Ranked: The Top Ten Shows I’ve Ever Been To
Living within close proximity to New York City has some nice perks for concert goers. Chances are that just about every artist with a fully functional van will risk life and limb to play a show in or around the area if given the opportunity. Having been to and seen so many bands perform in many different venues, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of the most memorable concert experiences from the vast amount of shows I’ve attended. My indisputable list has been compiled, and it can only be contested if I’m cloned and version 2.o of me disagrees. The rest of you will just have to accept it.
10. Bile at The Limelight in New York City, NY in 1995
Industrial music is not a genre that I listen to much anymore, but when Bile was a thing, they were tops in my book. The Limelight was the perfect place for this type of performance. The Limelight stage was enormous and Bile made use of every inch of it with three masked men handling vocals, a guitar player, a bass player, keyboards and two ladies dressed in tattered clothing. The ladies fought and fondled each other while Bile ripped through their set. What you could not take your eyes off of was the large screen in the backdrop flashing images of violence and pornography. An excellent light show accompanied the performance as my friends and I watched in amazement and horror. In the mid to late nineties, The Limelight was a great place to catch a show when they weren’t hosting glowstick raves for ecstasy junkies. A bunch of great death metal tours came through there in the late 90’s and all the bands that came through there always had stellar sound. For those of you who have never heard Bile, check out Get Out for an introduction. It’s some very heavy industrial music that should appeal to even those who don’t care for the genre.
9. Botch at The Melody Bar in New Brunswick, NJ in 2000
Seeing the influence Botch has left on so many bands years after their break-up, I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to have seen them play live. They did not disappoint. Rather than stopping in between each song to talk to the audience, Botch played around 3-4 songs at a time during their half-hour set. They would segue from song to song with a little jam session that embodied their signature brand of calculated noisy hardcore. Unfortunately, I could not locate any images or video from this particular show. If you want to get the full effect of one of their live performances,check out their DVD 061502. This was their final live performance filmed in their hometown of Seattle, WA and captures the spectacle that was their live show. Naturally, I own this, and if you are a big time Botch nerd, this is worth getting a hold of. Here’s a sample below featuring one of their best songs, “Transitions From Persona To Object”.
8. Helmet at The Stanhope House in Stanhope, NJ on November 25, 2012
Never in my life would I have thought that I’d get to see a band as legendary as Helmet in some dive bar in New Jersey. But that’s exactly what happened. I rarely wear earplugs to shows but this was one of those times I wished I had. Helmet was excessively loud to the point where my ears were ringing for the next two days; a small price to pay for an intimate evening with Helmet. Page Hamilton’s stage banter borders on stand up comedy and was very entertaining in his own right. Helmet played all their hits that their fans know and love from Meantime, Betty, Aftertaste and their most recent album, Seeing Eye Dog. They even played their half of “Just Another Victim” from the Judgement Night movie soundtrack as part of their encore.
7. The Red Chord, Gaza and Trap Them at School Of Rock in South Hackensack, NJ March 2010
Promoters that put tours together generally try to vary the package in order to net the best possible crowd turnout. There’s plenty of wisdom in that, but I’m grateful that someone mustered up the cajones to put three of the heaviest bands at the time on one bill together. Trap Them was touring in support of their excellent Darker Handcraft album and came out with their Orange Amps set to buzzsaw. This was the only time I’ve ever seen them, and they flat out killed it. Gaza ranks as one of my favorite bands of all time, and this was also the only time I ever got to see them (Side note: I will get to experience their latest incarnation, Cult Leader in just a few short weeks). Drummer Casey Hansen is worth the price of admission alone. The dude hits hard, and that impact is felt in a live setting. On this particular evening, Gaza did not have a place to stay and asked the crowd for some hospitality that evening. I contemplated offering up my place since we had plenty of room at my house but chickened out for fear of my wife freaking out that I was bringing home 4+ strangers from Utah. Finally The Red Chord closed out the night with a rather strange occurrence during their performance. Some poor fellow decided to stage dive, and it did not go well for him; dude broke his leg. As a result, the show was stopped as we had to wait for an ambulance to arrive so they could haul off the now potentially wheelchair bound patron before The Red Chord could finish their set. Anyhow, Gunface is a sick guitar player, and you can very easily get mesmerized just by watching him play. Oh and the rest of the band are no slouches either.
6. Pig Destroyer at St. Vitus in Brooklyn, NY on January 11, 2014
This particular evening made some headlines because there were quite a few more ladies than one would expect to find where most of the bands performing were all grind bands. Having been there personally, I can vouch that this was entirely true, and the number of guys inside St. Vitus only slightly outnumbered the ladies. As a married man, my interactions were limited to harmless flirting with a few females while waiting in line for the unisex bathroom. As for the show itself, it was among the first performances in which Pig Destroyer would feature their recently acquired bass player, John Jarvis. To be honest, I could not hear one note coming out of his instrument throughout the entire performance, but that was of very little concern because Pig Destroyer always delivers the goods live. Electronics guy Blake Harrison does a nice job of being almost a co-frontman by engaging the crowd and providing backing vocals when he’s not behind the keys. The highlight of the evening for me was opening up their set with “Hymn”, a song that I’m sure die hard Pig Destroyer fans are well aware of but may be counted among their lesser known tracks. And here’s a pro tip for any of you who happen to go to St. Vitus: afterwards head across the street to the deli and get a chicken sandwich to close out your evening. That was a damn fine sandwich, and it sobered me up nicely for the ride home.
5. Nasum’s Farewell Tour at Europa in Brooklyn, NY on May 24, 2012
Sadly, I missed the opportunity to catch Nasum while founding member Mieszko Talarczyk was still alive. I vowed not let that happen again, as I had grown even fonder of Nasum’s pioneering style of grindcore after Mieszko’s passing. They definitely closed out this farewell tour in style by enlisting the services of Rotten Sound’s Keijo Niinimaa to handle vocal duties. He’s a great frontman in his own right, and he definitely brought his A-game for this tour, handling songs from Nasum’s catalog with relative ease. As big a Nasum fanboy as I was, I feared that I would not recognize some songs due to the sheer volume that is contained within their discography. It turned out that this would not be an obstacle because I identified everything they played and was particularly delighted when they broke into “I Hate People”. This evening proved to be costly for me because even though I was on the outskirts of the pit, I somehow managed to injure my right foot and was limping around for the next few days. It was clearly accidental and I have no hard feelings against whoever stepped on me. Also it would be criminal not to mention the opening acts for this show – Magrudergrind, Dropdead and Brutal Truth. Brutal Truth in particular played quite a few songs from Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses, an album that holds a special place in my heart. Add that to an already incredible headliner and you’ve got yourself quite a memorable evening.
4. Hellfest 2004 at Rexplex in Elizabeth, NJ July 2004
Festivals are all the rage in the United States during the summer months, and they’ve been going strong for quite some time now. Hellfest (not to be confused with the yearly metal fest in France) was a hardcore and metal festival that would wind up seeing its final go around in 2004 after seven years running. Three stages and over a hundred bands in three days is a lot to take in for that amount of live music. Rexplex was a nice venue to accommodate this, but if I remember correctly, there was no re-entry policy should one choose to leave the venue for any particular reason. That meant you were being held hostage in a sense because your dining choices were limited to their crappy pizza and beverages laced with high fructose corn syrup. Yes, there was bottled water of course but for a fest that for many years prided itself on catering to vegans and the like, this place was not doing such a hot job of meeting those people’s dietary needs, so pretty much everybody ate like shit while being trapped inside the venue. Plenty of good bands were on tap for fans of both metal and hardcore alike. Converge, All Else Failed, The Red Chord, E-Town Concrete, Andrew WK, Fear Factory, Life Of Agony and the list goes on and on if you want to click on the crumbled up flyers to see who else was on the bill. This one is most memorable for bad reasons instead of good ones. While I don’t condone or advocate a band trashing a venue they are playing at, the famously blacklisted Bad Luck 13 Riot Extravaganza did precisely that. Within 30 seconds of them starting to play, full garbage cans, smoke bombs, light bulbs and pretty much anything anyone could get their hands on was thrown around with reckless abandon. Bleachers were flipped over with people still standing on them. A pig’s head was thrown into the crowd by the band, and it was rumored that someone ate a little bit of it after their set. I saw a girl who had a barbed wired bat stuck to the sleeve of her jacket. While she didn’t appear to be harmed, she was definitely shocked as were many others who didn’t get the memo about what this band does in a live performance. The violence did not last long as the power was cut and BL13 just crossed another venue off their list of places to play. You can see what all went down in the video below including the bleachers being flipped over.
3. Discordance Axis at CBGB’s in NYC July 10th 1999
As you all know, CBGB’s has been reduced to a men’s designer clothing store since it was closed in 2006. That made Discordance Axis‘ performance at this historic building all the more sweeter. For being a three piece minus a bass player, each band member put their own stamp on the performance to make it a very unique live experience. First you had guitarist Rob Marton just sitting on a stool through the entire set while Jon Chang screamed and yelled as he floundered around the stage like a neanderthal on crack. Chang’s stage presence goes along perfectly with DA’s chaotic, full speed ahead style of grind. And if you are a fan of Dave Witte’s (Human Remains, Burnt By The Sun, Municipal Waste, too many other bands to name) playing then this was a sight to behold as he blasted relentlessly through the set while making it look effortless. The sound inside CBGB’s sounded almost as good as hearing their landmark album, The Inalienable Dreamless on record. The sound on the video here is not so good unfortunately, but you should play it for Witte’s drumming alone and to experience what one of grindcore’s greatest bands did in a live setting. I caught DA a second time (once again at CBGB’s) a year or two later but they didn’t sound as good this time. This might’ve had something to do with Rob Marton no longer playing due to potentially losing his hearing and fill in guitarist Steve Procopio (Human Remains, Gridlink) having a different playing style resulting in a much noisier sounding performance. The first go around however was something that was above and beyond what I was expecting and ranks as one my favorite live performances to this day.
2. Relapse Festival at The Trocadero Theatre in Philadelphia, PA January 18th and 19th 2003
The people at Relapse Records really know how to put on a fest. A weekend of death metal, hardcore, sludge, grindcore and other assorted forms of cacophony in the city of Brotherly Love was just what the doctor ordered so you could forget that it was another shitty winter in the Northeastern United States. Relapse has a deep and diverse roster, so it should shock no one that they had all of their top talent on hand for a weekend of loud music. Cephalic Carnage, Mastodon, High On Fire, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Pig Destroyer, Burnt By The Sun and Today Is The Day to name a few. Even with all that talent on hand, it was Neurosis who stole the show. They headlined the first evening, and coupled with the fact that our hotel was within walking distance, it was a perfect opportunity to get loaded up. My friends and I were drinking grape juice mixed with vodka and partook in some of that sticky icky to get us right for the evening. This turned out to be the perfect tonic to experience Neurosis live. I had seen them a couple times before and they were very good, but on this night, the combination of substances that I was under the influence of slowed Neurosis’ music down to a crawl. You could feel the weight of their monstrous sound bearing down on you like an impending avalanche. The sound inside the Trocadero was enormous, and the crowd was most definitely put into a trace while they nodded along to sludgy atmosphere that only a band like Neurosis can provide. During their entire set, a screen behind them played images that meshed perfectly with the music, a true audio visual experience.
1. Hellfest 2k in Syracuse,NY July 1 – 2, 2000
What happens when you drive over four hours for three days of hardcore and you find out that it might be cancelled when you arrive? That was the scene for the first scheduled day of Hellfest. We rolled up to the venue to find out that there were issues with holding the event at the chosen location. Nobody knew what was going on, bands who were scheduled to perform had already arrived and had nothing better to do than sell their merch while everyone waited for any sort of news about whether this thing was going down or if it would just be cancelled altogether. After hanging out for a few hours, a Hellfest rep with a megaphone got on top of someone’s touring vehicle and announced that Friday would be cancelled but the Saturday and Sunday would go down as planned at another venue. A day was lost and that meant no Dillinger Escape Plan or Candiria. Having seen both of those bands perform many times already, it was not much of loss. Once things got going at 12PM the next day, the letdown of Friday’s cancellation was quickly forgotten. If you’re familiar with hardcore, you’ve heard all the platitudes that get bandied about – unity, “the scene”, taking care of one another in the pit along with countless others. On this weekend, these were not empty words and those ideals were on full display. There was a sense of community amongst everyone there. The mosh pits were civil. If youe got knocked down, someone near you would pick you up, and you’d thank them for being a good samaritan. Above all else, I discovered a whole slew of good bands I’ve never heard before and went home with a ton of merch to boot. Just some of the highlights from the weekend in no order of importance:
- Buried Alive – Before Scott Vogel was hyping up crowds for Terror, he was doing the same with Buried Alive, who played all the moshy jams from their debut album, Death of Your Perfect World. The pit was easily over a hundred people throwing air haymakers. It looked almost like a huge choreographed fight scene.
- Walls of Jericho – Hardcore kids love Slayer, and Walls of Jericho’s brand of metallic hardcore is heavily influenced by them. Another huge pit broke out for this during the band’s energetic and well-played set
- Cave In – By now Cave In had started their musical shift from hardcore into space rock, so naturally they played a couple of cuts from Jupiter and worked in a few songs from Until Your Heart Stops as well. They closed out their set with a great cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused”.
- Poison The Well – Prior to this fest, I had no clue who Poison The Well was. That changed quickly as they opened their set with the intro to Metallica’s “To Live Is To Die” before busting into a track from their debut album, The Opposite of December. The album hadn’t been released yet, but a good deal of people in the audience were singing along to the words. When you catch a band that grabs you solely on a live performance, you know you’ve got some music you need to get familiar with.
- Turmoil – Turmoil closed out the festivities for the weekend and decided to do so in Bad Luck 13 fashion. Singer Jon Gula told the crowd to trash the place and that resulted in them playing about two and a half songs before the power was cut. Empty water bottles, toilet paper and anything that could be launched was being thrown at the stage. It would’ve been nice to see them play a full set, but they screwed themselves by telling the crowd to bring the place down.
- Eighteen Visions – Before eyeliner and hairspray overtook metalcore and made it a laughable genre, Eighteen Visions put on one heck of a show. Their tact of piling breakdown after breakdown into their songs is something many deathcore bands do, but they don’t do it to the point where it’s memorable. I got a hold of Until The Ink Runs Out the night before and jammed it a few times at the hotel so I could familiarize myself with what was to come. The band played their set acting like a rock n’ roll band; instead of a moshfest, it was more like a party.
There you have it, almost twenty years of concert going all slapped into one single solitary post. Share some of your favorite concert experiences with us in the comments, get elitist about how your list is better than mine.