A diary for one of the better weekends of this year, concert venue hopping included!
London or Utrecht? That was the only question for me when Scar Symmetry (melodic death / modern / progressive metal from Sweden) announced their co-headliner shows with Vuur (progressive metal from the Netherlands). Because I hadn’t seen them live in ages and felt like I needed to change that, and this run was supposed to be the only Scar Symmetry shows this year. The decision was made for London when I realized that Mastodon were going to be in the city a day after; this way I wouldn’t have to worry about how I’d be able to fit one of their German shows into my schedule… Besides, London is probably my favourite destination alltogether, so I didn’t mind the excuse for a nice little weekend trip! Tickets purchased, flights booked, ready to go.
Then, little over a week before the trip, I saw Damnation Angels for the first time and it was amazing! I bought a tourshirt after the show… and discovered a London date on the list… right on the same day as the Mastodon gig, in a different venue at the other end of the city. I was torn… it would be so great to see Damnation Angels again, but I certainly didn’t want to miss Mastodon. That’s when my mathematical brain starts working. Assuming that both shows would run approximately on the same schedule (doors at 7, two support acts, one headliner, curfew at 11), and considering that Damnation Angels were the main support for Threshold while Mastodon were headlining – it might be possible to do both! I’d have exactly the time frame between main support and headliner to get from O2 Academy Islington (north of the city centre) to O2 Academy Brixton (far in the south of the city). That time frame might be a maximum of 30 minutes, and according to Google I’d need 35 minutes, but it might be worth to miss 5-10 minutes of Mastodon if I’d get 40 minutes of Damnation Angels in return? Madness, I told myself, and dismissed the plan. But the thing is, once I have an idea stuck in my head, it’s hard to get it out of there…
London day 1 – Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
I left Hamburg right when it was starting to snow, and arrived in London in brightest sunshine. Breaking news: for the first time ever (despite having been to the UK countless times) I discovered a police emergency phone box (to some people better known as ‘Tardis’ 😉) in the streets, outside Earl’s Court underground station. Later in the day, I also saw the phone box’ little sister – the police post box!
My first destination after checking into my hostel was Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. I had been there a few years ago already so I knew what to expect: nothing less than the most ridiculous place I’ve ever seen! Because it is apparently heavily inspired by German festivities, but still, from a German point of view, it is completely wrong. In Germany, there are christmas markets – cosy, peaceful places with stalls selling traditional handcrafted goods and all kinds of food. One might have a bit too much Glühwein (mulled wine) there, but apart from that, christmas markets are not exactly a huge party. But then, there’s the Bavarian Octoberfest – even though it is based on old traditions, this is where you dance on the tables and drink beer until you’re lying under said furniture. Well, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland – it is both. It is a weird mix of German christmas markets and Octoberfest and funfairs and it’s just overall wrong!!! 😂 Still attracts shitloads of people, but it’s the place that shouldn’t be.
Then why did I go there again even though I already knew I didn’t like it? The answer is simple: Last time, I had the best fries of my life there. Usually I’m not a fan of fries, but I needed to have those fries again. Perfect thick, crunchy fries in hot curry sauce. I mady my way across that bloody Winter Wonderland until I found them, I savoured every bite, and then I left as fast as I could.
At that point, as I was wandering aimlessly through London’s streets, I realized that I really really wanted to see Damnation Angels the next day, even more than Mastodon. So it was time to put my crazy plan into action… On my way to Tufnell Park, where Vuur and Scar Symmetry were going to play, I made a detour to Islington Academy’s box office and bought a ticket for the next day.
In my experience, the good people of London start queuing for concerts incredibly early, so I was surprised to find not a single soul outside The Dome Tufnell Park when I got there late in the afternoon. But this changed soon, as I was joined by someone who had been an ‘instagram friend’ of mine for a while already without ever really talking to him. It’s nice when this anonymous ‘following’ that is so common on Instagram actually turns into real life interaction!
After we fortunately didn’t die of the freezing cold, the show was opened by Dutch band My Propane whom I had already seen opening for Epica in Nijmegen two months ago. They are good, they are impressive, but I think they are the kind of band that you really have to spend some time on, to listen to their music with full attention, to get into them. Which I might do at some point. 😉
Then it was time for my first highlight of the weekend, Scar Symmetry. They played for about 60 minutes, and surprisingly the set didn’t focus so much on the last album The Singularity: Phase I, but covered every album of the band’s history. Unfortunately, the sound was really horrible, sometimes it was almost impossible to make out which song the band was playing! The only one who was able to stand out was Roberth Karlsson, one of the two vocalists in the band, who is responsible for the harsh vocals. He sounded great and actually much better than what I remembered from the last time I saw them in 2015. However, the rest of the band, especially the catchy clean vocal melodies and the fabulous shredding of Scar Symmetry’s mastermind Per Nilsson got lost in a blur of noise. And of course it’s difficult to win a crowd with a sound like that (especially as the majority of people seemed to be there for Vuur, despite Scar Symmetry’s co-headliner status), so the audience was rather static. Still, the gig leaves me hungry for new Scar Symmetry, I’d say it’s about damn time for The Singularity: Phase II!
Everything was well though when Vuur started playing. In opposite to Scar Symmetry, Vuur’s sound was completely alright, a proper treat for our ears. If you have never heard of Vuur – it’s a newly formed band lead by Anneke van Giersbergen who is mostly known for being a former singer of The Gathering. If you are a bit more familiar with the Dutch (symphonic) metal scene, you will see a few more familiar faces in the band, like Jord Otto (who was in Floor Jansen’s amazing band ReVamp, and also on double duties tonight as he played in My Propane as well) and Johan van Stratum (mostly known for playing in the lovely Stream of Passion). To me, Vuur are a band you just have to love! The songs have a progressive touch but are still easily accessible, there are some heavy riffs but still there’s beauty, mostly because the melodies are carried by the unique voice of Anneke van Giersbergen. And of course she is the stunning center of attention at a Vuur show. I don’t like terms like ‘role model’ (everybody can be their own role model, right?) but if you really needed a role model for women in metal, my vote would be on Anneke. She is the prototype of a female singer who is not just a young chick in a tight corset who sings the songs the guys in the band wrote for her, but a respectable, experienced artist and songwriter, and besides absolutely beautiful as a grown woman and mother. On stage (and off stage too as far as I can tell), she is an adorable personality, her energy and her smile are infectious! And as I said before, her voice is really something else! When I saw Vuur in November opening for Epica (opening for Epica is a reoccurring theme with the bands of this night. Just take a guess where I might have seen Scar Symmetry in 2015… 😁) I had the impression that her voice was a bit lost and lacking in power amongst the heavy guitars, but this time, she was easily shining above the instrumentals. To sum it up: Great sound, great music, experienced musicians who love what they do… Yes please, more of this! (There’s a European tour coming up soon, I’d recommend y’all start looking for tickets… 😉)
London day 2
The next day, I took it easy, after all I had to save my energy for the evening. Slept in, chilled a bit at the hostel, didn’t open the curtains so I had to learn from other people’s instagram stories that the sun had left London and it was snowing instead… Finally I left the hostel just to crash in the next coffee shop for another hour or two and watched the snow turn into rain. I have to say, I was glad that my spontaneous decision to see Damnation Angels saved me from queuing all day for Mastodon as I would have done otherwise… After a little stroll through Camden Market (vegan burgers ftw) I arrived at Islington Academy far too early, but… it’s not like that would be an unusual thing for me.
I have written plenty about Damnation Angels, who they are and why they are so fantastic in my blog about their show in Hamburg (click here). The set in London was a little shorter than the one in Hamburg due to time restrictions, and parts of the band seemed to be a little tired (good for them it was the last show of the tour), but the sound mix was surprisingly smooth, much better than in Hamburg, and singer Iggy Rodriguez seemed to be in top shape, his voice sounding very warm and powerful and taking all the high notes with ease. I really hope these guys keep their promises of a new album and headline tour in 2018!
And then the hunt began. DA finished around 20.45, Mastodon were supposed to start at 21.10 according to a schedule revealed on the venue page earlier in the day. I didn’t have any time to lose, buttoned my coat on my way out of the building, literally ran to the underground station, almost fell down the escalator because I was running too fast, jumped onto the train with my earplugs still in my ears. Arrived at Brixton station around 21.13, and then it was another sprint to the entrance of the iconic Academy. It turned out it was my lucky day – Mastodon hadn’t started yet after all, and didn’t come on stage for another ten minutes, so I had enough time to get out of my coat again and find a good spot. The slope-like floor of Brixton Academy was very welcome because it is possible to have a good view from almost everywhere in the venue.
My expectations for Mastodon were extremely high, and I have to admit they weren’t fulfilled. Not because they didn’t play or sing well, quite the opposite! (I especially like how they share lead vocals between three band members, it gives the songs that little extra and live this stands out more than on the records.) But unfortunately, the sound was very weak and robbed the songs of the brilliancy of the individual instruments. It got much better over the course of the set – maybe the sound tech was doing his job right, or maybe it had something to do with where I was standing, because I moved slowly from the side to the center and from the back to the front during the show. (I’m not an expert on room acoustics, I have no idea if a few meters in such a big venue can make much of a difference.) And even if Mastodon pimped their performance with a good light show and great visuals – this gig proved that the sound is crucial for a great show. Bands might worry about their performance and playing well and the setlist and even their outfits for f*ck’s sake, but the thing they should worry about most is whether they sound alright in every part of the room. After all, the people on the barrier or at the sides paid just as much as the people standing at the sound desk where the sound is supposed to be the best. In my experience, this is a problem at too many shows, and considering how many bands state that playing live is what is keeping them alive nowadays, I think the concert industry might have to do their homework in this regard! (It’s not as if there weren’t more than enough concerts that sound amazing, but if Vuur or Damnation Angels manage to sound good in little venues, you’d expect that it would be possible for Mastodon at a renowned venue like Brixton Academy too, right? It certainly shouldn’t be just a matter of coincidence?)
Rant over, back to Mastodon – despite the sound issues, the gig was impressive and I had a great time! They are obviously skilled musicians, the setlist left nothing to be desired, and most of the crowd seemed to love it! The gig ended a little bit unusual – after 17 songs, the band left the stage, drummer Brann Dailor gave a little speech thanking the crew for their hard work, and that was it, no encore. It felt quite weird, but I guess you can’t complain after a set of 90 minutes without a break. All in all, Mastodon are just a really interesting live band as there are so many little details to their music, and I will surely give them another chance in the future, hopefully with better sound then!
The end of this amazing weekend couldn’t be less romantic – very little sleep, a very early flight home on Monday morning, which was unfortunately delayed, so I was several hours late for work. Welcome back to reality…