Sunday, April 29, 2012

Prime Mover

The exciting sequel to 48 Hours Of Ritual!

Opeth / Mastodon / Ghost
Gibson Amphitheatre, Hollywood, California
April 26, 2012

Ghost are Umlaut's favorite band at this moment in history. Why? Because I dig their combination of diabolically catchy songs about Satan and their retro Horror movie aesthetic. More often than not these days Umlaut finds his "professional" life and "Umlaut" life blending into the same thing. Long story short, on the morning and afternoon before the show I found myself on a plane and then working out of the cavernous high tech Hollywood Rock 'N Roll HQ of Tour Manager Doug. Then as show time approached we made our way over to the Gibson Amphitheatre, which happens to be located on the Universal Studios lot.

After the deserved hype and frenzy of their debut U.S. Tour back in February, I had been looking forward to seeing Ghost as a support act in front a bigger audience who they'd have to win over. Would a more mass audience *get* them?? I was also looking forward to seeing Ghost on a big stage, where I expected their theatrical presentation to shine. The Gibson is basically an outdoor amphitheater inside of a building, which makes for an disconcertingly sterile concert environment. Backstage in the VIP area a red light is turned on to tell the very important people that a band is about to go onstage. When the red light went on for the first time at around 8:15pm, the venue was far less than half full to greet Ghost as they descended onstage.

As the intro tape started, a couple of kidz behind me started laughing as the Nameless Ghouls solemnly walked onstage and took their places. The anticipation was allowed to build a bit longer before Papa Emeritus emerged from stage left, swinging his incense burning thurible that I'm sure made every Catholic in the room cringe. Then Nameless Ghoul on bass put pick to string and rang out the intro to 'Con Clavi Con Dio' and tonight's ritual was off and running.

Ghost converts Tinseltown

It did not take long to realize that Ghost would easily bring their message successfully to a larger venue and audience. As the set progressed you could see and feel the newbie members of the audience converting to Ghost and join the fans who had arrived early for them. The kidz standing behind me quickly went from laughing at the band to shouting with them. Pretty cool. Ghost have a subtle sense of humor that is apparent if you're not a Christian. This side of the band is more obvious when Papa is onstage; I could not help but laugh out loud every time he called tonight's city "Tinseltown". The short 30 minute and 6 song set honestly felt longer; I also think the fact the set was 6 songs was significant. To quote from the band's song 'Death Knell': "6-6-6 evoke the King of Hell.."

After Ghost I returned to the VIP Area until the red light started flashing again to announce Mastodon. According to the Umlaut Archives this was my 13th time seeing Mastodon and the creative arc that the band has been on with their last 3 albums has been one of my favorite things to witness by a band. On the last album cycle, Mastodon were entrenching themselves in a Prog Rock groove that was impressive, but made me wonder where they could take it. Fuck the haters: Their latest album The Hunter is their best yet and one of my favorite albums in recent times.

Mastodon channeled their inner Zeppelin and Floyd brilliantly in Tinseltown and I have to say it was my favorite set by them in awhile. Due to the co-headline billing of this tour, their staging was not elaborate but still very effective. A simple album art backdrop and an arsenal of criss crossing and rotating colored spots positioned behind and on either side of the stage. The venue was full at this point in the night and there was also some surprisingly healthy pit action on the main floor. The band members also seemed more animated than at previous shows I've seen... and the set, which featured most of The Hunter album but was also more of a mix of material than their tour 5 months ago, closed on a very personal note when Brann came out from behind the drums to give a shout out to Armand Crump, Kerry King's longtime guitar tech who recently passed away. Umlaut will only say that I knew Armand and he was a good guy who should definitely rest in peace. Anyway...

As much of a Bay Area Snob as I am, I was surprised by how many people who I knew or ran into at this show; well into double digits. It almost felt like I was seeing a show at home. Also, Rock Star sightings included Jerry Cantrell, Sean Kinney, Blasko, Josh Homme, Adam of Tool.

I was chatting with friends and colleagues back in the VIP area when the red light went on for a 3rd time to signal the arrival of Opeth onstage. I had to choose between carrying my beer inside or staying outside with it. I chose the later and saw some of Opeth because I ventured inside to find a bathroom. Did I say I'm not into Opeth? Oh, sorry... well... yeah.

Then 24 hours later it was...

Opeth / Mastodon / Ghost
The Fox Theatre, Oakland, California
April 27, 2012

Sometimes I live vicariously through my own Lock 'N Loll lifestyle. Umlaut caught a morning flight back to the Bay Area and hit the ground running again with the work thing. Around 3 hours after landing I found myself delivering these to the venue so they could be sold at the show (Limited edition of 75 prints, dude!):

Birth. School. Work. Metal.

Unlike the night before in Tinseltown, the main floor of The Fox grew completely packed as Ghost brought their message back to The Bay Area. I had been anticipating seeing the band within the gorgeous art deco confines of The Fox and it seemed like the band picked up on the special vibe of the space. Again, the limited 30 minutes and 6 songs seemed to ignore time and Ghost's moment in Oakland felt longer. I stood directly behind a kid wearing a denim vest with a Mercyful Fate Don't Break The Oath back patch who sang along to every song. He was so enthusiastic that late in the set Papa Emeritus came to the front of the stage and acknowledged him with a gesture of his gloved hand. Awesome, right?

Photo courtesy of Photo Ray

Obviously, the focus of Ghost is Papa Emeritus, but the band members are all solid musicians... whoever.. or whatever.. they are.. One thing I noticed while watching Ghost on these consecutive nights is how much of a Guitar God the Nameless Ghoul on the black guitar (aka the Rhythm Guitarist... Lead Guitarist = Nameless Ghoul on the white guitar..) is with his cocky poses while adding his riffs from Hell to the ceremony. At one point during one of the shows, a song ended and this Nameless Ghoul knew he (or should I say it?) had nailed his part and he did the classic Guitar God move of flicking his pick back over his shoulder into the crowd as he turned towards his backline. Metal.

Photo courtesy of Photo Ray

Another thing that was reinforced for me about the band is how seriously they take their theatrical side. As I've said before, Ghost are not merely a band who wear costumes onstage. They are performers with Papa playing up his role as the puppet master of the Nameless Ghouls; throwing his arms and hands up and in their direction like a puppeteer to manipulate them when a guitar solo is taken or a solo bass line thunders out. Magical.

Photo courtesy of Photo Ray

Unlike the previous night in Tinseltown, the Rock Star action was much more subdued in Oakland with only 1/2 of Machine Head being sited. If you bought one of every Ghost merch item you would have paid around $125. Mastodon and Ghost had the most kick ass merch; their merch company must rule. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. The Master was pleased by the frenzy around the merch table after Ghost's set.

After Ghost it was time to bail and head back across The Bay Bridge for...

A Concert For Ronnie Montrose
The Regency, San Francisco
April 27, 2012

Yes, it was a double header night for Umlaut! Obviously, Ronnie Montrose greatly influenced me during my teenage years via the first Montrose album, Gamma, and his other work such as the song 'Frankenstein' which he wrote for the Edgar Winter Group. If you grew up in the 70's he was one of THE guitar icons, especially here in the Bay Area. It was only after he died on March 3rd that I found out Ronnie lived only 10 minutes from Casa de Umlaut. WOW.

No offense to the staff of The Regency because I know it's not their fault, but when this space is sold out and packed it is awful; no ventilation being the reason. As we sprinted inside the wall of humid heat hit me in the face and, as expected, it was a sweat box of bodies and the floor was unbelievably sticky from the condensation and spilled drinks. However, this was easily ignored because Sammy Hagar was onstage with surviving original Montrose members Denny Carmassi on drums, Bill Church ("The Electric Church"!) on bass, and Joe Satriani on guitar in place of Ronnie blasting out songs from the legendary first Montrose album! 'Bad Motor Scooter' (one of the iconic San Francisco Rock songs, dude!), 'Rock Candy', 'Space Station #5', 'Make It Last' and all the rest. Hagar sounded amazing and there obviously couldn't have been a more perfect tribute moment for these songs to be performed again in Ronnie's memory. Obviously, it's just a shame this reunion could not have happened sooner when Ronnie was alive.

After the Montrose set things sort of went off the rails for awhile, but I do not want to bag on what was a very special event to honor an iconic musician and an important figure in my hometown Bay Area. All I will say is that there were ALOT of drunk and stoned people in the house... but among them one lone teenager wearing an Iron Maiden shirt with his parents. That kid is gonna be alright.

I can hear what some of you are saying: That's all you're going to say about the Montrose show??! Yes, it is... To be honest, while witnessing the Montrose "reunion" was a once in a lifetime event the rest of the bill didn't really engage me. My 48 hours with Ghost and Mastodon are more where my head is at here in the 21st Century. Hope I die before I get old.