I have dubbed 2016 as my personal Year of Metal, with the intent to see at least one metal show per month, which would be significantly more shows than I’ve attended in the last many years. Live metal is an excellent distraction from the troubles of work life and the world at large. I wish it was an antidote, but that’s asking a lot of any artistic genre given the tangled set of ailments with which I feel inflicted. I supplement the metal therapy with healthy doses of barbecue, but none of it is curative. Diversion and delight may only be treating the symptoms, but it’s all I can seem to muster. To date, I’ve enjoyed getting away from it all for a couple hours each month by seeing and hearing a metal band make enough noise to hush the insanity that surrounds the venue. The Metal Year had been progressing nicely – including shows by Venom Inc., Black Sabbath, Evil Awakening, Iron Kingdom, Amon Amarth, and Metal Church – but I hit a snag in July. The show I had planned on was canceled, and I couldn’t find any bands I really wanted to see in the couple weeks remaining in the month. While I didn’t have a metal show slated, I did have tickets to a comedy show, which is, of course, a more traditional form of escapism; laughter being the best medicine.
My daughter has never been a metal fan. Despite my best efforts to expose her to the joys of heavy metal, her musical tastes run more towards Broadway show tunes and country music. In some ways, it’s disappointing, but I appreciate that she loves music beyond Bieber and Beyonce. While we have different musical tastes, we have a shared love of stand-up comedy, and she is becoming a student of the form. I’ve introduced her to some of the giants of my parents’ generation, including Shelly Berman, Bob Newhart, and Lenny Bruce (the early stuff, before he got a bit more experimental than funny). She has found some of her own favorites – including Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, and master story-teller Mike Birbiglia – and we have spent hours listening to comedy records together. There are few things sweeter than laughing until you snort with your child. It’s at least as good a distraction as listening to Slayer’s Reign in Blood or At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul.
As much as we both enjoy stand-up, we had never witnessed it live in a comedy club. My only previous experience was a performance by Emo Philips back in my college days when he performed at our campus gymnasium. Up close in a club would be something different, and we began making a plan. I knew of a comedy club in nearby Tacoma, so we checked their calendar of upcoming comics and started our Internet research to find if any of them would make us laugh via YouTube before we committed to buying tickets. Kristin Key was our discovery. She looks like a younger Ellen Degeneres – or, as she jokes, an old lesbian – and carries a guitar to pepper her performance with satirical songs. The clips available online got us giggling, so I bought tickets, and last night, we made our way to the Tacoma Comedy Club to watch Ms. Key perform and give us a brief respite from our respective troubles. As this was the only live show I was to see in July, I observed the similarities and differences from the typical metal show.
1. Please Wait To Be Seated – That was the phrase on the sign posted near the entrance to the club, and it’s not something I’ve never seen at a metal show. Metal fans do not excel at waiting or following directives from authority figures. Of course, I was not offended, as it was necessary for one of the staff to escort us to our seats up near the front of the stage. The venue was dark and featured tables, chairs, and patrons packed close together, which required someone who knew the terrain to guide us through the labyrinth.
2. Seats – At metal shows in clubs, there are no seats near the stage, let alone tables, but there we were, seated with four other people we didn’t know around a small round table placed exactly where a standing room only mosh pit would be inclined to break out at a metal show. I was prepared for any eventuality, but I doubted there would be any crowd surfing.
3. Table service – The attentive wait staff checked in with us throughout the evening to ensure our food or beverage requirements were being met. This is unheard of at a metal show, but I think it’s a feature that should be explored. While retreating to the bar area can be useful if the opening band is terrible, the idea of someone bringing me a beer while I’m up front head banging in a hot, sweaty mass of humanity has true merit.
4. An M.C. – While not unheard of, it’s rare for a metal show to be hosted by a Master of Ceremonies. At most, a local radio DJ will introduce the band, but at the Tacoma Comedy Club, the M.C. did a ten-minute set of his own stand-up before introducing the first opening act. He was hilarious in his own right, and I was happy our evening was off to an amusing start.
5. Short set – Once the M.C. finished his routine, he brought out the first official comic of the night. Opening acts are a staple of metal shows, but I was surprised that this guy only had fifteen minutes to work. Metal bands get at least 25 minutes to warm up the crowd, so my reaction to his relatively sudden departure from the stage was to worry that he felt slighted. I got over it, though, as the other comics took over and kept the laughter going for the next 90 minutes.
1. Terms of art – Going into the evening, I was aware that comics use the terms “kill” and “die” in reference to how well they perform. “Killing” is the term used when the comedian is successful in bringing the audience to a state of euphoric mirth and “dying” is when it doesn’t go well. Such violent terms to describe a performance seem perfectly appropriate to this metalhead. Kristin Key, and the other comics, all killed on this night.
2. Set list – Having watched some of Key’s bits online and seeing the same material performed live made it clear that comics are like a metal band – or any band, for that matter – playing the same songs every night. While I’d like to think the material is always new, Key’s material is so good, so funny, it’s no different than a band like Amon Amarth playing the same songs every night. There’s nothing wrong with telling the same jokes to a new crowd as long as they laugh until they can hardly breathe, which was the state in which I found myself many times last night.
3. Lyrics – To my great delight, one of Key’s songs includes a reference to necrophilia, possibly the only time that subject has been part of a song that wasn’t from the metal genre. Of course, Key made the reference in a more humorous way than a band like Cannibal Corpse has covered the subject, but it still plucked at my metal heartstrings.
4. Merch – At the end of her set, Kristin told us she had merchandise available for sale. Of course, as a metalhead, I needed a t-shirt to commemorate the night. Like most metal band shirts, it’s black. It features the title of her song “Drunk People Lose Shoes,” which is one of my favorite tunes from any genre. She also had bags for sale, designed to keep track of shoes that might get misplaced during a bender. You really need to hear the song.
5. Joy – Kristin Key’s comedy elicited the same pure joy I feel at a good metal show. While humor and heavy metal are different spirits, they both enhearten the soul of weary travelers.
I’m going to count Kristin Key’s performance as the July edition of my Year of Metal. There was a guitar involved, so it counts as a musical performance, and her ability to get my daughter and me to forget our troubles for a short time was as good as any metal show. Sharing that moment, snorts and all, with my daughter…well, it doesn’t get any better than that.
If you like to laugh, I encourage you to seek out Kristin Key. If you like to mosh, you can check out the list in the back of my book.