Saturday, February 4, 2017

♫Getting Back to the Roots♫

Greetings faithful readers, and welcome back to another (far too long delayed) installment of Ear Worms, my music section of the site. While I'm sure most of you out there reading are already well ware of this fact, for all the newcomers to the blog, let me make in known once more that I am a long-time, dyed-in-the-wool, full-blown metal head. With that clarification out the of the way, let's just dive right in.

On February 2, 2017 I got to attend what has now been perhaps one of the best concert sets I've ever experienced to date. None other than the legendary vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider (former front-man to the iconic german heavy metal band Accept) was at my local venue (Baltimore Soundstage) for his Back to the Roots North American tour. Performing songs all over the classic Accept catalogue, this was a mandatory matter of attendance for a near life-long Udo/Accept fan such as myself. I knew full-well in my heart of hearts that I absolutely had to be at this concert regardless of circumstance. Otherwise I would've never been able to look at myself in the mirror or forgive the sin of skipping out on such an incredible opportunity to not only see Udo live, but singing the likes of 'Balls to the Wall' or 'Midnight Mover'.

Before Udo could take to the stage proper, we had a couple front liner bands to warm up the crowd, and I can gladly exclaim that neither of them disappointed. First up to bat was Mind Maze, a somewhat prog-edge power-metal band from out of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Up until now, I've never heard of them, but after their incredibly strong showing here, I'm more than willing to consider myself a burgeoning fan to their work. The singles 'Breaking the Chains' 'This Holy War' and 'End of Eternity' really resonated with me, and with the promise of a new album to come this April, I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't at least curious to see what was on offer.

Lead vocalist Sarah Teets has an immensely powerful tone to her voice that (for lack of a better description) simply beckons the soul to action. As the songs hit their crescendo, Sarah's cadence remained firm and unwavering, making for some truly inspiring sounds for each track played. The lead guitarist Jeff Teets absolutely slayed with his righteous riffs, and I could tell just from some of his stage antics that he without a doubt loves playing in front of people. Drummer Mark "Truk" Bennet played with expert timing, all the while seemingly trying to match Jeff for flourishes on display while playing, which to be frank, was actually quite fun to watch. Bassist Rich Pasqualone had a distinct rhythmic pulse to all the tracks, and while some in the crowd claimed that he sounded almost non-existent, I could feel his bass thumps in the souls of my feet, and I wear thick boots. Who knows, maybe it had a lot to do with me being right in the front row...?

If I had any real one complaint about their performance, it was that there were a few times Sarah and Jeff almost ran into one anther as they walked about, making for some slightly awkward pauses with the stage motion. Other than that, they killed it up there with an overall solid presence, and some super solid music, and that's all a metal-head like me could honestly ask for at the end of the day.

A Sound of Thunder rocks the Soundstage!
Next up was A Sound of Thunder, and I will once more disclose that I'm on friendly terms with two members of this band. Regardless of my personal connection though, I am first and foremost a fan of their music.

While I do attend their local shows to provide some level of support as a friend, my attendance has been mostly due to the simple fact that I just love watching them perform. Out of a lot of the local bands I've seen, A Sound of Thunder has possessed some of the most beautiful, and downright infectious chemistry/rapport with a crowd I've ever witnessed. They have always given it their all every time I've watched them, and this performance was no exception to that well established rule.

Once on stage, they kicked off with their resoundingly balls-out speed metal track 'Queen of Hell'. Lead singer Nina's blisteringly boisterous banshee wale remained as attention grabbing as it ever has, and it was a fantastic statement of intent for the set that was to come if there ever was one. Interestingly enough, I do think Nina has been working on her lower registers, as every time she had to touch on a more Baritone key, it was notably more textured than previous outings. 

Despite their somewhat short run-time, they did manage to get out some of their more recent and iconic tracks such as 'A Sound of Thunder' 'Tremble' and their totally kickass cover of Manorwar's 'Pleasure Slave', which the crowd ate up with much delight. Lead guitarist Josh continues to amaze me with his stunning fret-work, as some of the chords he cuts are stupid fast, and he makes them look insanely easy to pull off. The closing piece they played before yielding the stage was their biggest online hit 'Udoroth' which they confessed was deeply inspired by Udo Dirkschneider himself. While I would've liked to see more from A Sound of Thunder, it ultimately wasn't their show.

Unfortunately it wasn't much of Udo's show either for a bit, as there were some apparent technical difficulties with the sound system, which resulted in a bit of a delay for the concert. Even though it was only around a twenty minute postponement (which I personally didn't mind the break to be honest) sections of the audience started to become quite restless as time went on. Shouts and chants for Udo to take the stage only grew louder the longer they waited, and I heard over my shoulder how some of the fans were contemplating on demanding a refund and leaving the venue if things didn't change soon. Thankfully the sound did eventually come back up, and without any further disruption, Udo Dirkschneider and co. were in front of the crowd, large and in charge, ready to rock everyone's collective faces off.

Opening up with 'Starlight' and 'Living for Tonite' set the crowd ablaze in a matter of mere seconds, and it was only briefly after that intro did Udo take a moment to address his years-long absence from Baltimore before diving right into the next two songs 'Flash Rockin' Man' and 'London Leatherboys'. What really got my fist pumping though was when they started up 'Midnight Mover' followed immediately by 'Breaker'. The summary on the ticket stub sure as hell wasn't hoaxing when it read that Udo was going to be playing nothing but classic Accept from start to finish. For the next hour Udo dished out other awesome Accept tunes like 'Head Over Heels' 'Neon Night' 'Princess of the Dawn' 'Winter Dreams' 'Restless and Wild' and the ever iconic 'Son of a Bitch'.

Before I go any further into the set, I want to state for the record that I hope I'm still rocking out like Udo when I'm his age. Udo is currently sixty four years old, and even though we can sit back making a ton of jokes about his obvious weight gain, or just calling him "Old-man Udo" I want to point out that the dude still belts it out like it was 1986. Sure he doesn't strike as many badass/fabulous poses as he used to, and his overall stage presence isn't nearly as energetic as it once was, but the rest of the band more than makes up for it. His guitarists Andrey Smirnov and Kasperi Heikkinen dueled perfectly with one another, striking a ton of gloriously photogenic cock-rock poses for the crowd, never mind the occasional borderline-homoerotic interlocking poses they'd strike with Udo and bassist Fitty Wienhold throughout the set.

Andrey Smirnov is having a blast!
After a ludicrously small break, the band came back out on stage, dishing out the goods in full force. Tracks like 'Up to the Limit' 'Wrong is Right' 'Midnight Highway' 'Screaming for a Love-Bite' 'Monsterman' 'T.V. War' 'Losers and Winners' and my personal favorite Accept track 'Metal Heart' were all delivered in short order. To be blunt, this band had one mission after a their respite, and that mission was attack, attack, attack!

As the show began the process of exiting the midpoint, Udo and the band decided to play around with the audience for a little bit, with fun instances like Andrey showing off his superb guitar chops, or drummer Sven Dirkschneider going on a series of continuous rolls that would make any self-respecting percussionist nod in approval.

Of course all good things must eventually come to an end, no matter how metalliferously mighty it may be, and end it they f@cking did! In true metal fashion Udo and co. blew the roof off the building by closing out the show with Accept's biggest, most anthemic hits 'I'm a Rebel' 'Fast as a Shark' 'Balls to the Wall' and 'Burning'.

Getting to do the chorus chant to 'Balls to the Wall' at an Udo concert may go down as one of the most flat-out metal moments of my life, and it will live with me til I die or develop alzheimers. It's kinda funny though, because since the band was performing so spectacularly for close to a whole two hours, they almost couldn't get in a word edge-wise, let alone introduce some of the songs, because the Udo chants started to become too domineering. At one point it looked as if Udo was on the brink of tears, as I'm sure he was touched by the Baltimore fan's clear adoration for him, but I'm fairly certain he's too much of a heavy-metal badass to be even physically capable of crying.

In the end, this was without a doubt one of the best metal concerts I've ever attended, and despite the slight delay in getting Udo up on stage, this show was perfect from start to finish. Not only was the main attraction well worth the price of admission, but the front liners were also amazing, and before I could leave I knew I had to get my hands on the Mind Maze album Mask of Lies, and A Sound of Thunder's new Cover Album Who Do You Think We Are?

If anything else my only real gripe I took way from the event was that I couldn't get my hands on some of the downright kickass swag they had at the merch booth, like Udo's "only slightly used bathrobe" or Udo's actual stage gloves. What I had my eye on getting though was an autographed live CD album from Udo and the band, but those were apparently only limited to a grand total of ten copies available, so obviously those were sold out in mere seconds of the show wrapping.

Thankfully I decided upon hanging around for a few minutes after the crowds died down, and I was greeted by none other than bassist Fitty Wienhold. He asked me if I enjoyed the concert, to which I emphatically told him yes, which lead to me gushing in front of him for about a solid five minutes. I shared with him that this was my first Udo concert and that I really wanted something to commemorate the occasion.

It was then that he reached in his pocket and handed me his guitar pick. With a sly grin, Fitty told me "Those guys may have the album, but they aint got something like this!" Needless to say, I was left almost speechless, and as of this writing I'm still at a loss as to what I should do with the damn thing. Should I frame it? Use it for myself in the hopes that some of Fitty's powers reside in it and will transfer to me?

Putting hyperbole aside, only time will tell now if any other concerts I will attend in the future can ever openly compete with the ultimately unmatched Udo, as this show is now my gold standard measure for all the metal concerts to come. Sorry Blind Guardian, but Udo and the crew just simply killed it here. All the same, I can declare I'm officially satisfied with having had a front row seat to an experience that fundamentally amounted to Mr. Dirschneider's goodbye to a undeniable heavy-metal legacy that will hopefully never, ever be forgotten.

Thank you Udo! Rock on, and God Speed!

A much deserved bow to a mindblowingly awesome show!

P.S.- I do want to give a very special thanks to the Jim Powers youtube channel for providing such awesome footage of the concert.

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