Concert Review: DevilDrive and Skeletonwitch @ Pops 10/05/11

DevilDriver and Skeletonwitch at Pop’s

By Matt Albers

            Unfortunately, it’s typical for a metal tour to completely skip over the area of St. Louis, MO in modern days. When a tour doesn’t skip us over, it’s also not uncommon for certain bands to play an off-date of the tour in St. Louis. Such was the case in early October 2011, when DevilDriver and Skeletonwitch played at Pop’s with local openers Parallel 33 and Age Of Awakening.

Announced during summer 2011, the date of this show at Pop’s, on October 5, was the day after the final date of the tour where both DevilDriver and Skeletonwitch (along with Chthonic) opened for Arch Enemy’s tour in support of their latest album, Khaos Legions, which ended at The House of Blues in Chicago, IL the night before (Tuesday, October 4). It’s not surprising that Arch Enemy skipped St. Louis on this fall tour, as the tour hit major North American cities where Arch Enemy would be sure to sell out. However, the last time the Swedish metalers played our town in 2007 (co-headlining with Machine Head on the “Black Tyrants Tour,” with support from Throwdown and Sanctity) yielded a strong, but not sell-out worthy crowd.

While Arch Enemy’s St. Louis fan base may be small by comparison to other US cities, DevilDriver’s on the other hand has maintained rather strong, though still small (perhaps the same general amount as St. Louis Arch Enemy fans). The Southern California groove metal band has maintained a positive relationship with the Pop’s venue for years, and clearly makes the time to play at the venue whenever they can. Skeletonwitch themselves, through constant touring and promotion, has also made a substantial name for themselves in St. Louis, making the pairing of these two heavy-hitters at Pop’s a metal match made in heaven.

The evening’s local talent started with Age Of Awakening and continued with Parallel 33 until Skeletonwitch took the stage. Both bands’ respective sounds and performances fit like a perfect puzzle piece to the heaviness, brutality and groove of the two national acts. Supporting their latest album Forever The Abomination, Skeletonwitch’s precise musicianship, soaring shreds, and fun-loving attitude projecting their over-the-top, traditional evil blackened metal persona captured the hearts and minds of the unfortunately small (500 plus) crowd of metalheads, all of which seemed to collectively be on the same page of excitement and enthusiasm.

DevilDriver opened their set with two songs from their 2005 sophomore album The Fury Of Our Maker’s Hand, “End Of The Line” which lead right into “Hold Back The Day.” Other songs, which spanned their now five-album long career, included fan favorites such as “I Could Care Less,” “Nothing’s Wrong?” “Grinfucked,” “Not All Who Wonder Are Lost,” “Clouds Over California,” “Head On To Heartache (Let Them Rot)” and as well as their usual closing song “Meet the Wretched” in which lead singer Dez Fafara always demands a circle pit (with participants practicing proper etiquette, of course). This was however, only their second to last song and not ultimate set closer, which instead was “Before The Hangman’s Noose,” one of a few unpredicted song choices, including “Impending Disaster,” “Pray For Villains” and “Fate Stepped In.” Surprisingly, DevilDriver played only two songs off of their latest album Beast, released in February 2011, those songs being the first single “Dead to Rights” and “You Make Me Sick.”

Fans could not have asked for more from DevilDriver’s live sound, as guitarists Mike Spreitzer and Jeff Kendrick’s ability to almost flawlessly perform their impressive and catchy guitar solos practically identically to the album recordings, while also providing backing vocals and showcasing high-energy stage presence. The same high-fidelity to their recordings during their live show could also be said of drummer John Boecklin. Vocalist Dez Fafara made sure to take time during song breaks to perform his generous front man duties of requesting more security guards for crowdsurfers, acknowledging the presence of two young children (no more than seven years old each) on their parents’ shoulders, and giving credit to the local opening acts.

While the band’s live set was thorough and unsurprisingly fun, their stage presence, especially during song breaks, seemed rather lethargic or less-enthusiastic than their past shows in St. Louis, including just a few months earlier at Pop’s in May 2011, where DevilDriver opened for Danzig along with 2Cents. Fans expecting an encore, which would most likely include their song “The Mountain,” surprisingly did not receive one at all. If the assumption of a lack of enthusiasm from DevilDriver was true, at least one of a handful of factors could be involved, including the end of a long touring cycle with Arch Enemy, an unfortunately small and undersold crowd, or the band’s next tour, where they would be traveling to Europe for the remaining months of 2011 to support Machine Head with other opening bands Bring Me The Horizon and Darkest Hour.

Or, perhaps it had to do with Dez Fafara now having the upcoming pressures of the reunion of his original band Coal Chamber, who are confirmed for Australian festival dates in 2012. Fafara allegedly told concert-goers outside Pop’s after the show that his touring plans for 2012 would be nothing to miss. Could he have been referring to DevilDriver or Coal Chamber? Or perhaps both? We will have to wait and see.

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