By Andrew Bansal
If you turn up for a concert early enough to see all the bands on the lineup, you often walk away from the show feeling that one of the support acts blew the headliner off the stage and put on a more memorable performance. This happened to me often enough through the year of 2015 that it warranted its own list. These support acts left their respective headliners with insurmountable tasks of following them, and left me in no doubt that they stole the show. Without further ado, here are my picks for ten support acts that outperformed their headliners in 2015, in chronological order:
Cannibal Corpse (co-headlining with Behemoth) @ The Observatory 02/07: Devastating death metal legends Cannibal Corpse do not carry a reputation as a support/co-headline act, and unless it’s a festival-type setting, they hardly ever play anywhere but last. It was a bit of surprise to see them co-headline a US tour with Behemoth this year wherein they would rotate the headline spot every night, and an even bigger surprise that Cannibal Corpse got the second-to-last slot in in one of their strongest markets at the Observatory in Santa Ana, California, a place they can easily sell out on their own. After a quintessentially brutal set of no-frills death metal from them, the Behemoth set was as mundane as a funeral procession. Cannibal Corpse won this one hands down.
Striker (supporting Artillery) @ Five Star Bar 04/10: Canadian classic power/speed metal band Striker made a long-awaited appearance in the Los Angeles area at the Five Star Bar, as main support to Artillery, and played an incredible set that was not only worth the years of waiting, but left no one in doubt that they were the best band of the show. Soaring lead vocals and guitar harmonies to go with delightful galloping rhythms, and powerful vocal choruses
made this Striker set one to remember. Four microphone stands at the front of the stage is a rare sight in metal these days, and Striker pull it off with great success, proving to be a treat for old-school metalheads and a menace for bands that have to follow their act on stage.
Clutch (supporting Mastodon) @ Hollywood Palladium 04/29: Maryland hard rock veterans Clutch supported Mastodon on a full tour this year and put in a performance that did not leave Mastodon any chance whatsoever to claim their worth as headliners, specially with Mastodon’s own inconsistencies as a live band. It is heartening to note that Clutch’s fan base has grown exponentially in recent years after periods of obscurity. They certainly brought their fans in good numbers to help fill out a venue as big as the Palladium. With an assortment of tunes new, old and unreleased, and frontman Neil Fallon in his absolute element, they showed that their recent success is no coincidence or stroke of luck.
Saxon (supporting Motörhead) @ Riverside Live 08/19: The old guard of British old-school metal stood strong in 2015, as Saxon conquered stages all over North America as support act to fellow Britishers only a few years senior to them, Motörhead. Keeping their creativity intact and producing new material at a prolific rate while maintaining the performance standards when it comes to doing justice to the classics and deep cuts on stage, Saxon can really do no wrong at present, and they undoubtedly outdid Motörhead on the first show of this tour at Riverside Live.
Against The Grain (supporting The Atomic Bitchwax & Mos Generator) @ Loaded 09/05: Even as the third band on this bill, Detroit, Michigan speed rockers Against The Grain dominated the stage at Loaded Hollywood and left the audience, comprising majorly of first-timers, visibly stunned. Foot-stomping and neck-breaking to the maximum, Against The Grain are throwing down the gauntlet for bands bigger than them and are invariably coming out on top. Any band that considers themselves a great live act should play after Against The Grain and re-evaluate, because at this point in time there is no challenge tougher than following this band.
Against The Grain
Queensrÿche (supporting Scorpions) @ The Forum 10/03: Metal legends Queensrÿche expanded their fan base quite enormously this year as touring support act to the mighty Scorpions. The demographic in attendance for the show at the Forum in Los Angeles clearly indicated that nearly everyone had bought their tickets for the Scorpions alone. But when it came down to sheer performance and musicianship, Queensrÿche proved to be a well-oiled machine led by the exemplary singing of Todd La Torre that succeeded in filling such a massive room, and even though the Scorpions brought the stage production, Queensrÿche was the better band.
Fireball Ministry (supporting Zakk Sabbath) @ The Viper Room 10/10: Fresh off a successful appearance on Motörhead’s Motörboat for the second year in a row, longstanding Los Angeles stoner rock group Fireball Ministry played two nights at the Viper Room supporting Zakk Wylde’s Black Sabbath tribute band Zakk Sabbath. I was in attendance for night #2, and the event unfolded exactly as I had expected and imagined, with the awesome foursome of Jim Rota, Scott Reeder, Emily Burton and John Oreshnick stamping their class and authority all over that Viper Room stage and leaving a longlasting impression on the most stubborn and diehard BLS vest-clad Zakk Wylde fanboys. The much hyped star-studded Sabbath tribute did not come anywhere near close to matching the soul-soothing set of original heavy tunes by Fireball Ministry that have stood and will stand the test of time.
Danava (supporting Windhand) @ The Roxy 11/01: Following the past few years of inactivity, Portland, Oregon heshers Danava announced their comeback with a tour supporting Uncle Acid in 2014, and took it several notches higher on the follow-up tour with Windhand this year. Discarding the usage of live synth and resorting to a classic four-piece, two-guitar setup, Danava are more in-your-face with their brand of stoner rock than they ever have been, and they exhibited it in plenty at the Roxy, scorching the stage and putting forth one of the most memorable performances ever seen. Boasting of a hefty dosage of their stellar 2011 release ‘Hemisphere Of Shadows’ along with new material, it was the kind of Danava set that equated to love at first sight and listen for those unfamiliar with them, and as soon as they stepped off the stage, there was no doubt that the best band of the night had already played.
Black Cobra (supporting Yob) @ The Echo 11/20: San Francisco sludge duo Black Cobra have played destructive sets in the Los Angeles area for several years now, but none more so than their performance at the Echo as support act to Yob. Having experienced a horrendous van accident earlier on the tour, Black Cobra came in with that extra ounce of angst and firepower and stepped on that stage with a sense of purpose, zoning out in their own world of unrelenting sludge and orchestrating a violent awakening upon the audience. Continually defying the norm by bringing unmatched levels of heaviness as a mere two-piece, Black Cobra sounded cleaner and stronger at the Echo than they ever did at an LA show, and no band on the planet could have followed this set, not even Yob.
Enslaved (supporting Between The Buried And Me) @ The Mayan 11/29: Norwegian progressive extreme metal mainstays Enslaved showcased their mastery and expertise all over the Mayan stage with a mind-blowingly contrasting onslaught of proggy passages and black metal outbursts, alternating between the most powerful guttural vocals and the most captivating clean singing. They presented tunes from their latest work of genius ‘In Times’ as well as selections from the rest of their 25-year career, combining unparalleled musicianship with exemplary lighting patterns and crystal clear front-of-house mix. This Enslaved set was nothing short of godly, and left Between The Buried And Me, an undeniably great band in their own right, with a truly impossible task. Enslaved are at the peak of their powers, a peak that heightens with every creative endeavor and every subsequent touring cycle, and it’s hard to imagine a bigger band outclassing them any time soon.
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