Review of Katatonia gig at Jaxx

On Thursday the 7th of October 2010 I headed over to Jaxx to catch Swallow The Sun, Orphaned Land and headliner Katatonia play the final show of the 26 date Night Over North America 2010 Tour. Katatonia is a sort of doomy dark metal band from Sweden that, at least in recent years, uses clean vocals exclusively. Swallow The Sun is a band from Finland that actually fits on this bill rather well, though they do use mostly harsh vocals. Musically their sounds are pretty similar and I’m sure their fan bases has a lot of cross over. Orphaned Land is sort of the odd ball on this tour. They are an Israeli metal band with a traditional hebrew and arabic folk elements and themes. There were also a couple local openers, but I didn’t get there in time to see them. The place was pretty full, always nice to see a good turn out at Jaxx.

To start off, Swallow The Sun and Orphaned Land switched places in the evening’s band line up order, so Swallow The Sun played first. I’m not sure if this meant they had a shorter set though. I think this was probably a better order than if Orphaned Land played first, mostly because I think Swallow The Sun and Katatonia have similar sounds and putting the other band in the middle keeps the sound from getting stale. Swallow The Sun played a good set though, including my favorite songs of theirs, Falling World and Swallow (Horror Part 1). Before playing the song New Moon, which I’d always wondered if it was about those stupid Twilight books and movies, vocalist Mikko Kotamäki said that the song was in fact about them, but implied it was making fun of them. He said that “Vampires used to suck blood but now they suck cock.” When they played their song The Justice Of Suffering, Katatonia’s singer Jonas Renske came out after a couple minutes and sang parts of the song live. As a side note, I noticed he had a Bloodbath shirt on but when he came out with his band later he had switched to an Autopsy shirt. Anyways, Swallow The Sun was pretty good, and for a slower band than much of what I’m used to seeing live, they never had me feeling bored at all. Really they were a perfect opener for setting the tone for the rest of the evening.

The next band to play was Orphaned Land. Though I’d heard of them before from that Global Metal documentary, I wasn’t really familiar with much of their music. They certainly didn’t sound the same as the other two bands on this tour, and that’s fine. These guys have a more traditional approach to heavy metal, maybe you could call them thrash or very soft melodic death metal, but the real part that stands out is all the hebrew and arabic stylings. They certainly aren’t as fast or brutal as a band like Melechesh but they’re still definitely a heavy metal band with distinct middle eastern influences. Their set was pretty entertaining to watch, though a lot of it was kinda hokey audience participation stuff like getting everyone to wave their hands or hop in place like they were at a ska show. A few times members of I guess other bands or the crew came out on stage doing goofy shit. One time they came out wearing towels on their head mocking turbans and one guy had a green sock that was supposed to be a snake while another guy was the snake charmer with a horn thing made of tin foil. This sort of thing became a recurring theme throughout the evening, I suppose because it was the final show of the tour. That’s fine for the Orphan Land stuff that’s kind of goofy and upbeat anyways, but the distractions and interruptions got kind of annoying after a while during Katatonia’s set. Orphaned Land’s vocalist, Kobi Farhi, was wearing some white get up that looked like a baptismal frock or something. He was also barefoot the entire set which I found quite brave. It made me think of all the times I’ve seen stuff like Glen Benton spit on that same stage. At one point he said that in case the audience was wondering, he was in fact Jesus Christ and that he loves heavy metal. He then said “Mayhem is a great band” which I found to be quite an awesome statement from these guys, but I think Mayhem might be a bit heavy for many in the audience at this gig. The band was missing a couple members, most notably Shlomit Levi, the woman who does the female vocals on their records. They did play her parts from recordings a couple times during intros of songs, and I think Kobi sang the rest of her parts himself. Their upbeat middle eastern folk metal seemed to be quite a hit with the audience and you could tell that some people were here just to see them. In all, even though the set was corny and at times just goofy, it was still rather entertaining.

The final act of the night was the headliner, Katatonia. I hadn’t seen them since September 2007 and while their new album wasn’t my favorite of theirs, it did have a couple new songs I enjoyed. The first thing I noticed about their set was that one of the guitarists was new, as well as the bass player. Not the end of the world I suppose, but different. I hadn’t kept up with the line up changes apparently. The next thing I noticed was the sound was shit! I could barely hear the vocals over the instruments in the mix, and for many bands that’s ok but Katatonia is one of those bands where the vocals and lyrics add a lot to the music. Now I was close to the front and in the center, not always the best place for sound quality at a place like Jaxx where the speakers face straight out, but still, the audio was crap and I could see the bass player was having problems with his instrument which actually happened the last time they played Jaxx also. They did play for almost two hours though and the sound had gotten a bit better by the end of it, though the vocals volume was still low in the mix from where I was standing (check out the videos below to hear what I mean). Katatonia has a lot of I guess “sing along” type songs and people in the audience didn’t hold back, particularly on some of their more famous songs. For some reason they never play a favorite of mine, Deliberation, and always play the monotonously repetitive Soil’s Song every set, I’ll never understand that choice. They didn’t play much older material and the setlist focused mainly on their newest album, Night Is The New Day, with a few other songs thrown in from the previous two albums. This was certainly not a show for fans of their older, harsher material, but then, I think everyone knew that going in. They certainly have a catchier sound these days, too heavy to be rock, and too melancholy to be stoner or doom, it’s their own distinct sound, and it’s well polished too. Jonas has a great voice and his lyrics are always very personal, though sometimes you’d be fooled by a song’s atmosphere as to what the song is actually about. For example, Leaders sounds like a song about a break up or something at first but it seems to actually be a song about the traps of the record industry. Speaking of Leaders, that was their final song of the night and while I really do enjoy it, apparently members of all the other bands and crew on the tour decided to come out on stage shooting silly string and throwing balloons and even taping gay porn to one of the guitars while the band played. Kinda ruined the mood though they’d been doing similar stuff all night. I’ve got video of this song below also, so you can see what I’m talking about. There were some cool moments too, like when the drummer for Swallow The Sun, Kai Hahto, came out to play drums on Teargas, and their vocalist also came out to sing with Jonas on that song. And while the on stage antics were a bit distracting for some songs, and certainly taking away from the serious tone of a lot of the music, it was still kinda funny seeing a couple guys doing a Jewish dance in the middle of Ghost Of The Sun. At one point the band had everyone in the audience turn to the mixing board and sing Happy Birthday to the tour manager. At the end of the set Katatonia did the typical planned encore thing, which made the new guitarist decide to take his shirt off showing his “sodomizer” stomach tattoo, haha.

In all the show was a lot of fun, and you could tell the bands were having maybe more fun than the fans for this one! I can’t wait to see them again, though I hope next time they play a set with a more ‘best hits’ style setlist with material from their entire history. Oh and there was that wasted guy that wanted to start a fight with me. Of all the crazy metal shows I go to, it’s the bands ya least expect that people seem to want to fight. I mean really, Katatonia gets you violent? And no I did not fight him, call me a pussy if you want but I don’t hit. Anyways, he left the front of the crowd and I never saw him again so no big deal really. Enough about that, now go check out the videos I shot below!