Concert Review: Testament, Stuck Mojo, Strapping Young Lad, Withstand (1997)

Testament, Stuck Mojo, Strapping Young Lad, Withstand
Bogie’s (Albany, New York), August 30, 1997

It was an odd change from the usual pace when hometown heavy heroes Withstand took to Bogie’s tightly-packed stage and began playing for a thin, loosely-packed audience. Why the reversal? On the stage side, it was because the three touring bands brought a full big-rig’s worth of equipment (and set it all up beforehand) to support their respective sonic onslaughts. And on the floor? We can only speculate that the crowd was thinned by Labor Day defections. Or by new college kids not yet understanding that the under-cards are as good as the headliners at local hardcore and metal shows. Or by Withstand having to take the stage early due to the rigorously tight schedules imposed by the touring bands’ road management team. Or even by a particularly fine beer special back at the bar. Who can tell?

Whatever the reason(s), those who missed Withstand Saturday night lost out as the potent four-piece put on a short but intense set, highlighting material from their latest disc, . . . and anger was a warm place to hide. One interesting side- effect of the crowded stage was the opportunity to watch drummer Matt Fallon as he played on the front-line with his band-mates: his expressive and complex rhythms would have worked just as well at the Van Dyck as they did at Bogie’s, providing excellent insight into the mechanics of how Withstand swing so exuberantly in the spaces where many bands simply pummel.

Divinity students should be encouraged to attend Strapping Young Lad concerts in order to hear what bodies possessed by unclean spirits really sound and look like, as front-man Devin Townsend’s unbroken, high-speed stream of abusive, hateful gibberish certainly couldn’t have erupted from any human soul. Amazingly, Strapping Young Lad’s instrumental attack actually matched Townsend’s vocal assault: think Slayer-with-samplers for the general concept, then double the speed and intensity. Shocking, stunning and skull-ringing. And very, very, very cool.

Stuck Mojo offered a thinner, one guitar version of Strapping Young Lad’s twin-guitar aural assault; pre-programmed samples were also substituted for the Lad’s on-stage keyboard mayhem. Mojo’s unique sound came from their triple-voice interplay, which covered each of the heavy-music vocal stereotypes: they had the guttural growler on guitar, the strong- lunged shouter on guitar and the speed-demon, high octane wordsmith devoting himself solely to mouth-work. Powerful, but not quite as potent as the horror-show offered by Strapping Young Lad.

Testament also offered those three vocal styles, but they all came from one man: the hulking and hairy Chuck Billy, who did an utterly amazing job of switching between those voices at the drop of a dime-bag. Testament mixed material from their latest album, Demonic, into their hearty back-catalog, crafting a set that was as deep as it was loud — and believe me when I tell you that this was a loud set, indeed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a drum-kit as big as Testament’s outside of a Van Halen concert, as one noise-level datapoint.

Testament offered no encore Saturday night — not because the audience didn’t want one, but because I don’t think anyone involved in the show could have stood another minute of the volume. Kudos to the Testament-Mojo-Lad road-team and Bogie’s own crew for pulling this one off without anything exploding or melting down and for minimizing the between-set down-time through deft stage management. If you’d been there, you’d know what a clubland coup they pulled off.

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