Concert Review: Kittie, Blackguard, The Agonist, Bonded By Blood and Bled From Earth at The Firebird

By Matt Albers

            2012 had already yielded a number of metal tours featuring bands who may not have played in a St. Louis club or venue in a while. Earlier in the year, Machine Head and Children Of Bodom both returned to Pop’s for the first time in years, headlining their own tours. Still, some bands that frequent the area didn’t stay away for very long either, such as the third Hed 2 Head Tour, featuring co-headliners (hed) P.E. and Mushroomhead, this time featuring American Head Charge. But when Kittie announced a St. Louis date of their second headlining tour to promote their latest album, 2011’s I’ve Failed You, it came as a rather big surprise; considering the underwhelming response to their last show at Pop’s in August 2011 was overlooked by the fact that Psychostick were booked a co-headlining spot as the official CD release show for their most recent album, Space Vampires vs. Zombie Dinosaurs in 3D. The fact that Kittie would want to return to St. Louis so soon – let alone at all – after such an unfortunate previous show was very surprising. However, not as surprising as the mixed feelings after their show in May 2012 at The Firebird.

The local opening act booked for this show was the four-piece Bled From Earth. To best describe this band and their show that night would be to ask the question: When was the last time you felt embarrassed for a band that you were watching? Bled From Earth’s performance was downright abysmal. The first noticeable problem was the use of an electric drum set. Now, of course it would be unfair to criticize any band, especially a small local opener, for using the cheapest form of percussion equipment for any reason at all, especially during this country’s hard economic times. But the fact that the drummer could barely keep time and constantly lost his drumsticks while playing due to his overenthusiastic performance (which included occasional growl vocals that sounded completely forced into any songs that included them) proved that he was trying too hard without the properly prepared skill.

The same could be said of the remaining four players. While the lead guitarist showed some talent, the bassist also had difficulty keeping time and their lead singer, accenting his jeans and black t-shirt with a top hat and Alice Cooper makeup, showed guitar and vocal abilities that was barely capable at best. Sounding worse than most high school garage bands, their music was a combination of failed attempts to replicate black album-era Metallica and Mercyful Fate. The only thing more tragic than actually watching Bled From Earth, was the fact that their handful of fans – or more likely friends of the band members – seemed oblivious or unconcerned with their lack of talent and creativity and continued to cheer them on as if they were actually as good as the band themselves actually seemed to think they were.

Although seeing the national acts begin to take the stage could not have come too soon, it was during these next four bands that would begin a string of technical difficulties and equipment problems throughout the night. Pomona, California’s Bonded By Blood’s extreme stage energy helped to further amplify their classic thrash metal. Guitarist Juan Juarez wowed patrons with stellar seven string guitar shredding, while bassist Jessie Sanchez showed his own impressive musicianship; at least, when his bass amp didn’t occasionally fail and could actually be heard. Now a four-piece after former guitarist Alex Lee left to join Holy Grail, and without a replacement rhythm guitarist, it was clear that their sound wasn’t as strong, especially with only a bass and no rhythm guitar backing the impressive solos.

Montreal, Quebec’s The Agonist was up next, marking their first St. Louis performance in nearly five years. Performing songs from their two previous albums as well as their forthcoming third release, Prisoners, all of the strong melody and technicality from their recordings were translated perfectly to their strong and confident stage show. So much was positive from their show that little can be said, other than the one caveat of their set, which was the unfortunate weakness of lead singer Alissa White-Gluz’ microphone. For fans, this was almost a devastating blow, as they were unable to hear most of her beautifully diverse vocal style, which ranged from deep, guttural growls and shrieks to high, soaring, almost operatic clean singing, all at peak strength.

Blackguard, another group from Montreal, was the next to play, and fortunately there were no technical difficulties to be found in their set. With an impressive roster of albums including their latest Firefight from 2011, all combining melodic death metal, power metal, and even elements of blackened/pagan folk metal, Blackguard had a strong reputation to live up to, which they delivered in spades. Led by vocalist Paul “Ablaze” Zinay and supported by the unrelenting drumming of percussionist Justine “Juice” Ethier, the fun and brutality poured off the stage and into the audience. With nothing but impressive musicianship from enthusiastic performers running around on stage and interacting with delighted patrons, all while smiling ear to ear, Blackguard may have stolen the show that night for some. It is also notable that they were the only band that night to give credit to local opener, Bled From Earth (a gesture that was far too kind).

With Kittie ready to take the stage, a small but eager crowd (fortunately noticeably larger than a year prior at Pop’s, though still not nearly filling the venue) anxiously awaited the seasoned ladies from London, Ontario to show their stuff. Unfortunately, the first thing to greet them was not the fans, but rather – you guessed it – more technical difficulties. Even after sound check, front woman Morgan Lander’s guitar cut out frequently during their opening song, the title track to their latest album I’ve Failed You, as well as throughout their set. This disrupted their attempts to build their most anticipated fan-pleasing songs, such as when they tried to incite the entire crowd to jump along with them during “What I Always Wanted.” Other songs during their set included the rare nuggets “Look So Pretty,” “Summer Dies,” “Never Again,” “Burning Bridges,” “Flower Of Flesh and Blood” and “Mouthful Of Poison.”

While the unfortunate sound issues caused either by the band’s equipment or the venue’s staff was discouraging, it was reassuring to see the girls legitimately enjoying themselves on stage. Lead guitarist Tara McLeod’s smiling face and jumping on and off her “ego stage” box gave fans the sense that she enjoyed playing for them. This tour also marked the return of former bassist Trish Doan, who was with the group during the time of their 2007 album Funeral For Yesterday, and was welcomed back into the band after the resignation of Ivy Vuijic in February 2012. Though it could have been merely a recording or mixing problem, Doan’s bass playing on Funeral For Yesterday sounded poorly blended into the songs. Fortunately, not only did her live playing sound better, but her stage presence also filled any void that may have been left out by Vuijic’s presence. Toward the end of their set, Kittie had a bit of fun with an impromptu stoner jam, in which Morgan Lander stated was entitled “Satan,” most likely because it was the only word in which she screamed into the microphone while it was played.

While the night began with the abominable and unnecessary performance of local group Bled From Earth, and most of the band’s sets were plagued with technical issues, fans seemed surprisingly pleased with an evening of getting out of the house in the middle of the week to enjoy some live metal. It was also reassuring to see so many fans sticking around after the show ended to meet all of the bands. Still, with a headlining act like Kittie who, despite an unfairly rocky career growing up in the threatening and hazardous music industry as teenagers, have been able to produce enjoyably solid recent work, you would hope that the group paying their dues and then some would allow for a much needed and earned rebirth. But so many people, especially in the small, segmented city of St. Louis, look at Kittie as just another once hyped band of the nu-metal movement seemingly trying to desperately hang on. Anyone who has listened to their past three albums or seen them live in the past few years knows that only the opposite of this assumption is true. Unfortunately, it seems that no matter how hard some underrated bands like Kittie work to gain the much deserved respect of metal fans, it may be too late.

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