The House of Blues venue is inside the Mandalay Bay casino, making the entry process a bit surreal for those not used to the nonstop clamor and action of a casino floor. It also offers enough room for well over 1,000 fans and virtually every inch of space was needed for the near-sellout crowd on Friday night.
I actually missed the first few songs of Skeletonwitch’s opening set thanks to my NYC mentality that “a few blocks” was a reasonable walk from one casino to the next (a single Vegas avenue is actually more like walking from 2nd Ave to 8th), but as soon as I stepped foot onto the floor, I was blasted by the band’s face-melting stageshow.
If they wanted, Skeltonwitch could be the next metal-radio gods, with blistering riffs and hypnotic guitar solos that don’t let their inherent catchiness get in the way of crushing, tractor trailer-weight heaviness. But radio doesn’t care much for singer Chance Garnette’s style of unholy screaming, and Skeletonwitch doesn’t care much for being radio friendly. That worked out perfectly for those of us at House of Blues Friday night, where a small but fierce mosh pit stayed active all night long while the rest of the floor screamed along with the band.
Chance exhorted the crowd to “smoke weed” and “eat pussy” in between songs, and while venue security was pretty strict, the former definitely was noticeable in the crowd and it’s entirely possible the latter was too. (What happens in Vegas...) It’s a shame that Skeletonwitch only had 40 minutes to play, but those of us in New York will be getting two more nights with them at Irving Plaza and The Paramount in early February, and Friday night’s show proved that the band’s live show is at absolute peak perfection.
Enslaved had the night’s middle slot, and the audience swelled to near-capacity by the end of their set. Like many bands whose singer is also the bassist, Enslaved played with a thick groove that practically demanded fullblown devil horn worship. Highlights of their set included clean vocals beautifully sung by keyboardist Herbrand Larsen that stood out against the mix while the rest of the band thrashed their way through breakdowns.
I won’t pretend to be familiar with most of Enslaved’s songs, but the band did a spectacular job keeping heads banging and the mosh pit swirling. Fans off to the side on raised platforms rocked out just as hard as those front and center on the floor, and easily matched the enthusiasm you’d see in an arena-sized venue.
But the night belonged to Amon Amarth, the Viking metal gods on the very first US headlining tour of their 20 year career. They won over the crowd during their main stage set at last summer’s Mayhem Festival (read all about Mayhem ‘13 right here) and the front row fans in Vegas screamed for the band while waving handmade banners. Frontman Johan Hegg has a natural chemistry with the crowd, drinking from his battlehorn flask and joking around between roaring through songs, beard and long hair forming one massive mass of wildness.
While the Viking ship set from Mayhem was too big to fit onto the stages for this tour, even without their extravagant prop Amon Amarth absolutely crushed from start to finish. Knocking out a staggering 17 songs over the course of their 90 minute set, the band opened with new song Father Of The Wolf and debuted the brand new music video for it at the end of the concert too.
Johan kept the crowd energized by stacking the setlist with fan favorites like Death In Fire and Runes To My Memory, punctuated with blasts of colored smoke that made the stage feel like a battlefield. War Of The Gods and encores Twilight Of The Thunder God and The Pursuit Of Vikings closed out the show close to midnight, and those of us sidestage could even spot a group of suit-clad businessmen watching from a casino balcony above, drunkenly rocking out from their VIP vantage point while the crowd below went nuts.
It’s always fun to visit the metal scene in other cities, and like last year’s Down concert at the Hard Rock Cafe (my review here), the Vegas crowd did not disappoint. From leather-clad old school metalheads to excited teens trying to sneak beers, the House of Blues literally shook with the overdriven power of Amon Amarth and their shred-happy openers.
New Yorkers should get excited and strongly considering hitting up both local dates next month, whether the tiny, sure-to-be-sweaty Irving Plaza or the much larger, much nicer Paramount in Long Island. And if you have to pick one or the other... I still say go to both.
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