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They’ve got legs: (l-r) Amy Lee (Evanescence) and Jonathan Davis (Korn) rock the skirts.

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Twisted Transition

By David King

Family Values Tour

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Aug. 7

A Frankenstein’s-monster version of Korn slogged through a patchwork set at SPAC on Tuesday night. Opening with “Here to Stay,” the band seemed to be trying to reassure themselves that they would make it through the song. With two of the founding members MIA, this version of the band featured Clint Lowery on guitar (he didn’t move much); Zach Baird (who pranced annoyingly across a catwalk from time to time, toting an apparently useless synth) on keyboards; Kalen Chase (who thrashed his hair about and also annoyingly pranced without explanation) on backing vocals and percussion; and Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison, whose kitwork overwhelmed the simple beat structure of most of Korn’s songs.

While most of Jonathan Davis’ lyrics are about being overwhelmed, beaten down, molested, or hating oneself, tonight they seemed especially poignant as the band came across as only half-alive, fueled only by Davis’s desire to persevere (and make some dough). During the dance-beats-and- distortion-propelled “Coming Undone,” a set highlight that drove the crowd into contortions, it seemed as though Davis might just walk off the stage, as he had just summed up the band’s entire existence in one chorus.

Since their inception in the mid-’90s, Korn have desperately tried to become more than the big, dumb rage that got them into the spotlight. And while they were trying to evolve, their gusto was stolen by thirdhand copycats like Limp Bizkit and P.O.D. Linkin Park, Slipknot and Evanescence all mined Korn’s basic formula and tarted it up with bells and whistles—Linkin Park with boy-band appeal, Slipknot with metal chops (and clown suits), and Evanescence with a talented singer and straightforward songwriting.

Since then, Korn have tried to ape the things that made their progeny successful. Rather than relying on the base savagery and primal instinct that let them play the game, they repackage themselves with each, evidently now yearly, release to fit the latest metal trend. Thus, the newer material sounded awkward and unnecessarily complicated. What Korn are good at is being big and ugly; unfortunately, at SPAC the band had to filter their intentional ugliness through a sound system that nearly caved under the band’s weight. It made their newer material, which thrives on its heavy-handed production, that much more futile and decadent. But when the band finally laid into their first album’s highlight track, “Faget,” even the distorted audio couldn’t hold back the unfiltered rage that propels the track. If Korn stop trying to make money, they may find out they still have something left to say.

Evanescence seemed out of place in the sea of ugliness that is the Family Values Tour. Singer Amy Lee probably could have taken the stage alone with her piano and captivated the crowd, as her voice simply devoured her backing band, antiquated nü-metal posing and all. Lee’s work on the piano was the most exciting and natural-sounding musicianship of all the headlining acts.

Atreyu proved that they may be the least funny joke in the music industry, with a set fueled by ’80s-metal bravado and headbands, backed up by a stilted set of chops.

Heavenly Bodies

Between the Buried and Me

Revolution Hall, Aug. 5

Four songs into Between the Buried and Me’s set on Sunday at Revolution Hall, I thought, “Between the Buried and Me may very well be the best band in metal today.” But for some reason, that seemed a little over-the-top.

As it turns out, that was an understatement.

Scene darlings the Red Chord had just finished their set with a crowd-marshalling “Dreaming in Dog Years” that ended with a pile of fans clamoring to reach the stage. The audience was primed.

But toothpick-sized BTBAM singer Tommy Rogers seemed oblivious to the adrenaline-fueled crowd frothing with impatience at his feet as his band performed an extended sound check. And it didn’t seem the crowd was expecting much: Their initial amusement came only from drummer Blake “Beef” Richardson’s two kick drums, both emblazoned with the face of David Bowie in his Labyrinth film role.

When Rogers, one of the most talented singers in metal today (he sings, growls, screams and plays keys), finally acknowledged the crowd, he thanked them for coming and told them the show was over. Before a crowd that generally favors bands who look as tough as the music they play (Rogers and his band look like a group of RPI freshmen), his sarcasm could have been lost.

It wasn’t.

Like a fight between Iron Maiden and Queen, the band slammed into “All Bodies” from their breakthrough album Alaska. Grinding and churning distortion filled the room as Rogers viciously growled, “We are their property, we are their slaves, we surround all bodies,” his hands shooting into the air and the crowd surging forward like lepers looking for alms.

Rogers dropped the growl and channeled Freddie Mercury, singing, “We are just mortal souls left to die.”

Think “We Are the Champions” played by Cannibal Corpse.

“Sun of Nothing,” a track from the band’s forthcoming release, Colors, was 10 minutes of roiling prog-death-metal with fist- pumping, operatic choruses, time changes, Pavement-inspired indie-rock breaks, cascading keyboards, and even an apparently polka-inspired breakdown. This song alone reinforced my earlier theory that Between the Buried and Me are the best band in metal today, if not one of the most important bands in any genre. Like Radiohead circa OK Computer, they are in their musical prime—they bat their muse around in fits of ecstasy like a cat with a catnip-stuffed toy mouse.

The crowd united once again for the band’s largest “hit” to date, “Selkies: the Endless Obsession,” a progged-out jam graced with Rogers’ voice, which was almost overwhelmed by the crowd’s sing-along. Rogers sang and played keys along with lead guitarist Paul Waggoner, who pulled a virtuosic, heart-melting solo from his instrument. The young men in the front row of the pit, who minutes earlier had been throwing punches, flipped open their cell phones to film them, like preteens at an Usher concert.

It was an odd sight for any metal show.

When the band reemerged for an encore, the audience shouted out a countless number of requests, to which Rogers announced, “We will each play a part of one of our songs.” Guitarist Dusty Waring fiddled with a rhythm line. Rogers played the keyboard part from “Selkies.” Then Waring strummed the chords of “Shine” by Collective Soul, clearly amusing Rogers, a smile breaking through his normally stoic appearance. The crowd, both amused and inspired, began singing the chorus, and the band picked up the song until the whole building was singing along.

On Sunday night, if only for an hour, Between the Buried and Me were the best band in the world.

—David King

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