Vital Remains - Unplugged
Vital Remains, Incantation, and Ember
Northwest Hall, Chicago, August 8, 1997

by: Henry Akeley
The flyers for this show should have advertised "Vital Remains Unplugged" - because that's exactly what we got to see, as the club's pissed-off head honcho cut the power on the headlining band only four songs into their set. I suppose this was kind of a letdown, but the entire incident was just too funny to result in any real disappointment. First, though, the rest of the story...

I managed to score myself a free "in" to this show by tagging along with the Ember guys, who graciously offered me a place to crash for the night in exchange for some help moving gear and whatnot. So, not long after I completed the trek from Iowa City to the suburban Chicago homestead of guitarist Ali and drummer Abbas, it was time to load the band's equipment into Ali's bronco and bassist Allen's car, and head into the city to the club. Joined by Chris, who is temporarily filling in for Abbas on drums, our two-car convoy set out on a little pre-show cruise through one of the, shall we say, less charming sections of town. But despite the rush-hour traffic, and except for the occasional little swerve to miss an obviously crack-addled pedestrian, the ride itself was basically uneventful. (Some street vendor called us "bitches" or something like that, but I suppose that's pretty routine.) Just a few blocks from the club, we stopped at the downtown apartment of vocalist Pete and guitarist Nader, only to find an ambulance parked in front, blocking our way. Classic!

It turned out that Pete and Nader had already left, so we piled back in and drove to the hall, finding the two aforementioned thrashers loitering around in front, greeting us with the Sign of the Horns and swilling 22-ouncers of Old English 800 wrapped in paper bags - true inner city style! The club itself was what you might call 'intimate,' with a maximum legal capacity of just over 200, and three damn long flights of stairs to be mounted before gaining entry. And so up those stairs we went, repeatedly, until all the gear was more or less in place. The band then went about getting everything hooked up and doing a bit of sound-checking, before kicking back for what would turn out to be quite a long wait to play.

The monotony of this wait was broken up at one point by the appearance of members of the Chicago PD, keeping the city safe from evil by demanding that all of our many spikes, bullet belts, and so on, be removed - not merely from our bodies, but from the premises. According to the cops, these are weapons. Hmmm... funny how most criminals these days prefer guns, when spiked arm bands are cheaper and don't require maintenance or ammunition... Anyway, our unholy little entourage had quite the pile of "weapons" which had to be transferred to Allen's car. Then more waiting around.

Eventually, the doors opened and folks started filtering in, and by the time about 50 or 60 people (minus their weapons) were in attendance, Ember finally got to play. They performed an impressive set of their thrashy, blackened material, especially during "These Darkened Wings", "Dance of the Ancients" (my personal fave), and "Divinity". They also played a newer song, "Sheading", as well as a cover of the Misfits' "Earth AD" - a fitting choice, since the Misfits were playing with Megadeth somewhere else in Chicago that very night. (This probably explains why there weren't more than about 75 or 80 people at this show, total.) All in all, I really enjoyed their set, and once they've acquired a bit more live experience and stage presence, along with a bit more vocal endurance on Pete's part, I think they'll be a very convincing live band. (For more description of their sound, etc., see the reviews of their demos in CoC #22 and CoC #17.)

After Ember came local black metallers Profanacion - but I missed them, having decided to take a walk with Pete and Nader down to the strangely aromatic liquor store. Our objective: more OE - once again, enjoyed out of a paper bag, the True Underground Wino way. We ended up loitering out on the street for quite a while, looking evil, critiquing the band's performance, taking in the ambiance, and so on. I spent a few minutes chatting with Joe Lewis of Vital Remains about this and that, then helped the Ember guys move some more equipment, then spent some more time curb-side, milling around and watching some neighborhood kid yelling threats and insults at passing motorists. Then it was back upstairs for - more waiting around! A rumor was circulating to the effect that Incantation were waiting to get paid; in any case, they weren't in any hurry to play.

Their set definitely proved to be worth the wait, though. They played as a three-piece, with no bass - which greatly enhanced the clarity of the drums and guitars, even if it did take some of the weight out of their sound. (Guitarist John and drummer Kyle are joined on this tour by Daniel, also of The Chasm, on guitar and vocals.) I had been a bit disappointed by these guys in Milwaukee, but on this night they more than delivered. In particular, Kyle's drumming just blew me away! His amazing speed and wicked precision powerfully propelled the band through the many nefarious time changes that crowd their material. The quickened newer stuff like "Shadows from the Ancient Empire" and "Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish" sounded just killer. (See CoC #22 for a review of their new MCD.) Indeed, the whole set was pretty crushing, though closer "Profanation" took a couple tries to get started properly. Regardless, these guys just smoked.

Finally, the time came for Vital Remains. As in Milwaukee, I thought that the first two songs of their set were a little bit flat when compared to the incredible "I Am God" and "Battle Ground" which follow them. ("Battle Ground" rules, and if you haven't checked out _Forever Underground_ yet, you're missing out. CD review in CoC #20.) Once again, cool riffs abounded, Joe Lewis roared out great vox, and Joe Suzuki proved to be a true master of the blast beat. Indeed, his blast-mastery was impossible to ignore when the power was cut to the P.A., making the drums the only audible instrument!

Let me backtrack a bit here... The house lights had come up during the band's second or third song, but this did nothing to deter them from playing on. Realizing this, the guy in charge of the venue took it upon himself to personally instruct the guys to quit - with quite humorous results. See, this guy was all of about four foot eight, and easily in his fifties, with a good-sized belly, wearing a Hawaiian-print shirt and a very silly-looking eye shade / golf visor thing. Just before the end of Vital Remains' third song, he walked up next to the shirtless, spike-clad Joe Lewis at the mike stand, and as the song ended he bellowed, "The Party's OVER!!!" - which had no effect whatsoever on Joe. The band plowed into their next song, thrashing away, and the poor guy had to just stand there, arms folded, looking -extremely- pissed off at these disobedient long-hairs. Meanwhile, the band just kept on ripping through the song: an eight- or nine-minute piece, during which the guy only seemed to get more and more annoyed. (By the way, I'm not dissing this guy at all - just saying it was funny to see him up there glaring daggers at the band. The dude was MAD.) Finally, after sharing the spotlight with the musicians for five minutes or so, he opted to walk offstage and literally pull the plug on the sound system. The band, however, thrashed on, with Joe going mad on the bass, guitarist Tony running through the crowd shaking hands and slapping fives, and Suzuki finishing out the song perfectly on drums - drawing laughter and roars of approval from the audience. A -classic- ending!

[Thanks and cheers to all who helped to make my trip to this show not only possible, but also tons of fun. -- Steve]

(article submitted 14/9/1997)

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