Squeak told me about the local PaganFest as I bolted out of Dimmu Borgir in San Francisco a few weeks ago. She was doing a little street team promotion in the lobby of the Warfield, handing out small flyers for the show. The name PaganFest rang my bells immediately because a few of you had been posting set lists from its European leg here on METALSETLISTS. Squeak asked if I was coming and I figured Iíd go if nothing more than to support a friendís show. The bands on the bill? Never heard of any of them. The kind of metal? Didnít know nor did it really matter. Hoping for some any kind of extreme, I couldnít get past my memories of P.A.G.A.N. (People Against Goodness And Normalcy) from the Dan Aykroydís homage to Dragnet.
PaganFest of Silicon Valley was scheduled for Friday, May 9th. On this particular Friday, my commute into the valley was longer than the actual amount of work required for the day. So I was able to head off to The Project Studio
for bass earlier than usual. Between a late night Thursday and a heavy dose of Spring Fever, I called up my bass Sensei: ďHey, letís go to lunch and then Guitar Center. I need strings.Ē Wandering around Guitar Center with your teacher can be a lesson of itself. Whatís this do? Why does this work? What about this amp? What do you think of this? Iíll spare you the gory details of the afternoonís procrastination. We eventually migrated back to the studio around 5PM in time for his next students. That left me a couple of hours before doors to break a string or two from the set I just purchased. You see, Iím an expert at breaking bass strings during changes. Another trip to another music store! Sensei wanted to pick up a used American strat he had his eyes anyway. It was 9PM before we returned, and I debated whether to hit PaganFest at all with the amount fun I was having at the studio. PaganFest was practically just down the street ten minutes away. A concert that close never happens. Thirty minutes later, I raced down the Lawrence Expressway to the show. Where the hell had my day gone?
At such a late concert hour, there was no line for entry. Passing through a long carpeted hallway, my eyes glanced over the no moshing sign to the one indicating that Viking horns and weaponry should be left outside. I had contemplated such accoutrements during an afternoon excursion to a costume store with Sensei but decided against them out of cheapness and laziness. Reaching security, I prepared for the mandatory pat down that didnít happen. One guy checked my license for a 21+ wristband for the bar.
The merch table caught my eyes a few steps past security. A few of you have commented on the prices: shirts generally around $30; cdís, $20. Those are not the most expensive prices Iíve seen at a gig, but they are too high for a show like this. The prior weekend, I dropped around $80 at Rushís merch booth: $30 for a shirt, $20 for a double-live cd, $20 for a program, and $10 for stickers and pins. PaganFest should have been $25 for a shirt, $15 for a CD. I shrugged all off the merch in favor of finding music on iTunes or at my local record store, assuming a band would earn on stage such expenditure. Itís not like I canít afford PaganFestís prices, but sometimes I just get really stubborn about these things. Def Leppard released their new album a week ago, and I asked my brother to pick it up for me at Best Buy on sale for $12.99. I also told him if the price was any higher than that to spit on it.
The Avalon is more nightclub than concert venue. The carpeted main floor was littered with tables, the walls lined with booths. An extremely large bar roped around the back wall. The Ďpití consisted of a sunken dance floor. The place was either very unmetal, or I have become accustomed to shit hole venues. A good metal shack adds to the ambience. Donít worry. Iím not going to whine about the Pound right now. You know I want to thoughÖ
The promoters were advertising this as an all ages show, and they werenít kidding. The venue had been moved once for this accommodation. I anticipated an older crowd, say earlier twenties. The youngest kids in the pit had to be in elementary school. PaganFest was a larger version of the weekly Sunday night metal show held locally with mainly teenage bands for their friends. This was not P.A.G.A.N., not even a riotous school carnival. Very disappointed, I was expecting a much larger freak factor. I only counted one kid with a lone Burzum shirt, but even he didnít manage the required combat boots.
PaganFest couldnít have come close to selling out the Avalon, although I have to believe the promoters were happy with the turnout. It was a very healthy crowd for a metal concert in a South Bay that doesnít often see them in a venue of this size. You could almost fit two Slimís in the interior of the Avalon, playing loose with the cubic volume.
My normal pre-concert routine involves doing a bit of research, like printing out past set list reports and / or album track listings. Goofing off so much didnít leave a lot of time for that. I had no idea which band was on stage when my attentions finally turned there. A bunch of shirtless guys were playing something a kin to the power metal, the bastard warrior child of Manowar and Rhapsody. The band announced their last song, Hail To The Hammer. The cheesy title gave me pause and hope for the night, given the relatively sterile metal environment around me. The band was Tyr, and I enjoyed the song enough to have at least picked it up off iTunes after the show. Well done!
After standing around for a few minutes, I went back to the bar and ordered a rum and coke. $8. Hey! I didnít order a double! A single! ? $8 rum and cokes are largely why I donít drink much at concerts anymore. It was a pretty damn good drink though. Meanwhile, my new Rush shirt caught the attention of a few parents in the crowd.
The next band came on stage after a seemingly lengthy switchover. Given the crowd reaction and the late hour, I thought they might be the headliners. These fuckers strutted out in armored bearskins with red and black war paint. The real P.A.G.A.N. concert was about to begin! Then one of the warriors picked up a hollowed out violin; the sole blond Valkyrie armed herself with an accordion. What the FUCK!?! The scent of cheddar in the air was sharpening quickly! Their vocalist looked mean as hell, his evil blue eyes sharply contrasting against his war paint. Wicked! Sometimes, you just know youíre going to enjoy a band from the first few notes of the first song. Bewildered, I couldnít understand why I had never heard of this band, Turisas. I loved what I was hearing. I get a lot of my recommendations from METALSETLISTS. Why the hell havenít any of you specifically bird-dogged me on them? Billed as Viking and folk metal, my ears clearly chimed on the power metal influences. It wasnít all power shred, given the folk elements, but it was clearly another brand of Rhapsody.
The violinist soloing his Fiddle Of Death was unique to my metal experience and a great contribution to the sound of their music. Lead violin, who would have thunk it? Rather to lose myself trying to find the words to describe it, check out this youtube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vih8a53SWNw
The Valkyrie accordion player caught my eye because she seemed so damn happy to be stage. This woman was beaming out at the audience, the kind of infectious smiles that Ozzy brings to his concerts. You canít help smiling back and getting more and more into the gig. Such enthusiasm tells me a band wants to be on stage. I love that as a fan of metal. Someone should videotape her and then force noob musicians to watch it in order to improve their stagecraft.
Tracking any set list wasnít a primary, given my lack of preparation for the show. I did manage to write my favorite Turisas songs of the night: Rasputin, One More, and Battle Metal. It was a little funny to hear them play their drinking song, One More, before a crowd that probably couldnít largely drive a car, much less buy alcohol. All of them have since been downloaded off iTunes.
Ensiferum was very underwhelming after Turisasí glorious set. Itís not so much about their music as it was how it was presented. Turisasí kitsch made for a better show than Ensiferumís shirtless-kilt mashups. More importantly, the band didnít look like they wanted to be on the stage. The keyboardist looked outright distressed at times. If Ensiferum was going for subtle and mean, they delivered bored and constipated. Look at Galder of Dimmu Borgir. His goofy scary faces really help sell a Dimmu performance. Hell, maybe they should have been watching Turisasís Valkyrie accordionist. Ensiferumís music wasnít bad, reminding me of Children Of Bodom at times.
Remember I walked past and ignored mandatory no moshing sign. Yeah, right. Who enforces that? The Avalon did at PaganFest. I counted at least twenty kids escorted off the floor for moshing. Weíre not talking Slayer-level moshing either. Security communicated through secret service like comm pieces, targeting moshing before it could really get churning. The irony is Ensiferumís vocalist called for a mosh pit before a song, and I counted eight kids escorted out before it ended. The floor was noticeably thinner mid-way through their set. Thatís fucked. I understand trying to protect the young at a concert, but Iím not an advocate for the young in front of any metal stage either. For the record, I did confirm with security working the door that the kids were being ejected and not warned.
Not really enjoying Ensiferumís set, I called it a night and bailed out back for the studio, which was unfortunately locked up for the night. So I stopped by McDonaldís for some chicken-like nuggets that subsequently made me nauseous for a few minutes. A Monster Energy cured that. Lacking a CD from the concert, I played Ghost Hookerís debut all the way back home. Each and every one of you should listen to Ghost Hookers. Do it now.
Iron Maiden is the standard by all metal should be judged, 10 Eddies representing ANY Iron Maiden concert. An average band that doesnít fuck up their set usually lands between 7 and 8. Between 8 and 9, a band must have really started to do things right, resulting in a desire in me to hear more of their music Above 9 Eddies, I've gotten high on the energy of a bandís (concert euphoria) and will probably end up buying their music on top of pimping them on METALSETLISTS. I missed too much of Tyrís set for a proper Eddie Award. Turisas win 8.0 with a bonus .5 Eddie for their cheddar, a grand total of 8.5 Eddies. I wasnít that impressed with Ensiferum. Perhaps, I caught them on an off night. Who knows? 7.25 Eddies.
The Quick Dirt On The Show
TOUR: PaganFest -- Ensiferum, Turisas, Tyr, Eluveitie, SuidAkrA
VENUE: Avalon -- Santa Clara, CA
DATE: Friday, May 11th, 2008
ATTENDED W/: Solo
GEAR WORN: Rush Armor and Sword (black / grey)
MERCH PURCHASED: Too damn expensive.
MOSHING REPORT: Security squashed it.
EDDIES AWARDED: Turisas, 8.5. Ensiferum, 7.25.
REVIEWED: May 14th, 2008