Balls to the Wall, or, The Joy of Metal

I've never been a big fan of heavy metal. Oh, I've never minded it; I even like some songs, especially when I'm in the gym or feeling angry. I know the names of the more famous songs and artists. But I've never considered myself a real fan. Still, when I was invited to go to an Accept show, I didn't see why not. Even though the only Accept song I knew was their biggest hit, "Balls to the Wall" - and I only knew that because it was on the "Wrestler" movie soundtrack.

So I went to the show last night. It was their first time playing New York in 15 years; it was their first show with a brand-new lead singer; and it was a "promo" gig, so they played the Gramercy Theater, which has a (sold-out) capacity of only 750. We ended up in the front row. (Well, I was in second, but the only one in front of me was a 12-year-old who came up to below my chin.)

The opening band totally stunned me. It's called JC Satellite and Accept's bassist's son is in the band; this much I'd heard. What I hadn't realized was that his son is about 17, and the rest of the band members (three brothers) are the same age or younger. The lead singer/guitarist is 13 (!!!) years old, small and slight, with a cherubic pink-cheeked face under a pale, halo-y mop of rock-and-roll hair . . . and, seriously, he has the charisma, stange presence and poise of any seasoned stage veteran I've seen. It was extremely impressive. (And a little disturbing, to tell the truth, but not in a bad way.)

After a respectably brief break - and an introduction by NYC radio DJ Eddie Trunk - the band finally came out. The crowd roared and strained forward. A hundred hands thrust out of the sea of bodies, holding cameras and camera-phones aloft. Scented ganja clouds shot into the air and spread like incense in the temple of rock-n-roll. And Accept launched into what turned out to be 2 hours and (about) 10 minutes of non-stop high-octane energy. One song after another. No breaks, no slowing down. Just a continuous stream of intense, room-shaking sound and primal, visceral animal joy.

And this is the part that got to me. Maybe it's because this was a promo show (they did a meet-and-greet with VIPs immediately after); maybe because it was their return to touring; maybe it was just a good night. But I have NEVER seen that kind of stage-generosity. And I tend to frequent Celtic and folk and alt-something shows, where the houses are small and the songs are personal and the artists give a LOT away to the audience.

Every time one of the band members saw a camera - whether in the teeming row of press photographers right by the stage or in the audience - he would pose. They smiled, they made devil faces, stuck their tongues out, completely hammed it up - and, every so often, a couple of them would exchange a look and laugh. Happily. Glowingly. I swear, I have never thought of metal as "happy" music before, but that is exactly what I got out of last night's concert. (Great Big Sea fans will understand this - it was like 5 Alan Doyles playing to a roomful of wannabe-Alan Doyles.

I'm glossing over a few details, I suppose. Like the crush of people in the front, made worse by the rude shovers (but that's certainly not the band's fault). And the music, of course, is a matter of taste. I did enjoy it, but I have to admit, every song sounds kind of the same to me (although non-fans would say the same about Celtic instrumentals) and I could make out only about 5% of the lyrics (although that doesn't stop me from listening to, say, Swedish hip-hop/swing). And the fact that I hadn't gotten enough water, but that's my own damn fault. (Next metal concert: sneakers, thinnest T-shirt possible and a GALLON of water for the show.)

But I've got to say, I kinda loved it. My ears are still not back to optimal performance today, but it was worth it. And it's always nice to be surprised - I never would have thought that I would end up enjoying a metal show this much. Certainly never expected to see so many open, friendly, joyful smiles up on that stage. (Also didn't expect to see men in their 50s looking quite that good. Wow. I love you, Wolf Hoffman.) Not to mention - and I suppose this wasn't so much a surprise as a delightful find - the sheer instrumental/technical prowess of the band. At one point, they played a metallic, electric medley of classical music. I actually started to squeal, it was so good.

I'd thought I understood the appeal of metal. The intensity, the violence, the animalism, the physicality. What I'd underestimated - and maybe it was just this show? - is the joy of it. The joy of the performers and the audience, who both participate fully in the experience. (Afterward, I spotted several instances of audience members congratulating each other on a "great show.")

I'd not gonna turn in my acoustic for an electric. And I'm not gonna stop cutting my hair. (Although I am on the look-out for studded leather wristbands.) But I've definitely come away from the show a little more metal-friendly than I'd been before.

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