Concert Review - Volbeat

Back in November of 2009, I saw an up and coming band called Volbeat open for the legends known as Metallica. At the time, I confessed ignorance to the band; I knew their name, and I knew they were Danish, and that was about it.

Occasionally at a concert, as you watch an opening band, you can sense that they have “it.” No one has ever quite been able to define “it” in cogent terms, but everyone instinctively knows “it” when they see “it.” As an observer, you get a feeling in your bones like you just know you’re going to hear that band’s name again. I’ve had that feeling a few times: watching In Flames open for Slayer, Lacuna Coil open for Anthrax, and Priestess open for Rob Zombie. I got that same feeling watching Volbeat open for Metallica. Now, less than two years later, here I was confronted with that same band.

Setting the stage for the evening of crossover rock to come was Hourcast, a band who has no shortage of energy, but is a little shy on charisma. With singer Patrick McBride and bassist Dave Sullivan looking like 21st-century-high-gloss simulacrums of Jerry Only and Doyle von Frankenstein, they played with fervor through a selection of songs. Single “Attraction,” the band’s final piece for the evening, was their strongest effort, with “Deceiver” following not too far behind. Hourcast’s sound can only be described as a not quite homogenized mix of Static-X and Saliva. The good news for Hourcast is that they have created an eminently marketable sound for themselves. They’ve done this by drilling down just far enough to discover and drape themselves in a pale sheen of the sound that characterized the golden age of alternative metal in the late 1990’s. The bad news is that the band only held a slippery grip on the crowd’s attention. With some fine tuning, Hourcast is a name you’ll hear again, but they have work to do.

As Volbeat emerged from backstage to engage the audience with their performance, something seemed immediately amiss. A simple head count confirmed the problem; bassist Anders Kjølholm was nowhere to be seen. Just a few days ago, it was announced that Kjølholm had to leave the tour and return to Denmark, but no other details exist. Josh Newton from The Damned Things (and Every Time I Die,) is slated to fill in, but with the latter band not on the card on this night, Volbeat became a three piece. They soldiered on, rocking the crowd with “Guitar Gangsters and Cadillac Blood,” and “Heaven Nor Hell,” but it was a tougher sell without the backbone and band chemistry being complete.

Speaking of the crowd, what a strange collection of humanity it was. The structure of Volbeat’s music is such that the energy at a live show is highly reciprocal; you get out of it what you give to it. Half of the medium-sized crowd was physically involved in nearly every song, from the new cuts like “The Mirror and the Ripper,” to the old standbys such as “Still Counting.” Yet, surrounding what ended up being a fairly energetic pit was a circle of vultures consisting primarily of seemingly soulless white men who watched the band while standing shock still with docile eyes. Standing outside of that circle was a group of forty-somethings who were taking pictures like they were trying to chronicle the falling of the Berlin Wall for their private records. The disparity of age in the audience is easily explained because of Volbeat’s musical roots that reach all the way back to Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley (Michael Poulsen said as much on stage.) I am forced to believe however, that Johnny Cash would have been much more appreciative of the pit than of the gawkers.

Those involved in the crowd did their best to not notice the missing musical element, but it was hard not to see the hole on stage where a body should have been standing. To the band’s credit they gave it their all, thundering through “Sad Man’s Tongue,” a strong cover of the Misfits’ “Angelfuck,” and punching the audience in the mouth with a rafter-shaking “Who They Are.”

Volbeat rocked a long encore, showing their appreciation for the crowd with their cover of Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Wanna be With You,” and the wonderfully humble “Thanks,” among about five other songs.

Overall, it’s hard to grade this show as anything other than “incomplete.” Poulsen, Jon Larsen and Thomas Bredahl gave everything they had to the crowd, and the guitars were in full overdriven throat. Still, something just felt a little thin, and you could almost detect the band feeling a little disjointed at the prospect of performing a man down. They can hardly be blamed for that. I am suitably impressed with them though, and I would certainly give Volbeat another go down the road.

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