Grin and bear it: Life of Agony rocks Northern Lights.
Photo by: Chris Shields
of Agony, Flaw, Apartment 26
Lights, Jan. 20
In the early 1990s, the New York City hardcore scene was literally
bursting at the seams, and with the release of River Runs
Red, Life of Agony went straight to the head of the class.
Here was a band that combined the ugly brutality of Sick of
it All, the pure metal crush of Master of Puppets-era
Metallica, and—this is what set them apart from the pack—a
tunefulness that aligned them more with the alternative rock
set than any of their NYHC peers. On the strength of River,
a genre-defining record if ever there was one, the band broke
free of the club circuit and found themselves touring with
some of the more prominent metal acts of the mid-’90s. They
ultimately imploded after three studio albums, but their legacy
left a deep imprint on all of the heavy music to come.
I recall seeing Life of Agony back in ’94 at the late, great
QE2. They were just starting to blow up, and the energy in
the room was infectious. This is what metal was all about:
The crowd was there to blow off steam through dancing, and
LOA’s enthusiasm was palpable as well. They were there for
the same reason as the kids: to release aggression. Granted,
bassist Alan Robert’s songs were chock full of dysfunctional
families, failure and the contemplation of suicide, but the
smiles on the faces of both the band members and concertgoers
belied the gravity of the subject matter.
Fast-forward 10 years to Tuesday night. More than 700 advance
tickets were sold for the first date of Life of Agony’s reunion
tour and, by showtime, Northern Lights was packed wall-to-wall
with a sea of black baseball hats, skullcaps and hooded sweatshirts.
This show was a must-see for anyone who even remotely considers
themselves a metal fan and, judging by the reaction of the
crowd, not a soul left the building disappointed. Blasting
off with the title track from their legendary debut, LOA delivered
the goods for close to 90 minutes, covering most of River
Runs Red, along with a smattering of tunes from their
subsequent releases. The audience ate up every minute of it,
the pit surging and seething and, at times, threatening to
overtake the entire room. In turn, the band returned that
energy twofold, picking up momentum as the evening wore on.
Stout, scruffy vocalist Keith Caputo oozed intensity, standing
nearly still at center stage as the audience shouted his every
last word back at him, while guitarist Joey Z spent most of
the night on the lip of the stage, basking in the sweaty glow
of the mosh pit. Drummer Sal Abruscato is one of the best
the genre has ever produced, handling the frequent tempo and
meter changes with finesse. The band even turned out a pair
of new tunes that were more true to their old-school hardcore
roots than the alt-rock-influenced material that bogged down
their last album and alienated much of their early fanbase.
By the time they wrapped up with the anthemic “Underground,”
the air was thick with blood, sweat and tears. There was no
encore, and why would there be? Life of Agony gave the crowd
exactly what they wanted. This is what metal is all about.
The two opening bands presented a cross-section of exactly
what is wrong with heavy music today. To my ears, Flaw could
have been any one of about 40 different bands. Sure, they
seemed to have a fairly large fan-contingent, but the nü-metal
shit in which they trade is just too predictable, too easy
to construct, and incredibly boring. It’s a simple formula:
Put a giant banner onstage so people don’t forget your name
the second you get offstage. Have the obligatory guy-with-dreads
learn one powerchord on the guitar—tuned to drop-C, of course—then
slide it up one half-step. You can do this anywhere on the
neck and write a whole new song! Crank the drummer’s
kick drum up so loud that it drowns out the rest of the band.
Now, speak-sing some lyrics about how much life sucks—it’ll
be OK, there’s a deli tray back on the bus—then SCREAM REALLY
LOUD every once in a while so the kids know you really
mean it. Don’t forget to “bring it down a little” after a
few songs and periodically shout “what the fuck’s up, (insert
town here)?!” Right. I’ll pass, thank you.
Apartment 26, a British band led by Sabbath bassist Geezer
Butler’s son, Biff—that’s right, McFly—were dreadfully out
of place on this bill. Actually, it’s hard to imagine a bill
they would make sense on. Their songs were basically indistinguishable
from one another, save for brief pauses in between and the
occasional placement of pre-programmed beats and samples.
Predictably, the audience was unimpressed, at times firing
an arsenal of double deuces toward the stage.