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  • Rich Kassirer

Concert Review: Testing My Metal

Dragonforce at the Worcester Palladium
Dragonforce at the Worcester Palladium.

When my son Adam asked me to take him and his friend to see his favorite metal band, I was a little nervous. Not because I was worried that my 13-year-old would be safe among a rowdy crowd of leather-and-black-clad metal types or that we had to travel 60 miles to the rough-and-tumble town of Worcester. No, I was worried whether or not I could survive four hours of loud, head-banging music. But not only did I survive the three bands – Taking Dawn, Sonata Arctica and Dragonforce – I actually enjoyed myself. No, I didn’t come away loving the music, but I had a great time being a fly on the wall at an event I never would have gone to. Here is my experience (in chronological order).


The Palladium is a great venue to see a show. It’s an old theater with a few tables, but mostly just standing room on tiered levels, so you can see over the people in front of you. There is plenty of floor space for moshing. The show wasn’t sold out so there was ample room to move around.


The first band on was Taking Dawn, who immediately made my night. If you were to parody a metal band (can you say Spinal Tap?), these guys were it. After the first song, the singer shouts to the mildly interested crowd, “You guys F-ing suck! Get loud, Massachusetts!” Following the second song, “Massachusetts, you guys suck! We wanna see you either punch the guy next to you or show us your tits!” Seriously, that was supposed to inspire us? How about play some good tunes. They lambasted fans after nearly every song of their six-tune set, and then as they are walking off the stage, the dude shouts “Massachusetts, we love you!” Really.


Heavy metal, even more than rock ’n’ roll, is predominately a guy thing. The crowd at this show was probably 75 percent guys, maybe more. I understand the ol’ guitar-as-phallus, the tight leather pants, the shirtless, bulked-up guitar player. But who are these bands trying to impress?


Next up was the Finnish power metal group Sonata Arctica, definitely a step up in quality. The group is led by a singer who reminded me of a mix of Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) and Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) for the hardcore set. The band’s sound was more arty, more melodic, like an overly heavy Yes.


Finally, it was time for Dragonforce, the band we came to see. Dragonforce, I’ve learned, is more than its music. Yes, they are known for their speed-metal prowess. The guitarists certainly can play their instruments fast. But they are also a show. Before the band came out, the roadies set up a number of boxes on the front lip of the stage, but from my vantage point, I couldn’t tell what they were. It turns out they were industrial fans used to blow the band members’ hair back for effect!


The band’s stage setup was dramatic, with cool effects lighting that included strobes and ricocheting beams of light and a fog machine. A riser, probably a foot high and 10 feet long, allowed the guitarists to leap up and off after particularly speedytastic solos.


The two guitarists, Herman Li and Sam Totman, are a blast to watch. Li is Asian and not who you’d picture as a typical metal player. But he can play, running his fingers from both hands up and down the neck during solos. Totman was clad in the funkiest glow-in-the dark green and yellow leopard-printed spandex. His best moments included high leaps off the riser, playing the guitar lying on his back next to the drummer, and drinking his beer attached to his mike stand from a long straw.


Vadim Pruzhanov, the keyboard player, not to be out done, was a show of his own. Standing behind his huge organ (no pun intended) on a high riser in the back, he could be seen in silhouette jumping, pinwheeling his arms and pounding the keys. His big moment came a little over midway through the show when he and the keyboard player for Sonata Arctica stepped to the front in a duel of keytars. It was awesome.


Singer ZP Theart has a big voice, but has little to do during the extended guitar and keyboard solos. He fills his time by running offstage to fetch plastic water bottles, then running back onstage, splashing fans and tossing the bottle into the crowd. My guess was he was trying to splash the women, but I don’t know for sure.


The crowd surfing was a unique experience for me, having never seen it live. Not sure if this is typical, but it hit Adam and me the same way, like something out of “Catcher in the Rye.” As the kids rode to the front of the crowd, the burly security guards would snatch them up and deposit them safely on the ground, like Holden Caulfield in the corn field.


For the encore, fans were rewarded with Dragonforce’s most popular song, “Through the Fire and the Flames.” An extended, multiple face-melting guitar solos extravaganza that had fans pumping their heavy-metal salute in time to the beat. Beams of white light blasted through the crowd as the guitarists reeled off scorching solos. During those solos, the singer was doing his water-bottle thing and then trying to punt the bottles into crowd, but twice hit security guards at the side of the stage. A YouTube video catches the scene perfectly, and you can hear Theart apologizing to them. A classic moment and a great finish to a really fun night.

For more awesome pics, click HERE.

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