‘Twas one of those days when, for me at least, Murphy’s Law took center stage, but it stopped the minute we got the Apocalyptica tickets in our hands. It was a little late by the time we were ready to go into Rams Head Live, but it was a good thing because it gave me a rare chance to really people-watch, and my my, was it a sight. It was as if Otakuzone came to life. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but it was definitely “Cosplay meets metal” night. “I should’ve seen this coming,” I told myself as I watched various gothic Lolitas with bright pink hair, bling and makeup, and excessive stripes enter the venue. Silly me, I thought. Japanese metal band Dir En Grey was a supporting act for Apocalyptica when they were, in fact, co-headlining the entire tour with them. Of COURSE their massive fanbase was here. I braced myself for an interesting night.
By the time I got into the venue, guest band Evaline was already into their second song or so. Now, ladies and gentlemen, THIS band is something you should check out. I checked out their Myspace profile before the show, after thinking that it was a solo female artist or female-fronted band (the band name reminded me of Leave’s Eyes for some reason, okay?). Obviously I was proven wrong; this was a sextet from Turlock, with some neat songs I was keen to check out. I know Shockwave’s Justus Steel and Vince Anderson probably beg to differ (editor's note: no begging, they blew), but I thought their set was great. In my defense, I have eclectic tastes in music. Evaline is yet another band with a pair of siblings, with Greg Petersen on drums and Daniel Petersen on baritone guitar - whatever that is. I’m sure it’s different from regular guitar. Probably.
Vocalist Richard Perry came across as a combination of Tokio Hotel’s Bill Kaulitz and Muse’s Matt Bellamy. His voice had the same emotional rawness which most metallers would probably dismiss as “too gay” or simply “eurgh”. Perhaps it also had something to do with the tight pants he was wearing and the way he was straddling the mic; there’s Bill for you alright. Well, not my favorite type of vocals, but I liked his voice and showmanship. I also relished the fact that this band made use of different effects and instruments to create a unique sound they could call their own. One of the members played the keyboard for part of their songs, and even a chorded zither. Bravo, bravo! Really blew my mind. The sound and lighting was excellent, one of the reasons why Rams Head Live is still my favorite local venue. A gargantuan THANK YOU to the Rams Head Live staff for their first-rate work and cooperation, you really are what makes Baltimore rock! One of Evaline’s songs had what went down in my books as “the most epic ending, EVER.” It segued into a drum solo which was not only performed by the drummer, but joined in by the other members who picked up sticks and proceeded to whack the bejeezus out of the drumset and a couple of random toms sitting around on the stage, later joined in by Steven Pedersen on the bass in perfect harmony. I swear these guys joined drum corps. Brilliant show.
And so, on to Dir En Grey. Did I mention how diverse the crowd was? No, not fashion-wise, but in terms of the people itself. Plenty of young people as well as older folks, there to rock out with their kids. It warmed the very strings of my heart. Not really. Well, it did till I realized just how many GIRLS were in the place. Girls, girls, girls, outnumbering the guys seven to one (ha, now YOU know what it feels like). Well, Mikko did say that singer Kyo was good-looking. When the members emerged, I immediately thought “Beauty - DEFINITELY in the eye of the beholder.” Not to diss these guys, they were attractive, just not what I was into. They looked like the slightly androgynous heartthrobs in those East Asian dramas my mom used to watch. Bassist Toshiya could have easily been Jay Chou in a skirt. Speaking of the skirt, that was not my favorite item of clothing the band was rocking, but their style overall was distinctive and appealing. I really liked the toned-down Gothic vibe they gave off, I preferred it to the more extreme visual kei fashion the band used to be famous for. Shinya was possibly the best dressed drummer I’ve ever seen, with a button-down shirt and slacks and the works (gasp!).
Well, Mikko was right this time – these guys were power-packed. Starting with “Sa Bir” from the latest album, Uroboros, the band made an almost haunting entrance which gained in momentum faster than you can say “Gaika, Chinmoku Ga Nemuru Koro”. Now THAT was a song I really liked. Dir En Grey certainly made exceptional use of unconventional instruments, like the sitar and mandolin, in their songwriting. There was some really great guitar work and bass lines especially in tracks like *takes a deep breath* “Hageshisa To Kono Mune No Naka De Karamitsuita Shekunetsu No Yami”, and I found myself actually jumping along and bobbing my head. Other songs, I didn’t find too impressive musically. Some were infectious but merely used the four generic chords. I was not too crazy about Kyo’s vocals. It had variety but I could hardly hear what he was saying (so what if it’s not English? I want to hear what he’s singing). At times there was this high-pitched shrieking, at other times it sounded like meditation chants. He shouted some things to the crowd in Japanese, making them go wild, which only goes to show their music transcends language barriers for sure. Well, it was a sound really different than what I’m used to, and the first time I’d seen so many chicks go crazy over a metal band. I spoke to some girls about what they found really special about this band, and they gave me a whole story about how the five of them had been together all this time, sticking together through thick and thin while going through so many changes in image and music as a band etc, so there’s a lot more to them than meets the eye.
At last, the lovely Finnish people that I was here to see. Of course they had to play “Wherever I May Roam” and “Master of Puppets.” What’s an Apocalyptica concert without their Metallica covers? It’s easy to forget that it took years of training and perseverance for these guys to become the cello maestros they are now. They are absolutely insane onstage, running all over the place. Perttu, my favorite member, played the cello like a guitar at times, bowing like a madman. He definitely got the most points for style, unbuttoned shirt and all. I loved their slow numbers the most; they were pure and simply heavenly, especially the really quiet moments with tons of pizzicato (editor's note: plucking with fingers instead of the bow). “Beautiful” was a hit with the crowd, when Mikko took over the bass duties. Guest singer Tipe Johnson did a great job with “I’m Not Jesus”, “I Don’t Care” and “End of Me.” Still my dream to see Corey Taylor perform with them live though. The last song was “Hall of the Mountain King”, a classic played most spectacularly. Maybe I am too familiar with Apocalyptica because although they were, for me, still the best in terms of music, Evaline and Dir En Grey were the ones that really blew me away. Extraordinary bands you don’t find every day. Did I expect Dir En Grey to end up on my playlist when I got home? No. But I guess that’s just what music does to you sometimes – you find beauty in the unexpected.
Interview with Mikko Siren