The night didn't entirely get off to a promising start. Rain and rush hour traffic meant that I didn't get to the venue until 8:00, when the doors were supposed to open. I think they actually started letting people in at 8:10, but at a glacial rate. They had a single file line, and each person getting in had to show I.D. to a person and get a wristband, then pass by a guy who decided whether to give them a pat down search, then go to a third person to get an ink stamp on the wrist, then (if you had a ticket at will-call) go to a desk and show ID again to get your ticket, and then give your ticket to a ticket taker.
The upshot of which was that I stood in rain for an hour and missed all but the last song of Varg's set. I hadn't come particularly to see Varg, so I wasn't too angry about this. However, I feel it shows disrespect to an opening band to make them play when half their potential audience is still standing outside, and even more disrespect to any fans of that band who might not have been able to arrive early. Sort it out, Oakland Metro.
Anyway, I arrived just in time to hear the singer of Varg announce, "I want to have sex with all you beautiful people!" and invite the audience to meet the band at the merch counter after their set. So, anyone with a taste for burly Germans in red and black body paint might have had the night of their life. They finished up with a song about Little Red Riding Hood that made wish I'd been able to catch a bit more of their set. They seemed to go over well with the crowd, and had a small contingent of die-hard fans in attendance, easily identifiable by the fact that they were wearing the same red and black paint as the band.
Here's a picture of Varg:
After an admirably quick and efficient change of equipment and stage backdrops, Wintersun were up next. I was quite curious to hear what Wintersun would be like live, since the tracks on on the new album, Time I are very layered and symphonic. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, some of the songs have up to 200 separate tracks layered together.) Live, the sound is more raw and stripped down, but I think I like live Wintersun better than recorded Wintersun.
This is the band's first time playing in the U.S., and they were clearly having the time of their lives, striking rock star poses, inciting the audience to sing along and pump their fists in the air, and pouring a ton of energy into their performance. The audience rewarded them by waving Finnish flags, throwing roses and t-shirts at the stage, and headbanging along with gusto. The band had minor sound problems in a couple of songs, where the guitars and bass cut out for a few moments, which prompted the audience to start roaring out the lyrics.
Lead guitarist and singer of Wintersun:
Frankly, a lesser band than Eluveitie might have felt some trepidation at following a headliner like Wintersun.
I'd spent a fair portion of Wintersun's set trying to see around a 6 foot tall guy who parked himself in front of me, so in between sets, I moved up closer to the stage. This put me on the edge of the mosh pit, which gave me an interesting opportunity to observe how it all works. (Though a mosh pit looks like an unrestrained free for all, participants are remarkably adept at protecting people who have fallen down and helping them get back to their feet, refraining from body-slamming bystanders who are taking pictures, and generally making sure that people whose musical enjoyment does not include whirling around like a kernel in a popcorn popper don't get unwillingly caught up in the whole thing.)
Eluveitie sounded great (no mean feat for a band with 8 musicians and many acoustic instruments in the line up). They started by playing their most recent album, Helvetios, in full from beginning to end. Helvetios is a concept album about the Gallic wars - maybe not a typical heavy metal concert experience, but the album has plenty of great songs. "A Rose for Epona" was a particular highlight, as was "Havoc", for which lead singer Chrigel requested a "wall of death" from the audience.
"Wall of death"? The audience divides in two, creating a gap down the middle of the venue, and then as the band starts playing, the two halves of the audience charge at each other as if recreating a battle scene from Braveheart. I joined in, found myself in the midst of the mosh pit, got bopped on the nose, and bounced out to the edge of the pit and relative safety. It was outrageously fun and probably a very stupid thing to do while wearing eyeglasses. I got away with it, though.
It really seemed like almost no time at all passed between "Havoc" and "Uxellodunon," the final song of Helvetios. The band left the stage very briefly, but I don't think there was any doubt that they would do an encore. They came back and played 4 or 5 more songs.
And then they were done, and I walked to my car, reflecting that if you'd told me beforehand that I'd spend an evening getting stuck in a traffic jam, standing in the rain for an hour, and getting punched in the nose, and count it an evening well-spent, I would not have believed you.