Saturday Night In San Francisco: An Evening Of High Energy Heavy Metal

By Avinash Mittur

June 22nd 2013, Thee Parkside, San Francisco CA: Once every now and again, you see a show that truly embodies a local sound and community to their fullest extents. On Saturday June 22nd, such a show happened. The location was Thee Parkside Bar & Grill in San Francisco, and the music was classic heavy metal, with its loving fans gathered en masse. For a mere $8, these jolly metalheads got to see three outstanding hometown acts: Hell Fire, My Victim and Midnight Chaser. More than any other show in recent memory, this one genuinely did justice to the spirit of Bay Area old school heavy metal. Flowing drinks, big smiles, loud riffs and a sense of togetherness that I haven’t felt in ages all coalesced into one of the most fun nights I have ever had in this weird city. 

Thee Parkside is a venue tailor-made for the social. A large outside patio with plenty of benches was perfect setting for conversation, merch sales and ample consumption of tater tots (when it comes to tots, Thee Parkside reigns with mighty and awesome power). The patio led into the bar proper, with the small stage nestled in a corner. It’s a wonderful set-up that encourages a casual atmosphere, and the no-nonsense, yet lenient staff helped make the experience even better. There are a few very cool places to see a show in San Francisco, and Thee Parkside stands proudly among them.

First up on this short, but very sweet bill was Midnight Chaser. These guys embody the spirit of ‘70s hard rock and NWOBHM so well, but they carry a American sense of swagger and badassery. The band used the forty minute set to debut a whole new arsenal of tracks and they made sure to throw in a few older favorites as well. First among these was their classic head banger ‘Swords for Hire’, but the new stuff quickly followed. Unfortunately new vocalist Josh Rodstein wasn’t nearly as upfront in the mix as I would have liked, but he still easily impressed with his clear, full throated and melodic singing. Fans of Midnight Chaser’s debut record, Rough And Tough, that may be worried about the change in the lineup can rest easy- the new stuff is the same Midnight Chaser you know and love, but with a couple new friendly faces onboard. The eternal mastermind behind the Chaser, guitarist Stephen Lauck, was eager to crack jokes with Rodstein as the set went on, and his big goofy smile was utterly infectious. These guys were all having a great time, and their joy and mirth easily spread to the hundred or so fans in attendance. A fantastic opening set in every regard.

Set List:
1. Swords for Hire
2. Juicer
3. White Denim
4. Too Wild to Tame
5. Lions Choice
6. Earthquake
7. Cry Wolf (Savage cover)
8. Mother Mary (UFO cover)
9. Rollin’

Next up was My Victim. These SF veterans were the odd one out on the bill, mainly due to their more groove metal oriented sound. Personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of that style of metal, but what does that matter when the other hundred some-odd people at Thee Parkside did like it? My Victim were playing to a merry gathering of friends and family at this show, and the band drew a deservingly warm response. Singer Torre Carstensen and bassist Yas Kajita were the most active onstage, with Carstensen doing his best to work his very tiny space. The two and guitarist Andy Wayne grew visibly more comfortable onstage as the set progressed, and by the time the set highlight ‘Into Eternity’ came around, the three were be rocking out together like no tomorrow. Songs from the band’s lone studio record 13 made the rounds, though the crowd really went wild for the Black Sabbath cover, ‘Mob Rules’. Guitarist Will Storkson did a fantastic job of staying within Tony Iommi’s framework for the solo while still adding his own flair and exotic style to the track, whereas Carstensen paid due respect to Dio by not going overboard with his own vocal tics and mannerisms. Just because I’m a grump about groove metal doesn’t lessen the fact that My Victim played very well performed set with the result being a rapturous reception.

Set List:
1. Hopeless
2. Gods of Perpetual Destruction
3. My Misery
4. Days Gone
5. Bitter Pill
6. Greed
7. The Mob Rules (Black Sabbath cover)
8. Dance with the Devil
9. Crash
10. Into Eternity

The last act of the night was Hell Fire, one of the Bay Area’s very best young acts. This show was a special one though, as fans and friends came together to celebrate bassist Herman Bandala’s twenty-fifth birthday. The surprisingly meaty hour-long set proved to be the strongest I’ve seen from Hell Fire, and all-around outstanding time. The guys opened things up with ‘Fatal Desires’, a track that features a killer bass interlude from Bandala. They then knocked out nearly their full repertoire, plus a couple of fun covers. Guitarist Jon Mendle was nearly inaudible during ‘Fatal Desires’, but things were fixed well in time for the dueling solos with his partner Tony Campos during ‘Lightning Axes’. This was my first time seeing the band with drummer Mikey Carli, who has already spent nearly a year gigging with Hell Fire all over the Bay Area. Carli brought a more aggressive edge to the songs, adding a hefty helping of double bass drumming and ride-cymbal work that evoked Mikkey Dee’s pounding performances with King Diamond. Hell Fire are perhaps one more step closer to full-on thrash now, but they continue to possess the fist-pumping spirit and the swing of the NWOBHM, which is something that a few too many bands seem to forget when they’re too busy ‘thrashing’ or whatever. It was also very heartwarming to see former drummer Arturo Rios sharing in the good times amongst the crowd, cheering on his brothers with the rest of us.

After a birthday sing-a-long for Bandala, and his subsequent impassioned display of gratitude, the guys busted out a fine cover of ‘Neon Knights’. Though vocalist Alex Orozco flubbed a few lines, his powerhouse performance still managed to impress. Unlike the other times I’ve seen Hell Fire, Orozco’s singing was clear as a whistle throughout the show. In previous sets, the older track ‘Night Terror’ came off as a bit cheesy in comparison to the quicker newer tunes but this time it actually proved to be a highlight. There was a newfound energy and drive to the song that wasn’t there the last time I saw the band, but really the whole band seemed to be playing on a new level. Campos’ soloing was cleaner and more articulate than ever before, while Mendle looked noticeably more comfortable onstage compared to last time.

Every time I’ve seen Hell Fire, they’ve managed to throw in a fun and left-field cover song into the set, and this time was no different. The special track on this night was none other than ‘Disposable Heroes’. For a band whose songs stay on the shorter side of things, this was a pretty shocking and downright ballsy choice for a cover song. Luckily for all involved though, the performance was fantastic. Like Rios before him, Carli gave Lars Ulrich a run for his money with a bouncing and propulsive show and plenty of barreling double bass, while Campos demonstrated rhythm skill that I didn’t even know he was capable of by holding down James Hetfield’s famous machine-gun riff again and again. He and Mendle actually incorporated a trade-off solo to the song, a very cool move that showcased the two guitarists’ very different styles. Sadly, the show ended on a very anti-climactic note with the band simply standing around waiting for the PA music to start playing after they finished the set. Luckily Bandala entertained the remaining fans with bits from ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ to make things less awkward during their equipment tear down. It was an odd ending to an otherwise outstanding set.

Set List:
1. Fatal Desires
2. Sirens of the Hunter
3. Lightning Axes
4. Neon Knights (Black Sabbath cover)
5. Escape Purgatory
6. Night Terror
7. Metal Masses
8. Islands of Hell
9. Disposable Heroes (Metallica cover)

When it comes to local Bay Area shows, this one stands among the top of the heap. A jovial and merry vibe coupled with some of the coolest classic heavy metal around made for a concert that was truly a steal at only $8. This is the kind of show you just can’t get anywhere else, and it’s the kind of show that makes me proud to call the Bay Area my home. Seeing Hell Fire continue to grow stronger as a live act has been a very cool experience, and it doesn’t get much better than seeing veterans of the stage like Midnight Chaser and My Victim do what they do best. I’m sure that other scenes and communities have their own little world happening, but I can’t help but feel that ours is just a little cooler because of shows like this one. I can’t speak for Herman Bandala but if I was him on this night, I’d have called this one hell of a twenty-fifth birthday. Good friends, great music, and the best damn tater tots around.