Concert Review: Korn (Pepsi Arena, Albany, New York, June 23, 2002)

If you spend as much time reading, writing and talking about music as I do, you get pretty well accustomed to people regularly, blindly bitching about the quality of music in their own time, preferring instead to look back over their shoulders to lift up yesteryear’s tunes as the ones that really mattered, man. But I’m starting to get a point in my appreciation for modern metal where I’m inclined to lift up the early twenty-first century, right here, right now, as an era when not only were great metal bands making great metal music, but they were actually getting popular while they were doing it.

Last year’s (deserving) critical and commercial chart toppers were System of a Down, and based on what I’ve heard of Korn’s new album, and based on what I saw when the Cali-bred quintet dropped a down-tuned bomb on the Pepsi Arena Monday, I’m thinking that Jonathan Davis and company are gonna be the (equally deserving) banner-holders for metal that matters in 2002. They’ve done it, in part, by astutely distancing themselves over their past two albums (the new Untouchables and 1999’s Issues) from the puerile musical masqued maggortry of the Slipknot/Mudvayne side of the metal house, and the equally odious rap-metal cock-rockery of Limp Bizkit and their legions of imitators.

In short, Korn sound like Korn — and nobody else. And that’s become a really, really good thing as the group have honed their chops and taken their low-riding seven-string guitar-driven sound into all sorts of interesting new directions, none of them wanting in the least in the wallop department. Jonathan Davis has grown, too, managing to get both his low range bellow and his high pitched warble to work well for him, sometimes in the same song — or even the same line of the same song.

Davis was in fine voice Monday night, with a look to match as he stalked the stage like some sort of modern Rasputin, decked out in black dreads, a fuzzy sort of long sleeved sweatery-looking thing, and a fabulous floor length caftan-cum-skirt. He was anti-fashion and anti-lookist to the Nth degree, and was deliciously compelling for it, as he stalked and twitched and raged through a generous selection of fan favorites from throughout his band’s career, with “Falling Away from Me” and “Trash” from Issues, “Here to Stay” and “Thoughtless” from Untouchables, and “Faget” from Korn’s eponymous debut standing as the most vocally impressive of the lot.

Which is not to say that his bandmates weren’t impressive themselves, mind you. Guitarists James Shaffer and Brian Welch (the latter of whom also doubled up excellently on backing vocals) have finally dragged me, reluctantly, to the point where I can begin to accept the seven-string guitar as an instrument worthy of admiration, in large part because of what they did with the top end of their axes — instead of just grinding away on the extra low string. And that was cool, since bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu defined the bottom down just fine on his own, holding his bass in a unique, nearly vertical position as he played deeply percussive patterns around which drummer David Silveria rumbled and clattered. When it all clicked, it was nothing short of awesome.

As opposed to, say, Puddle of Mudd, this year’s frontrunners in the Nirwanna-be sweepstakes, and Monday night’s middlin’ middle act. The straightforward rock quartet have got three tunes in regular rotation on regional rock radio — all of them the kind of nondescript songs that don’t make you change the station, but also don’t make you turn the radio up louder when you hear them. Ho hum, but still the high points of a quickly forgotten set. Deadsy (featuring Elijah Blue Allman, spawn of Cher and Gregg, on vocals and guitar) were much more intriguing during their opening set, creating a powerful Marilyn Manson-meets-Swans sound, capped with noisily neat synth-guitar and keyboard horrors. Elijah’s got a pretty compelling baritone voice that makes his material sound more interesting than it probably is, but I’m certainly willing to be sucked into his rock star fantasia with him if he and his bandmates can build on this impressive first taste of their fare.

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