Siberia, New Orleans, LA
June 3, 2016
It shouldn’t be this hard to go to a show. After work on Friday, Jen and I left the house under blue skies and sunshine for what is normally a painless two-hour drive to New Orleans. By the time we’d gone 40 miles down the road, the skies were pitch black, the wind was howling, the rain was coming down in sheets, lightning and thunder were exploding nearby, and there were wrecks all around us on Interstate 10. In zero visibility and pooling water, we were forced to slow to a crawl, keeping both hands on the steering wheel to avoid being blown off the road. More than three white-knuckle hours later, we finally, gratefully parked the car a couple blocks down St. Claude Avenue from Siberia, the dive bar in NOLA where we’ve seen many shows over the last couple of years.
We walked in, ordered some Slavic Soul Food (Siberia’s specialty and, wow, is it delicious every single time – the cook was even wearing a Night Demon shirt under his apron!!!), and then sat down with our friend Stacey from Savage Master to catch up. A little while later, we had the chance to visit with our other friend Adam from Savage Master at some length as well. They had much to discuss, including the band’s recent, successful appearance at Keep It True, playing nine gigs in Europe, and a significant last-minute lineup change that very nearly scuttled their ability to participate in the Holy Grail tour. On that last point, the Cliff Notes version is that Savage Master found themselves without a drummer just a few days before this tour was to begin, so bassist Brandon Brown switched to drums and enlisted his friend Lucas to fill in on bass. After several days of frantic rehearsals, the band decided they could pull it off, and so they piled into the van and off they went, meeting up with the Holy Grail guys in Austin, Texas earlier this week. The New Orleans show was the fourth show that Savage Master had done on this tour, out of a total of 11 or so. Stacey and Adam are great people, and we really enjoyed the opportunity to hang with them before the show.
After a local opener, it was time for Mobile Deathcamp to take the stage at around 11:00 p.m. This band was not local, as they are from Toledo, Ohio, and feature Todd Evans (ex-Gwar) on guitar and lead vocals. Mobile Deathcamp were not part of this tour, but are rather touring the U.S. on their own. For one night only, the two tours combined forces in New Orleans. Turnout was light, even on a Friday night (perhaps the crappy weather had something to do with it), probably topping out at 40 people max. As an opener, the three-piece Mobile Deathcamp were fine. No, I’m not so much into their mixture of death metal, punk, and thrash, but the riffs were interesting enough, the songs were engaging enough, and the band looked to be enjoying themselves. The burly, tattooed and mostly bald Evans (just a little tuft of hair down the middle) was a riot, cracking jokes between songs. At one point, he had this bit about not knowing anything about Lady Gaga, so they ended up having to “Google Gaga.” Later he had a joke about the Franklin Mint Civil War chess set, which he described in great detail as having blue pieces and gray pieces. The punchline? “If I use the blue pieces, does that mean I’ll win every time?” Cue laughter. Then Evans followed up with something funnier: “I told this same joke in Birmingham, Alabama the other night, and you could have heard a pin drop.” Hilarious. Anyway, the 30 minutes or so that Mobile Deathcamp played were certainly entertaining, and I watched their whole set.
Next was Savage Master’s time to shine. Even though I knew what to expect because it was my sixth time seeing the band, a Savage Master show is a unique experience. The guys set up their gear onstage and soundcheck in street clothes, looking basically like regular joes, albeit with bushy beards and a ton of tattoos. Then they disappear backstage, which at Siberia is way over at the other end of the club. A few minutes later, they emerge in full regalia (their “superhero costumes,” as Adam refers to them with a chuckle). The four dudes are decked out in black hoods covering their entire faces except for little eye slits, sporting chains, padlocks, and leather, with bare chests and attitude galore. It’s more than a little intimidating to see these guys stride across the club floor, make their way through the crowd, and clamber up onstage and pick up their instruments. They start playing the intro and, a minute later, the diminutive Stacey Savage walks through the audience and appears onstage, dressed provocatively in a seductive superhero costume of her own.
The band proceeded to tear through a half dozen tunes from their incredible new album, ‘With Whips and Chains,’ one after the other. They sounded freakin’ amazing, like they always do. I stood right up against the stage, with Adam (recognizable for his glasses – fogged-up in the Louisiana summer humidity – poking through the eye holes of his hood, not to mention the giant inverted solid black cross tattooed on his chest) playing those monstrous riffs just inches away from my face. The honest truth is that if I didn’t know about the lineup upheaval, I never would have guessed anything was amiss from how they looked and how they sounded. Brandon pretty much nailed the drum parts, and the mild-mannered Lucas stepped up big-time on bass and was comfortable enough to be visibly rockin’ out from time to time. But for me, Savage Master is all about those mighty riffs courtesy of Adam Neal and Larry Myers, those killer tunes, and Stacey’s powerful voice. It was especially great to hear the new songs live. They all work really well, but especially “With Whips and Chains,” “Black Hooves,” and “Ready to Sin,” which to me are Savage Master’s best songs (along with “Death Rides the Highway” from the debut, which closed out their set). I was struck by how strong a live opener the Mercyful Fate-ish “Dark Light of the Moon” is, with Stacey delivering that “every room is like a living tomb” line as if her life depended on it. And “Looking for a Sacrifice” has all the earmarks of a live favorite too, with its swagger and catchy chorus made for pumping your fist and singing along. After the six new songs, Savage Master reached back to the ‘Mask of the Devil’ album for four cuts, beginning with “The Ripper in Black,” which featured Stacey donning a black cape then making a dramatic appearance at the rear left corner of the stage above the cabinets, her head nearly scraping the low ceiling of the club. She wore the cape for the entire song, tormenting her bandmates and using the prop to full effect. In general, it bears noting that Stacey seems to have grown more comfortable onstage than she was last year. She interacts with the other band members more, moves around more, and exudes more confidence than ever before, even as her voice seems to have gotten stronger. Slowly but surely, Stacey is becoming a top-notch frontwoman with a stage presence all her own. She is finding her way.
All too soon, it was time for the traditional high-speed “Death Rides a Highway” closer, and Savage Master’s night was through. But hear me well: Savage Master are one of the best, most exciting, newish traditional metal bands in the USA right now. They’ve got the killer songs, the over-the-top imagery, and the live performance skills to do some serious damage. I can’t wait to see what happens next for them. Whatever it is, I’ll be seeing Savage Master play live whenever and wherever I can, and I strongly encourage you to do the same. Setlist: Dark Light of the Moon, Black Hooves, With Whips and Chains, Looking for a Sacrifice, Ready to Sin, Path of the Necromancer, Ripper in Black, Mystifying Oracle, Mask of the Devil, Death Rides the Highway.
The last time I saw Holy Grail, it was December 2010, and they were touring with Blind Guardian and Seven Kingdoms in support of their debut ‘Crisis in Utopia’ album. It wasn’t that I’d avoided seeing Holy Grail between then and now. Even though they are flat-out road dogs who tour relentlessly, I hadn’t had another opportunity to see them until now. After their second album ‘Ride the Void’ left me slightly confused, Holy Grail won me back over bigtime with their excellent new ‘Times of Pride and Peril’ disc, so I was eager to see them again. I was not disappointed. The quintet from southern California are a totally professional live act. They looked a bit road-weary and burnt when they took the stage at a few minutes before 1:00 a.m., but Holy Grail’s performance was nothing less than ferocious. Guitarists Eli Santana and Alex Lee are both accomplished shredders, and their guitars were cranked way high in the mix to showcase their fretboard pyrotechnics as they (especially Santana) struck one guitar-god pose after another for the small (and, unfortunately, dwindling) audience. Vocalist James-Paul Luna spent most of the set at the very front edge of the center of the stage, swaying back and forth to the music and belting out the vocal lines, his face perpetually obscured by a mop of long black hair. The rhythm section of bassist Blake Mount and drummer Tyler Meahl was completely solid as well, Meahl bashing away on a double-bass kit featuring the cover art from the new album emblazoned on each bass drum head, with the word “Holy” superimposed over the left head and “Grail” over the right. Apparently someone had gifted the band with a bottle of Evan Williams green label whiskey, which the band members were passing around and taking swigs of in between songs.
Holy Grail played a short but potent 10-song, 45-minute set that covered highlights from each of their three albums. Every song sounded good (although I’ll admit the somewhat chaotic “Crisis in Utopia” is not my favorite), but I was particularly struck by the live power and might of “Crosswinds,” “Sudden Death” and set closer “My Last Attack.” My only disappointment during their gig was that Luna’s vocals were nearly inaudible all night. I thought maybe it was just because I was standing near the front, but Jen was moving around the room throughout their set and had the same problem. Bummer, especially because the singers of the other bands had cut through the din loud and clear. Still, Holy Grail put on a great show and I was really glad to have seen them tonight. Funny footnote: After seeing hundreds of bands play hundreds of shows spanning three decades, I experienced a first in my concert-going career during Holy Grail’s set: a yo-yo demonstration. Yup. After “Sudden Death,” Eli Santana took the mike and asked if we wanted to see some yo-yo tricks. “I don’t,” he said, “but you should.” He then prevailed on fellow guitarist Alex Lee to unclip the yo-yo from his belt loop and show us a few tricks. Lee obliged. Man, the guy definitely has mad skills. I know nothing about yo-yos, but I was impressed. Guess that explains why they were selling Holy Grail branded yo-yos at the merch table. You never know when you’ll see something new at a metal gig. Setlist: Bleeding Stone, Crosswinds, Crystal King, Those Who Will Remain, Crisis in Utopia, Ride the Void, Sudden Death, Alex Lee yo-yo solo, Descent into the Maelstrom, Too Decayed to Wait, My Last Attack.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~