By Andrew Bansal
Being a Los Angeles resident has its struggles, but they are outweighed by the perks, specially for metalheads, as we get the opportunity to attend concerts big and small featuring bands local, national, international, mainstream and underground, on a nightly basis. Till date I’ve attended 320 shows in 2015 alone, and coming up with a list of the best among them was a daunting task, but I tried my best. By ‘best shows’, I mean shows that were great from top to bottom, including the headline act and the openers, except for the odd case where the headliner alone deemed the show worthy of inclusion. Without further ado, here are my picks for the top 20 shows of the year.
20. Bang + Black Bombaim + Great Electric Quest @ The Viper Room (West Hollywood) 10/27: Philadelphia PA stoner rock/proto metal veterans Bang turned back the clock all the way to the origins of our favorite musical genre with a splendid intimate exhibition of straightforward heavy music at the Viper Room. Portuguese shoegaze rockers Black Bombaim and San Diego metal group The Great Electric Quest also contributed positively to the overall experience. This was Bang’s first show on the Sunset Strip in four decades, and their performance suggested that it wouldn’t take nearly as long for them to make a return appearance.
19. Blue Oyster Cult + Uriah Heep @ Saban Theatre (Beverly Hills) 03/14: Hard rock legends Blue Oyster Cult redeemed themselves from a slightly underwhelming show as support to Deep Purple at the OC Fair in 2014 with a captivating headlining set at the lovely Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills in 2015, and gave fans old and new a true representation of their great musicianship that has consciously and sub-consciously inspired and influenced so many bands over the decades. Uriah Heep, as much of a draw as BOC for many in attendance, also put forth an exemplary exhibition of hard rock, with very solid new material that presented them as a relevant entity in 2015 and not a mere nostalgia act. This BOC + Uriah Heep concert was a religious experience, and one for the ages.
18. Barb Wire Dolls @ The Whisky-A-Go-Go (West Hollywood) 03/02: Greek female-fronted punk rock band Barb Wire Dolls burst onto the Los Angeles scene like none other in 2015, and it all began with the very first show of their month-long Monday night residency at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. This show on March 2nd 2015 was pivotal as it was the first indicator of whether the band had what it takes to draw people to their show week after week, and Barb Wire Dolls certainly put on an incredible show that LA concertgoers simply wouldn’t get tired of through multiple residencies in 2015. Barb Wire Dolls emerged as the punk rock embodiment of the year.
17. Mr. Big + Mammoth @ Saban Theatre (Beverly Hills) 02/22: Contrary to popular belief, Los Angeles glam/hard rock group Mr. Big aren’t merely the band with that one hit ballad ‘To Be With You’, and have consistently released great hard rock over the years, moving to a particularly heavier and busier style in recent years. They displayed their masterful musicianship through all the hits and more at the Saban Theatre, the concert also featuring the triumphant return to stage for drummer Pat Torpey who had been absent from much of the band’s touring due to illness. Besides Mr. Big, local instrumental progressive trio Mammoth also played a very impressive set and succeeded in establishing themselves permanently on Metal Assault’s radar. With the combination of Mr. Big and Mammoth, this was a musical exhibition of sorts.
16. Sun And Sail Club + Socionic + Elixir On Mute + Here Lies The Hero @ The Viper Room (West Hollywood) 11/13: Boasting of the two Scott Reeders, Bob Balch and Tony Adolescent in its lineup, Sun And Sail Club certainly won the accolades for supergroup of the year with their skullcrushing set at the Viper Room, encapsulating all that is great about stoner/doom within short, violent outbursts in a manner most other bands in the sub-genre aren’t able to. Plus, fast-rising LA prog outfit Socionic put forth their finest performance till date, as did fellow proggers Elixir On Mute and modern metal opening act Here Lies The Hero. It is very rare and almost unimaginable for an attendee at a Viper Room show to not even think of stepping out onto the smoking patio at any point during the evening, but such was the quality of the live music on this occasion.
15. The Sword + All Them Witches + Mondo Drag @ Glass House (Pomona) 10/21: Austin stoner rock stalwarts The Sword released a new album called ‘High Country’ this year and played most of it live at a headline show at the Glass House in Pomona, taking it to a whole new level and giving the audience an entirely different perspective of the same songs that may not have come across as instant classics upon listening to their respective studio versions. This was a classic example of a band enhancing the impact of their new material in the live setting. This was undoubtedly an incarnation of The Sword more in tune with their musical tendencies in recent years, but fans came out in good numbers and loved every moment of it. All Them Witches were also great as main support, and Mondo Drag orchestrated heavy psychedelia with their set. One of the most low-key yet high-impact shows of the year.
14. Kadavar + The Shrine + All Them Witches @ El Rey (Los Angeles) 10/25: German stoner rock trio Kadavar upped their performance level by several notches in comparison to their US tour in 2013, and put forth a great set at the El Rey that showcased the heigtened degrees of dynamism in both their songwriting, as evident on the latest album ‘Berlin’, and their live musicianship. Venice psychedelic violence perpetrators The Shrine were ultra-powerful as the main support act, and Nashville TN psych rock group All Them Witches brought the trippy jams. The audience was in high spirits throughout the evening and the sights and sounds of the El Rey resembled a scene straight out of the ’70s.
13. Thor @ The Whisky-A-Go-Go (West Hollywood) 11/12: Canadian metal personality and former body builder Jon Mikl Thor showed this year that he wasn’t voted one of the greatest heavy metal frontman of all time for no reason, with a short US West Coast run wherein the new ‘I Am Thor’ documentary was screened, followed by a live performance by the band Thor. The Whisky-A-Go-Go was packed with diehard old-school metalheads, and to watch a movie about a band and then get to see the same band come out and perform on the same stage was certainly an unprecedented and unique event. Jon Mikl Thor still has the voice and the stage presence that initially garnered him recognition in the metal world in the ’80s, and along with the efforts of his backing band and Los Angeles classic metal legend Betsey Bitch as guest singer, he truly put on one of the most entertaining shows of the year.
12. Witch Mountain + Glaare + Dead Dawn + The Rare Breed @ Los Globos (Los Angeles) 04/05: Portland, Oregon doom veterans Witch Mountain did a headline tour this year to unveil a new chapter in their career and present their new singer Kayla Dixon, and at their Los Angeles gig at Los Globos, Dixon and her band mates captured the audience to such an extent that Witch Mountain can rest assured fans of the previous singer aren’t deserting them any time soon. Dixon’s exploits on stage equated to what was the best performance of the year by a heavy metal singer. Jaws dropped the moment the band hit the stage and weren’t picked up until after the end of the evening. The gig was made all the more outstanding as in addition to Witch Mountain’s memorable show the audience got treated to some excellent sets by openers Glaare, Dead Dawn and The Rare Breed. A fantastic evening of all things heavy.
11. Anthrax @ House Of Blues Sunset Strip (West Hollywood) 07/29: Longstanding thrash group Anthrax were chosen to play the very last metal show at the House Of Blues Sunset Strip in the final week of the venue’s existence, and the band proved to be worthy representatives of the genre as they went on to orchestrate a glorious evening for all in attendance, bringing out such deep cuts as ‘Across The River’ and many more while still keeping all the hits in the set, and even getting Chuck D to join them on stage for a roof-shattering encore. This Anthrax performance vindicated the opinion that they’re the best of the so-called ‘Big Four’ bands at the moment, and they truly turned House Of Blues into a mad house with this show.
10. Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock @ The Whisky-A-Go-Go (West Hollywood) 04/03: Rock guitar icon Michael Schenker visited the Whisky-A-Go-Go for a headline show to perform the much loved Scorpions, UFO and MSG material he has been associated with for decades, along with tunes from the albums he has released in recent years under the moniker Michael Schenker’s Temple Of Rock. It’s a very fitting name as without fail he turns every stage into a temple of rock, still possessing all the guitar wizardry that made him a revered figure in the first place. Besides, singer Doogie White also sounded better than ever, rectifying and redeeming himself from a sub-par exhibition on the band’s previous Los Angeles visit. Plus, with the much awaited and anticipated inclusion of the old Scorpions rhythm section of Francis Buchholz on bass and Herman Rareball on drums in its live lineup, this version of Michael Schenker’s band had great legitimacy to it and their performance more than lived up to expectations.
9. Doro + Bitch @ The Whisky-A-Go-Go (West Hollywood) 03/18: German metal queen Doro Pesch reclaimed her LA crown with a righteous presentation of everything she’s been reputed and revered for over the past three decades, sounding unbelievably amazing in her singing voice and carrying a presence on stage as strong as ever, bringing forth all the elements of her unique personality as a metal frontwoman. It was heartening to note that the Whisky was packed to near capacity during her set, because her music has had a cult following throughout her career and deserves far greater recognition for its old-school charm. As if the Doro set alone wasn’t enough of a reason for attendees to rejoice, LA’s own Betsey Bitch, a metal queen in her own right, delivered a set just as great as Doro’s, and together the two frontwomen made it a real metal party.
8. The Skull + Sasquatch + Yidhra @ The Satellite (Los Angeles) 09/22: Chicago quintet The Skull put on a show at the Satellite that can be described as nothing short of a masterclass in doom metal, playing songs from the Trouble back catalog as well as their own debut full-length ‘For Those Which Are Asleep’. The LA stoner/doom community was out in full force and loving every moment of The Skull’s first gig in town since 2013, and local support acts Sasquatch and Yidhra played sets that deemed them worthy of being on the lineup. Nothing in 2015 was as quintessentially doom as this show.
7. Enslaved + Yob + Ecstatic Vision @ El Rey (Los Angeles) 03/06: Norwegian progressive extreme metal masters Enslaved brought selections from their stellar 2015 full-length Nuclear Blast Records release ‘In Times’ and much more for an incredibly powerful and memorable headline show at the aptly chosen El Rey, and stamped their class and authority over Los Angeles all over again. Besides, the magnificent efforts of Eugene, Oregon doom greats Yob as main support act didn’t go unnoticed by any means, and Philadelphia PA ‘heavy primal psych’ group Ecstatic Vision also provided a righteous warmup. Despite taking place in the first quarter of 2015, this show still remains strong in memory and will stand the test of time.
6. Queensrÿche + Leatherwolf + Gabbie Rae @ House Of Blues (Anaheim) 03/27: Classic metal greats Queensrÿche have undergone a rebirth-and-a-half with the introduction of singer Todd La Torre into the fold, and are now putting on shows that bring much delight to fans young and old, and make even the staunchest critics grudgingly nod in approval. People that have been fans of the band since the early 80s said that Queensrÿche’s show at the House Of Blues Anaheim this year was better and more energetic than anything they did even in the early days. La Torre’s delivery as a vocalist and frontman was so brilliant that it should be heralded as a blueprint for all other metal singers to follow. His band mates sounded just as flawless and looked like having the time of their lives on that stage, transmitting a similar feeling to the audience as a natural consequence. Orange County melodic metal veterans Leatherwolf also did well in a rare hometown appearance with their signature triple axe attack, and rising teenage singer Gabbie Rae wowed the audience early in the evening with some well-sung covers. This gig had all the ingredients that made for a truly great show.
5. Armored Saint @ M15 (Corona) 11/14: Los Angeles classic metal cult heroes Armored Saint were busier than ever in 2015, with the release of their new album ‘Win Hands Down’ on Metal Blade Records, active touring in the US as support to Saxon, and appearances at European festivals. But an Armored Saint headline show is still quite a rarity, and even more so in Corona, California of all places. Devout fans traveled from all corners of California and beyond to attend this event, and Saint treated them with a show of a lifetime, dusting off the deep cuts and doing full justice to the staples as well as new material. This band puts a wholehearted effort and more every time they take the stage, specially for a headline show, and they were in absolute flawless form at M15. Even at this point of their career, Armored Saint is doing nothing wrong.
4. King Diamond + Holy Grail @ Observatory North Park (San Diego) 11/04: Performing the iconic ‘Abigail’ album in its entirety and transcending audiences into a world of its own by converting the stage into a true theatrical masterpiece, King Diamond captured the imagination of metalheads all over America on his headline tour in 2015, and those that missed his 2014 tour and 2015 Mayhem Festival appearance were fortunate enough to get this unique chance to witness his act in its full glory. The Observatory North Park in San Diego played host to a monumental concert, and even for a show that was added to the King’s itinerary late in the game, it drew a tremendous turnout and was undoubtedly a success. Hugely inspired by the music and lyrical stylings of King Diamond, Los Angeles metal warriors Holy Grail proved to be an ideal opening act and delved deep within to extract their best performance till date. A show to remember forever.
3. Opeth @ The Orpheum (Los Angeles) 10/24: Swedish progressive metal band Opeth visit Los Angeles on a yearly basis but their 2015 appearance in the city was a very special occasion that fans considered themselves extremely fortunate to have witnessed. Opeth played two back-to-back sold-out shows at the Orpheum in downtown LA, performing their ‘Ghost Reveries’ album in its entirety and a whole other set of tunes from the rest of the catalog in an ‘evening with’ format to celebrate their 25th anniversary. One was convinced that their 20th anniversary show at the Wiltern in 2010 would go down as unparalleled, but they outdid themselves and put on a even greater show this time around, at an infinitely better-sounding venue, leaving the audience stunned, speechless and overwhelmed. There was quite a multitude of concerts taking place in the LA area the same weekend, but Opeth left attendees with no regrets whatsoever, with what was nothing short of a legendary performance.
2. Judas Priest + Mastodon @ The Warfield (San Francisco) 10/20: Judas Priest reinstated their longevity as metal gods with an awe-inspiring performance at the historic Warfield Theatre in downtown San Francisco, bringing all the hits, some rarities, and new material which continues to grow on the longtime fans. People that have become accustomed to seeing Priest at bigger venues almost found it hard to believe that the band was performing inside this 2500-capacity theatre. Halford was age-defyingly incredible, as were his band mates, and the group left no stone unturned in presenting the full-on Judas Priest live concert experience, showing that they’re not one to take shortcuts even at a point in their career when they have nothing left to prove. Support act Mastodon, perhaps buoyed by the fact that they were sharing the stage with the might of the Priest, also brought their A-game to play better than ever and silence all critics. A powerfully intimate event from start to finish.
1. Saxon + Armored Saint @ Brick By Brick (San Diego) 08/20: Armored Saint didn’t put a foot wrong in 2015, but when you combine them with another veteran band about whom the same can be said, what you have is a metal show of unparalleled, epic proportions. On a day off from their support run with Motörhead, British old-school metal legends Saxon headlined Brick By Brick in San Diego with Armored Saint as support act for a sold-out show, and the two bands went on to orchestrate a heavenly metal evening for all in attendance. Armored Saint were fantastic with their 50-minute performance, while Saxon played a delightfully long set and were tirelessly awesome through it all. The crowd was very vocal in reciprocating the bands’ efforts on stage and rightly so. The alliance of Saxon and Armored Saint turned out to be absolutely unbeatable, and indeed won hands down as the best show of 2015.
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