Children of Bodom w/ Oni, Exmortus and Abbath
Irving Plaza, NY, NY on December 18, 2016
Slinging Merch and Singing Thrash
When I got to Irving Plaza, my first mission was to find a bathroom. I’d drunk about 16 gallons of Diet Coke with dinner before I hit the subway, and much of it was ready to leave me. The guy who checked my ticket said, “Upstairs,” and so up I went. I didn’t find a bathroom on the second floor, because there wasn’t one. Instead, I found members of Exmortus.
Irving Plaza is a small theatre, and along the left side of it you’ll find the hallway where bands sell merch. Tucked at the back corner, Exmortus’ merch guy was hawking tees. Right in front of the table, the singer and lead guitarist were jamming away on their guitars.
I know this was a small show, and Exmortus aren’t a major band. But let me put this into perspective, both for you and me. If Metallica were playing a show anywhere in the world, James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett aren’t warming up by the merch stand. And Hetfield sure as Hell ain’t selling shirts. So seeing these two picking away in the hallway, with fans passing by, sent my mind reeling. It wouldn’t be the last thing to do so that night, but it was by far the most interesting.
I really didn’t want to disrupt their practice. Shortly after I spotted them, a lull came, and knowing I’d review the show, I asked them if I could get a photo of them. “Do you want to get into the pic with us?” the lead singer asked. Sure, what the Hell. The merch handler took the photo, and I told them I’d seen them open for Amon Amarth back in April. I may have fudged a little (okay, so I outright lied and said they were a great act. They were nice guys. “You sucked at that show” didn’t seem like the appropriate words of thanks for the photo op) in praising their performance last time I saw them, but I’ll discuss that further in a bit. For now, I was off to watch Oni, who’d started their set about five minutes earlier.
Thrash shows are the best, for one reason: if you have a general admission ticket, you can get right up on the barrier and have the band play directly to you. After being eight people off the barrier at Amon Amarth, I decided I would play it safe; squeeze in toward the front now, but back out by the sound board later on. The crowd was soft in the middle, as a whole lot of attendees were yet to show. This is the curse of being an opening act, because you can play your hearts out, but it’s likely you’re doing so to a 40% crowd. But lead singer Jake Oni was belting his lungs out, God bless him. Opening act or no, Oni came to thrash.
Oni was, to put it politely, not great. But they sure were interesting. Jake switched back and forth between high pitched screaming and the Cookie Monster vocals that I hate. The rest of the band was okay, but I can’t honestly say I was paying much attention to them. Because I was transfixed by the guy on the right, who was playing the xylophone.
Yes, xylophone. Or more properly, xylosynth. I’d bought a ticket on a lark, because I knew Bodom used a keyboard player and I wanted to see how the keys would mix with thrash. But the xylophonist took it to whole new levels of odd, way beyond a normal synthesizer. It was such a strange sounding thing, that I’d have to listen to more of Oni to form a true opinion of whether it worked.
Oni’s set was short, and before I knew it, Jake Oni was saying good bye. But not before he said, “Come visit us at the merch table and say hi.” What was going on here? He couldn’t be literal with that line, could he? Well, yes. As I would find out later, not only he but the entire band would be at the merch table, pounding drinks and beers and genuinely enjoying hanging out with fans. And so I asked him for a photo. He graciously agreed to one, and was appreciative that I was so thankful for his band tonight.
I have to be honest: I was way too rough on Exmortus in my review of their performance at the Amon Amarth gig. At one point in the review, I actually wrote, “They sucked.” And that’s not true. Exmortus is a competent metal band that plays average music, but damned if they don’t put their all into playing it. Are they a little gimmicky? Sure. Any thrash band that plays Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” and does a dual guitar version of the Thrash Metal Centipede can’t hope but be gimmicky. But that’s not a terrible thing. If they were competent and did everything in standard fashion, they’d be forgettable. Instead, at least they leave the audience with something to remember.
So yes, this time around I enjoyed the “Moonlight Sonata” and the Thrash Metal Centipede (twisted bodies as the lead singer and guitarist play one another’s guitars behind their backs). I misjudged you, Exmortus, and I not only apologize, but I’d be happy to see you once again.
And this time, Exmortus upgraded to using their own drum kit, though the drummer couldn’t totally escape the experience of playing someone else’s kit, as evidenced by his wearing an Entombed A.D. tee.
With everything in life, I draw a line with just how far I’ll go. Nordic black metal is far on the other side of the music line. Enough said.
Children of Bodom
The setup between bands was short, so when the house raised the curtains I thought Children of Bodom was on its way to the stage. But this was a fake out, and it was nearly 30 minutes by the time they rolled out to the stage. I had a feeling I wasn’t going to make it to the end of their set—it was wicked cold outside, my body was sore and I had to be up at 5 am, with a considerable time in transit home after the show—but I was not going to bail out before I saw at least some of their set.
Bodom did not disappoint. They laid down some heavy tracks, and the keyboard enhanced their sound in a way totally unique to me. The band’s music is heavy, and lead singer Alexi Laiho’s piercing voice is as unique as his guitar stance. The music is more melodic than most of the metal I listen to, and Bodom is a tight act live. I’ve listened to some of their tracks on Amazon, and even though I couldn’t identify any of the songs they played, nonetheless I dug their sound. I was having a great time, the crowd was into it, and I even found a spot so I could lean on the railing protecting the sound board. But about a half hour in, my feet got so sore, I could barely stand on them anymore. I lasted about 40 minutes into their set, and as this wasn’t a band I loved or whose albums I knew by heart, I headed out, content with the experience.
The only regret I have was that I didn’t stay for Children of Bodom’s whole set. I’d like to see them again, and get the full experience next time.
This show was a great time. It didn’t rival any of the Slayer shows I’ve seen, nor did it knock on the door of the Amon Amarth show, but then I never met Chuck Billy near the merch stands at those shows. My second non-Slayer metal show left me jazzed, and I’ll happily branch out to more thrash metal concerts in the future. And I hope that Exmortus will be there play Boston’s “Foreplay” the next time.