Day of July 1777”).
Of course, there was also a band onstage too, although it was easy to lose sight of that detail at times. I had intentionally grabbed a spot on the rail directly in front of where I knew guitarist Andy La Rocque would be, because he rules. And he did. My god, La Rocque is so precise, so fluid, so in control that it’s simply a joy to watch him play guitar, whether he was wielding a flying V or an axe custom-painted with the ‘Abigail’ cover artwork. The problem was that I kept getting distracted by everything else that was happening on stage, so even though Andy was standing right in front of me, it was super-hard to concentrate on his brilliant playing. As for the King himself, “wow” is the operative word. The man is in his 60s. He’s got a heart condition and a bad back, he chain-smoked for decades (though he’s now smoke-free, I hear), plus he sings in a crazy falsetto that would wreck most people’s throats. Not only did King Diamond sing splendidly and powerfully all night long (ably helped with backing vocals by his wife, Livia Zita, to fill out the piercing high notes), but he also moved about the stage in spry fashion all night long, confidently ascending and descending the stairs, working the front of the stage from side to side, and playing a mean-ass air guitar on his bone microphone alongside La Rocque. Honestly, King Diamond looked to be in better shape than I’ve ever seen him before. He’s obviously taking good care of himself and his regimen of taking a day off after every two or three shows seems to be working well. He spoke little between songs, but he didn’t need to say anything. The music, and the all-encompassing stage presentation, did all the talking for him. By the way, King’s sporting a different makeup design for this tour. Gone is the predominantly white base with crosses etched on his cheeks. Instead, he looks more like a raccoon this time, with a thick swath of black across his eyes and upper cheeks, and just a little white on his lower cheeks and sides of his jaw. A small detail, but definitely noticeable.
In terms of song selection, it’d be very difficult to find fault with what King Diamond’s performing on this tour. Last fall’s setlist dragged in a few spots, I thought, but this one moved from strength to strength. The first four tracks out of the chute were all bona fide KD classics: “Welcome Home,” “Sleepless Nights,” “Halloween” (not played on last year’s tour), and “Eye of the Witch.” Then it was Mercyful Fate time, with jaw-droppingly amazing runs through “Melissa” (also newly added for this tour) and “Come to the Sabbath.” The remainder of the set was the ‘Abigail’ album, which is pretty much flawless. Oh sure, not every track is quite as killer as “Black Horsemen” or “Family Ghost,” say, but ‘Abigail’ really is remarkably consistent for its 40-minute running time. I’m not generally a fan of the “play-an-entire-album” concert marketing gimmick, but in this case it was entirely justified, both conceptually and musically. My only complaint was that it all ended too soon. Earlier shows on this tour ran a full 90 minutes, but King Diamond has since axed two songs (“Spider’s Lullabye” and, sadly, “Evil”) from the set. Sure, an 80-minute headlining set errs a bit on the side of brevity, but when it’s all this compelling, this wildly entertaining, and this intense, nobody can possibly feel short-changed. It was a nice touch when, after the final notes of “Black Horsemen” had rung out and his bandmates had taken their final bows, King stayed on the stage alone, walking slowly from one end of the stage to the other, sans microphone, looking people in the front rows in the eye and saying “thank you” to us. He even reached out to grasp hands of a few fans, until he nearly lost his balance and had to be caught by security.
I don’t know how many more times I’ll get to see King Diamond. But it was simply captivating to see the man, the band, and the stage production all at such a high level tonight. I know two dates later in the tour will be filmed for a DVD. Can’t wait to see the results and relive this incredible experience over and over again. For now, hail the King, long live the King. Setlist: Welcome Home, Sleepless Nights, Halloween, Eye of the Witch, Melissa, Come to the Sabbath, Funeral, Arrival, A Mansion in Darkness, The Family Ghost, The 7th Day of July 1777, Omens, The Possession, Abigail, Black Horsemen.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~