HELLOWEEN EXCEED LOFTY EXPECTATIONS
Date: February 28, 2016
Venue: Théâtre Corona
Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
After stupidly or perhaps wisely missing Helloween play live in Budapest, Hungary back in 1995 and finally getting to experience the band live in 2013, I made a silent vow to myself that I would never miss the German power metal group’s North America tours if the band came within striking distance of Toronto in Canada. The opportunity this time around came when Helloween were going to do what has to be considered a very mini-tour of North America following their Monsters of Rock appearance from February 22 to 26, 2016. Only seven North American tour dates followed the group’s Monsters of Rock appearance but luckily two of the tour stops (Cleveland, USA and Montreal, Quebec, Canada) were within a six hour drive of Toronto. With the weak Canadian dollar and the Montreal date falling on a weekend, the choice was easy that “La Belle Province” (as the province of Quebec likes to advertise itself) would be getting a visit from me on February 28, 2016.
I have got to state that there are only a handful of bands that would cause me to even think of doing almost twelve hours of driving in less than eighteen hours to attend a live gig. Helloween are of course one of those bands. They are just one of those groups that have — in my eyes — always been consistently great over their 30 plus year music career and that even includes during the band’s “controversial” era with its album Chameleon which I have always liked. If I am going to drive almost six hours one way, you got to know that my expectations are going to be sky high and that was indeed the case as Sleaze Roxx writer Eduardo and I made our way to Montreal in my beat up older vehicle that I am admittedly am “running into the ground.” Unlike other passengers (no names will be mentioned) with which I have done road trips to concerts in my vehicle, Eduardo was kind enough not to make any snide remarks over its condition although he did express concern beforehand about the lack of a working CD player.
We left the balmy temperatures of 10 degree Celsius in Toronto at around 1:15 pm and it was pretty cool — in more than one sense of the world — to arrive in Montreal almost six hours later to a full out winter where the sidewalks are covered with stomped on snow, there is white snow everywhere you look outside and it is freezing cold (well, at least compared to Toronto). While the province of Quebec is firmly a part of Canada, it has always felt like almost another country to me with the French language being the main language across the province and especially outside of Montreal, and all of the culture and eccentricities that its French speaking population brings to the table. Being from a French speaking background myself, I can only imagine how foreign the province of Quebec must feel to Canadians who only speak the English language. One of the idiosyncrasies of Quebec in my eyes is that I always try to speak in my admittedly rusty French once I’m there only to be responded in English half the time by Quebeckers when I am in Montreal. While I appreciate the gesture of them switching to a language that I am obviously now way more comfortable in, it still is a bit annoying that they don’t indulge me and let me practice my rusty French a little bit more.
I am quickly digressing so back to the review. After a quick supper — only healthy dining for “Mr. Healthy” Eduardo which is a bit of a shame given that Quebec excels at the greasy stuff with the fast food chain “La Belle Province” coming to mind (Helloween‘s frontman Andi Deris raved about the French cuisine later on in the evening) — we arrived at the Théâtre Corona venue about half an hour after the doors had opened. There were already about two rows of people in the general admission section behind the barriers, the prime balcony seats seemed all taken (from my general admission vantage point) and all the spots behind the elevated first row behind a barrier and the general admission area were all taken. Clearly, the concert goers in Montreal seemed familiar with the Théâtre Corona venue and which spots needed to be secured right away for the best views of the stage. It didn’t really matter because the Théâtre Corona venue seemed really well designed in that it was not particularly deep in length but the ceiling was very high up and the stage quite wide meaning just about everyone in the venue would feel pretty close to the stage no matter where they were. Although Toronto has some similar styled venues for concerts, it seems that the Théâtre Corona venue has the total package.
First up to open the evening’s festivities was a Quebec based group that I had never heard of before — Potion 13. Their portion of the stage was decorated with little skulls so I was not sure what to expect from the group. At about 7:55 pm, two females and two males took to the stage before the towering male guitarist with the curly blondish locks by the name of presumably Brian Harps yelled out some big screams to the audience’s delight. It became apparent that the guitarist was addressing the crowd in French and I was able to catch him state in his Quebec slanged French: “Est-ce que vous êtes en forme a soir?” (rough translation: “Are you in form tonight?”). To my surprise, Potion 13‘s female lead vocalist, presumably named Danielle Langlois, started singing in French. The crowd did not seem to mind and in any case, with such a great voice, who cares in what language that Langlois was singing in. The enthusiastic Langlois did a good job of engaging the audience and I noticed quite a few people rocking out to Potion 13‘s brand of seemingly Judas Priest classic styled heavy metal. Frankly, I was quite impressed with Potion 13 and I would have bought a CD from them on my way out of the venue had I seen where (and if) their merchandise booth was set up. It was my first time hearing a heavy metal band sing more than one song in the French language and I enjoyed the experience. To my surprise, I was actually a little disappointed that Potion 13 only got to play five songs by my count and their too short set ended at 8:20 pm.
Funny enough, when I first saw a couple of days prior to leaving for Montreal that the concert was scheduled to start at 8:00 pm and there were two bands opening for Helloween, I was dreading when the concert would end thinking of the long drive back to Toronto in the wee hours of the night afterwards. With Potion 13 ending their set at 8:20 pm and the very fast turnaround to get the next band Them on stage, it seemed that I just might be able to get back to Toronto in time to get one or two hours of sleep in my own bed before starting my work day on Monday morning.
Aside from knowing that the group Them was a project from Symphony X‘s bassist Mike LePond, I didn’t know anything about them so I was quite surprised when a casket was rolled onto the stage prior to the band hitting the stage. From there, Them‘s seemingly giant frontman (presumably Klaus König) walked on stage in a tuxedo like costume, top hat and large curly locks which looked like a wig. The frontman proceeded to take a “baby” or more like a small doll with some lights on it out of the casket and Them‘s theatrical presentation was full on! The band proceeded to whip through a first few songs at a rapid pace which I can only really describe as speedy symphonic metal. It’s definitely not the type of music that I usually listen to and I don’t think that hearing Them‘s musical compositions drew me any closer to that style of music. Nevertheless, what Them did bring to the table was a very entertaining set filled with theatrics even though it was somewhat difficult to piece exactly what everything all entailed. There were two women — one older and one younger — in long old styled dresses that were periodically appearing on stage and interacting with Them‘s towering frontman. Eduardo who is more in tune with bands like Symphony X and also a King Diamond fan opined that Them‘s presentation was akin to a less impressive version of King Diamond. Whatever the case, the crowd seemed to be into what Them were offering and König was even able to get some spirited fist pumping and lots of cheers from the general admission area.
On to the main course! Helloween hit the stage at about 9:45 pm with the familiar sounds of the “Walls Of Jericho” which seemed to have the audience singing along to the music. With the backdrop consisting of a slight variation of the light blue cover adorned on Helloween‘s latest album My God-Given Right, there seemed little question that the stage show offered by the band would look spectacular and it did! Helloween started off strong with their frontman Andi Deris greeting the audience in French by stating “Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs” before the group played two old classics consisting of “Eagles Fly Free” and “Dr. Stein” to the audience’s delight. No need to say that the crowd was right into it right from the start. In particular, the four or five young lads (perhaps late teens to early 20s) to my left were quite exuberant and animated upon seeing the German power metal band and during the rest of the group’s set.
Deris advised the crowd early on that the group had just finished the Monsters of Rock Cruise but unfortunately he was laid out sick for two days in his cabin with a temperature of (jokingly) 50 to 60 degrees Celsius! Deris apologized for the sound of his voice but honestly, had he not mentioned anything, I would have never known that he was feeling under the weather because I thought he sounded and sang really well! Nevertheless, this obviously bothered Deris who repeatedly asked the audience if he sounded alright despite being sick and towards the end of the show, he again apologized stating that he would sing better the next time that he came to Montreal. What I took out of that was that Deris takes great pride in what he does and might be a bit of a perfectionist given his high standards for himself. Let’s just say that I will take Andi Deris singing while under the weather over just about any other heavy metal singer. I really couldn’t hear any difference between Deris‘ singing when I saw him live back in 2013 and on this night. If anything, I was quite impressed with his singing and especially when it comes to handling the back catalog of Helloween songs with what has to be deemed the difficult to mimic high opera pitched singing from ex-singer Michael Kiske. My hat goes off to Deris for putting on a great show, a full set for two hours and singing his ass off despite obviously not feeling well.
One thing I like about Helloween is that they do not just play a greatest hits set from tour to tour but mix up their setlist quite nicely including playing songs from their latest albums. The Montreal tour stop on this occasion was no exception with Helloween playing three tracks from their new album My God-Given Right which consisted of the title track, “Heroes” and “Lost In America” which all sounded great, got good crowd participation and fit right in with the classic Helloween material. Helloween also played two songs from their previous album Straight Out Of Hell and while I am not as crazy about the two songs that they chose to play (“Waiting For The Thunder” and the title track), both songs sounded quite good as well. Compared to the last tour stops that Helloween made in Canada back in 2013, the setlist overall had changed quite a bit with seven songs dropped from the 2013 set (including alas one of my favorites “If I Could Fly”) and a number of old favorites creeping back in the setlist including “Before The War”, “Where The Rain Grows” and “Mr. Torture.” Just like back in 2013, I felt that Helloween could play just about any song from their repertoire and I would be happy.
Deris was the consummate frontman addressing the crowd on many opportunities including advising that from what I recall, his grandfather had some French heritage and his name in French was “André Denis” to the largely French audience’s delight and which prompted a chant of “Denis! Denis! Denis!” Clearly, Deris knows exactly what to say to get an enthusiastic response from a crowd. One band member that I was quite impressed with was guitarist Sascha Gerstner. He really seemed to have a lot of stage presence this time around and really have come into his own in that regard. It was also fun seeing him kid around with Helloween founder and guitarist Michael Weikath in that it appeared that Gerstner was sometimes playfully mimicking Weikath‘s moves of strumming his guitar with his right hand before lifting his right arm as if he was waving a magic wand. Bassist Markus Grosskopf was his usual enthusiastic self and all smiles for most of the show. Drummer Dani Löble did a great job on the drums and although I usually don’t enjoy drum solos, I did enjoy what he had to offer.
Helloween capped off a great evening with an absolutely killer medley of songs which consisted of “Halloween”, “Soul Survivor”, “I Can”, “Are You Metal?” and “Keeper Of The Seven Keys.” It does not get much better than that! The first set of encores consisted of “Before The War” (which was a nice surprise) and Gerstner‘s guitar solo which prompted some screams from the audience although seemingly not exactly as planned by the tall lanky guitarist. The second set of encores was no surprise with Helloween going old school and playing their two likely best known songs — “Future World” and “I Want Out” — the latter of which Deris used to suck the last breaths and voices from the enthusiastic audience. All in all, Helloween put on another exceptional performance and the ride back from Montreal to Toronto went without a hitch and despite arriving home just before 6:00 am and getting only a few hours of sleep in the car, I felt refreshed and likely just pumped up from a great concert for the coming work day. While it is a shame that Helloween do not always include Toronto on their North American tour itineraries, I would definitely go see them play again in Montreal in a heartbeat!
01. Walls Of Jericho
02. Eagle Fly Free
03. Dr. Stein
04. My God-Given Right
05. Steel Tormentor
06. Mr. Torture
07. Waiting For the Thunder
08. Straight Out Of Hell
10. Drum Solo
11. Where The Rain Grows
12. Lost In America
14. Forever And One (Neverland)
15. Medley (Halloween; Soul Survivor; I Can; Are You Metal?; Keeper Of The Seven Keys)
16. Before The War
17. Guitar Solo (Sascha Gerstner)
18. Future World
19. I Want Out