It wouldn't happen again. It couldn't happen again. I had told myself that this time I would make it. A few months ago, Eye Empire had played at the Recher Theatre in Baltimore, but I had a prior engagement to attend. I was bummed that I couldn't make that event, so when this one came around I knew that I had to make sure it wouldn't happen again. I found out about the concert by chance, hearing a friend of mine mention he would be taking photographs of them when they stopped by his area in North Carolina. Sure enough, I discovered that only a few days after he saw them they would be in my neck of the woods once more. Despite this, I saw no online ticket purchasing outlets upon immediate inspection and wondered if the House Of Rock was a legitimate venue, as their website looks quite ancient and speaks more to their deals on steak dinners than their music scene. While different than most other places I've been to see bands, I assure you that the House Of Rock in White Marsh, Maryland is a cozy little bar & grill & concert combination.
The opening acts were scheduled as Yesterday's War, Any Given Sin, and Skitzo Calypso. It seems that Yesterday's War was unable to make it and replaced by two other acts: Drift Plan and Plaid Anxiety. I should start by saying that Drift Plan is a great band. I was immediately impressed by the musicianship of all the band members and the great songwriting that they possessed. Though the singer was struggling with his allergies, they were all lighthearted and I found myself laughing at their banter. They've already released a full album of material and are working on some newer, heavier material, all of which can be streamed or downloaded for free on their Soundcloud page. The only thing I would have preferred is if they were a little more active, as their songs had presence, but they lacked command of the stage.
The second act, Plaid Anxiety, seemed to be more of a comedy duo (would have been a trio, but their second guitarist couldn't make it). One fellow used a Yamaha Motif ES6 as a drum machine while the guitarist would riff over it. The keyboardist then began a long list of songs all about sex and alcohol. With a song title such as “My High School Crush Is A Lesbian”, how can you go wrong? It was quite a sight, literally, as the singer had flashing sunglasses and a shirt that doubled as a light-up equalizer! It became especially interesting when the singer donned a large gold chain and hoodie, turned on a vocal effect to make himself sound like a large black man, and proceeded to rap. It felt like the first time I heard Frank Zappa sing about Titties & Beer, except far more simplified. I couldn't help but facepalm song after song. Despite the silliness of their tunes, they were surprisingly well done and the singer was full of energy, which made it difficult not to enjoy myself.
Any Given Sin followed up, quite contrasting the previous band with not only its sound, but its image as well. They possessed a much more rockstar garb. They had some unfortunate technical issues starting out, with the vocals being absent towards the beginning of their set and the guitars and bass not being evenly mixed in the PA. At one point, the lead guitar player looked to be playing a blistering solo, but I couldn't hear a single note from the opposite side of the stage. Aside from these issues, the songs themselves were pretty good, laced with a crunchy metal tone. They even played a metal-induced cover of “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf. For those that are fans of old school metal, you should take a moment to listen to their new EP – streaming on their Facebook page.
The final band before Eye Empire would take stage was Skitzo Calypso. One of the cool things about concerts is that you get to experience bands that you've never heard before. This was my first time hearing Skitzo Calypso, and minus unknowingly opening the door for the singer earlier that night, I had never seen them before. As I would soon discover, this is not a straightforward rock band. Floating back and forth between hard rockers, metal guitar playing, and RATM-inspired raps, I had to scratch my head at exactly what I was engaged in. The singer was full of energy, however, and would give me no time to ponder those mysteries, at one point getting right into my face (and camera) before jumping off stage and making his way through the crowd. A little audience involvement is always worth encouraging! While I didn't know any of their material, I was trying to follow along as best I could, which went well minus the lead singer's rap segments. Though competent in his flow, he was going so fast that the microphone didn't always translate his intentions to the PA as well as I would have liked. What definitely captured my attention was a stunning cover of Guns N' Roses “Welcome To The Jungle”, beautifully redone down to the mannerisms of Axl Rose. If you're looking to have stage presence, there aren't many frontmen worth imitating more, and not only did the singer pull off Axl's style, but his voice matched the material wonderfully. The only problem I had with their set was the constantly changing light show, but this is a minor fuss. After having gone home and explored more of their music, I'd be happy to see them again – this time ready to sing along!
Eye Empire was not only the foundation of this event, but also the demolition crew. Simply walking on stage electrified the entire crowd. I had already staked out a spot front and center, thanks to my previous escapades as new amateur photographer, and was not about to budge. Earlier that evening I had made my rounds, checking out the merch stand and striking up a conversation with drummer, Ryan Bennett, who was nonchalantly drumming on his practice pad to warm up. An extremely nice guy from the beginning, he immediately thanked me for coming to the show and we shared in some small talk before I gave way to other fans who wanted their turn. But now he was squared away behind a drumkit near the back of the stage, with guitarist B.C. Köchmit and his immense dreadlocks walking past to his microphone stand on the far left. Former Stuck Mojo/Stereomud bassist, Corey Lowery, arrived moments later with his neon-green stringed bass guitar strapped over his shoulder and vocalist Donald Carpenter finalized the ensemble with a portable Shure 55S microphone in hand.
There wasn't a huge crowd in attendance, but that really didn't seem to matter to this group. They tore into the crowd with the explosiveness of an atom bomb, starting off with “Ignite (Cause Of Impact)”. After several more powerhouse tracks, Carpenter commented on the crowd: “It's not about how many people you play for, but about whoyou play for. Each and every one of us deserves that respect, you know?” After another song from their debut, they ventured into a new track which the setlist calls “Weakness”. Being so close to the stage, as well as trying to take pictures, the audio wasn't always clear to me, but this track was heavy. After that, they went into “Bull In A China Shop”, which Carpenter described as the band's “crowd participation song”. It certainly got everyone riled up, screaming at the top of their lungs and headbanging in unison.
One thing many bands have a tendency to do is ignore the crowd. I don't mean that they don't try talking to the crowd, but that they often don't sing and play to them. I see many bands who look off into space or over everyones' heads. I understand! It can be nerve-wracking being on stage. But there's something special about watching the band and having the musicians look right at you while they're playing, as if they're playing just for you. Carpenter made sure to do this while he sang, leaning over into the audience and looking into their eyes, as well as holding out his hand for a fist bump or handshake. Part of the success of this, I suppose, comes from people wanting to see you in the first place, but it certainly helps the connection of the band to its fans when they incorporate this into their playing. The next best thing you can do is move around and be active to get the energy up on stage, and the absolute worst thing you can do is just stand there motionless. Eye Empire, veterans of the rock scene, know exactly how to elicit a response from their crowd at any given moment, a feature many bands would love to possess.
Two more new songs were laid before us, one called “Can't Forget” and the other entitled “One Day”. Though I don't recall the latter's subject matter, the former was in honor of the brave men and women of our armed forces “who sacrifice so that we can enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted every moment of each day.” Both were very heavy and melodic, and later Carpenter noted that while they had a lot of varied material for a new album (release date unknown at this point), they felt that the heavier songs would be more appreciated in a live setting. They closed out the evening with the opening track from Impact, “I Pray”, which was like a haymaker delivered after ten rounds of boxing. I certainly felt sufficiently pummeled at this point and collapsed back towards the merch table.
The entire band turned out to be not only amazing musicians, but wonderful people. I had already met Bennett, who said he was no longer bored – drumming on his practice pad – simply sweaty. Carpenter was there, chatting with a few teenage fans sporting older Eye Empire shirts (I had already bought mine, stowing it away). He noticed me out of the side of his eye and came over, thanking me for coming to the show. I spoke to him about writing a review and posting some pictures of the set, which he seemed really enthusiastic about. I let him continue to chat it up with other adoring fans and began an impromptu conversation with Köchmit. I had just finished my talk with Carpenter when he and I both noticed we were standing next to each other. He turned around quickly and gave me a warm hello, introducing himself and then asking about me. I proceeded to ask silly questions such as, “How long have you been growing your dreads?” and “When did you start playing guitar?” He was nice enough to humor me with the answers (3 years and 13 years old, respectively). Finally, Lowery arrived, having made his way past the tables (this is partially a restaurant, remember?) of fans and over to the merchandise stand. I told him about discovering the band through our mutual friend, and guitar virtuoso, Mike Martin, and we started discussing how the band had gone about releasing their album. When I had overstayed my welcome just long enough, I informed everyone that I had to get back on the road. To my surprise, Carpenter came over and told me that, he too, had to head out and thanked me once more for coming, asking my name again to make sure he knew it. The rest of the band all shook my hand, thanked me for my support, and told me they hoped we could meet again soon. It was amazing to me, as this is only the second time when a band I've seen has cared so much about its fans to ask me my name to make sure they remember it. It's rare you find a band that is not only talented, but cares so much about their fans. I suppose that's just one more reason for me to like Eye Empire.
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For more on Eye Empire, visit:
Buy "Impact": iTunes | Amazon
About two months ago I posted my first review here, which featured Fozzy in concert at the Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival. While they put on an amazing performance that day, they were limited in their setlist to only a handful of songs due to a strict timeslot. On November 1st, however, they returned to Virginia in full-force, headlining a show of their own. Joined by opening locals, A Sound Of Thunder, and fellow Uproar Festival band, Candlelight Red, they took the Empire in Springfield, Virginia by storm and left the masses chanting "FOZZY! FOZZY! FOZZY!" I could write once again how amazing a performance these five men can muster up, but I'd just be repeating the same thing I said in the last review. Instead, I think it'll share a video I took, and some photos, courtesy Kristen Mankowski. ENJOY!
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I'm a far cry from a August Burns Red fanatic. I guess you could say I'm familiar by association, having heard them blaring from my roommate's speakers in either his room or his car for years. Now, don't misunderstand me, I think they're fantastic! They do a great job blending the recipes for pummeling brutality, high speed aggression, and melodic guitaristry (you can try making it yourself, but it's difficult to fit a sledgehammer, muscle car, and guitar into a single blender). They seem to understand that a song's heaviness is relative to how quiet it can be from one moment to the next, and cleverly craft them such that they don't blow out their listener's eardrums before they can marvel at its gravity. But I'm much more likely to be found listening to Queen than a metalcore band when in my natural habitat, so I'm rather picky about the growling style that many metalcore bands adopt. ABR (August Burns Red, for those wondering) is one of those esteemed bands whose singer doesn't grate my senses. Jake Luhrs' voice and, as I found out, bassist Dustin Davidson's voice (who shares growling duties live), are just right in that they are still comprehensible and don't reach the stages of "nails on the chalkboard".
ABR recently played a show last Friday at the Norva in Norfolk, VA. While that's about a four hour car ride from where I live, I decided it'd be a fun start to my weekend to drive there and hang out with some great friends at the same time. They had several openers scheduled, including The Color Morale, and Of Mice and Men. I must admit, while I had heard of both of them, I had never taken time to listen to their music. As it happens, this evening wouldn't change that! Famished from the ride to the show, my group stopped to eat upon arriving in town. The venue doors had just opened, and we were only concerned with seeing Of Mice and Men and August Burns Red. Considering there were two bands before those were to go on, it didn't seem like a problem. So, around 9:30 we were walking into the venue, and to our utter surprise, ABR were already playing! That may be some of the quickest band set changes I've (n)ever heard of.
I really have to hand it to August Burns Red, because they put on a great stage show! The energy the band possesses, and the amount that it pulls from the audience, is remarkable. Every chorus to every song was sung by the sweaty masses of gathered fans, rivaling the PA system itself, and two-thirds of the audience seemed to consist of a constant circle pit. Except, of course, when the vocalist, Jake Luhrs, would jump onto the monitors at the front of the stage and throw his hands in the air. His presence demanded attention, and people would stop long enough to receive their next set of instructions, such as whipping out their lighters and cellphones, clapping in time with the stunning drumming of Matt Greiner, or, as often was the case, just forming more circle pits. At one point, however, all the music stopped and he went into a speech, telling the audience that "Everyone one of you has dreams, goals, self-control, and a purpose. Your dreams are not meant for when you're sleeping, but are meant to be lived out. Your time is now!" That moment, which seemed unusual to me in this setting, was somehow fitting all the same. It reminded me that despite the aggressive nature of the music, the lyrics sung by this band are often empowering and not to be overlooked.
I was worried that something would be lost with the transition from the albums to the live show. I was impressed by the fact that they were able to translate not only the brutality of the albums, with guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler chugging along at breakneck speeds, but were able to slow it down and capture that mellowness that complements it without losing the crowds' energy. Despite me probably only being able to rattle off the names of a handful of songs they played that night, I don't feel the need to. The music, even the songs I was less familiar with, was played with such passion that I couldn't help but enjoy the atmosphere (minus the occasional stray mosher who crashed into us). I mean, I think having your bass player kick the drummer off his kit and then challenging him to a beat battle is enough to make any concert-goer smile to himself.
Despite the fact that we arrived later than we expected, we had a fantastic time. August Burns Red does an excellent job as entertainers, in addition to their mandatory role as musicians. I wish we would have had time to stick around and thank them for everything they gave to the crowd that night, but I'll just have to trust that the more die-hard fans conveyed that for me. As one such fan, Brian Baker told me after the show, "When I listen to August Burns Red, I connect their music to what's going on in my life. After a show like this, it just makes me feel even more connected to it. They make it mean that much more."
For more on August Burns Red:
photos courtesy Kristen Mankowski
Worry started to fill me on the ride up to the show. I was in the car,
driving my girlfriend and myself to see a longtime favorite band of mine, and
suddenly the sky unleashed its floodgates. I rarely go to outdoor shows, but
when I do, I prefer to not be soaked from head to toe, whether by rain or the
beer a fellow concert-goer recently purchased. Luckily, after some time we
passed the downpour and arrived to some light drizzling, with hopes the rain
wasn't stalking us.
After a bit of walking around, bypassing scalpers and other peddlers, we
picked up our tickets from the booth and made our way into the venue. I'd never
been to Jiffy Lube Live (formerly the Nissan Pavilion), so we quickly glanced at
the map nearby and followed everyone else around the path. Soon we heard sounds
of opening bands on the side-stages, which is exactly where we needed to be.
Meandering our way through the crowd in front of the Jagermeister stage, which
Fozzy was headlining, we arrived to the sounds of Sao Paulo-based band,
Cruz, who did a great rendition of Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff" featuring
P.O.D.'s Luis Castillo.
The way the festival's lineups work is that at each of the side stages, which
are directly beside each other, one band plays while the techs tear down and set
up for the following band on the other stage. This means that a lot of people
leave after each band ends and make their way over to the other stage,
presenting us with the opportunity to easily snag a place at the front-left of
the stage, setting up camp until Fozzy were to play several hours later. After
standing through several more bands at the Jager stage, Candlelight Red
and In This Moment, the latter of which was highly theatrical, filling the stage
with fences covered in skulls and twenty-foot white drapery hanging from the
microphone, it was time for Fozzy to play.
Unlike an indoor venue, there are no lights that can be dimmed, no surprising
arrival of the band. But as the backing track of the first song, "Spider In My Mouth",
began to play, and drummer Frank Fontsere stood and threw his hands to the sky,
the air was filled with anticipation nonetheless. Then the speakers exploded with
the opening riff, and the rest of the band hurled themselves on stage and began
an all-out assault on the waiting crowd.
Some bands write fantastic songs, but fall short live because they don't realize
that in addition to playing well, a show is also about knowing how to entertain.
Fozzy understand this all too well, and they're masters of getting the crowd involved.
Chris Jericho's years of working crowds over in professional wrestling, combined
with Rich Ward's experience in audience-antics with other bands like Stuck Mojo
make this duo a downright riot. Midway through the set, Jericho pulled a trick out
of Freddie Mercury's bag, replicating the Wembley call-and-response sing-along,
complete with the ending "F*ck You". Ward, in his own move of crowd involvement,
jumped offstage and into the audience while playing his guitar, letting them hold
him up as he ripped through the song.
Though the setlist was short, due to tight festival scheduling, the band packed a punch
that kept everyone itching for "one more". After the opening song, they jumped
right into the lead single, entitled "Sandpaper", off their new album, Sin And Bones,
which the whole crowd seemed to know the lyrics to already. Following this was
"God Pounds His Nails", once again featuring the audience as special guest vocalists
during the chorus, and then the Sin And Bones title track. Reaching back to the All
That Remains LP, they continued with their biggest hit, "Enemy", teasing the crowd
later in the song by lowering their volume and crouching down on stage, raising the
volume as they stood until the crowd was screaming, and then suddenly ducking down
and cutting the sound once more. To close, they brought us back to the present with
another new song -- sure to be a continuing live favorite-- "Blood Happens", that flows
from rapid fire bludgeoning to a mellow duel guitar interlude, only to come back to
smack you once more with a blistering solo, courtesy of Billy Grey!
While some bands let you know how much they love playing for you in their
words, this group of guys lets you know in every movement on (and off) the stage.
Whether it's the battle of backs between Ward and bassist Paul DiLeo, seeing
which one can keep playing while pushing the other into a hunch, or guessing
which guitarist Jericho can hit by spinning his microphone stand around like a
Weeble Wobble, you know they're having a good time. And after the music, they
all sat down to sign autographs for an hour, talking to each fan and letting them
know how much they appreciate them coming out to the show.
While some critics attempt to discredit the band as a serious musical entity due
simply to frontman, Jericho, being a professional wrestler, I believe they're
cheating themselves out of a good time. While he may not be a Bruce Dickinson
or Freddie Mercury, and most people aren't, he's a good singer who is growing
with each record release. Couple that with his and the rest of the band's ability
to please a crowd, and you've got a recipe for an entertaining time. Fozzy originally
joked about being HUGE ROCKSTARS, and I believe they're getting there. For
now, at the very least, they are our "party hosts". And what a hell of a party it is!