The Parish at House of Blues, New Orleans, LA
March 11, 2018
I’ll admit that it gives me a rush to see a big band playing on a small stage. Take away all the fancy lights, elaborate backdrops, scrims, video screens, platforms, CO2 jets, barricades, walls of cabinets, drum risers and stage production, and you’re left with just the music, which is of course what it’s all about. The concert experience is reduced to its undiluted essence, the intensely personal one-on-one connection between band and fan, an energy exchange forged in sweat and blood, making direct eye contact, bumping fists, singing along at the top of your lungs, banging heads, and generally being bonded together by the indomitable power of heavy metal.
Such was the scene in the French Quarter last Sunday evening, when the mighty EXODUS rolled into town. Fresh off their 14-date Mr. Pickles tour with Municipal Waste that had concluded the previous night in Atlanta, Exodus tacked on the New Orleans gig as a stand-alone solo headliner show, a victory lap of sorts, and consequently the final night of the tour (as evidenced by the $10 blowout pricing on tour shirts at the merch counter). They were playing at House of Blues, but not the 850-capacity room downstairs. No sir, tonight Exodus were rocking The Parish room, an intimate upstairs space that holds 250 at most. And if truth be told, The Parish wasn’t packed. After all, it was a rainy Sunday evening, and New Orleans ain’t the most metal town on the planet even in the best of circumstances. Still, roughly 200 old-school thrashers turned out for the occasion, and they showed up ready to rage.
I found a good spot in the second row in front of where I expected guitarist Lee Altus to be, although the knee-high stage was so compact that I was basically in front of all of stage right. (For her part, Jen – ever the wise one – opted for a vantage point along the side wall, still close to the stage but safely out of harm’s way.) There was no photo pit, no visible security presence, and no barrier of any kind separating fans from the stage. Nonetheless, this five-foot-tall photographer woman with her camera on a pole rudely tried to elbow past me, muttering, “I’ll only be in your way for the first three songs.” Lady, I don’t want you to be in my way at all. I’m here to rock. So I stood my ground and just kind of smiled because I knew what was going to happen once the gig started. At 10:00 p.m., the house lights dimmed and the intro music (Def Leppard’s “Let It Go,” of all things) cranked up loud. After a minor technical glitch, the band hit the stage and launched directly into “Bonded by Blood,” vocalist Steve “Zetro” Souza exhorting the crowd, “sing it with me!” It was like striking a match to dynamite. The Parish exploded with energy, an undulating, swirling pit of flailing, fistbanging bodies consuming the entire floor as the madness erupted onstage. (Interestingly, though, no stage divers. Not a single one all night long. Not that I’m complaining – boots to the head were never my favorite.) And the camera-on-a-pole lady standing next to me? Yeah, she got pummeled by the circle-pit mayhem. It’s amazing her camera didn’t get smashed to bits. Instant karma.
Meanwhile, up onstage, Exodus proved they were out for blood by tearing directly from “Bonded by Blood” into “Blood In Blood Out,” the title track off the last record. I had been very curious as to how the band would approach this gig. For one thing, they had to be exhausted from the grueling travel itinerary of the Mr. Pickles tour, which featured long driving distances and mostly crappy winter weather. For another, they’re accustomed to playing much bigger places and much bigger stages in front of much bigger audiences than this. Would they just go through the motions like rockstars, collect their fee and slink off into the night? Not a chance. They seemed revved up by the occasion, energized by up-close-and-personal interaction with the adoring audience members who were all losing their collective minds. Particularly Altus and Souza were all smiles and energy, looking you right in the eye and giving it everything they had. Even guitarist/mainman Gary Holt seemed to be in a good mood, nodding with approval, taking in the scene and working himself into a lather as the crowd went ballistic. There wasn’t much room to move around the small stage, but the four guys across the front did the best they could, with Holt and Altus making a point of coming together at center stage for some of the key guitar interplay bits. Perhaps it was just that Exodus could see the finish line from a tough tour? Perhaps they’re just consummate professionals who can rely on 30+ years of experience to put on a killer show whether they’re feeling it or not? Or maybe, just maybe, this was a cool, fun night for them, a chance for a final blowout in the Big Easy in a room buzzing with old-school thrash metal vibes, the sort of environment where they don’t often get to play anymore because they’re mostly booked in big, antiseptic halls. Whatever the case may be, Zetro’s stage raps seemed heartfelt and genuine. He said this night reminded him of when this music was born, that thrash metal came from this. He remarked that people ask him what it was like in the Bay Area scene in the ‘80s, and the answer is that it was just like this gig tonight. High praise, indeed. Zetro also expressed affection for the Crescent City, said how happy they were to be back in the French Quarter, and told a funny story about discovering the Hurricane (a very potent local rum concoction) when Exodus played here on the Headbangers Ball Tour in 1989. He said he didn’t know what a Hurricane was back in those days, so he chugged five of them (not a wise move – two would probably put me in a coma). Later on, he said, his bandmates were frantically pouring water on him to try to sober him up to do the gig.
Regardless of how the band members felt about it, tonight was awesome for me. I’ve seen Exodus many times over the years, but almost always in large clubs or theaters. My only prior Exodus experience I could compare to this was at the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts in August 1997 with Paul Baloff at the helm. Small stage, small room, killer energy. Just like tonight. The vibe carried over into the setlist as well. Zetro kept promising an old-school set for this old-school crowd, and that’s exactly what we got. There were six diamonds from Bonded by Blood, including the rarely-performed (and my personal favorite) “Metal Command” and even “Piranha,” which wasn’t listed on the printed setlist taped to the floor. It was also a treat to hear “Fabulous Disaster” – not sure if I’ve heard them do that one live since the aforementioned ’89 Headbangers Ball tour, when I was but a wee and impressionable lad. More recent stuff like “Blacklist” and “War is My Shepherd” are staples of the Exodus live set these days, but they rule too. All in all, it was a 13-song, 75-minute journey through old-school Bay Area thrash bliss. When the last notes of “Strike of the Beast” (first time in awhile I haven’t seen them bring out the Wall of Death on this one, but the room was probably too small to even attempt it or maybe the House of Blues put the kibosh on the stunt for liability reasons) rang out and the band said their good nights, Tom Hunting went to the microphone to offer up some unexpectedly kind words for the New Orleans audience. He said they were going back to California tomorrow, but with this show and this crowd tonight, they felt like they were already home. Yeah, I reckon this was a special gig for Exodus after all. As I collected myself and wandered back over to the side wall where Jen was standing, she took one look and asked if someone had spilled their drink on me. Haha, I was drenched. But no, it was all sweat. What an amazing old-school night with Exodus. Thrash metal lives!
Setlist: Bonded by Blood, Blood In Blood Out, Iconoclasm, And Then There Were None, Fabulous Disaster, Body Harvest, Metal Command, A Lesson in Violence, Blacklist, Piranha, War is my Shepherd, Toxic Waltz, Strike of the Beast.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~