Deena Weinstein says in her book ‘heavy metal’ that live shows are where all the elements of the rock subculture culminate. It is the epicentre of everything. A Mecca for metalheads.
As a fan you will typically engage in all the aspects that revolve around the music you love. You will begrudgingly buy the new EP that your fav band has just released, not caring if its garbage or not, play it over and over again until it grows on you. You’ll buy band t-shirts from the merch dealer and collect various copies of the local fanzine and collect all these as a decorated warrior would collect spoils of war.
Collectibles are all good and dandy, but compared to shows they are like the spoils of war for the warrior. Does the warrior live for the spoils of war? Nay. He lives for one fleeting moment. When the blood in his veins is steeled at the prospect of disemboweling his opponent and causing mayhem on the field of war. The warrior’s bloodlust rages with visions of mud strewn battlefields, where fear and thrill are intermixed. Where his ax will rip apart his opponents bowels and expose his hot innards for the crows to pick at. The crack of bone and gurgling of blood in dead men’s throats. This is where the wails of wounded men, the smoke from burning villages and the thunder of horses drag us back to our banal natures. Great battles when ended will be exaggerated and carried vividly in the minds of listeners through tales and a bards song. But that fleeting experience can never be relived as you can only live once. It is the same for shows.
Metalheads live for shows! It is where all the ingredients boil down, weeks or even days before the show, souls will be scorched with the unquenchable fire of anticipation, and as one Jamir Adiong would attest, the experience is consigned to history, the proof of which can only be attested to by one who attended. Live shows are so exhilarating that some people like Corpse Grinder only listen to live albums! Its that serious. So it is not far removed that a fan that consistently goes to shows would affect to expect that it be a different experience each time. Seeing that bands earn their living primarily from shows.
No matter how great a bands live persona is, no matter how good the songs or the sound are, they have to be constantly reinvented. This little saying is helpful. People like Russian delight, until you serve it to them five days straight.
One thing that has always stood out in heavy metal is the energy of its live performances. To the avid fan, the live experience is tons more important than the normal phone playlist head-banging. It is when the audience meets its suppliers in the market place of the moshpit that real heavy metal business takes place and energy exchanges hands, and feet and heads. The music is loud, the lights are low and the psychedelic and the rock and roll love is in the air. Bands that know their shit invest heavily in their live showcase and to the thronging masses. The key is to capture the attention of the audience from the second the show begins, until the end so that nobody walks away from the pit, they should just increase in number and in union.
From the age old phantasm shows of Alice Cooper to the otherworldly craziness of Marilyn Manson, live theatrics have always been a favourite of heavy metal musicians. The ability for a band to use the stage like a canvas and fuck with the emotions of the audience always takes precedence. The live theatrics and stage presence of a band can quickly put it on the spotlight to have a steady stream of rotten eggs and overripe tomatoes thrown at it. Balancing the three organs of heavy metal is topmost for any band worth its elements. Namely:great quality production(musically), Creative visuals and merchandising, and awesome as fuck live performances.this is the equation of the heavy metal alchemist, the philosopher’s stone of crushing the barner and invoking the aid of unseen forces.
In Kenya the scene has had its fair share of live gigs and performances, but not of theatrics. Its like bands give too much of a shit in their reputations in this conservative jungle, that they play like any other Afro fusion band would. This is rock and roll baby! Fuck shit up! Go hard or fap in your bedroom boy. Like the monstrous brutality Boargazm brought to s from the misty table of the mountains (I suck at puns). Ask anyone who was at that show and they will positively tell you how awesome it was. From the masks they wore, to their stage presence, and how they interacted with the crowd. They made it so fun and easy, shit was insane, the fan got hit repeatedly. I can at least give it up to absence of light. Angad and Jay brought their metal to the fore at that club Iconic gig where they had corpse paint on. That was cool and it wouldn’t hurt for other bands to polish up on their costumes and props.
Aside from theatrics, bands in recent years can be commended for trying to shake things up a little. A good example is Parking Lot Grass who have gone from co-performing with Rafael Sipalla, Douglas Kihoro and even their new drummer. One particular show that I enjoyed watching Last Year’s Tragedy was Platform 7 at the Rooftop in Westlands on Halloween night where they acted more like fans in a moshpit than a band on stage. Both parking lot grass must be commended for allowing fan participation in their shows. This has perhaps been a blessing in disguise, because it has turned around shows that from the beginning bore signs of being uninspiring. Allowing Bizzaro, pictured below, to co-perform with their own artists has added energy and thrill to shows.
Seismic have also been credited for switching up their live performances. While performing at the bus, front man* Rafael Sipalla did an acoustic version of Adam Lambert’s ‘What do you want from me’.
Strobe and laser lights, with the occasional smoke machine have been used to enhance the stage experience.
Of course these efforts may not seem like much but they go a long way. It is progress. With bands getting paid, shows being planned for way in advance, and with better stage equipment being available in the country, we hope in the future to see bands taking greater leaps to making shows more memorable.
In the meantime at least, bands, especially the ones that perform frequently should start think of evolving their stage persona. Maybe slowly invest in props and start systematically working on a variety of stage routines, some sort of skit, a musical even. Perhaps shows may even benefit from creative set lists, an unexpected cover here and there and so on.
So if you are in a band and you are reading this, think. Think of the most awesome live performance you have seen on YouTube, or even at home and identify what stuck for you. It is not a joke, a heavy metal musicians should present the whole damn package to the consumer, music, presence, visuals, theatrics, props everything, the whole fucking package. I encourage bands to come out of their little boxes and use the infinite powers of shock values to their advantage. You won’t regret that shit, and pass me a blunt when you are done.
by Martin Kanja & Dani L Kobimbo.