Blackest of the Black Tour
With Winds of Plague, Moonspell, Dimmu Borgir, and Danzig
Thursday, October 9, 2008
The Fillmore Miami Beach
Better Than: Those faux Misfits, headed by Jerry Only, who seem to come through South Florida at least once a year.
Last night's kickoff of Danzig's first tour in three years was a spotty affair -- there were moments of real payoff for fans, but it took a certain stamina to remain standing and enthusiastic for them. The production of the tour's first night suffered from an overly long lineup, too-long gaps between some bands, uneven sound, and a surprisingly scant audience whose spark clearly dimmed as the night wore on.
Well, maybe that scantness wasn't surprising -- tickets were some $35 at the box office the day of the event. And although there was clearly an effort to give bang for the buck, with five bands on the bill, this also contributed to the evening's lack of the momentum it deserved. Still, Glenn Danzig himself is in more or less fine form as a frontman -- and he's still intent, it seems, on partying like it's 1988. But more on that later.
I arrived at the venue around 7:30 p.m., near the beginning of the set by the Upland, California-based sextet Winds of Plague. I figured they were the first band, but realized at the end of the night that I had missed Skeletonwitch -- either they didn't play, or they played even earlier than Winds of Plague. If that was the case, I pity both Skeletonwitch, who would have played to only a handful of people so early, and those people, who, if they stayed to the very end, would have been at the venue almost six hours. As for Winds of Plague themselves ... well.
They accomplish the feat of having six people onstage, but sounding like there are only three. Perhaps this should be blamed on the sound engineer, but the band's planned twin-guitar attack seemed drowned under overly loud keyboards, which seemed cheesy and tinny most of the time. The growling vocals were drowned in the mix as well. The band members themselves rallied, running around the stage as though they were rocking an arena. But something still seems a little disingenuous about them -- they come off as ex-hardcore/scene bros who decided to get "br00tal," but throw a black-haired chick on keyboards for some Bleeding Through-style eye candy.
The next band on the bill, the Portuguese quintet Moonspell, fared better, for here is a band who has dropped all pretense of being cool in the "real" world, and has embraced the cheese inherent in their genre of symphonic, gloomy metal. Seriously, it was refreshing to watch a band whose m.o. was something along the lines of, "FTW -- we're going to dedicate a song to vampires." Which they did: the deliciously death rock-flavored "Vampiria." Yes, it's ridiculous, but played well, and with a certain -- dare I say? -- joy.
After this came the greatest between-band lag, as a small army of roadies scurried across the stage, assembling risers, screens, and other set pieces for the symphonic Norwegian sextet Dimmu Borgir. Here is a band who truly embraces the cheese. It's hard to tell if the band takes themselves completely seriously, and who, exactly, in the audience does so, but the musicians are so over-the-top, and so technically virtuosic, that they are instantly elevated to a certain post-modern level of awesome. Smeared in just a dab of corpse paint and faux dirt, and swaddled in dirty, crackling costumes that appear to have been unwashed for a year, they hit the ground running, and continue to play with such intensity that I stood, transfixed, as I watched fat rivulets of water run off the hairy head of bassist ICS Vortex. Dimmu Borgir's crowd comes for pure spectacle, and spectacle they received, as the band charged through its most epic songs in front of a backdrop of film clips of angry medieval villagers and images of Baphomet.
The sort of high-schlock occult theme continued with Danzig's set, a series of what looked like vaguely goat-referencing sculptural thrones, of sorts. Setting this up, again, took too much time -- the band didn't enter the stage until around 11:15 p.m.. That's not too late by normal standards, but is too late for a crowd that has been waiting since 7, and is beginning to melt away from the pit and back into the theater seats.
Either way, they rallied when the band finally took the stage, especially because Glenn Danzig's backing band this time out is sort of an all-star assortment. There's Tommy Victor, of Prong (and Ministry's last lineup) on guitar, Steve Zing of Samhain on bass, and Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative on drums. This is a band that can really rock -- especially Victor, whose intense shredding glued the set together and pushed the songs to new heights.
However, the passage of time is really beginning to show on Danzig himself, no matter how many obscure martial arts he espouses. While he's still essentially compact and muscular, he's gained some pudge, but still insists on wearing skintight clothing. His hair is still long, technically, but the crown of his head clearly gleams through. The overall effect is something like a slightly harder Meat Loaf, rather than the New Jersey tough-guy look of yore.
Luckily, his voice is still as powerful and delightfully creepy as ever, and he's got enough badass swagger to carry off his material without looking necessarily clownish. Anyone hoping for a hint of Misfits songs would have been disappointed -- this was Danzig, Danzig, and Danzig, rather than Glenn Danzig. Among the songs: "Am I Demon," "Twist of Cain," "Tired of Being Alive," "Her Black Wings," "Brand New God," "Satan's Crucifixion," "Unspeakable...."
Predictably, the biggest hit, "Mother," was the last of the "real" set, and predictably roused a massive singalong. Also predictably, there was an encore, this time "Dirty Black Summer." (There may have been another one, but I'll admit I ran to the bathroom at the end of this song.)
And here is where I come to the part about Danzig's aftershow, and please forgive my change in tense, for ease of narration. During Dimmu Borgir's set, my two female friends, N. and J., leave the theater area to use the bathroom. Upon their return, J. plops a sticker into my hand. "Here's your backstage pass," she says. Apparently, en route back from the bathroom, a bored roadie has asked them if they "want to meet Glenn Danzig after the show," and distributes backstage passes for them and any female friends. While we're young and blonde, we're modestly dressed and minding our own business at the show, so we chalk it up to a roadie basically bored of wandering around a crowd of dudes.
Until another roadie walks through the crowd, and stamps N. with another backstage pass. "Come to the side door after the show," he instructs her as he walks away. I pull out my own sticker and notice it's marked "P. P."
"You know what guys?" I ask. "Call me crazy, but I'm going to guess that perhaps 'P.P.' stands for 'pussy pass.'" Danzig, it seems, still uses the antiquated method of sending road crew to cherry pick groupies from the audience. We all balk -- Glenn Danzig is the same age as our parents, pretty much -- but decide to infiltrate the backstage for, uh, journalistic purposes.
We arrive at the side door to find a small handful of other women. We're all in their twenties, and all extremely blonde, except for one collagen-lipped brunette who seems to have slipped through the cracks because she "hung out with Danzig nine years ago at the Chili Pepper in Ft. Lauderdale."
A venue security guard knocks at the door, and a cowboy-hatted roadie opens the door. "Okay, ladies, and ONLY LADIES," -- there are some guys lurking in the background, apparently -- "stay right here." He inspects us up and down. "Wait right here while I find out where we're going to have you guys hang out."
The door opens again a couple minutes later, and cowboy hat beckons. Although he never bothers to introduce himself or ask anyone else's name, we deduce later his name is Scummy -- as in, "Scummy, move this amp out of the way," or "Scummy, go get these ladies some vodka," or, "Scummy, who's coming to the hotel?"
He leads us up set of stairs, and then deposits us just inside the doorway of a room. "Glenn, here are the girls," he says, pointing at us and walking away. Danzig is crumpled in an armchair, looking very pale, rubbery, and sweaty, wiping himself with a towel. He gives us an appraising look and turns back to his bandmates. It's very quiet -- no music in the room, just a bunch of 40-something men with long, black hair, staring at us expectantly.
Is this a bad rock and roll movie? Are we meant to dance and perform? Does that really happen for these aging former stars? A wave of nausea hits me, but luckily things warm up as someone puts on an iPod, distributes Coronas, and everyone proceeds to ignore us females, except when they stare. N, J and I find ourselves in forced small-talk with the other "ladies."
Brunette is flopped in another chair, now barefoot, legs spread-eagle, trying to convince me of John McCain's inherent sexiness, until she gets tired of that and insists Scummy give her a foot massage. "I should be the one getting massages here," he retorts, "for bringing you all up here." Scummy, actually, is the only one who speaks directly to us, except for Steve Zing, who asks a few questions but doesn't listen to the answers, slurping away at a container of chicken soup and rolling his eyes at everything Brunette says.
Another blonde, P., from Coral Springs, flops down next to us. "So ... We're all blonde...." She begins. "So where does your blonde come from? I'm like, German ... and French ... and shoot, I forgot the other one." N. says she's Swedish, I say my dad is Cuban and that the blonde is most definitely fake. "Wow," P responds. "We're all so ... international." A few minutes later, she announces her boyfriend has dumped her earlier in the day, to cheers from Scummy and others. Eventually, she announces, "I'm going to go hang out with Dimmu Borgir," and wanders out of the room.
Vodka is fetched and put on a corner table, and we're told to fix our own drinks, unless we want to give "tips." Danzig himself is gone by this point, having shut himself up in a sub-dressing-room and then disappeared. Tommy Victor, who was talkative and friendly when I interviewed him as part of Ministry, gives the girls a cool look and says nothing else. Danzig drummer Johnny Kelly's one direct address comes when J's phone rings -- "Ooooh is it your boyfriend?" He semi-taunts. "Tell him not to worry, you're just backstage with us."
At this point, blonde P has wandered back in, and she and Brunette are feeding gummy bears to one another in lascivious motions. It's time to make an escape. J. announces she is going to find a bathroom, and will I please come with her? She heads for the hall before Scummy stops us. "Girls, girls, come back inside -- there's a bathroom right in here," he says, pointing at the dressing room within a dressing room.
"Look, we're peeing in the same toilet Glenn Danzig used," I tell J.
"Whatever -- we're going out there, grabbing N., and leaving."
When we exit the bathroom, P. is trying to shove her tongue down N's throat as Scummy whoops. We grab N's sleeve, and make our way to the door.
"Hey, why are you girls leaving?" We hear a male voice call, but at that point, we're running down the stairs and out of the Fillmore.
Personal Bias: Hard to say right now.
Random Detail: Spotted in the audience were members of local dark metal acts like Wykked Wytch, and Kalakai (I think; it's hard to tell a lot of those long-flaxen-haired guys apart).
By the Way: I'm not related to onetime Danzig drummer Joey Castillo, although I wish I was.