Monday, May 26, 2008

On the Guest List with OK Go!

Damian of OK Go making the girls cry at Manifest / Photo provided by the author (me!)

When I arrived at Grant Park to meet with Damian Kulash, lead singer of native Chicagoans OK Go, I soon realized that this was no casual Friday for Columbia College students. Sure, those city kids are, on average, a bit more stylish than, say, Northwesterners—every student rocking that unique, non-conformist hipster look— but I thought something was off when I passed by the library and saw someone dressed exactly like Wonder Woman. A New Yorker at heart, I shrugged it off— when a few minutes later, I peered out a window from a local Subway restaurant only to find two students walking on stilts and pretending to ride ostriches. Fearing that I accidentally fell asleep on the El and woke up in New Orleans, I rushed out of the restaurant and snatched the first newspaper I could find (out of the hands of a man dressed like Sweeney Todd, nevertheless.) When I read the headline, I was relieved to find out that I was indeed in the right city, and that OK Go was actually in town that love Friday, May 16th to headline a show for Manifest Urban Arts Festival. After my adventure, Damian and I met up during sound check and embarked on a new mission: to find the best café on the block.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

On the Guest List with Kataklysm!

Album art courtesy of Nuclear Blast.

After reading the numerous quotes provided by press releases and reviews describing Canadian death metal band Kataklysm and their latest studio release Prevail, I was convinced that this was the most evil metal album ever. Something about the combination of chains, skeletons, and evil creatures in the artwork was unsettling in the best way, while track titles like "As Death Lingers" and "The Vultures Are Watching" only perpetuated my darkest expectations. I can't say I was too surprised when I first listened to the album, which is set for release in the US on May 27, but I've got to hand it to these guys-- Prevail is melodic and technical enough to please the casual fan, but also technical and heavy enough to satisfy every metalhead's primitive need for something fast and, well... "death metal" to the core.

I had a chance to speak with Maurizio Iacono, the lead vocalist of Kataklysm, about the new album, touring, and life. Our phone interview is split up into 15 short clips.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Prog Metal Heroes Rock Chicago

by Dan Solera

Ed note: to kick of Chicago Avenue's "Metal Month of May" we had guest writer Dan Solera submit his perspective on the Progressive Nation 2008 concert in Chicago on May 13, 2008.

Dream Theater, Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Records.

For a progressive metalhead, the thought of seeing Opeth and Dream Theater at the same show is like taking a toddler to Six Flags and then Disney World all in one day. Just having the two progressive metal mavens under the same roof is enough to cause a stroke, so naturally my presence at this event was a necessity.

Progressive Nation 2008 at the Rosemont Theater on May 13th opened with New York rock band 3, whose stage setup and band lineup raised several eyebrows. For one thing, it's not exactly commonplace to find a frontman thrashing with an electro-acoustic guitar; nor is it the norm for bands to have a percussionist in addition to a drummer. But any doubt or criticism was immediately expelled when the band members came together to deliver 3's experimental soundscape. Once unfamiliar with the band, it did not take long for me to be floored by singer/guitarist Joey Eppard's riffing when combined with Billy Riker's lead sequences and Joe Stote's conga-style percussion. Towards the end of their set, Eppard took a solitary moment to showcase his guitar skills in "Amaze Disgrace" by finger-picking his electro-acoustic guitar at impossible speeds. Though still rising in the ranks of prominent metal bands, I became a fan of 3 after their brief set list.

Between the Buried and Me followed afterwards. I was equally unfamiliar with the North Carolina foursome, but was not as impressed as I was by 3's world-influenced metal. BTBAM's sound is characterized by heavy guitars, raspy screams, and songs with a sectioned structure that rarely reprise – though to be honest, since the lyrics were inscrutable, it was difficult to ever know if the lyrics were ever being repeated. Though I was impressed to hear such evil sounds coming out of singer Tommy Rogers' pipes, the never-ending noise that the metalcore band's songs delivered ran a bit long.

Opeth, Photo courtesy of Roadrunner Records.

Fortunately, I had Opeth to look forward to. It was my third time seeing the band, whose lineup had changed significantly since the first time I saw them at the House of Blues during their Damnation tour. Not only had they added keyboardist Per Wiberg as a full-time band member, but they had replaced drummer Martín López with Martin Axenrot and second guitarist Peter Lindgren with Fredrik Ǻkesson. But in spite of such changes, singer/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Ǻkerfeldt's charm has gone completely unchanged. Known for his deep, eloquent voice and surprisingly goofball remarks, he still has the same air of commanding confidence that makes him almost loveable.

His personality contrasts starkly with his music: brutal, mercilessly loud, and unapologetically long. In their 60+ minute setlist, they only played six songs, five of which were from their four most recent albums, and one from their upcoming "Watershed" release. Each song in one way or another explores two sides of the Opeth coin: firestorm guitars and breakneck drums ("Wreath", "Master's Apprentices"), and serene acoustics layered with Ǻkerfeldt's clean voice and Wiberg's atmospheric keys ("In My Time of Need", "The Drapery Falls"). With a growing fan base and a proven track record, Opeth continues to ascend.

And now, onto the main event. As the crew disassembles Opeth's gear, the curtain is raised to reveal Mike Portnoy's colossal drum kit, Jordan Rudess' keyboard altar, numerous projectors, screens, and the papier-mâché ants that characterize the album art for Dream Theater's most recent album, Systematic Chaos. After a whirlwind introduction that documented the band's musical history over the last 20 years in just under a minute, the American quintet kicked off their 90-minute setlist with the first half of "In the Presence of Enemies", the opening track on Systematic Chaos. Another band known for its long, elaborate songs, Dream Theater, through Portnoy's careful research, are basically forced nightly into meticulously picking out a balanced setlist for each city.

At the Rosemont Theater, they played anthemic heavy songs ("Misunderstood", "Forsaken"), progressive monoliths ("Beyond this Life", "Voices"), ballads ("The Ministry of Lost Souls"), all of which gave each member their chance to shine as only these master musicians can. Complex improvised sections and virtuoso musicianship have become staples of any Dream Theater show. During an extended version of "Metropolis Pt 1", Jordan Rudess temporarily abandoned his keyboard shrine with a futuristic keyboard-guitar and "dueled" with guitarist John Petrucci before returning to the song's main thread. Sequences such as these allow for vast musical tapestries to be painted, all of which have their own corresponding video projected behind the band as they play.

At the end of the night, all of our senses had been assaulted. From the deafening guitars provided by every band, to Opeth's projected spider webs and Dream Theater's videos and gigantic ants, it was a visual spectacle as much as it was an auditory onslaught. It is rare for two prominent metal bands such as these to team up for a tour, and I'm glad to have seized the moment to rock out. An international bill of artists from Stockholm to New York, Progressive Nation rocked Chicago by the sounds of innovation.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

On the Guest List with Yelle!

As Mika Miko would say, "Get Excited!" because this is the first episode of my new series "On the Guest List." We bring you backstage for interviews and concert diaries of the hottest artists. Our show is uncensored, so you'll witness all the fun and hilarious moments we share with the artists and their diehard fans. And now I give you Yelle (note - I also write for a publication called North By Northwestern, and this is what I submitted for them):