Siberia, New Orleans, Louisiana
April 16, 2015
It’s monsoon season on the Gulf Coast. We’ve been deluged with 14 inches of rain in the last 6 days. That’s more than our friends in Southern California receive in an entire year! Smack dab in the middle of the water works, Jen and I decided to make the 140-mile treacherous trek through torrential downpours and flooded streets to the Big Easy, where a multinational metal bill par excellence awaited us at Siberia, a tiny hole-in-the-wall venue on St. Claude Street better known for its kitchen (specializing in delicious Slavic Soul food) than its quality as a live music club. Unfortunately, not many metalheads in the central Gulf Coast region had the same idea as we did, as the gig was poorly attended. Not counting the touring bands (of which there were 5), venue staff, and folks wandering in just to get food and get the hell out, there were no more than 20-25 people in the joint, at most.
After several openers, Canadian metal heroes STRIKER took the stage at 10:45 p.m. This tour marks the Edmontonians’ (is that a word?) first jaunt through the United States, but the five-piece is obviously a seasoned and skilled live act. Undeterred by the minuscule stage, the dismal lighting or the weak audience, bearded vocalist Dan Cleary whipped his troops through a tight 9-song, 40-minute set focused on their recent ‘City of Gold’ opus. Striker’s amalgamation of power metal, trad metal and thrash works extremely well in a live setting, with the thrashier numbers like “Underground” and “Crossroads” contrasting nicely with singalong anthems like “Fight for Your Life” and even what Cleary described as a “hair metal song” (“don’t worry,” he hastened to add, “it’s an original – we’re not going to play you a Poison song or anything”) in the form of “Bad Decisions.” Striker exhibits a high level of musicality, from the powerful, strong lead vocals to the stellar lead guitarwork of Tim Brown to the terrific backing vocals courtesy of all three stringed instrumentalists, but especially bassist William Wallace. There were no weak moments, and the band even pulled out some synchronized stage moves at the beginning of “Lethal Force.” Whether it all made an impact with this crowd or not, I cannot say. About seven songs into Striker’s set, the guy next to me at the front of the stage called out, “Play ‘Lethal Force’!” Great, here’s an educated fan that actually knows the band’s material, right? You might think that, except that Striker had just played aforementioned “Lethal Force” two songs earlier. It was that kind of night, I’m afraid. Still, the Canadians took it in stride, and Cleary seemed in good spirits when I chatted with him afterwards. For what it’s worth, I thought their gig was fantastic, and was thrilled to finally be able to witness Striker live after all these years. Closer “Full Speed or No Speed” (one of Jen’s and my mantras for life) finished things off on a high note. Hail Striker! Setlist: Underground, Fight for Your Life, City of Gold, Crossroads, Lethal Force, Start Again, Bad Decisions, Let It Burn, Full Speed or No Speed.
There was a surprisingly efficient changeover, then it was time for the main event, legendary thrash masters ARTILLERY. I’m a longtime fan, especially keen on the ‘By Inheritance’ album, but also into the more recent, melodic, power metal-inflected albums they’ve done with clean singers. Until tonight, however, I had never had an opportunity to witness Denmark’s finest thrash export in the flesh. The only members from the “classic” Artillery lineup on this tour are guitarist Michael Stutzer (clad in trademark backwards ballcap and sporting a 70000 Tons of Metal shirt) and bespectacled white-haired bassist Peter Thorslund (who looks like he could be a math teacher, except that he rocks way harder than any math teacher I ever had). Like their Canadian counterparts, Artillery struggled with having five members (including hulking singer Michael Bastholm Dahl) treading the boards on such a tiny stage, but they actually made it work. Dahl tended to stay front and center until the instrumental parts, when he would yield his little patch of turf to human riff machine Stutzer, a diminutive Danish thrash metal tank who seemed to relish getting right up in the faces of the four or five people – me included – rocking out in the front of the stage. In a surprise move, Artillery kicked off their set with a bang, crashing through classic tune “Khomaniac” from ‘By Inheritance,’ which I always envisioned being an encore. During the shouted “Khomaniac” parts, Dahl went from band member to band member to let them supply the titular word into the mike. Sonically, I had a bit of a dilemma during Artillery’s set. I was positioned directly in front of Michael Stutzer at the front of the stage, right where I wanted to be, except that his amp was about 6 feet from my head and must have been turned up to 11. The result was that, unlike the crisp balanced sound I heard during Striker’s set, all I heard during Artillery’s set was Stutzer’s guitar and a whole lot of it. Dahl’s vocals were very low in the mix where I was standing, although Jen said he sounded much louder about 15 feet further back where she was watching the gig. I thought “hell with it,” and stayed planted right where I was, even though the result was I couldn’t hear vocals clearly and my right ear rang like hell (even being encased in an earplug as it was) the next day. There are worse fates than going deaf by the mighty axe of Michael Stutzer.
You might think that a band of Artillery’s stature and pedigree would be nonplussed or annoyed to be playing in front of fewer than 20 people on a crap stage in a crap venue on a crap Thursday night in New Orleans. If they were, you never would have known it. Dahl was one of the more gracious frontmen I think I’ve ever seen, constantly smiling, thanking us for coming out to the show, saying “cheers” with his beer, and fist-bumping the few die-hards upfront. Funny, there was no printed setlist on the stage floor. Instead, Dahl had a small post-it note sized piece of paper in his pocket that he kept pulling out, unfolding and consulting between songs so he would know what they were playing next. It was funny, and endearing. The most gracious thing Artillery did the whole night came courtesy of Michael Stutzer, however. The band had just finished playing “Into the Universe,” nearly 70 minutes into their set, were taking their final bows and saying goodnight, and the soundman had even brought up the house music again. Suddenly, Stutzer whispered something to Thorslund, who nodded, then gestured to Dahl, who asked “Mr. Soundman, is it alright if we play one more song?” Now, I don’t think anyone in the place was expecting that, and certainly we hadn’t been short-changed by the generous set Artillery had already played. Yet here was Stutzer, hell-bent on playing one more number for the handful of people in attendance. That was cool. Cooler still, the soundman obliged, and we were treated to a terrific rendition of “The Almighty” as a reward for our patience. Overall, it was a superbly constructed setlist, chock full of enough classics (“The Challenge,” “Deeds of Darkness,” “Terror Squad,” “By Inheritance,” and the godly “Into the Universe”) to satiate even the pickiest thrasher. The band also made a couple of nods to the Dahl-featured new album ‘Legion,’ in the form of the title track and the haunting “Chill My Bones.” If anything, I wouldn’t have minded hearing more from that album, like “Godfeather” or “Wardrum Heartbeat.” Artillery also had a couple of surprises up their sleeves. After “Khomaniac,” they tore into the unheralded but quite excellent “Rise Above It All” off ‘When Death Comes,’ and later in the set they gave us “Time Has Come” off ‘Fear of Tomorrow,’ which I hadn’t expected either. All in all, it was an outstanding set from the Danish thrash kings. I woke up the next morning with the sore neck and ringing ears to prove it. Hell, I even felt like I had carpal tunnel in my air-guitar picking hand, heh. After the set, I went over to the merch table and bought a killer ‘Fear of Tomorrow’ shirt and a patch from Dahl. The band accommodated me by gathering around me for a sweaty for a band photograph, throwing triumphant fists and horns, then patted me on the shoulder, shook my hand and thanked me for coming out. Classy. If I weren’t already an Artillery fan for life (and I was), I definitely would be now. Setlist: Khomaniac, Rise Above It All, The Challenge, Deeds of Darkness, When Death Comes (dedicated to New Orleans celebrity Ann Rice), Chill My Bones, Legion, Time Has Come (with prerecorded machine-gun fire intro), Terror Squad (with Stutzer solo intro), By Inheritance, Into the Universe. Encore: The Almighty.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~