Sunday was the big finale as far as scheduling goes but a pretty barren night as far as the actual schedule. With only ten shows to choose from, my decision was obvious: Dillinger Escape Plan.
SputnikMusic and its staff have been drooling over Dillinger Escape Plan’s new album, Option Paralysis, since we got our promo copy a few weeks back. Having been a huge fan of the band through their first two albums and the Irony is a Dead Scene EP, but also having been majorly let down by Ire Works, I was endlessly excited to see Dillinger. It was also somewhat of an anniversary for me, since I hadn’t seen them for about 6 years when I watched them destroy the now-defunct Rockit club about a week before Miss Machine came out. But Dillinger was just one of four bands listed on the bill, the others being Animals as Leaders, Iwrestledabearonce and Darkest Hour.
Waiting for Animals as Leaders to set-up it became very clear pretty quickly that, uh, they weren’t. Doors to the Opera House were at 7 and at around 730 I saw some instruments being shuffled about and drums being set up, but it wasn’t Animals as Leaders. Instead Iwrestledabearonce was opening and, as suspected, they later announced that Animals as Leaders couldn’t make it. I guess they had a problem crossing the border.
Iwrestledabearonce are a band with a clearcut gimmick, their off-the-wall aesthetic and shtick made no more evident than with their “Metal just got gay” t-shirt and their drummer’s decision to yell “Excitebike! Nintendo! Syphillis” throughout their sound check (the Excitebike theme was playing in the background). The juvenile sensibilities carried through into their set, which finally started at 8 when Krysta Cameron, wearing a Gizmo (of Gremlins fame) costume, waltzed on stage. She was immediately the band’s main attraction: standing at no more than five feet tall and next to their nine-foot tall guitarist, Cameron was a bundle of epileptic energy. She screamed, shrieked, growled and even sung as the child’s costume she wore shook and fluttered. At times she’d stand still and twitch, her seizure-like motions mimicking the bands herky-jerky melodies. I’m not big on what she does but she did it well: her shrieks were high and piercing, her growls surprisingly low, and her cleans, while a little shouty, were still apt. And on a purely technical level the band followed suit, it’s just the bands gimmicks, of which there was no shortage, were too overbearing in the end.
After opening their set with the first bit of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”, Iwrestledabearonce went into spazz mode, blurring through a bundle of forgettable metalcore tracks buzzing with tech-y shredding, stop-starty rhythms and novelty interludes (like when they incorporated the Inspector Gadget song into one of their breakdowns).
As is pretty much always the case with opening acts they had some sound issues. The drums sounded great, but as one fan yelled “turn up the tall guy!” between songs, the guitars were hardly loud enough. Performing with energy, Iwrestledabearonce did everything they could to win the crowd over and they did so with relative success. Onlookers were intrigued by what they were seeing done on the guitars (even if they couldn’t hear it) and more than a few fans were amused by Mike Martin’s dance moves as he salsa-danced and shook his hips through a bunch of uninteresting, barely audible bass licks. Perhaps the most paradoxical thing about their set, and the band as a whole I suppose, is that they’re at their strongest when they streamline their sound. Of their entire set it’s their slower, more controlled moments that really seemed to capture the audience’s attention; it’s not that they should compromise their heaviness, which they rarely did, but it’s that they had a surprising knack for melodies that were too often lost in the spastic fray. “The tall guy” on guitar, otherwise known as Steven Bradley, was as frenetic on the guitar as he was lanky—and he was really fucking lanky, but he better showcased his abilities in evolving guitar-passages that climaxed in something special rather than non-stop spider-fingering.
Up next was Darkest Hour, who immediately overwhelmed the audience with their veteran presence. Unlike Iwrestledabearonce they were pretty still on stage and yet they carried an unbelievable presence with them. They had that quality you can’t describe but know is there: it’s like when a band plays a full venue and it sounds empty and then the next one comes on and it’s like you’re seeing them in a sweaty, packed basement. That’s the atmosphere Darkest Hour give out. Well, that and the fact that frontman John Henry is pretty damn bossy. After opening with “Sound the Surrender” (and therefore wasting no time to showcase their guitarists ability to shred in unison), Henry introduced “Sadist Nation” as their next song and immediately demanded that the crowd get a circle pit going, which they did, but Henry wasn’t done with the orders. Before playing “Demon(s)”, Henry told the crowd to sing along and for their fourth song he upped the ante, demanding that the circle pit from earlier on be stretched “wall to wall”. Before playing “The Tides” he asked for a “proper fucking heavy metal mosh pit” and before “This Will Outlive Us” he said “this song starts with a guitar solo so I want to see you guys party”. Lastly, he encouraged the crowd to “spark that shit” if they had it before introducing ”Into the Grey”.
The band knew what they were doing in demanding the attention of the crowd. Asking for their enthusiasm ensured the band the flexibility to perform without the pressure of jumping around like a bunch of 20 year old kids, allowing them to focus on performing their songs as intended. Their set-list was a surprising balance of old as new: reaching as far back as Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation, they seemed intent on giving their fans new and old something to enjoy. There was also a tight balance between their more unrelenting speedy moments and their mid-paced tracks. The main success of their time on stage was without question the work of guitarists Mike Carrigan and Mike Schleibaum, who traded solos and harmonies with endless energy and remarkable precision. “Doomsayer”, a personal favourite of mine, was especially well executed.
Finally the band everyone came to see (well, except one fan who I ran into while, uh, pissing, who kept insisting that he only came to see Animals as Leaders) was up and they wasted no time in hitting the audience right in their proverbial face. Opening with “Good Neighbor” off of Option Paralysis, Dillinger were immediate in asserting their power over the crowd who seemed mostly unfamiliar with the song but noticeably impressed by the band’s return to their more chaotic roots. Things got more familiar by the second song (“Panasonic Youth”) and in turn frontman and part-time Incredible Hulk Greg Puciato amped his intensity up to another level. Towards the song’s climax, Puciato decided he was going to jump into the crowd, something he does often. There was a hiccup: his microphone’s cord was caught on something. Of course that didn’t stop Greg as he ran full speed and lept over the stage’s barricade. What happened instead was Greg ended up ripping the cord in half as he jumped. A feat of strength, sure, but it left the song without vocals for it’s last minute and as a result it felt a little empty.
It looked a little empty, too, since the band was having trouble with their stage-lights. Instead of the barrage of flashing strobes most fans were expecting, the first few songs of their set were dimly lit.
Throughout “Fix Your Face”, one of the few non-duds on 2007’s Ire Works, Dillinger’s only remaining “original” member Ben Weinman decided it would be a great idea to swing his guitar, one handed, over his head. He stopped (if only for the song) when his guitar was just inches from clipping Greg Puciato’s head. He may be huge, but a guitar to the face would probably really, really hurt regardless of how many babies he probably eats for breakfast.
After rushing through the massively bland “Milk Lizard” and the consistently overwhelming “Sugar Coated Sour” they kicked into another new one (“Chinese Whispers”) which was mostly lost on the audience, but unlike “Good Neighbor”, which succeeded regardless of familiarity thanks to its complex instrumentation, “Chinese Whispers” is arguably the weakest song off of the new album and is only saved by it’s overpowering hook (“Every second is passing by so fast, every thing that you cling to will not last”) but without the crowd’s interaction on the song it felt a little hollow. Guitarist Jeff Tuttle spent much of the song doing high kicks, which I guess were supposed to get the crowd going, but its slower tempo ultimately meant the band had to hold back from their usual stage performance, something that was surprisingly true of their night as a whole. Maybe it’s the line-up changes or the accumulated injuries but they were much tamer than the last time I saw them. Either that or the fact that their set-list was pretty awful. It was great to hear a track off of Irony is a Dead Scene (“When Good Dogs do Bad Things”, which was incredible live), but as you can no doubt read I make no secrets about my displeasure towards Ire Works, so you can imagine my disappointment when their setlist ended up consisting of five tracks off of their polarizing 2007 release. Two of the ones they chose, “Fix Your Face” and “Lurch” aren’t bad songs but “Milk Lizard” and “Black Bubblegum” are mediocre mid-tempo rockers and “Mouth of Ghosts” is long, boring and uneventful.
Of course when I say tame I’m speaking relatively: in addition to ripping cords in half and swinging guitars over their heads, Ben and Greg spent time climbing amps and jumping in and out of the crowd.
After “Black Bubblegum” and before they played “Sunshine the Werewolf” Greg made mention to the show I keep referencing when, in 2004, they played two sold out shows in a row at the now defunct Rockit club. Since that show was about a week before Miss Machine came out, Greg was surprised when the crowd knew the lyrics to a song that had not yet been released (“Sunshine the Werewolf”). It was a natural segue into the track which was not only the highlight of their set, of the night, but of Canadian Music Fest as a whole. As the song approached its natural climax (“Destroyer! There’ll be another just like you!”) Ben was looking for something to wreck or jump off of, which he found in the stack of amps that bookend each side of the stage. Measuring at probably a good 15 to 20 feet up it was a bit of a climb but nothing Ben couldn’t handle and as the song hit his climax he lept back onto the stage. It’s a huge drop and I’m sure he paid for it the next morning: it also might explain why Jeff Tuttle had the knees of his pants padded with duct-tape…or maybe not. Regardless it seemed to give Ben the ability to blow off some steam: not just him, either, but also the two goons who decided to start a fight in the pit midway through the song.
New drummer Bill Rymer, who may or may not have hit puberty yet, is a great addition to the band. He’s no Chris Pennie, but thankfully he’s no Gil Sharone, either: Sharone was great, but he’s marred with the distinction of ruining every album he plays on inspite of the fact that he’s an incredible drummer (Ire Works sucked and Stolen Babies suck). Rymer is a balance between Pennie’s spastic exuberance and Sharone’s more calculated, rhythmic style and as the extended drum solo in “Weekend Sex Change” showed, he’s more than capable of filling the shoes of two pretty respected drummers.
“43% Burnt” was the penultimate tune and it was as powerful as ever, culminating with Greg jumping foot-and-ass first (basically imagine him sitting on a chair, only get rid of the chair and have him flying through the air into the pit). Their set ended with “Farewell Mona Lisa” and the visual of Ben running up and down the amps before jumping back-first (guitar in hand) into the crowd. Ending with a staple of both their performances and their discography, but it wasn’t quite enough to make me forgive what was a pretty disappointing set list. The set itself was great in spite of some of their song choices but it wasn’t what I expected. Either way it’s still a Dillinger Escape Plan show and as with my commentary on “tameness”, “disappointing” is relative: they were and are really fucking good live and have gotten considerably tighter over the years (of course that happens when you turn over guitarists and drummers seemingly every six months).