As a reviewer, regardless of how unbiased you attempt to be, you always come to a live show with expectations. Tonight, I came to Perth's Metro City with three expectations, only one of which bore out.
First up, I expected to actually get to see opening act Shadows Fall. Unfortunately, this was not to be - despite tickets quite clearly displaying 8.30pm as the starting time, the first band must have started soon after 8pm, because by the time we cleared security (seriously, was a metal detector necessary?) and made it into the venue, the stage was already being cleared for the second act.
Missing out on seeing the opening band despite rocking up on time was disheartening, but what was definitely not was the size of the crowd. Metro's is a large venue, and tonight the upstairs area was as full as the downstairs – the first time I have seen this happen since Megadeth’s Gigantour in 2007.
My second expectation for the night was that I would thoroughly enjoy the set from Devildriver, an excellent band with a great live show touring in support of a very, very good album. In this I was not disappointed. Coming on stage soon after 9pm, Mike Spreitzer, Jeff Kendrick, Jon Miller, John Boecklin and of course, the inimitable Dez Fafara were kicking arse and taking names. Despite shoddy sound – the vocals were clear and upfront, but the guitars were a messy aural mash – and almost no lighting, the band ripped through a selection of songs old and new to a huge crowd response.
Starting out with End of the Line, with the headline act’s singer providing backing vocals from side-stage, the set included three songs from latest effort Pray For Villains, including the title track, the quirky Fate Stepped In and a rocking Back With A Vengeance. The grammatically dubious I Could Care Less was a big crowd-pleaser, a thousand fingers raised in single “fuck you” salute; during The Hangman’s Noose Dez proclaimed it “a good day to die” and took a dive into the crowd (fortunately, his death was not forthcoming). It wouldn’t be a Devildriver show without a circle put, and Dez saved this for last, giving punters on the top levels 60 seconds to come down and join the fray or be ridiculed for “holding your girlfriend’s hand”. The set wrapped up with Meet The Wretched from the band’s self-titled debut.
I’ve seen Devildriver in supporting roles in Perth now four times; a headline tour, where someone takes the time to get their sound balance right and shines a few lights on the stage so we can see them, is well overdue. They certainly have no shortage of Australian fans to make that a reality.
Back to expectations; what I didn’t anticipate for the evening was being blown away by headliners Lamb of God. Their 2009 release, Wrath, actually made it onto my list of biggest letdowns for the year: it’s rather forgettable. And last time I saw them live they were solid but not exactly awe-inspiring. But expectations can be wrong, and in this case Lamb of God know how to get a crowd moving and proved they have more than enough killer back catalogue material to fill a headline set.
In stark contrast to the supporting act’s set, the sound and lighting for the headline act was top notch - how can they get it swrong and then so right on the same night? Randy Blythe, Mark Morton, Willie Adler, John Campbell and Chris Adler could be seen in all their bearded glory through atmospheric colour; and the guitar sound was clear as a bell where Devildriver’s guitars had been mud.
The set kicked off with some tracks from Wrath but the real show started when the old stuff kicked in; Walk With Me In Hell; Now You’ve Got Something To Die For (wherein the frontman took an absolutely massive leap into the crowd); Ruin. Between tracks Randy took the time to explain it would be their last show of the tour and the last show of the year, as well as explaining that Shadows Fall were already on the plane back home (perhaps the reason for their earlier-than-expected set) and prompting the crowd to cheer for both support acts.
A short guitar duo let the band’s axemen show off their talents, leading into new songs Grace and Broken Hands. Regardless of whether the crowd knew the songs or not, they grooved and moshed and yelled their appreciation at what really was a masterful performance. Singalong favourite Redneck was not the final song; an honour reserved for the all-out thrash of Black Label, from 2000’s New American Gospel.
Moral of the story: get to the venue early and leave your preconceptions at home. And perhaps there might be something to this so-called “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” after all.