Life Of Agony reunion show
As the only one of my friends who managed to get into the Life of Agony reunion concert a couple weeks ago at Irving Plaza, and as its still so fresh in my mind, I should record the experience for any who are interested.
Im unsure how many thraxilites have LOAs legendary sounds in rotation. The band is distinguishable by the abdominally throataceaous singer Keith Caputo, and it was mostly due to his sound that LOA was isolated from others in the genre. He can carry a very loud, powerful note with a certain grace, making the sound truly his own. Even at peak decibels, his voice never gets hoarse, it just gets loud. He also tends to carry the perfect pitch on perfect time, and, as almost all their songs revolve around an addictive chorus melody, this trait is important. Content is also probably responsible for a lot of their fan base, which is one of the most loyal on earth. It was mostly of Keiths shitty deal in life (abusive, drug-addict, divorced parents, both of whom are now dead of heroin), and of how he felt about it all. It all went into, and formed one of the first truly emotional hardcore bands.
River Runs Red (1993), their first release, is one of the best records ever made. I was initiated at 16 while playing Rifts with my good friend Tom Riley. He had the album on repeat for the duration we played, usually overnight. Eventually it was just always on, in my head, and I came to crave it. The cuts on this album were, and are, amazing. The voice certainly, but the riffs are also surely to blame for a fans instant obsession. It was, and embarrassingly enough, still is, nearly impossible not to air-drum/guitar, and sing along. LOA has caused me a vow of music-making in my next life.
Keith left the band in 1997, a couple months before I was to see them play up in Lewiston. When I learnt of the reunion show, I was in disbelief. When the tickets sold out in under 20 minutes, I wasnt surprised. When my chick said she could probably find a couple tickets, I was reminded who the greatest girlfriend in the world is. Once I told her for certain Id be back in America by the shows date, she scored us two VIP passes (getting those sorts of things is the only perk she has in working for a record label, which is otherwise heinous in every way). We picked the tickets up in person from Alan Robert, LOAs bass player, who now works at McGathy Productions in NYC, practically across the street from where Julie works. That little experience was incredibly weird for me
On to the show.
Irving plaza is great. Its small, with a balcony that horseshoes around a general-admittance-only floor in front of the stage. The VIP area was the entire right side of this balcony, providing a perfect view of the stage, and the fans. Once up there, we found ourselves in the presence of various record executives, members of the opening bands (whos performances we missed thanks to the snow in NH, and some bad fairy timing from Staten Island), and also, I was to learn, the families and friends of LOA. There were other familiar faces up there too. Some members of Type O-Negative, a band which has always had a close relationship with LOA from their beginnings together in Brooklyn, where there. The weird, heavily pierced fat guy who interviews Type-O fans in their After Dark DVD was standing directly behind me.
While Julie went to find the bathroom and get a drink, I started talking to this hulkish, tattooed-to-death guy who was explaining to me how the atmosphere and buzz of the place took him back ten years when he used to see every LOA show in NY. Although I never made it to a show when they were still Red, getting ready for them to take the stage did sort of play with my temporal registry. Tom and the all night Life of Agony sit-downs of my 9 years-ago youth seemed so right then and there.
While the last opening band (they were pretty boring, called Shinedown) was finishing, the singer addressed the crowd, and commented on what an honor it was to be sharing a stage with LOA, and he called River one of the best metal records of all time. I nodded in approval. At that mentioning, the crowd, which until then had been very tame, quiet, and pretty much just standing around, began chanting L-O-A. It shook the roof. The perfect unison of their voices gave me chills. I think Julie thought I was ridiculous, but I just clutched the railing and joined in.
The crowd settled down and the curtain dropped so the stage hands could change the set. From the angle I had, I could see a little of what was going on, and when I saw the huge, four skull banner drop down to background the stage, I was instantly pumped again. Here I was, about to watch one of my favorite bands, which for the last 6 years had an R.I.P. after their name, and it was with their home crowd in New York. After trying to explain to Julie how mystical it was for me, the curtain rose and the crowd was bathed in light reflected off the banner; always a chilling, beautiful band logo if ever there was one.
Then Keith appeared. He was wearing bellbottom-ish pants, a white tank top, a bright green silk scarf, and his hair was shoulder length. This was not the Keith I knew. But I had already known, through reading articles and interviews, that he had gone through a sort of transformation, which was the reason why he couldnt go on singing with the band back in 1997. He just wasnt angry any more. He certainly didnt look like the raging ball of angst he used to be.
There were no words at this time, I dont think- maybe a hello again new york or something. Then the entire band sort of rocked back, and as I anticipated their landing, I squeezed the railing, and was still completely unprepared for what was to come.
The blast that erupted, in my exaggerating memory, practically knocked the front row off their feet. In my mind now, I see the color red, tuned to a B, blasting from the amps, hitting everyone square in the face, and about 700 heads popping off of bodies. It was River Runs Red, the title song of their first album, and the hundreds of fans, packed like sardines onto the floor, went completely insane and, I, while practically jumping off the balcony in trance-like ecstasy, thought people were going to die.
A gigantic pit formed instantaneously, and the moshers were crashing, backfisting, and kicking each other indefatigably. After ragingly fast, pounding metal, the chorus of this song slows everything down and Keiths voice, in a completely band-branded melody sings: god help me.. the river runs red and I think Im. dyyyyyyy-yiiiin!, during which all the moshers, pushers, shovers, yellers, screamers and innocent bystanders paused, quite dramatically, sometimes mid-punch, like some sort of pledge of allegiance, to sing along at the top of their lungs.
Throughout the set, Keith continually warned of safety, and brought up the death that occurred at one of their shows and then the band would explode into another, then another, and another of Rivers most aggressive and emotive songs, which the fans feasted on. Keiths body was shaking violently, twisting, turning and reacting to each pound of the bass, each power chord and bass-pedal thump. He may have looked like a hippy, but he was as much in this performance as he must have been 10 years ago. Twice he was down on the floor, standing in the crowd, singing.
Everyone in attendance knew almost every word to every song. Most non-metal heads dont associate the genre with lyrics, just lots of yelling and screaming testosterone bullshit. But the vocals and their delivery was one of LOAs greatest traits, absolutely critical to their sound. After listening through a couple times, knowing the words or not, liking them or not, youre singing along, usually with all the air you have.
They broke the set up with songs from Ugly (1995) and Soul Searching Sun (1997), but RRR was what everyone was there to hear and see.
An unexpected highlight was how good Weeds, their one song to get radio play nationally, from Soul Searching Sun, sounded live. Keith also did an acoustic solo that sounded great. Lost At 22 was strong. After about 90 minutes of seriously rocking out, my ears and body were a little tired, the band was getting a little worn out, and the fans were practically drooling and panting. Appropriately, it was time for things to wind down. They finished with three RRR tracks- Underground, My Eyes and then the last song of the night. Actually, I dont know how these things work, but judging by the absolute commitment of the performance, and the overwhelming enthusiasm of every single person in attendance, I cant imagine it was the last time the band will play together.
I was expecting something slow and symbolically conclusive to end things, like Three Companions. But in retro, I realize how weak that would have been for a band as aggressive and hard as Life Of Agony. As soon as the fans heard the bassline to Through and Through, and even while tired as hell, the entire house jolted to life, and bodies were flying through the air as if it was the first number of the night.
It was the perfect end of ends.
After the performance, the band hugged, and, staring at the banner with their arms around each other, had their picture taken. They shared some words of thanks with the crowd, and thanked their families, who were standing around me. The drummer, Sal Abruscato, took the mic and said that it was the greatest day of his life. I have a feeling that it was probably the best show Ill ever see.
I picked up a River Runs Again 2003 hoody, which doesnt sit well in China with the huge skulls on the back- but I wear it with pride. The VIP pass will stay in my wallet until I come to my senses. And I eagerly await the CD/DVD release of the performance.