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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Notes From the Old School: Voivod/Soundgarden/Faith No More, Live 1989

This morning I'm ripping through Killing Technology, Dimension Hatross, Nothingface, Angel Rat and Infini in giddy anticipation of Voivod's newest album, Target Earth, due later this month.  Naturally, there's a lingering air of melancholy without Denis "Piggy" D'Amour in the fold and naturally, there's going to be more than a handful of mutants out there slinging mud against Dan "Chewie" Mongrain.  You know who you are, but for once in your miserable lives, try and keep an open mind. 

I too would've thought a replacement for Piggy would've been considered blasphemous at one point.  After all, I regard Voivod as one of my top ten bands of all-time, a band I've held dear to my heart since the mid-eighties.  Yet I'd reviewed one of Mongrain's Martyr albums (2006's Feeding the Abscess) before Piggy passed and deeply impressed, I felt Martyr was within arm's reach of Voivod's greatness.  I thought  Mongrain was more than influenced by Piggy; he was a bona fide acolyte.  Obviously the rest of Voivod agreed and thank God Blacky is back home to affirm the ensuing era of these prog metal legends.  Let's cut Mongrain some slack and hope for another Voivod masterwork.

All of this has me thinking of the fall in 1989 when Nothingface arrived and Voivod had their shot at a commercial breakout with Mechanic Records.  I was the assistant editor and music columnist of my college newspaper and if I wasn't already smitten by Voivod's work up through Nothingface, I was convinced they were on the verge of ruling the world.  No other band outside of Rush possessed the third eye they did and Rush had veered down a much different path while Voivod was coming up.  I boldly declared Voivod in print to be "The Band of the Future" and while certain people who read it approached me on campus to learn more about Voivod, I think back and realize my prophecy was rash in the way a 19-year-old fanboy with his first writing gig would act.  It's not for lack of talent.  Voivod is still one of the most gifted bands there ever was, but you can't dictate market flow and force something of depth into a mass target audience that prefers simplicity over virtuosity.  Nevertheless, I still think the world of Voivod and they remain one of the genuine greats.  When I was fortunate enough to interview Denis "Snake" Belanger for Pit magazine a few years ago, it became one of the highest moments of my journalism career.

But back to '89, I was in attendence at a triple bill of awesomeness you had to have been there to fully appreciate.  On paper, it looks amazing and when I recount this gig to people, their mouths tend to fall slack when I tell them Faith No More and Soundgarden were openers for the mighty Voivod.  While many of these folks still have no clue who Voivod is, the impact is still felt when I mention that Faith No More and Soundgarden were only on the cusp of breaking out and this tour by all means brought them extra awareness, as did MTV and Headbangers Ball.  For awhile, Headbangers pimped the video of Voivod's sterling cover of "Astronomy Domine" by Pink Floyd, while Faith No More's "Epic" became a mega-hit, with Soundgarden's "Hands All Over" right behind it.  Unfair that Voivod, deserving headliners, would drift from MTV's playlist, but let me tell you something:  Faith No More and Soundgarden were amazing, yet Voivod blew each of those bands away.   Yeah, I said it.  Those bands were bombastic.  Voivod was cosmic.  I don't know how else to describe them that night at The Bayou in Washington, DC.

What stands out for me about Faith No More's set was watching Mike Patton climb into the venue's rafters and stretching out on his back while Roddy Bottum sprinkled out the old Nestle's jingle on the keys.  During Soundgarden, my buddy Bob and I were pogoing right in front of Chris Cornell and I lost my glasses from all the jostling around.  Bob shoved people off of my back until I found my glasses on the floor, but no sooner had they been replaced, Cornell had leaped out over our heads.  His amp cord latched around my throat while everyone was hoisting him back to the stage.  Fortunately, I was able to loosen it before it fully strangled me.  I laughed myself silly over the whole thing and flashed horns at Cornell's frets.  I do believe Kim Thayil had seen it all since he was getting a good laugh on himself.

These sets alone were worth the price of admission, but I cannot understate how Voivod turned The Bayou into a portal where The Twilight Zone caters to speed freaks and prog heads.  With bubble projections upon a silk screen at their backs as would've been apropos in sixties psychedelia, Voivod tore through their catalog beginning with their then-new "The Unknown Knows."  The volume was twice that of their rowdy openers and Voivod's meticulation was beyond spectacle.  Michel "Away" Langevin commanded a crushing beacon all to himself, and Snake was literally slithering all about the stage.  Jean-Yves "Blacky" Theriault banged and boomed his bass and mouthed sound effects as if possessed by some invisible manifest.  Piggy was near-impossible to steer your eyes from, his wrists were so fast.

Talking amongst ourselves after the show, my friends and I were all leveled by Voivod and listening to others straggling out of The Bayou on that legendary night, we'd shared a universal transcendence for metalheads only.  I wrote a follow-up article for the paper about this show which got the attention of Mechanic Records who subsequently sent me a nice care package including Nothingface on CD, a big deal at the time.  This was the infancy stages of compact discs and I'd had my collection entirely on vinyl on cassette prior to.  I was compelled to scrape my tips and wages from my waiter job to buy my first CD player, just so I could savor Nothingface in fuller depth.  I thought back repeatedly upon Voivod's majestic performance and though I couldn't convince my succession of girlfriends at the time to get on board, there was no album I played more until I started buying more CDs. 

Fitting that the band I pegged to be the future was there to usher me along with the advancement of audio technology.  Earth, beware come January 22nd.

1 comment:

DJ Clem said...

Thanks for sharing this. I remember reading about these three bands on tour together as a jealous teenager in rural Missouri. Really great to read a first-hand account.