Gig Report: Neckbreaker’s Ball – London, UK
So yeah, the evening of Monday November 7th started with a huge fuckin’ disappointment: Omnium Gatherum. Not that they didn’t play well, I just wouldn’t know. Because I fuckin’ missed them. Because I was an hour fuckin’ late at the venue, The Garage, on Highbury Corner! Why was I an hour late for the band I wanted to see that night, the band I came for in the first place? Well not because I was a sloth and looked on my watch too late before I left! It was because the Neckbreaker’s Ball tour site stated the show would kick off at 5:45 pm, while in reality the show commenced at 4:45 pm.
That means that when I arrived, rushed from work but a solid 15 minutes before I expected Omnium Gatherum to kick off, Switzerland’s Gurd was ready to take the stage. At that point I still thought I was getting a bonus band to do just a couple of bands before OG would go up. After all, Gurd didn’t have any banners flying for me to recognize them by. An illusion that didn’t last for long.
Gurd didn’t play a bad song at all, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for at that point. It occurred to me that the sound wasn’t quite optimal. The volume was set to “earbleeding” and the mixing wasn’t quite laid out for accurately playing layers. Something that remained as the evening passed and bands came and went, turning good music in something less than what it should have been.
Gurd played a selection of songs, among which The Grand Deception and Never Fail. A solid piece of no-nonsense Thrash, with some sing-along-suitable lyrics and loads and piles of blunt riffage. Nice to listen to, but not much more than that. Exceptions were a couple of songs that deepened the band’s groovy side of the coin and did manage to get the old head banging.
Next in line was Varg, from Coburg, Germany. As vocalist Freki claimed while on stage, these guys play Viking Metal! With a sharp and jagged Pagan edge. They did it loud and crude, with an almost Black Metal acid overlay, but plenty of catchy Folky melodies. With their German lyrics, they didn’t get a lot of people to sing / shout / grunt / scream along, until they did Wolfskult, title track of their 2011 full-length. A catchy motherfucker that got a lot of the crowd to chant along, fists and horns in the air.
Then came the band I was probably most impressed and surprised with this evening: Mercenary from Denmark. We’ve covered these guys’ Melodic Power Death, before, but despite that I knew these guys would play a tight show, they still completely blew me away. Main contributor to that was lead guitarist Martin Buus Pedersen, who turned out to be an absolute ace guitarist. The solos that guy produced were abso-fuckin’-lutely spotless and fantastically tasty, rich with emotion, vibrant and dynamic.
Through the Eyes of the Devil is one of the songs they played during the gig and apart from that it was at volume settings that I’m not able to replicate with any equipment I own, it all sounded just as rich and flawless. Gurd and Varg were good, but had their weak points in execution and quality of sound, Mercenary completely turned that the other way!
The crowd really started to thicken while Mercenary was playing and that was, as vocalist René Pedersen asked about, because Switzerland’s Eluveitie and Sweden’s Dark Tranquillity were the evening’s biggest names to take the stage after them. By now I was starting to notice the huge number of old people in the venue. I’ve seriously seen chaps that we close to hitting 70 and they came in numbers. They also all seemed to know each other, despite that most of them were alone. My absolute crowd favorite of the night was the little bald chap of medium age, wearing a long black fur-collared lady’s coat, a seventeenth century shirt with fluffy stuff at the front and big blinging chain with an upside-down cross hanging from it. If it wasn’t for the outfit he couldn’t been a bus driver. While banging his head and drinking his pints, the little bus driver walked around tirelessly in search of a good view on the stage.
That stage turned into a crammed up, but well lit – the crew put up kinky standing lights that professionalized the stage by a fucklot – hole when Eluveitie climbed it. If I’m not mistaking all eight members of the band were there and with all their bagpipes, violins, flutes and hurdy gurdies it was a jolly good party. They played many of their great hits, including Inis Mona and my personal favorite Your Gaulish War. I wouldn’t believe there’s a person in the world who would not, in some way, be attracted to these tunes!
Headlining act Dark Tranquillity finally took to the stage at 9:50 pm and stayed there until well after the 11 pm curfew set in. Of all the artists on stage across the evening, vocalist Michael Stanne seemed to enjoy himself the most. With tireless energy he ran around on the stage, in the buffer zone between the stage and the crowd and even went for a little crowd surf while viciously grunting his lyrics. Quite a character and one of the most charismatic and energetic frontmen I’ve ever seen live.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that on stage Dark Tranquillity sound much better than on the album. Where my criticism on their last effort, We Are the Void, focused on the pianos employed being too simple and static, the more synthetic tune they had live and more lively dynamics made for a completely different experience!
That and the fully convincing show the band put up as a wholemade that, despite Mercenary being the surprise of the evening musically, Dark Tranquillity objectively put up the best overall performance of the night. Out of the five performances I’ve seen at least! In any case, it made for a mighty awesome evening, despite missing what I came for. Zero Distance was among the many songs they played and they did that to the actual music video playing in the back as served up below. Have yourself a good taste of that!
If you’re looking to find out if the Neckbreaker’s Ball tour will also stop near you, check out the tour schedule on the official website. Be warned though, be careful not to show up an hour late and miss what could have been the best band on stage. I guess I’ll never find out…