The Masquerade, Atlanta, GA
September 7, 2015
The Masquerade has been the epicenter of Atlanta’s live music scene for touring metal bands for decades. The converted mill features three concert halls: the big room upstairs (Heaven), a medium-sized room downstairs (Hell), and a smallish room tucked away in the middle (Purgatory). Word on the street is that the Masquerade’s days are numbered, at least at this location, which should surprise no one given the gentrification-on-steroids that has swept through the surrounding neighborhoods in recent years. Those rumors created an eerie backdrop for tonight’s show. Both the Heaven and Hell venues were dark this evening. There was abundant available parking, a first in my Masquerade-going experience. And there was just one solitary security guy and a ticket-seller on duty at the front of the venue. The Raven lunatics had the place all to ourselves for the show in Purgatory. We arrived a bit late, as our dinner at Atlanta’s famed Vortex burger joint had taken longer than expected, and the final local opener was just taking the stage when we walked in. John Gallagher saw us and walked over to greet us and chat a bit before the Raven performance. Conversation proved difficult given the volume of the band on stage, but he told us a bit about their recent Korean travels and showed us some photos from his phone.
Thankfully, it was an early show tonight, and just after 10:00 p.m., the mighty Raven took the stage to an audience that probably numbered 60 or so, a significant percentage of whom were die-hard Raven loonies who knew the songs and were way into the band. So it made for a cool experience to be watching the gig with an audience whose numbers may have been lacking, but whose enthusiasm was off the end of the charts. For their part, the Raven lads were looking a little haggard, maybe a bit road burnt this evening. It was entirely understandable, really. After all, Raven were playing their 12th gig in 12 days. They had driven 500 miles from Dayton, Ohio to be here tonight, and were facing a 600-mile haul to Vienna, Virginia for the tour finale tomorrow. They had to be wiped out (hey, that’d make a cool album title, wouldn’t it?), but they were here. More importantly, once they hit the first chords of opener “Destroy All Monsters,” all signs of fatigue left their bodies and Raven delivered the kind of high-energy, take-no-prisoners gig that has been their stock in trade since they were marketed as “athletic rock” back in the ‘All for One’ days. In no time, audience and band alike were drenched in sweat and grinning from ear to ear as we banged our heads, pumped our fists and sang along to such Raven evergreens as “Live at the Inferno,” “All for One” and “Rock Until You Drop,” delivered one after the other in a glorious one-two-three combination. I was up front, right in the center of the stage, which was great, except that there was a damn wooden beam to my left going from floor to ceiling that obscured my view of John over on stage right. I would crane my neck around one side of the beam or the other to get a better viewing angle, and more than once John would playfully dodge his head from one side of the beam to the other just to make me laugh.
Having witnessed the Raven live attack a half dozen times in the last three years, I have become well acquainted with their “typical” headlining set. What was different tonight, of course, was the inclusion of ‘Extermination’ material. (Okay, they played a couple of songs from the album last October when I saw them on tour with Night Demon, but those were all unreleased and unfamiliar tunes at that point.) Tonight, they offered up three new songs, including neck-breaking opener “Destroy All Monsters,” the rollicking “It’s Not What You Got” and especially the crusher “Tank Treads (The Blood Runs Red),” which John introduced as a nice sensitive ballad off the new album. All three were immensely worthy additions to the setlist and positively killed live. The thing about it is that ‘Extermination’ is such a strong album that the band easily could have added other tunes from the album to the set (“Fight,” “Scream,” “No Surrender” and “Thunder Down Under” all come to mind). The only true surprise in the set came after the part of the show where guitarist Mark Gallagher teases the crowd by playing bits of riffs from Raven songs, like “Don’t Need Your Money,” “You Got a Screw Loose,” and “Seek and Destroy.” John came back onstage and said, “Mark, you’re such a tease. Let’s play ‘em a song.” Then they ripped into “Lambs to the Slaughter,” a rarely aired gem off ‘Rock Until You Drop’ that I had only ever heard them play once before. It was awesome, and a real highlight of the night. Otherwise, the 90-minute Raven was pretty much as expected, from the Mark and John solo spots to the lengthy medley of songs like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” “Genocide” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” during “Break the Chain,” with John playing his old bashed-all-to-hell red bass that he explained as having been “damaged in transit.” Yeah, I bet.
Raven’s one of those bands I could watch a million times and never tire of seeing. The Gallagher Brothers and The Baron are a testament to the timelessness and triumphant power of heavy metal, and to the glory of a three-piece band. They’ve got a killer new album under their belts and a hunger for the road life again, as witnessed by the fact that within days after finishing this 13-date trek through the eastern U.S. they hopped a plane for Berlin to play 25+ gigs in Europe. Go see this band whenever and wherever you can. That’s my credo and it’s served me well. By the end of the night, I was all sweaty and hoarse. With sore neck, I looked around to see John’s bass and Mark’s guitar left lying on the stage, just where their masters had left them, like armaments left on a smoldering battlefield by the victors. As Jen and I prepared to depart the venue with our friends, we saw John Gallagher working his way through the audience to shake hands and/or dole out hugs to every single person remaining in the venue. That’s Raven: hardworking, blue-collar, classy as hell, and treating their fans like royalty. So Jen and I both were the recipients of big sweaty Raven hugs before we stepped out into midtown Atlanta for the drive home. What a night!
Setlist: Destroy All Monsters, Hard Ride, Live at the Inferno, All for One, Rock Until You Drop, Mark solo, Lambs to the Slaughter, Speed of the Reflex/Mind Over Metal, Into the Jaws of Death, It’s Not What You Got, Tank Treads, Faster than the Speed of Light, On and On. Encores: John solo, Break the Chains / medley / Break the Chains.
~ Kit Ekman ~