The lights dim and a pounding, like a heartbeat, begins to fill the room. The stage lights flicker, dim, and slowly begin to brighten again- the crowd swells and begins to cheer. Welcome to the circus. This is how the show began at The Handlebar with Kelen Heller opening up the stage for Avatar and Sevendust on February 1, 2013. Having been formed from pieces of previous upstate bands, the guys of Kelen Heller know what it takes to work a stage and put on a show, which is evident in the way in which they exercise their musical talents and engage fans.
The local up and comers started the night’s festivities with a newer song from their repertoire titled “Burn It All,” which featured the heavier side of their styling. The group then followed with their first single and crowd favorite, “Redefine,” which provided the clash and jumping guitar the crowd devoured. The guys of Kelen Heller delivered their usual brand of up tempo, melodic metal to warm up the crowd and attempt to stir up some energy from the pack that was slowly de-thawing from the blistering cold outside. In general, fans love for bands to incorporate the old with the new, so that they get the songs they love, as well as the incorporation of the latest material. In the case of Kelen Heller, their set did include newer songs from their latest CD, as well as pre-established fan favorites. While Kelen Heller performances have proven to be consistently entertaining, there are some that fear they are becoming too consistent, questioning what the next big thing will be for them. Hopefully the official CD release party will hold a few surprises for fans and skeptics alike, proving to every one that we haven’t seen all these guys can do yet.
Up next on the stage came Gothenburg, Sweden’s slightly shocking, yet incredibly entertaining Avatar. These guys started with an executioner and ended with a freakshow, “Smells like a freakshow” to be exact. Vocalist Johannes Eckerstrom entered the stage in a full length leather buckle jacket with complementary leather head piece, featuring a grin bearing lip cover, resembling something straight out of Hostel, signaling the beginning of one crazy ride. The Swedish quintet kicked off their first US tour with Sevendust that night, and the crowd response was massive. Although new to the ears of many in the packed concert hall, the death metal melody makers impressed many with their style, prowess, and energy. With songs like “Let it Burn,” and “Torn Apart” to bolster the fist pumping, head-banging, body raging madness, Avatar brought melodeath metal like few have ever seen before, infusing massive energy with bellowing drums and screeching guitars. A parade of chaos ensued onstage, of which Eckerstrom was the grand master-baton in hand and all dressed up for a date with destiny. Eckerstrom quenched the thirst of the throng for excitement and his own thirst from a near by gas can to the surprise of many. Displaying subtle nuances of Lamb of God and Children of Bodom, Avatar shook up the masses and provided the much needed shock and awe of the night.
The microphones are checked, drums checked, and then, nothing. The crowd goes silent, and then it sinks in, Sevendust is coming. The chanting begins, the natives are restless and the scene has been set. They call for them like worshipers at the temple, beckoning the rock gods to appear. It’s all very ritualistic and surreal, but compelling. You find yourself feeling the prickle of excitement on the back of your neck, the mounting thunder in your chest, and the twitch in your legs from resisting the urge to jump up and down from nervous energy. It’s all happening.
Tearing into the crowd from the jump with their latest single “Decay,” Sevendust puts you out of you misery by ripping off the band aid and letting it all bleed out on the stage. From the moment they rip into the first verse, Sevendust instantly broadens the feel of the modest Handlebar, giving a feeling more in line with an open air amphitheater than an enclosed music hall. The show was too big for the venue, but thankfully the egos were not. This is not to say that The Handlebar is incapable of a show of this magnitude, but to put it simply, Sevendust knows how to blow out a room. After opening with the power, force and fury of “Decay,” the band went on to introduce new tracks from the upcoming album, while delighting in the crowd reaction to Sevendust classics that helped the band pave their way to stardom. Songs like “B*tch,” “Praise,” and new track “Splinter” stirred bodies enough to create the only respectable moshing of the night. On the flip-side “Angel’s Son” and “Ugly” kept the synergy, but mellowed the pace enough to give the fans a rest from madness.
Vocalist Lajon Witherspoon was the congenial host of this affair, with madman Morgan Rose obliterating the drums and managing the pace for the set. Guitarist and Southern bred metal figurehead, Clint Lowery played it low key in appearance as he destroyed the strings of his guitar. Meanwhile, fellow guitarist and stage stalker, John Connolly worked the stage and riffed effortlessly, as bassist Vince Hornsby played up the crowd and indulged his inner jester by inviting crowd participating, waving and making faces at fans. Closing on “Waffle,” a quintessential track from their second album Home released in 1999, Sevendust left the stage and venue having delivered a performance that left fans gasping for more.
Overall, the show was a fast paced ricochet through the metal music wonderland with a plethora of options, and a variety of stops along the way. Regardless of your experience or background, it is suffice to say that there was a little something for everyone that night. Kelen Heller will be back in The Handlebar on May 3, 2013, so if you didn't have an opportunity to pick up their latest CD Friday night, you will get another chance. Avatar has a few more US tour dates with Sevendust, so check their website for more dates and details. Finally, Sevendust has a few more dates coming up in the South, including a stop at The Fillmore in Charlotte, N.C. with Lacuna Coil, Coal Chamber, and Stolen Babies. You can find out more about their upcoming dates and Black Out the Sun on their website or on Facebook.
Fantastic showmanship, unwavering talent, impressive respect and humility, and incredible endurance and engagement are what set Sevendust apart from their colleagues in the metal scene. They exemplify what it means to give 110% and pour blood, sweat, and tears on stage. By the end of the night, Witherspoon, Rose, Lowery, Hornsby, and Connolly bowed out drenched in sweat, flush in the face, and visibly exhausted and shaken. That’s the only way an artist should finish a set- tired as hell with nothing left give, and a pint of blood and a pound of flesh left on that stage, until next time.