I caught Danzig on tour at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA on September 8. Per usual, a memorable show. This was an incredible bill and I’ll have reviews of openers Mutoid Man and Corrosion of Conformity in subsequent stories. Danzig, with current lineup, is on a short East Coast Tour that focuses on Danzig III and its legacy.
I’ve been a steadfast fan of Danzig’s work since the early 1990’s. As a mostly metal listener in the 1980’s I wasn’t as much into Samhain growing up as I was into the thrash bands. With that, I didn’t really get turned on to Danzig with any sort of fervor until Danzig III dropped. Danzig III: How the Gods Kill was a heavier, darker record and featured some faster songs than the previous two releases. Produced by Rick Rubin, it is the apex of Danzig’s catalog.
Before we get into the details of the review, because it’s Danzig, there are a few “givens” you know are going to happen during the live show and you know they’re going to annoy you. The obvious (and most annoying) of these is the start time. Danzig was supposed to hit the stage at 10:20pm and, right on time…. Danzig was not there. I’ve seen Danzig live 14 times now over the past 25 years Number of times Danzig has started on time in those 14: Zero. I’m not exaggerating here. Honestly, I can’t remember if Danzig has ever started on time. I do, however, remember some REALLY late starts in Danzig live history. The most annoying of which was Danzig at the Ritz (with Proper Grounds and Nudeswirl opening) back in 1993 whereby Danzig had gone on stage so late, people had to leave the show after the 2nd song because the last Metro North train of the evening was just about to depart from Grand Central. It was either watch Danzig perform and stay the night in Times Square or be able to make it home. It was bad enough we all had to stand in agony through Proper Grounds. It was worse that we had to stand there for an additional couple of hours waiting for the headliner to hit the stage.
As we all waited for Danzig to take the stage there was frustration in the crowd because COC was so incredibly on point and so tight you had to wonder if they couldn’t have had time to add another song or two to their set. The crowd was clearly digging COC and I know they gained some new fans. I’d much rather be watching those four guys from NC kill it on stage than stare at those Skull/Reptilian stage adornments leftover from the Circle of Snakes tour while listening to ELO over the PA.
Second thing you know is going to happen – there’s going to be a fight somewhere, at some point. Lo and behold a few songs in, we had one. Not in the pit, but close to the back of the floor. Now, part of the reason I believe there are fights are because people become agitated waiting 45 minutes to an hour for the headliner to start when they see the stage has already been completely setup. Those 45 minutes are going to result in heavy drinking, frustration and general disconnect that may manifest in some inappropriate behaviors. But I’m no social scientist so I’ll leave it at that… ok… I actually am a social scientist when I’m not reviewing shows here at Metal Insider, so yes, late starts don’t make anyone happy with the exception of the one or two people who get stuck in traffic or on public transit. For those two people – late starts are great. So we had the inevitable alcohol-induced fight. Actually, it wasn’t bad. There were significantly more early connecting punches than the Mayweather/McGregor fight, but having the brawl spill into the rest of the nearby crowd was decidedly uncool, especially when drinks are selling for $13 a piece. It is nice though that they both really hugged it out at the end. I believe I saw them walking hand and hand outside the venue after the show.
In case you don’t know or haven’t been to a Danzig show, one thing you never want to do is take pictures. Now, I’m a reviewer and was one of the few to actually obtain a photo pass to this show – and I knew better than to try and take pictures while Danzig’s playing. In fact, as I was waiting in the wings to start shooting COC, Steve Zing walked by and reminded the pros to keep the cameras away when Danzig’s on. If you were at your first Danzig show it was clear from the 100 signs or so posted everywhere in the venue that pictures were prohibited as was video. But yes, just like you knew that George Lucas was going to crap all over Indiana Jones in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, you knew there was going to be that one guy in the front row center who was going to start taping. Why people continue to shoot when they clearly know they can’t baffles me, but then again, there are literally tens of thousands of hipsters living in Greenpoint and DUMBO today that believe communism can work so…
I was actually rather impressed that Danzig had gone about 5 songs in without stopping for extracurricular photography activity, but like the New York Mets starting rotation imploding, it was bound to happen sometime. I’m not criticizing Glenn Danzig here for having rules about recording and photography because it is rather annoying have to watch a concert behind someone’s camera phone screen, and I would imagine it’s distracting to have flashes go off while you’re trying to perform. And there are many bands that don’t want photography and phone use during their sets – Mayhem, for example. But when Glenn has to stop signing in the middle of a song like “Left Hand Black” and point out the guy who’s shooting video to security as the band tries to collectively decide whether or not to stop playing, it takes the energy out of the show and ruins the song.
In total, it’s these little things that tend to get on people’s nerves and detract from the overall performance and experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love Danzig and I’ve even defended him in these very pages but even Danzig has to admit that these practices are not helping him sell more records or sell out more shows.
Let’s talk about the songs themselves. The set opened, as all Danzig sets do these days, with “Skincarver.” Not a bad song, but in typical Danzig fashion, fans are going to hear about 1/3 of the vocals. Glenn is an intense performer and he makes the shows fun and energetic. Undoubtedly the man is in great shape and moves about the stage with an eye towards creating a memorable experience for the fans. That intensity, however, often results in tremendous body movement that sends the mic away from his mouth. Often this practice gets better as the show moves along but I can’t remember the last time I actually heard Glenn sing greater than 60% or so of the lyrics to that song live. It’s almost as if Glenn would have a significant benefit from utilizing a wearable mic – maybe even keeping the traditional microphone merely for the usual choreography that is his signature.
In addition to the usual vocal problems – and I hate to say this because I love these guys tremendously – the band sounded a bit rusty. Granted, the sound was not good in the beginning of the show as Tommy’s guitar got loud, then soft, then too loud, etc. Not his fault. Steve’s bass was fine as usual in terms of his play but suffered from problems in the PA from the low end. Johnny’s always consistent drums, like Zing, were generally on point, but also suffered from some awkward mic placement (that affects almost all drummers playing that odd room) and signal transmission to the soundboard. The screeching feedback on the stage every so often didn’t help either. This could have been the reason the band was out of sync more than a few times throughout the night. It’s rare that this happens in Danzig, but, alas, it does and I’m sure the Electric Factory didn’t help as that old warehouse simply wasn’t built for live music. It was, apparently, built for overpriced drinks and $10 credit card minimums.
Dealing with these issues, the band went on to play “Twist of Cain,” “Her Black Wings” and completely slayed on “Devil on Highway 9.” The band then moved into a focus on Danzig III songs (celebrating the record’s anniversary this year), and here’s where my feelings changed a bit to a more melancholy tone. Again, much love to Johnny, Tommy and Steve. They are incredibly down to earth and have all paid their dues hundreds of times over in the metal world. But they aren’t John, Eerie and Chuck when it comes to those Danzig III songs. Yes, we’ve heard Tommy’s rendition of “Twist of Cain” and “Her Black Wings” on many tours now and we’ve become accustomed to his interpretation of those songs. He plays them well, indeed, with some key differences. But when Danzig, on this night, went into “Godless,” “Left Hand Black” and “How the Gods Kill” it suddenly struck me just how much was not being heard with the absence of the original three band members.
John Knoll (aka John Christ) lives not too far from where I work in the Baltimore area. In fact I’ve seen John in local bars and I’ve seen him perform with local Baltimore bands. He’s still got it. In fact, he’s an adjunct professor of guitar at Carroll Community College. John was known for practicing his craft for hours every day and warming up for hours before Danzig shows. Rick Rubin knew what he had in Knoll, which was one of the most gifted metal guitar players of his time and person who could contribute many unique sounds and solos to the Danzig records.
Knoll’s frequent but very appropriate use of pinch harmonics in songs like “Dirty Black Summer” give many of the tracks a piqued level of interest to the listener over and over again. John is able to put many different types of notes into many different segments into the songs. Similar to the early drumming of Brann Dailor in Mastodon, the musical (or instrumental) phrasing is somewhat unpredictable While a multitude of guitarists will recycle riffs and runs over and over again in a song (think Satyricon), Christ gives the listener these subtle yet quite noticeable changes from start to finish. Expectedly, guitar on Danzig III, with its multiple layers and varying textures within each song is extremely challenging to duplicate… throw in John’s fingering technique and duplication goes from challenging to nearly impossible. Even an extremely talented guitarist like Tommy Victor, who has come such a long way from the early days of Prong, is going to have to leave out some notes, shorten some runs or likely alter his neck and strings and/or fingering to match the harmonics. Realistically not going to happen.
Now you might say, “Hey Jeff – this happens all the time. Guitar players leave, bands break up and then members continue with new players who play parts originally created by someone else.” And you would be correct. I mean, Ozzy does Sabbath songs with all of his guitarists. All very gifted. But do any of them sound like Iommi? The obvious answer is no. Only Iommi sounds like Iommi. Randy Rhoads didn’t even play the Sabbath songs like Iommi, and, in fact, he very much made them “his own” when he played them live.
But here’s a key difference when it comes to making these types of comparisons. John Knoll is still alive and well. He teaches guitar – heck you can sign up for his classes now! He’s now in good health. And one more thing… he’s willing to play with Danzig!
While the break up of the original Danzig lineup wasn’t pleasant and Christ stepped away from playing for a while, there is an open door. Quite honestly, if Jerry Only and Glenn Danzig can get back together after, literally, decades of hating each other profusely, it is entirely reasonable that the original Danzig lineup can do a few shows… and make a great deal of money.
Eerie Von is living in Nashville and working on his art, photography and a documentary film. I’ve spoken with Eerie in the somewhat recent past and he even played a country set right near my office some time ago. Eerie has always loved the fans. Von was an integral part of the stage presence on those Danzig I – III tours. Danzig IV, right after its release, was the culmination of a great deal of stress and the subsequent exits of the three original members. Experiencing “Godless” with Glenn between Eerie and John is something that should happen and something that can happen.
Let’s talk about the last key aspect of “Godless” and Danzig III that needs to be written about. Drums. Charles Montgomery (aka Chuck Biscuits) is living near his family and has been out of the public eye for a very long time. Whether or not Chuck can play like he once did is unknown and is anybody’s guess at this point. What I can say with confidence is that only Chuck Biscuits can sound like Chuck Biscuits – especially on the Danzig records.
If you’ve ever seen Biscuits live, he’s hard to forget. He doesn’t move like any other drummer. He doesn’t hit like any other drummer. Just like Keith Moon and Neil Peart, his sound and image is one of a kind. One of the reasons the Danzig records worked so well and broke through so much of what was happening in the late 80’s and early 90’s was Chuck on the skins. His signature steel snare and use of a medium ride as a crash were part of his particular sound. So when Biscuits isn’t behind the kit on “Godless” and “Do You Wear the Mark” it’s going to sound a little different and a little odd.
Johnny Kelly, of course, is a legendary drummer in his own right and I was fortunate enough to see him many times live as a part of Type O Negative. Always great. Nobody comes away from a show and says they were disappointed in Johnny Kelly. But think of it this way – would Type O songs sound “right” with Biscuits on drums? They wouldn’t. In fact Type O’s final tour, as some might recall, was rather strange as Josh Silver was not on the keys. While anyone would kill to see that tour again, sonically, it was the least “authentic” sounding Type O tour there was.
Was Danzig’s show last week still fun? Of course. Did Danzig STILL sound great? Yup. Was it well worth the price of admission? Undoubtedly. And yes, Steve Zing is still having the time of his life bobbing his head and pounding on the bass. Tommy is going to give the crowd his signature menacing look and move his arm in that circular motion he so often does. You’re still going to hear Glenn belt out so many classics. With that, it’s important to read my critique for what it is – a positive review of great show – a review that appreciates what was there but still yearns for what wasn’t.
Even with all the issues and annoyances, there’s one thing that really needs to be said… and that is that Danzig on an “off” day is still better than most bands on their best day. The man is a legend and one of the greatest songwriters of our time. There’s STILL something special about seeing Glenn on stage and it’s important for the younger, newer metal fans to have the opportunity to see one of the best. There were a lot of young people at the Danzig show and I view that as something very positive.
As I respected Danzig’s wishes for no photos, here is a photo of a young Dr. Podoshen with Danzig bassist Steve Zing.