The Rio Olympics are over, and that means I can get back to my regularly scheduled programming. I love the Olympics, in part, because I got to carry the Olympic Flame before the 2002 winter games and therefore consider myself an Olympian. Pay no attention to the fact I have no particular athletic talent. Sure, I have managed to run 26.2 miles on occasion, but my pace is less than half as fast as the elite marathoners. My Olympic alumni status is more ceremonial than performance-based. That’s the other reason I love the Olympics: watching elite athletes performing at the absolute peak of their abilities. It’s inspiring. The challenge I face in watching the Olympics is that the nightly broadcast goes on well past my bedtime. I record it all and, with judicious use of my DVR’s fast forward feature, try to watch as much as possible. As you can imagine, it’s exhausting work, which is why I took a break from it last Thursday night to see a metal show.
It was a local gig featuring four bands, two of which include friends and acquaintances of mine. The opener, Depths of the Sunset, had compelling songs but terrible sound. The second band, Species Splicer, played brutal death metal with nothing more than a drummer, vocalist, and single guitarist. They were good, but I couldn’t help wondering if the rest of the band was unavailable for the show that night or if they have deliberately taken a extremely minimalist approach to extreme music. Evil Awakening, a band I have written about before, was the headliner. I have followed the burgeoning careers of several of the band members for a few years, and I consider them friends. The show was a celebration, with old friends and former bandmates sharing the stage and conjuring up metal mania among the gathered mass of head bangers. Well done, boys. A gold medal performance.
As much as I enjoyed Evil Awakening’s set, the band that opened for them, Twisted Heroes, also offered something special. More specifically, the band’s front man, Robbie, delivered a performance as magnificent and powerful as Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt covering 100 meters. I have seen a lot of heavy metal front men (I.e., lead vocalists) in my concert-going career, but I have rarely seen it done better. In this small venue in a medium-size town, Robbie Crisp is a huge presence, a metal god destined for larger stages. With the Olympics deleted from my DVR but still on my mind, I offer a few sports analogies:
Getting in the zone – Athletes put on a uniform, pick up their equipment, and step onto the playing field to become something more powerful than a normal human. A metal front man may have nothing more than a band shirt, a scowl on his face, and a microphone in his hand when he steps onto the stage. Either way, they are the trappings that help the performer get into the zone. If you’re not a fan, out of context, it can all seem a bit silly, like watching doubles badminton, with four people scrambling around a court that is the tennis equivalent of a miniature golf course, holding little rackets, and whacking at something called a (giggle) “shuttlecock.” To the uninitiated, a metal show can look absurd, but it’s as intense as an Olympic rugby match, and Robbie was the captain of the team. When he got into his performance zone, shrieking and growling his sturm und drang, Robbie tapped into powerful energy and into my spinal column.
Home field advantage – Twisted Heroes is an Olympia-based band, so we were a friendly crowd, and he took full advantage to quickly whip us into a metallic frenzy, calling on the band to play the songs we know and love and calling on us to form circle pits and create as much chaos as we could muster in the tiny venue. We were fully engaged in the performance, moshing and head banging from the first song to the last, and between songs, Robbie smiled, obviously enjoying himself. Heavy metal is more demanding of an audience than other genres; the band thrives off the energy exerted by the crowd. When we saw Robbie step out of the zone and enjoy the moment, we all appreciated what we had just been a part of and were eager to give even more during the next song.
Good sportsmanship – Throughout his band’s set and again at the end of the show, Robbie took to the mic to express gratitude for everything that made the band’s performance possible. He thanked the promoter of the show, the venue, the other bands, the fans, and metal music in general. He was a cheerleader in addition to being a performer, giving credit where it was due. He knows we are all in this together, and his public declarations of appreciation were notable. He’s a class act.
Earlier in the week, through Facebook, I had told Robbie I was interested in getting a Twisted Heroes t-shirt, but I failed to talk to him about the shirt on the night of the show. Being a die-hard metal head in a small club filled with kids who are the age of my children, my goal was to avoid being “that creepy guy.” That is, I didn’t want to get too chatty with the underage attendees and make them uncomfortable. I could have pretended I was a proud parent of one of the band members, but the fact is, I’m a fan of the music: a self-conscious middle-aged fan who’s never quite sure how the youngsters view me. While I’ve got thirty years of metal shows on my curriculum vitae making it clear that I have major cred, I figure presenting my concert resume to the 18-year-old kid standing next to me could be misconstrued as a contemporary version of “do you like candy, little boy?” As a result, I didn’t manage to say more than hello to Robbie that night.
Twisted Heroes is playing another show this week. It’s past my bedtime, and there’s no way to DVR the gig for convenient viewing another day, but I think I need to go and see Robbie and Twisted Heroes deliver another record-setting performance. And this time, I’m getting that shirt.