Sunday, January 27, 2013

All you need is The Lad Chapter 1: The Roadtrip Years

There's nothing to make one feel old quite like going to an all-ages show and getting into a discussion with someone who's younger than your fandom. That happens fairly often at Devin Townsend Project gigs. The single most frequent area of fascination has to be seeing Strapping Young Lad "back in the day." I use the term loosely as the idea that a show I hit 6.5 years ago is referred to in the same tones I used to talk about Bay Area Thrash at their age makes me want to drink a glass of warm milk, throw on Matlock, and write irate letters to editors of these things called newspapers. Usually, my response is a very vague "fucking awesome" because I'm a shit conversationalist without a beer in my hand and am afraid I'll need a bloody walker if  the words "don't drink in front of the children" cross my mind.

So in more detail, it was far beyond any other concert going experience I've ever had in my life. The first time out, I was just at the age where one would get a learner's permit out here. There was no way I could drive myself because the excitement was more distracting than even this texting thing whippersnappers apparently do behind the wheel these days. So my brother drove me. This was during a tour in '97 to promote City so things started off with what I affectionately called the dinner bell to mark the beginning of "Velvet Kevorkian." Goosebumps started creeping up my spine. That bit of a march beat kicked in and they spread to my neck and face. Dev finished his venue specific ranting and they transitioned into "All Hail the New Flesh." Thinking back on that 15.5 years later, I can barely type because the SYL rush is washing over my entire body and I'm compulsively throwing horns at a stage long since overhauled roughly 35 miles away. 

There was a snow emergency the night of their return to my region some six years later. My college shut down. My brothers told me they were considering confiscating my car keys for even considering driving half way across the state in that mess. The driveway had a good foot of dense, crunchy snow in it. I think they backed down because I made a call beforehand to check conditions. If either of them realized that translated to calling the venue to verify things were up and running on their end I'm guessing there would have been an intervention. 
My curiosity was burning bright. The City tour marked my first non-family sanctioned or chaperoned gig. Since then, I'd seen giants of the Metal scene tear down venues and drive crowds twenty or thirty times the size into a frenzy. Most of them made me go "meh" as they weren't up to the expectations set by The Lad. I had a tendency to be a pretentious d-bag back then. Was the scarcity of Strapping Young Lad on stages out here at the time even a minor part of why I was ready to bow down and swear eternal fealty? Then out they came to "Dire/Consequence" and I basically lost control until all shreds of doubt were utterly obliterated. 

So what made the gigs so special? Well, first off there were the songs themselves. My guess is anyone still reading knows that the weakest Strapping songs beat the living hell out of the best most competitors had to offer (and still do). The real key, however, was in the delivery. No matter how complex things got the dudes made it look fucking easy. I've been told a few times that "Oh My Fucking God" is pure studio wizardy and no part of it could possibly happen live without overdubs. It's rare for me to strike another person for stating an opinion but that particular one strikes me as utter blasphemy. I've been close enough to Jed while taking photos that there's been a need to dodge some rock moves. He didn't skip shit. When listening to the studio version, I can see Gene pounding away never missing a fucking beat despite having both eyes closed. He knew every millimeter of that kit and the chemistry between the band was such that I always had the impression everyone else did too. The boys clearly understood one another inside and out. There was a lot of love and trust on that stage and those of us in the "elite" cadre of people smart enough to observe multiple sets picked up on it.
That's not to say they ever slid into complacency. There was one show out in the Albany area during touring for Alien. The promoter screwed up, double booked the original venue, and communicated the change so poorly that I wasn't entirely sure the show was still happening much less where until maybe the day before the four-ish hour drive. To top off the unsurprisingly poor turnout, Byron looked about ready to fall asleep on his feet when I strolled over to say "hi" before the set. He also licked his chops at the mere mention of food as awesome as sandwiches crammed into a cooler for six hours. So clearly the friend I'd all but bullied into coming along because he missed every local show would be disappointed and there'd be communication faults out the whazoo, right? Wrong. The guy still talks about the show to this day and how utterly perfect it was. Since he's the type to spend 12 hours a day for a full week before the show reviewing every aspect of every version of every track to all but ensure disappointment and/or frustration, I'm considering his raves as glowing an endorsement as any.

I used to hate when people would say something smug-sounding like "pure fucking magic" in response to "how was seeing this band that I probably never will" type questions. Truth is sometimes that's how things truly were. In the course of my 13 or so times seeing The Lad there were hotel rooms, a replacement car, hours spent in brutally disgusting bathrooms due to sudden diet changes, and probably more money on gas than I earned in six months last year. Yet, I legitimately consider having been to each of those gigs a fucking privilege. 

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