Center Stage, Atlanta, GA
October 11, 2014
I’ve always enjoyed seeing King Diamond in concert. I had witnessed the man’s solo tours in support of the ‘Voodoo’ and ‘House of God’ albums, and had seen him with Mercyful Fate on the ‘In the Shadows,’ ‘Time’ and ‘9’ tours. But he had been away from the scene for so many years and had experienced such serious health issues in the interim that I assumed I would never have an opportunity to see King Diamond again. After all, he’s 58 years old with a history of heart problems and back ailments. So when I heard that he was touring the US again this fall, and kicking off the tour in Atlanta, I jumped at the opportunity. I was not alone, apparently. Tickets to the 1,200-capacity Center Stage venue (the home of ProgPower USA for the last 14 years) sold out in a flash, as King Diamond maniacs, old and young, from all over the southeastern United States converged on midtown Atlanta on a warm, muggy Saturday night.
As my friend Hoyt and I stood in a prodigious line to get into the building (it snaked all the way down Peachtree Street, around the corner on 17th Street and almost down to the corner of Spring Street), we spied the tour buses parked in a nearby parking lot. King Diamond is traveling in three coaches, plus an 18-wheeler to transport the stage set. That last detail is important. This was certainly the most lavish stage production I had ever seen King Diamond employ, as he is effectively cramming an arena-sized production into a small theater. The results are nothing short of breathtaking.
The opening act tonight was Jess and the Ancient Ones, a heretofore unknown entity to me that fits comfortably within that “occult rock” genre that seems to be all the rage these days. The seven-piece band (female singer, three guitarists, bassist, keyboardist, drummer), were given just a sliver at the front of the stage, with a bank of four unchanging lights on each side of the stage bathing them in green for the entire set. I know some people are crazy about this band, but honestly they didn’t do much for me. None of the seven members moved around at all. Jess (the singer, I’m assuming that’s her name) had a good strong voice, but never addressed the crowd all night long. The uptempo rockin’ parts were pretty cool, I suppose, but there were way too many trippy psychedelic boring parts that sucked all the energy out of the music. If anyone in the room was on acid, they probably thought it was killer. I wasn’t, though, so I didn’t. Eh, whatever, I wasn’t here for the opener anyway.
At 9:15 p.m., the curtain dropped and the King Diamond band stormed the stage to the classic “The Candle” off ‘Fatal Portrait.’ The stage looked amazing. There were twin staircases flanking the drumkit on either side, with a walkway connecting them overhead. This allowed band members and actress (more about her in a minute) to be at different elevations for different songs, and even to act out parts that involved staircases (such as a notable passage of “The Black Horsemen”). Up above the walkway, suspended from the rafters, were two giant upside down crosses on either end of the stage, with a huge goat-adorned pentagram in the middle. These pieces could all be illuminated even if the rest of the stage was dark, which made for some extremely cool lighting effects. There were cloth scrims along the back and sides of the stage, giving off the appearance of the inside of a church. There was a large platform/box in front of the drums that King and the actress would stand on, with a hole at the bottom that shot jets of compressed CO2 gas at strategically selected moments. There were four white pillars with spooky demon heads, one on each side of the base of each staircase. There were two recessed antique lamps that sometimes were lit and sometimes were not. And, oh yeah, there was what looked to be an 8-foot wrought iron fence spanning the entire front of the stage, separating band from audience. King would sometimes thrust his bone microphone through openings in the fence to encourage audience participation. It was an unbelievably cool looking stage, and it must cost a fortune.
Right out of the chute, we were hit with a punishing volley of bona fide classics, with “The Candle” giving way to “Sleepless Nights.” After that 1-2 punch, King called out, “Wanna see my Grandma?” Sure enough, out came Grandma in a rubber mask and wheelchair, as the band tore through a devastating rendition of crowd favorite “Welcome Home.” Then came “Never Ending Hill,” a good song off the most recent King Diamond studio album (“even though it’s our newest album, it’s still pretty old,” he admitted, “but we hope to change that soon,” alluding to new material in the works) that most people did not seem to recognize. At this point, the roadies emerged (wearing black robes and black hoods) to remove the fence (it was on wheels and could just be rolled away), which I was beginning to find distracting. “Puppet Master” was up next, with longtime King Diamond actress Jody Cachia (I remember having a nice chat with her at the King Diamond show at Toad’s Place in New Haven on the ‘Voodoo’ tour in May 1998, so she’s been part of the show for many years) playing the role of tortured puppet to perfection, flopping around the stage in herky jerky movements. Then came another classic “At the Graves,” which sounded all kinds of awesome tonight, guitarists Mike Wead and Andy LaRocque putting on a clinic of metal guitar mastery.
Abruptly, another set change followed, as one layer of backing scrims fell away, revealing a new set depicting the King Diamond logo on the side walls of the stage, with a giant illuminated image of King himself in the middle, right beneath the pentagram. At this point King commented that it had been a very long time since the band had played Atlanta, so now seemed a good time to play something older still, a song about “something you can drink.” Sure enough, out came Jody again in her Grandma getup, this time bearing a tea tray and a nasty knife, as the band played “Tea,” which segued into “Digging Graves” after King struggled with Grandma. He acted out the grave-digging part, hoisting a shovel in the air and creating the illusion of scooping stage fog up and flinging it over his shoulder. The medley concluded with “A Visit from the Dead.” Without warning, the entire building went uncontrollable batshit berserk as the band lit into Mercyful Fate’s “Evil.” Wow, the whole room just lit up with energy as this evergreen blasted out of the P.A., sounding every bit as vibrant and powerful today as it did in 1983. King obviously appreciated the crowd response and teased, “What do you think, should we do some more Mercy?” The crowd roared. “The stage needs to be more black,” he said, at which time the backdrops surrounding the stage fell away once again, revealing black curtains all around. This marked the beginning of “Come to the Sabbath,” one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever written, and holy crap it sounded incredible. Jody was back onstage in a skimpy black dress, whirling and dancing and acting out the ritual, brandishing a black candle, a white candle, and a goat skull. The place went absolutely bonkers for this song, which was my favorite moment of the entire set. I would have driven the 700-mile roundtrip just to see this one song played so magnificently.
The next song was “Shapes of Black,” which honestly is kind of a throwaway, nondescript tune on ‘Give Me Your Soul … Please.’ The natural inclination might be to question its inclusion in what was otherwise such a powerpacked set. Wrong. The visuals for “Shapes of Black” were spine-tinglingly eerie and effective. The stage was almost completely dark, except that King was sitting on the box in the middle of the stage brandishing a lantern. The band members stayed up high, atop the walkway and out of the way for this song, with good reason. Jody returned to the stage in a black spandex bodysuit that covered her from head to toe, acting as an unholy apparition crouching and lurching and torturing poor King. I felt chills during this one, crap song or no. “Eye of the Witch” closed out the regular set with a bang, another timeless gem in the King Diamond catalogue, with the crowd singing along every word and punching their fists in the air.
When the band came back out for an encore, things took a turn for the campy. Jody was back on stage in her Grandma regalia. King said, “the bitch is back,” and incited the crowd to chant “burn her.” Two roadies (one in physician’s garb and the other in priestly vestments) rolled out a large coffin into the middle of the stage, and the band fired up the instrumental “Cremation.” Over the span of a minute or two, King coaxed, cajoled and ultimately forced Grandma into the coffin, even opening a little door along the front of the coffin so we could look in and see her. The door was closed, the lid was lifted, and King tossed two small light-up plastic toys (like you might see thrown from a Mardi Gras float) into the coffin, simulating fire. Smoke rose from the interior of the coffin. Priest and doctor pulled down the sides of the coffin, and behold, Grandma was gone, leaving only charred bones behind. (Not sure how they pulled off this magic trick. Where did Jody go and how did she get out?) The physician put his stethoscope on the ribcage to confirm that Grandma was absolutely, positively deceased. The song ended, and that was that. All kind of silly, but it comes with the territory, I suppose.
Not quite. King had one more trick up his sleeve for us. As a final encore, the band ripped through the glorious “Family Ghost” and the legendary “Black Horsemen” off the ‘Abigail’ opus. Predictably, Jody was out on the stage dressed as a very pregnant Miriam Natias, pushing King down the stairs before giving birth to small plastic baby doll signifying the incarnate evil of Abigail. It was a perfect ending to a perfect gig. I had plenty of doubts about King Diamond’s physical constitution going into the show, but he looked strong, hale and hearty, moving around the stage with confidence, energy and gusto this evening. And his voice sounded spot-on all night long too, though he was getting help from his wife, Livia Zita, standing at a microphone at the side of the stage to buttress those thinning falsettos. It didn’t matter. He sounded incredible and moved with the agility of a 38-year old rather than a 58-year old. His backing band sounded phenomenal. Wead and LaRocque are master craftsmen on the guitar, drummer Matt Thompson is a beast, and the new Swedish bassist is no Hal Pitino, but he played his parts well and certainly looked the part of mail-order heavy metal bassist.
It was all over rather early, with King Diamond taking final bows at around 10:40 p.m., so around 85 minutes altogether. I didn’t feel cheated or shortchanged, though. Don’t get me wrong: I would have loved it if the band had come back out onstage and given us “Halloween” and “No Presents for Christmas.” But it wasn’t meant to be. And it’s okay. This set really was all killer, no filler. No boring drum solos or interminable audience singalong parts. Just double-barreled spooky Euro metal, delivered with surgical precision and a theatrical flair from top to bottom. Also, King’s got to preserve his energy for the remainder of this 19-date U.S. tour. He’s no spring chicken anymore. (Hell, who amongst us is?) I have an ominous feeling that this was the last time I’ll ever see King Diamond live. If so, I have no regrets. He is still at the top of his game in 2014, and I was lucky enough to witness it. Hopefully you will be able to say the same if this tour finds its way anywhere near you. In a just world, this would be captured on DVD, as well, to be recorded for posterity. It’s that good.
Setlist: The Candle, Sleepless Nights, Welcome Home, Never Ending Hill, Puppet Master, At the Graves, Tea/Digging Graves/A Visit from the Dead, Evil, Come to the Sabbath, Shapes of Black, Eye of the Witch, Cremation, Family Ghost, Black Horsemen.
-- Kit Ekman