The word is out. Volbeat is far from a secret. Those not familiar with the Danish rock and metal powerhouse are officially behind in the count now. Playing the Best Buy Theater in the burning neon heart of Times Square, Volbeat had sold out the show weeks in advance. I had it on pretty damn good authority that industry people, journalists and an audience from all over Europe were flying into New York City to witness this show. Volbeat has reached that critical, frozen-in-time moment in any band’s career – the moment when they have the chance to leave the shackles of the underground grind behind them and catapult into stardom. The sold-out crowd was there simply to bear witness.
Opening the show was Spoken, who is sort of the mirror for where Volbeat was just a few short years ago. A hungry, workman-like act from Arkansas, Spoken was essentially given twenty minutes to make as much of an impression on the crowd as time would allow. To that end, they impressed pretty solidly, gaining the clapped accolades of those nearest the stage as the band thundered through a set largely promoting their newest release, “Illusion.” As they pounded through the new single “Through it All,” it became harder to fathom how Spoken remains in such obscurity after seventeen years of toil. Spoken is musically tight and genre relevant, blending a deep bass thud with screamed but controlled vocals. If you’re not familiar, this might be worth a quick look.
The next table setter for the presumed coronation of Volbeat was another long-time rock and roll veteran, the Canadian three-piece powerhouse known as Danko Jones. In what would become a trend for the rest of the evening, Jones played very few tracks from his/their newest record “Rock and Roll is Black and Blue,” which was most notably represented by “Just A Beautiful Day.” Apart from that, Danko led the crowd through a complete catalogue of his most famous hits, from the longtime radio single “Lovercall” to the energetic opener “Had Enough.” It was this opening which set the tone for the set to follow, as Jones allowed his passion for music to course through the amps and out over the crowd. For their part, the gathered throngs were more than receptive to Danko Jones’ brand of lust-fueled rock, drinking in the pumped-up hubris of the central figure on stage.
Playing his part, Danko Jones himself is a character not totally unlike some kind of professional wrestler, magnifying his own personality and single-handedly carrying the emotional payload of his live act. In a rock and roll/metal audience, it’s a gutsy step to feature few if any guitar solos, but Jones keeps attention focused on himself by giving his all to his vocal performance. Just listening to “I Think Bad Thoughts” or “Cadillac” live in person was practically exhausting (in this case a compliment,) as the lead man and his band acted as though the night’s show in New York City might well be their last.
Following that, the theater had filled in completely in anticipation of the Danish rock showpiece to come. The crowd’s fervent desire to drink in and lend their energy to Volbeat was palpable, the kind of anticipation rarely seen in most crowds. A full ten minutes before the set began, lines at the bars and merchandise stands had mostly dissipated, every paying customer jockeying for position in an attempt to attain the best sight line and be part of the show that would follow.
Then out came Michael Poulsen, adorned in vest and sheriff’s badge, the lights above simulating the far-off fury of a desert thunderstorm. On the day that “Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies” released, the common expectation was that Volbeat would begin with something from that record. But it wasn’t to be, as those in attendance were greeted with the power and fury of “Hallelujah Goat,” rousing the audience into fervor and concurrently sending the message that the night would be an index of Volbeat’s entire career, not simply what they’ve worked for lately.
The light show that accompanied the band was world-class, highlighting their musical color with actual color. Ranging at times from vibrant to subtle to electrifying, it was an array of luminance that was on par with the finest assortments Overkill has ever dreamed up. And I know what you’re saying; “Drew, who cares about the damn lighting? What about the music?” Trust me, when you’re live, this shit make a difference. Good lighting, as often as not, is a question of detail and choreography. Good bands have it, great bands excel at it. Based on this show, Volbeat has the lights of a great band.
Seeing Rob Caggiano (most recently of Anthrax) playing with Volbeat as a full-time member evokes an unintentional double check. His playing with Anthrax had become so recognized that it’s strange the first time you see him with someone else. Nevertheless, he not only joined the band full time but produced this newest record, and his touch is readily evident in the chug of new songs like “The Hangman’s Body Count.” Lest we all be led to believe that the darker color of “Outlaw Gentlemen” is a permanent alteration to Volbeat’s sound, they also played “Lola Montez,” a dramatic near-ballad that is a sibling to many other similar Volbeat songs across their history.
For their part however, that was pretty much it for new material on this night, the band instead giving the crowd a steady dose of the heavy-handed rock and roll that made Volbeat worthy of loyalty in the first place. It is a rare quality in rock, and particularly in metal, for a band to sound nearly exactly as they do on recorded tracks, but Volbeat accomplishes the feat well, particularly as it relates to the deep-seated boom of Jon Larsen’s drum kit. “Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood” played near the top of the set, sounded pitch perfect, and that went just the same for “Heaven Nor Hell,” “16 Dollars” and “Sad Man’s Tongue.” Volbeat fleshed out their set with an exceptional, infectious rendition of “A Warrior’s Call,” as well as the obligatory “Still Counting” and an encore of “The Mirror and the Ripper.”
On the last front, Poulsen and Volbeat have always worn their inspirations on their sleeve, and it was to this end that they teased the crowd with truncated covers of “Breaking the Law” and the untouchable “Raining Blood.” Ultimately, they enlisted the help of Danko Jones (the man) for a strong cover of the Misfits “Angelfuck.”
(Parenthetically, two small notes: First, why doesn’t everyone do a Misfits cover in their set? It can be done in like, forty seconds if you pick the right song. Second, Volbeat is probably the only band who could realistically have an umlaut or two in their name, but don’t. I don’t know why I think about these things, but I do.)
Just as it seemed the whole show had come to an end, Volbeat extended the night for one more song, leading the crowd through “Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza.” It was a symbol of their dedication not only to their craft, but to their fans, sweating out every moment of their hour and forty minute set. If you’re still unfamiliar with Volbeat, you’re late to class, but the door is still open. Find your way in.