By Natalie Zed
First and foremost: where the heck were y’all, Toronto? When I arrived at the Opera House at 8:15 pm, just in time to see Ash Lee Blade start up, I found myself a member of an audience composed of maybe 30 people. I’ve never seen the Opera House so empty. We were a happy and enthusiastic audience though, which made all the difference in the world; later in the evening, Ripper of Charred Walls of the Damned would comment that it felt like playing at a private party. Everyone who opted to sit this one out: all banged out after Maiden, eh?
Ash Lee Blade are certainly entertaining, embracing all the goofiest aspects of traditional metal; the lead guitarist wore a pair of white PVC bellbottom pants with black flames on them. That alone is certainly worth my entertainment dollar. In calling them goofy, however, I do not mean to be dismissive because they are a great live band. Their songs have a merciful simplicity to them, a trait that is particularly evident in the tune “Live For Heavy Metal.” Their music is infinitely singable, the kind of thing that easily gets stuck in your head. Some part of my brain is entirely piloted by Garth Algar, and that part adored this experience. Lily the Pirate dug Ash Lee Blade as well, as she has a significant soft spot for traditional metal. For me, it comes down to the fact that these guys are seriously interested in having fun, and it shows. And I appreciate that.
Next up: Piledriver. The legendary frontman/vocalist Gord Kirchin/ Pile Driver is really the band; drums, guitar and bass were all performed by members of Spewgore. Most of the band came on stage dressed like zombies in torn suits and greenish black facepaint; Pile Driver himself however, wore disturbingly revealing side-laced leather pants, a bondage harness, and a gimp/executioner’s mask covered in spikes. He’s also a huge, sweaty dude. While they operate within a completely different aesthetic, I can see why these two openers were paired up. They were both extremely fun, and did not take themselves too seriously—at one point, Pile Driver offered the crowd some belly button lint, and then demanded to know who farted when a particularly foul odour engulfed the stage (seriously though: who was responsible for that emission? It was LEGENDARY). The song “Sex with Satan” stands out as emblematic of the whole performance: amusingly gross, straightforward, aesthetically on point, thoroughly entertaining. What they perform is not high art, and because it isn’t pretending to be, it’s great.
The awkwardly-named Charred Walls of the Damned delivered a solid headlining performance. While the other bands they shared the stage with has set a decidedly un-serious precedent, CWotD were much more straightforward and earnest in their presentation. Not to say that they were stuffy or stoic. They play unabashedly entertaining power/thrash metal, but choose not to caricature themselves to the point of complete cartoonification. The have a casual, confident stage presence that suited the small crowd very well, emphasizing the house party feel of the show.
It goes without saying that every single member of Charred Walls of the Damned is a spectacular musician. Richard Christy‘s drumming arrested my attention the most. He is both fierce and neat, attacking his drum kit with a brutal kind of precision. He also makes it look deceptively easy, elegant even, the way that a blacksmith might hammer out a horseshoe in a swift, fluid motion that comes so naturally it obscures exactly how skilled the artisan really is. Steve DiGiorgio also impressed the hell out of me; he performed a bass solo that dropped my jaw. From start to finish, I was completely enraptured by the level of musical talent each band member brings to the table. The real joy for me here is not necessarily the music itself, but in how well they performed it.
There were a few things about this show that broke my sense of suspended disbelief and kept me from losing myself in the experience completely. Don Jamieson of VH1 provided a comedic interlude before Charred Walls of the Damned took the stage and managed to be spectacularly unfunny. His presence also made the performance feel more highly commercialized. This was further emphasized by the fact that both Richard Christy and Ripper wore conspicuously new Monster Energy Drink hats during the entire performance, and Ripper un-subtly sipped from a tall can of Monster as well. (Aside: Monster truly is the Nickleback of the beverage industry: they somehow enjoy complete market saturation, and yet I seem to not know a single person who actually consumes the product. Strange.) While certainly not deal-breakers, these small details kept me from fully losing myself in the performance. They annoyed me just enough that I observed the show from a slightly detached, less visceral place than I would have if their image had been just a bit more dirty, raw and real.