BLIND GUARDIAN / GRAVE DIGGER
Date: 08th November, 2015
Venue: Concord Music Hall
Ticket: $27/€25 (in advance) - $31/€29 (day of show)
I know that I may sound like a broken record (if you have been reading my reports that is) but upon learning about this awesome touring lineup, I started having doubts about the attendance. I mean, if I was in the other side of the Atlantic, BLIND GUARDIAN and GRAVE DIGGER would face mostly packed venues and I am not taking ‘no’ for an answer. But in the US, no one can expect crowds flooding the clubs when old-school bands are onstage. Sure, BLIND GUARDIAN have a strong fanbase in the States but sometimes one band is not enough because GRAVE DIGGER don’t have the kind of following a metalhead would expect considering their awesome discography and history.
After entering the really welcoming Concord Music Hall with the multiple viewing angles, my doubts were affirmed and at the same time canceled. You see, there were around 800 faces inside the venue but in hindsight I think the majority belonged to the Bards - but let me take first things first.
Following the timetable to the letter, the lights went out 8pm sharp and soon enough the entire German band kicked off its set with “Headbanging Man”. “What a start” I thought while trying to keep my cool because I was inside the photo-pit and had to take some good shots. Last time I saw Chris onstage was more than a decade ago, so getting my German Teutonic Metal fix felt awesome. So, the sound issues GRAVE DIGGER had went unnoticed, thinking that it was my proximity to the stage monitors to blame because I didn’t enjoy as much as I could the killer “The Round Table (Forever)” that followed without much talking. Jens Becker was one more reason for getting goosebumps because it happens that I am a diehard RUNNING WILD fan, so getting back all those memories from his pirate days was something more than just the icing on the cake. Alex Ritt was indeed an Ironfinger and delivered the guitar goods at ease and with an image taken out of the ‘80s. What I am trying to say is of course a guitarist has to be able to play his stuff, but especially in Metal, he has to be able to walk-the-walk and bust some moves and poses too. And that he did and then some more… Yeah, “Witch Hunter” threw us straight back to the mid-‘80s, although I was not getting the same vibe from the crowd inside Concord. And this is the only downside when on the headliner’s position is a band with a specific audience, so my guess is that the majority of the Chicago metalheads had come solely for BLIND GUARDIAN. On the other hand, this made GRAVE DIGGER to work a little bit harder on getting through this difficult audience and I think the singing-along “Ballad Of A Hangman” proved that the Germans were on the right direction. Still, I wasn’t getting the amount of volume I’d like from the guitar and I think the keyboards were also buried in the mix. Still, it was headbanging / fist-pumping time with this Teutonic Metal blueprint and the slower and groovier “Season Of The Witch” during which the stage was painted red under the lights.
“I see smiles - you’re having a good time” said Chris with his trademark German accent before introducing another favorite song of mine; “This is about a famous sword” and lord behold there were many who recognized “Excalibur”. Apparently, my estimations were not 100% correct and there were GRAVE DIGGER fans inside who were more than eager to scream “buuuur” finishing the name coming from the frontman’s lips (damn, I wanted the keyboards to be louder during the melodic break). “Are there any bikers?” Chris asked but I am not sure he got the number of responses he was waiting but regardless “Tattoed Rider” came out awesome with a significant improved sound; yeah, better late than never… Note to the lights-technician; during the solo, the spotlight should be on the guitarist.
“Highland Farewell” got us in the Braveheart mood (and into some dancing too), so there were many metalheads joining into the most addictive chorus of “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)” (more fists were in the air). For the setlist closer, Chris put on his Metal denim vest with the SAXON, HOLOCAUST and AC/DC patches and reminded us how it feels when you have a “Heavy Metal Breakdown” and be perfectly fine about it. I was happy to hear some requests for “Knights Of The Cross” but then I knew there was no time. Considering the sound problems and the rather dedicated to one band, I’d say GRAVE DIGGER did great and I am already craving for another show in the not so distant future.
“Heavy Metal Breakdown
shake your legs and bang your heads
Heavy Metal Breakdown”
GRAVE DIGGER setlist:
01. “Headbanging Man”
02. “The Round Table (Forever)”
03. “Witch Hunter”
04. “Ballad Of A Hangman”
05. “Season Of The Witch”
07. “Tattooed Rider”
08. “Highland Farewell”
09. “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)”
10. “Heavy Metal Breakdown”
(click to enlarge)
It didn’t take much to get ready for BLIND GUARDIAN and without (over) waiting the taped intro of “The Ninth Wave” the band was welcomed with a really loud cheer, proving my thoughts about a dedicated audience without even trying. The sound was loud and clear (I don’t know what happened with GRAVE DIGGER) and as expected, Hansi was welcomed as always with lots of enthusiasm. He happens to be one of the most likable singers in Metal, always wearing the biggest of smiles and getting everyone connected with the onstage happenings like he is looking straight into the eyes of every fan. Ok, the opening song came out too professional, meaning that it felt like the band was careful not to do any mistake. “Hello my friends, after so many years we are finally back to Chicago” Hansi said and then knocked our shocks off with the powerful “Banish From Sanctuary”. I think he was flirting with a cold but it was not as bad as the previous time BLIND GUARDIAN were in the Chicago area (singing in such weather is really tough), although he nailed the vocals in this one. And yes, all the spider-webs were immediately vanished and the band was storming its way, seeing the first signs of moshing and lots of singing/chanting along. And “Nightfall” did not change the scenery at all, although I have to admit the red stage-lights were not so camera-friendly but who cared because it was singing-the-chorus time and this will happen a gazillion times during this set.
According to Hansi, the trademark “guardian, guardian” chanting came at the right time because BLIND GUARDIAN were recording the show for an upcoming live-recorded album (I am not sure about a DVD because there were just GoPro cameras set at the back). “We’ll teach you how to fly” were his last words before the not-so-favorite and kind of Prog-gy “Fly”. But the audience did not share my feelings and kept the enthusiasm at the already sky-high limits. The new tracks “Tanelorn (Into The Void)” and my personal pick from the latest GUARDIAN album “Prophecies” kept the momentum building and then reached the first climax (and there were plenty of them) during “The Last Candle”. Oh my, the singing-along kept going no matter what and I am sure there were quite a few GUARDIAN fans still singing “somebody’s out there” because this lasted for more than just a few minutes. Watching the band wearing huge smiles is equally rewarding to listening your favorite tunes live because if the band is having fun, then the fans are having even more. We never found out who was out there but we surely enjoyed doing the multiple vocal harmonies with Hansi. “Lord Of The Rings” did not give us a moment to rest our already sore vocal chords, but really, who can resist screaming onto the top of his lungs “there are signs on the ring…”
Yeah, André nailed the leads during the epos about Fingolfin fighting Morgoth during “Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill)” and the it was crowd-surfing time as Hansi was getting lost into the twilight hall following the same-titled BLIND GUARDIAN hit. When you’re having tons of fun time goes by like mountain water under the bridge, so it was a bit of a shock seeing the band leaving after the killer “Imaginations Of The Other Side”. But no, not a single body moved an inch and, in fact, the sound of stomping feet and of voices chanting brought the Bards back with “Sacred Worlds” which I think gave us some time to regroup and then attack with the double treat “Twilight Of The Gods” and the crowd-pleaser “Valhalla”. As you may be thinking, this one was also extended by the tireless audience that kept asking from more than four minutes why Valhalla have forgotten them… under the clean guitar arpeggios. Hansi gave us kudos by simply stating “Nothing more to say”. Although he did say the second goodnight of the night, the Chicago audience still had fuel in its tank; the young age helped a lot. The taped intro marked the time to return to what I consider the most complete BLIND GUARDIAN album with “Into The Storm” (don’t you love the guitars leads on this one?).
Two stools were strategically placed onstage because it was time for all of us to sit around an imaginary fire and become Bards; yes, it was time for the fans to take over the leading vocals during the sending-shivers-down-your-spine “The Bard's Song - In the Forest”. “Now you all know, the bards and their songs”... Sadly “Mirror, Mirror” dropped the curtain for good but there were only smiling faces, sweaty bodies and many sore throats leaving Concord Music Hall after BLIND GUARDIAN had taken the having-the-fans-on-the-background photo as a memorabilia for their social media webpages.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt this was a fun night all the way despite that it was on a Sunday and the chances of getting up early next day looked rather dire. Almost two decades have passed since the first time I saw BLIND GUARDIAN live and I am still having the same fun (maybe even more), even though I haven’t become any younger. So, until the next time, my fellow bards!
“Tomorrow will take us away
Far from home
No one will ever know our names
But the bards' songs will remain”
BLIND GUARDIAN setlist:
01. “The Ninth Wave”
02. “Banish From Sanctuary”
05. “Tanelorn (Into The Void)”
07. “The Last Candle”
08. “Lord Of The Rings”
09. “Time Stands Still (At The Iron Hill)”
10. “Lost In The Twilight Hall”
11. “Imaginations From The Other Side”
12. “Sacred Worlds”
13. “Twilight Of The Gods”
15. “Into The Storm”
16. “The Bard's Song - In The Forest”
17. “Mirror Mirror”
(click to enlarge)