Metal is at its best amongst the sweaty, smoky confines of an indoor club. So it was amidst those conditions that the Gigantour returned to the Aragon Ballroom on Friday for the first time since 2008.
What began in 2005 as a multi-stage, outdoor festival continued annually until moving indoors in 2008. Returning from hiatus in 2012, the festival continues under the indoor, one stage format and functions not only as a headlining tour model for its creators Megadeth but also as an affordable way for rock fans to check out several generations of metal amidst a fan friendly environment.
While the Aragon Ballroom is not always the most comfortable place to see a show, it's actually the perfect place to check out loud, rock music. Metal is probably the one genre capable of excelling amidst the notoriously poor acoustics of the Aragon and, surprisingly, both Motörhead's Phil Campbell and Megadeth's David Ellefson raved about the venue when I spoke with them last week.
Credit festival organizers for keeping the evening moving briskly with all set changes clocking in under a half hour. Rock festivals like Ozzfest can tend to drag on as the day progresses with long set changes amongst uncomfortable conditions but Gigantour offered fans the opportunity to see four solid bands for a decent price and the show was over before 11PM.
Onto the music...
Lacuna Coil - I only caught the last few songs of Lacuna Coil's short set but enjoyed what I heard. The Italian rockers performed as a tight six piece band on Friday with the dueling lead vocals of Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro taking center stage. Razor sharp guitar riffs permeated their performance of "Trip the Darkness" (the first single from their September release Dark Adrenaline) and Scabbia delivered an impressive command of the stage. The band announced that they'll return to Chicago in April before closing with "Spellbound."
Volbeat - This crowd was absolutely ready for this band. What had been a full but not packed floor became the latter quick as the clock struck 7:15PM and Volbeat took to the stage. Again, I stress how quickly these set changes were made which was a pleasant surprise.
I remain consistently impressed by the drawing power of bands like Volbeat. This band gets just about zero support from commercial radio in Chicago and yet the Aragon was nearly full early in the evening. In lieu of a backdrop behind them, lead singer/guitarist Michael Poulsen jokingly taped a handwritten Volbeat sign to his mic stand.
Combining elements of Metallica and Pantera, the Danish rockers performed as a four piece on Friday as they were augmented with extra guitar courtesy of Mercyful Fate's Hank Shermann. But their influences reach much farther than metal as their Johnny Cash inspired performance of "Sad Man's Tongue" made clear.
Beginning with "A Warrior's Call," Volbeat tore through a forty-five minute set that ended with a brief snippet of the band's take on Slayer's "Raining Blood" (and, albeit briefly, incited the biggest mosh pit of the evening in the process).
Motörhead - "LEMMY! LEMMY! LEMMY!" That chant permeated the Aragon seemingly within minutes of Volbeat's exit from the stage. This is what I love about metal shows. No fans are more passionate about live music than metalheads.
At this point, you pretty much know what you are going to get from Motörhead in the live setting: a take no prisoners pillaging of the set.
And for fifty minutes Friday night, this show was no different.
Combining the best elements of metal and punk with a classic rock sensibility for a sound entirely their own, Motörhead got things started with "Bomber" segueing directly into "Damage Case." The mosh pit raged for the duration of the set and it wasn't exactly easy for me to take notes at my vantage point to the right side of the stage about ten feet back from the guardrail on the floor.
At most shows, fans are unlikely to put up with a live drum solo. Motörhead, however, gets a pass. Mikkey Dee is one of the most energetic drummers I have ever seen live and he got his solo following "One to Sing the Blues."
Guitarist Phil Campbell also stepped out for a solo on a track from 1991's 1916 album as the band tore through the old school, Chuck Berry/Little Richard influenced rock n' roll of "Going to Brazil."
"The Chase is Better Than the Catch" was my favorite of the night though it's hard to beat "Ace of Spades" and "Overkill" as a set closing pair.
"Chicago, you've always been a great crowd for us and you've done it again tonight. You're f----ng great!" said Lemmy toward the end of the set.
Megadeth - Dave Mustaine paces his set in a slow, brooding manner befitting of his music building the intensity over the course of the evening. Friday's set at the Aragon ran just about seventy-five minutes and saw the singer/guitarist in chatty fashion with the appreciative crowd.
Opening with one of their biggest hits, "Trust" saw the band in excellent form. While Mustaine's vocals were a bit low in the mix all night, the guitars were absolutely radiant. Totally clear in the murky sound of the Ballroom were the crisp, dueling solos of both Mustaine and Chris Broderick. Mustaine was clearly not happy with the sound early in the set and directed traffic until he got things where he wanted them.
Lacuna Coil's Cristina Scabbia joined Mustaine trading off vocals on "A Tout Le Monde" and material like "Public Enemy No. 1" and "Guns, Drugs & Money" from the band's latest release TH1RT3EN, sounded pretty good.
But it was the older material that had the fans going crazy. In 2010, original bassist and Megadeth co-founder David Ellefson rejoined the band for a tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the band's landmark Rust in Peace album. From that album came "Hangar 18," "Dawn Patrol" and "Poison Was the Cure" back-to-back, and set closer "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due."
Megadeth has never been afraid to get political with their lyrics something that has always kept their music relevant. Despite having been released nearly twenty years ago, the Ellefson-penned "Foreclosure of a Dream" remains just as timely amidst today's economic woes as it did in 1992 and Megadeth's performance of it on Friday provided the most poignant moment of the evening.
Ellefson's bass provided another standout moment as the band wrapped up "Symphony of Destruction" and Ellefson launched into the iconic opening bassline of "Peace Sells" to close out the main set.
Check out my interview with Motörhead's Phil Campbell (a Gigantour preview) HERE
Check out my interview with Megadeth's David Ellefson (a Gigantour postscript) HERE
Filed under: Concert Reviews
Tags: Andrea Ferro, Aragon Ballroom, Chris Broderick, Chuck Berry, Cristina Scabbia, Dave Mustaine, David Ellefson, Gigantour, Hank Shermann, Johnny Cash, Lacuna Coil, Lemmy Kilmister, Little Richard, Megadeth, Mercyful Fate, Michael Poulsen, Mikkey Dee, Motorhead, Phil Campbell, Shawn Drover, Volbeat