Epic Kings & Idols Tour Brings Doom And Shenanigans To San Francisco

By Avinash Mittur

September 6th 2012, Great American Music Hall, San Francisco CA: For the past week, Katatonia, The Devin Townsend Project, Paradise Lost and Stolen Babies have been touring North America. I managed to catch this “Epic Kings and Idols Tour” at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco last Friday night, and I was given an enjoyable night of heavy music in exchange for my twenty four dollars. I hadn’t heard any of these bands’ music before tonight, so I also looked forward to finding some new styles of metal to check out. This show wasn’t necessarily a mind-blowing experience, but it was a fun way to spend my Friday night and a great introduction to a few amazingly talented artists.

I entered GAMH near the end of Stolen Babies‘ opening set. I was quite honestly perplexed by what I heard, and I would be lying if I called it heavy metal music. Vocalist Dominique Parsi wielded her accordion with a silly look on her face, and alternated between harsh screaming and smooth singing while the music itself sounded more like heavy alternative rock, almost like if Jane’s Addiction were to be a little darker and nastier. I can’t say that the band fit the bill well, but the audience seemed to enjoy it and their presence certainly did not detract from the show one bit.

The next act up was Britain’s Paradise Lost. I had known of this band as a legendary doom metal act up until this show, so their set ended up coming as a total surprise to my ears. Instead of doom metal in the traditional Sabbathian style, I instead heard driving riffing, atmospheric keyboards, and danceable drum beats. Even though this was absolutely not what I expected from Paradise Lost, I have to admit that I loved every second of their forty minute set. I wasn’t a big fan of the piped in backing vocals and keyboard parts, but every one of the songs that the band played was a new sound I hadn’t even thought of hearing and enjoying at a metal show. For me, the highlight of their set was the title track to their latest album, “Tragic Idol.” The audience seemed to agree with me, greeting the song’s epic guitar finish with a massive applause. The heaviest track of the set, “In This We Dwell,” brought great variety to the set, and prevented it from blending together near the end. I was also impressed with Nick Holmes’ vocals. One could easily tell that Nick could bust out a death growl at any given moment, but his vocal restraint made the difference between the songs’ live versions and the studio versions negligible. In this regard, the set was a perfect introduction to a new fan like myself. What I later looked up on YouTube sounded exactly like what I heard live, and as a result Paradise Lost now have at least one new fan.

Paradise Lost Set List:
1. The Enemy
2. Honesty in Death
3. Erased
4. Tragic Idol
5. Forever Failure
6. One Second
7. In This We Dwell
8. Say Just Words

The first headlining act of the night was the infamous Devin Townsend Project. I knew of Devin’s eccentricity and his quirky sense of humor, but nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Minutes after the house lights went up after Paradise Lost’s set, videos featured Devin’s characters, Ziltoid among them, began to play. His fans in the audience immediately began to sing along with the music playing and laugh, while everyone else, myself included, tried to figure out what the hell we were watching. In my case, I eventually gave up and let the song about mangoes invade my head and stay there for a while. Soon enough though, Devin and his band took the stage for an hour of the oddest metal music I have ever heard. The one thing that stood out to me about the set though was Devin Townsend’s sheer charisma on stage. One could tell that this guy loved his fans and playing live- he always had a goofy face on and could be seen chatting with fans in the front rows while still shredding away. During “Supercrush!” Devin even praised one fan’s glorious moustache right in the middle of the track. Moments like that one were peppered throughout the set, and really lent a fun and goofy vibe to entire hour. The fact that the music played was filled with brutal seven-string riffing, double bass bursts and frequent death growls only made this an even sillier event. Devin claimed that he attempted to change their set night to night, but there’s no way one would have guessed that after seeing how tight of a unit this band was. There wasn’t a bad note hit, and even Devin’s wildly varying vocals were always full of life and energy, whether they were operatic wails or low growls. My favorite songs of the set were the two finishing tracks, “Lucky Animals” and “Bad Devil.” The former refused to leave my head, and even saw the audience dancing in time with the song. The latter had Devin lurking the stage with a menacing (yet still very silly) look on his face and the stage lights turned into a wash of red. I absolutely loved seeing such an energetic and fun guy like Devin play, and I only wish that he played for longer.

The Devin Townsend Project Set List:
1. Supercrush!
2. Kingdom
3. More!
4. By Your Command
5. Sunday Afternoon
6. Regulator
7. Grace
8. Juular
9. Lucky Animals
10. Bad Devil

As cool as the Devin Townsend Project’s set was though, it was a really random choice to go in between Paradise Lost and Katatonia. One definitely noticed a dichotomy among the audience- there were the Devin fans and then there were everyone else. A solid chunk of the crowd took off after the DTP set, but a strong amount remained for Katatonia and GAMH still looked solidly packed despite the new absences.

The somewhat shrunken crowd did not deter Katatonia however, and the band delivered an enjoyable hour of their brand of gothic metal. I knew of the band’s death metal origins and some of the members’ participation in Bloodbath, so I was very unprepared Katatonia’s mid-tempo, atmospheric and melancholy style. Singer Jonas Renkse’s vocals were a very pleasant surprise in this regard. His clear and moody vocals were something that I definitely did not expect to hear coming in as a first time listener, but I was more than happy to listen to them instead of the same death growl I’ve heard time and time again. Jonas didn’t move much onstage, opting instead to headbang when he could. He left the stage maneuvering to guitarists Anders Nyström and Per Eriksson, who occasionally walked about or traded places onstage. Compared to an act like Warbringer, Katatonia were practically statues but I don’t think that running all about would have suited the music they played whatsoever. The set turned to be exclusively focused on their material from the 2000s- for fans of Katatonia’s recent work their show was great, but I’m sure some of their older listeners would have liked to have hear at least one or two older tracks.

In retrospect, Katatonia’s songs started to all blend together about halfway through. Paradise Lost had avoided this problem by incorporating one heavier track into their set, but Katatonia didn’t really make that kind of attempt with their set. I enjoyed all of what I heard, but I just wished that the band showed off more of the other sounds and styles that they are clearly capable of. Their set-closer, “Leaders,” ended up being the highlight of their set because of this reason. The main riff with the phased guitar line was the most unique thing I heard during Katatonia’s hour onstage, and I thought it was a fantastic finish to a good, but not great, set.

Katatonia Set List:
1. Dead Letters
2. Buildings
3. The Longest Year
4. Deliberation
5. My Twin
6. The Racing Heart
7. Lethean
8. Teargas
9. Walking by a Wire
10. Sleeper
11. Hypnone
12. Forsaker
13. Leaders

Ultimately this show was a fun time for those involved, but I think that the bill ended up being a bit mismatched and the sets could have really been a bit longer. Paradise Lost delivered as superb a set as one can expect from an opening act, but I really did expect just a little bit more from the headliners. As solid as Katatonia were, they truly paled in comparison to the energy and variety provided by DTP and seeing them follow that kind of act felt just a little underwhelming. Considering how different DTP and Katatonia are, I can’t imagine that there were a huge amount of fans there to see them both, and as such I don’t think many fans walked out of GAMH having received their money’s worth of music they actually liked. Despite these complaints I still enjoyed the show overall, and I’m even happier to have been exposed to some truly great music for the first time. For fans of most of the acts, the “Epic Kings And Idols Tour” is a guaranteed night of fun, but everyone else may find themselves wanting just a bit more value for their time and money.

Overall gig rating: 8/10

Related: Devin Townsend interview | Paradise Lost interview | Katatonia LA photos | Devin Townsend LA photos | Paradise Lost LA photos