Live Gig Review by Alan Daly
Prepare For Hell; an apt title for the European tour kicking off here at the 3 Arena in Dublin on a bitterly cold and stormy night. The nü-year, nü-metal show is ostensibly headlined by Slipknot, but a co-headliner as far as Ko?n fans are concerned. Standing tickets have been officially sold out for months and were in high demand as the enormity of this show dawned on metal fans from all corners of Ireland. The crowd is a mix of those who discovered both bands in their teens at the turn of the millennium, and a new generation of young fans hooked by their resurgence. Some dedicated maggots (as Slipknot fans are affectionately referred) have gone to the effort of dressing in boiler suits and tribute masks; their dedication and fanaticism met with much respect and camaraderie in the pit.
The centre-stage erection of that distinctive H.R. Giger-sculpted, biomechanical microphone-stand heralds the imminent arrival of the Bakersfield pioneers of the nü-metal genre. Jonathan Davis takes his place, standing with arms outstretched to the adoring crowd, pausing for a few seconds before breaking into ‘Twist’; the nonsensical opener to the 1996 sophomore album Life is Peachy. The last Ko?n gig in Dublin was at the Olympia in April 2012, in support of their experimental dubstep-inspired album The Path of Totality, which they strategically steer well-clear of tonight. Thankfully, the musical direction of their latest effort, The Paradigm Shift, is more aligned with their earlier material, although just two of these tracks get an airing. Instead, they deliver a crowd-pleasing mix of their more familiar songs like ‘Here to Stay’ and ‘Right Now’.
A strong, confident delivery and an energetic, extroverted stage presence reinforce a return-to-form which the audience lap up eagerly, singing along and jumping in unison. With no elaborate stage props and just a plain black backdrop, the music speaks for itself, leaving little dead time between songs. After one brief interlude, Davis re-appears with his bagpipes, droning the intro to ‘Shoots and Ladders’, which features the tongue-in-cheek lyrics from children’s songs and rhymes. The track culminates with the recognisable climax of Metallica’s ‘One’, much to the approval of the audience.
As their set reaches the final quarter, Korn deliver three more classic tracks from the nineties. ‘Got the Life’ sees the biggest audience clap-along of the night, with almost every arm in the air. The theme tune to Ireland’s top thirty hits (who remembers that?), is up next, and the crowd sing along deafeningly as Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu slaps his bass guitar along to the chugging riff of ‘Freak on a Leash’. Finally, Davis introduces the last song of the set as the song that “started the whole fucking thing twenty years ago” and asks if we’re ready to get crazy. The instantly recognisable intro to ‘Blind’, builds in intensity as the anticipation of the trigger “Are… you… Ready?” sends the fans into a frenzy and the initial trickle of crowd surfers increases to a steady flow, keeping the venue staff on their toes.
Although the Ko?n set was short, they succeeded in delivering a concise selection of popular tracks, keeping the momentum going with abundant energy and excitement. An already satiated crowd can hardly believe that this was just the appetiser and the entrée is yet to come. An army of road crew set to work removing Ko?n’s backline, and a curtain falls to hide the preparation of the stage for the nine masked musicians from Iowa.
The curtain remains in situ after the house lights go out, and the recorded intro track ‘XIX’ of the highly acclaimed new album .5: The Gray Chapter plays over the speakers. The excitement of the crowd is almost uncontrollable as the intro gives way to an explosion of energy with the opening live track of their performance, ‘Sarcastrophe’; also the first proper track from the new album and evidence that Slipknot are bigger and better than ever. To tremendous cheers, the curtain rises, exposing a grandiose stage with a twenty foot high horned demon skull at the focal point, sneering at the arena with glowing eyes. Surrounding the centrepiece are huge backdrops bearing the new album artwork, several mechanical rising platforms for drums, decks and keyboards, and a string of colour-changing light bulbs.
The brand new track goes down amazingly well; fans obviously having already learned the lyrics as they join in loudly with main masked man Corey Taylor. Next up, ‘The Heretic Anthem’ from their 2001 sophomore album Iowa proves equally popular with the call “If you’re 555…” met loudly with the response “…then I’m 666”. Almost a decade since they last played Dublin, Taylor tells the fans that part of the reason for their extended absence was that they had been banned from Ireland during that time. Although the veracity of this claim is dubious, it is enough to rile up collective annoyance at those who seek to repress freedom of expression in our sometimes conservative little island. Prompting even louder cheers of support, he assures us that when this tour was announced, the first place he put on the list “was Dublin, fucking, Ireland”. He also tells us how the past few years have been very dark for them (no doubt referring to the untimely death of their bassist Paul Gray and recent changes in line-up), but that the support of their faithful fans was what helped them through.
The set continues with a mix of songs, new and old, taken from all five of their studio releases. It’s difficult to pick a high-point of the show, as the energy and excitement reach an early plateau and rarely fluctuate throughout the almost two hour performance. In the past, many have argued that their bizarre masks and circus act are a gimmick that distract from a lack of musical talent, but the ability to engage several thousand fans of various age and background for well over one hundred minutes takes more than fancy outfits and stages. Slipknot have simply pushed the boundaries of their image far beyond the face-paints of Kiss or the schoolboy outfit of AC/DC.
A trio of tracks from their third album The Subliminal Verses follow, including ‘Vermillion’, ‘Before I Forget’ and undoubtedly their most famous hit ‘Duality’, which sees Shaun “Clown” Crahan, dressed in striped stockings and a blond wig, slamming a beer keg with a baseball bat. Anyone who knows anything about Slipknot would be unsurprised by this or what to expect during ‘Spit it Out’ from their debut self-titled album. Before Taylor even has time to tell them, the maggots in the pit crouch on the beer- and sweat-soaked floor mid-track, waiting for the instruction to “Jump the Fuck Up!”; an old routine, but always astounding to see the incredible level of participation. Some fans in the pit were even surprised to find themselves beside Clown, who had made his way quietly into their midst, despite being flanked by security.
The encore resumes the mayhem with the intro and first track ‘(sic)’ from their career-launching first album. With two more old-school classic tracks; ‘People = Shit’ and ‘Surfacing’, the show ends in a blaze of glory, and leaves the exhausted, sweaty and elated audience in no doubt that this was a gig to remember. It was the first big metal show of the year and has definitely set the standard ridiculously high for any to follow.