May 10, 13, 14, 2015
It’s no secret that Night Demon have emerged as one of my favorite up’n’coming U.S. heavy metal bands in recent memory. The Ventura, California-based trio followed up on a smashing debut EP with a brilliant full-length album called ‘Curse of Damned,’ which was released in early 2015 on Century Media domestically and SPV in Europe. In addition to their studio output, the boys have developed a well-deserved reputation for being tireless road dogs, as evidenced by the fact that they did a 40+ date U.S. tour supporting Raven in fall 2014 and a 20+ date U.S. tour supporting Skull Fist in January 2015. That’s not even counting their extensive European tours staged in both 2014 and 2015. Anyway, late spring / summer 2015 finds Night Demon charging full speed ahead with a 10-week U.S. headlining tour of their own that launched in Phoenix, Arizona at the beginning of May. The tour itinerary included a swath of dates through the southeastern U.S., so I did what any self-respecting Demonhead would do: I ditched my job and all semblance of adult responsibilities for a few days so that I could follow them from one tour stop to the next. Because of days off, I only got three shows out of the deal, but what a glorious three shows they were. Here’s how it all went down:
Sunday, May 10, 2015
The Siberia venue in New Orleans, Louisiana has picked up a few interesting underground metal shows of late, including most recently the Artillery/Striker tour package that stopped off there in mid-April. So it was a no-brainer that Jen and I would spend our Mother’s Day evening back at Siberia, dining on the venue’s legendary Slavic Soul Food and rockin’ out to Night Demon. Unfortunately, the poor choice of local openers, the minimal promotion for the gig, and the lateness of the hour on a Sunday night (openers didn’t start playing until after 11:00 p.m., and Night Demon didn’t go on until shortly before 1:00 a.m.) conspired to depress attendance numbers tonight, with singer/bassist Jarvis Leatherby commenting to us before the band took the stage, “Looks like you get a private show.” Private show or no, Night Demon were locked and loaded tonight, refusing to allow the suboptimal circumstances to dampen the precision, power and might of the Night Demon live experience.
The one-two opening punch of “Screams in the Night” and “Full Speed Ahead” (also deployed on the Skull Fist tour) is both devastating and unbeatable, and the band’s 11-song set included several other selections from the ‘Curse of the Damned’ opus (including my favorite, “The Howling Man”), plus two from the EP (surprisingly, no “Ritual,” possibly the first occasion they had ever omitted this track from the live set) and three classic covers (Diamond Head’s “Lightning to the Nations,” Riot’s “Road Racin’” and Jaguar’s “Axe Crazy”) that Night Demon have appropriated as staples to their live show. Many of these songs are performed faster than their recorded versions, so the whole set just smokes, crackling with energy. There is no fat, no wasted time, no bullshit to a Night Demon gig. Leatherby only addresses the crowd a couple of times each night, preferring to allow the music to do the talking, which is as it should be. Indeed, the sole breathers to the action are the short intros piped in prior to “The Howling Man” and “The Chalice”; otherwise, it’s nonstop pedal to the metal from pillar to post. Boasting surprisingly high production values for an underground heavy metal concert, Night Demon employ LED light boxes on either side of the stage, with a skilled lighting operator (the band’s do-it-all colleague, Andrew Bansal) at the controls deploying elaborate and appropriate patterns of colors, blackouts and strobe effects to augment the music (often targeted to specific lyrical or musical passages). A fog machine dispenses clouds of water vapor (not that cloying thick smelly stage fog you usually get at metal gigs) throughout the show. These visuals well accompany the band members’ performances themselves. At stage right, lefty guitarist Brent Woodward is the master of his flying V axe, headbanging constantly as he coaxes one classic riff and melody line after another out of his instrument. At stage left, bassist/vocalist Jarvis Leatherby is a headbanging, sweaty beast armed with a flying V bass and pouring his heart into every single vocal line. My favorite moments are during the instrumental segments when Woodward and Leatherby join forces at the front of the stage, as close to the crowd as possible, the necks of their Vs pointing in opposite directions as they unite in true metal power. Behind them, of course, is drummer Dusty Squires, anchoring the songs with hard-hitting beats and tasty fills on his kit, featuring a black Night Demon logo emblazoned on a field of white on his kickdrum. Squires is fun to watch because, in addition to supplying backing vocals throughout the gig, he visibly sings along to every song as he plays. It’s awesome to see him so into the music, which in turn makes it that much easier for the audience to reciprocate in kind.
No description of a Night Demon gig would be complete without mentioning Rocky, the grim reaper-type mascot of the band come to life from the cover of the self-titled EP. During “The Chalice,” Rocky (actually Bansal in one of his many roles for the band) comes on the stage for 60-90 seconds wearing a fearsome skull mask, black robes and a hood, and skeleton gloves with which he wields the titular drinking vessel, while the entire stage is bathed in blue light. Rocky interacts with band and audience members alike, and makes the most of his brief sojourn on stage. It’s a very cool effect that sets Night Demon apart from their counterparts at this level.
Final thoughts on the New Orleans gig: Night Demon convinced me that they have elevated their already-formidable game in almost every respect since I last saw them in January on the Skull Fist tour. It was great to see them play a longer set list than the 30 minutes they had playing with Skull Fist and the 35 minutes they had during the Raven tour. The new album’s material is positively monstrous in a live setting, and these guys are way too pro to let anything like this evening’s annoyances and inconveniences get in their way of a top-notch performance. Also, there was a camera crew on hand to film the entire Night Demon gig in New Orleans, so perhaps some awesome footage will emerge from this night.
Setlist: Screams in the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Heavy Metal Heat, Lightning to the Nations, The Howling Man, Curse of the Damned, Livin’ Dangerous, Road Racin’, The Chalice, Axe Crazy, Night Demon.
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
Tonight marked Night Demon’s first-ever performance in the Sunshine State. The venue, Backbooth, is situated in downtown Orlando, a fair distance from Disney World, Universal Studios and the other theme parks for which the city is renowned. Backbooth is a cool-looking venue, with lots of exposed old wood, high ceilings, and a setup that strongly suggests it’s a converted warehouse or light industrial facility. Stage is relatively high above the floor, and is curved at the front in a sort of semi-circle, rather than being straight across. No doubt that configuration made it a bit trickier for Night Demon when performing to know exactly where the edge of the stage was. The curved part of the stage was also well out in front of the light boxes on either side of the stage, such that Leatherby and Woodward were entirely silhouetted whenever they came to the front of the stage because they were out of the reach of all illumination. It made for a cool visual effect.
There were five bands on the bill tonight. The first three consisted entirely of youngsters whose hands bore prominent magic-marker Xes to confirm that they were not of legal drinking age. The teenagers favored some kind of tuneless sludgy core (first band) and old-school thrash (second and third), although the second band oddly lacked a bass player. Things took a turn for the bizarre for the fourth band, a joke act called American Party Machine that sported at least seven members most of whom were clad in some kind of red, white and blue attire, including spandex, top hats, suspenders, short shorts, and wrestling masks. They used confetti, beach balls and multiple vocalists, two of whom periodically went onto the floor of the hall to pantomime wrestling moves on each other as Ric Flair’s characteristic “whoo hoo” rang through the air. As far as I could tell, most of their songs seemed to about either smoking pot or wrestling, or perhaps smoking pot whilst watching wrestling. It was all very strange.
By the time Night Demon hit the stage at 11:00 p.m., the audience had dwindled to mostly the teenage members of the first three bands, who seemed hellbent on forming their own moshpit and slamming into anyone and everyone remaining in the room, no matter where they stood. One of them came over and head-butted me at full speed in the middle of Night Demon’s set for no apparent reason other than that I was standing there, minding my own business, rocking out and singing along as I always do at gigs. Thanks, idiot kid. Fortunately, however, karma is a bitch and instant karma is real. Shortly after the moron head-butted me, he climbed up on the stage and did a flip into the nonexistent crowd, where he landed flat on his ass. Hahahahaha. Overall, a surprisingly high percentage of the audience members leaped on stage at some point or another during the set, one of them even kicking loose the wires to one of the light boxes to render it inoperable without emergency intervention by Bansal. Based on these recurrent intrusions, Jarvis was prompted to say before “Axe Crazy,” “We want to see you go crazy during this song. That doesn’t mean you can come up here.” His words fell on deaf ears. A few other differences between this Orlando gig and the predecessor New Orleans gig: Night Demon were performing their first show with their new banner, portraying the shadowy axe man from the cover of ‘Curse of the Damned,’ complete with red glowing eyes. (The banner effect was not quite complete for this show, as the planned UV light to illuminate the painted areas of the banner was not functioning properly.) The backdrop looked very cool, and it was awesome to see the ominous red eyes peering out from the rear of the stage at all times, no matter what was happening upfront. Also, Night Demon played a longer set tonight, adding “Ritual,” “Ancient Evil,” and “Satan,” all of which were most welcome inclusions. I worried they would run out of time to do “Axe Crazy” and “Night Demon” before the midnight cutoff, with Jarvis imploring the soundman from the stage, “C’mon, it’s for the kids,” before being granted permission. Orlando was rocked hard tonight and hopefully those teenagers went home with a new appreciation for what a real old-school heavy metal gig is all about. I’m quite confident they’d never experienced anything like this before.
Setlist: Screams in the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Heavy Metal Heat, Lightning to the Nations, The Howling Man, Curse of the Damned, Livin’ Dangerous, Ritual, Road Racin’, Ancient Evil, Satan, The Chalice, Axe Crazy, Night Demon.
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Today the Night Demon touring juggernaut worked its way deeper into Florida, reaching all the way down to the south end of the state in Miami. Tonight’s show was hosted by Churchill’s Pub, a venerable Miami landmark that’s been around since 1979. The place has a lot of character too, from the pictures of Winston Churchill out front to the (mostly) authentic English pub fare served inside (I had a pretty killer fish and chips, as they were sadly out of shepherd’s pie). Once you go through the backstage door at the back, the rear of the venue seems to go on forever, with catacombs of darkened painted rooms ultimately leading to a black-lit backstage room (featuring a painting of Churchill as Alfred Hitchcock) where the band could hang out far from the cacophonous racket emerging from the stage.
And what a racket it was. It soon dawned on me that this was mostly a hardcore punk show. There were people walking around with foot-tall green mohawks. The first band (Satanic Turd Worship, oh my) blasted through something like 9 songs in their 11-minute set. Night Demon played third out of five tonight. The band that went on right after them had a female singer who performed with a paper bag over her head and a heavy chain around her neck at one end and looped around a pillar in front of the stage at the other end. This was some kind of performance art, I tell you, especially when she spit on the audience, slammed her chain against the stage, and climbed on top of the stack and then limply dropped to the floor six or seven feet below. Audience was loving every minute of it, with elbow-throwers, slam-dancers and mohawked folks careening about the floor. You might think that the hardcore orientation of the evening’s other bands set up poorly for Night Demon. Wrong. The punks were surprisingly respectful of and receptive to Night Demon’s gig, watching attentively and responding favorably despite the vast stylistic chasm. In fact, the only perceptible incident relating to the punk orientation of the crowd was that, during “Screams in the Night,” some guy hopped on stage with his skateboard and literally skated off the front of the stage, where he promptly busted on the floor. Hmmm, I’m quite sure this was a first in Night Demon’s extensive live experience. Still, from Night Demon’s standpoint, this Miami show had to be considered a big success. There were a number of metalheads upfront who knew all the songs. The band got to use their newly-functional UV light to bring out the full force and effect of the new banner for the first time. Rocky got particularly interactive with one overexuberant fan by wrapping his skeleton-gloved fingers around his throat during “The Chalice.” And Night Demon performed a tight-knit, no-frills, full-on adrenaline burst 40-minute set that was my favorite performance of the three I witnessed on this run. It was just 10 songs, and therefore the shortest of the three, but it positively slammed from front to back. Also, the band members were commenting afterwards (and I think that they were correct) that the tempo was just a bit slower tonight, thereby amping up the heaviness factor.
Setlist: Screams in the Night, Full Speed Ahead, Heavy Metal Heat, Lightning to the Nations, The Howling Man, Curse of the Damned, Ritual, Road Racin’, The Chalice, Night Demon. .
Whatever the X factor was, Night Demon kicked huge amounts of Miami ass, and the gig proved a fitting conclusion to my time with them on this tour. Although I traveled 750 miles on the road by van and bus the next day to get home, not reaching my domicile until 4:30 a.m. on Saturday the 16th, I had a smile on my face the entire time. What a great experience to have. Go see this tour, whenever and wherever you can. Night Demon are a fantastic live band with a smokin’ set of songs and killer live production values to boot. Support real underground U.S. heavy metal. They deserve it. More importantly, you won’t regret it.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~