October 20, 2016
T. Ray Verteramo
“Oh look,” the dark jester jested, pointing to the live-action screens above the pins and lanes. “You can bowl and watch Avatar at the same time.”
The quirkiness of the Brooklyn Bowl of Las Vegas where bowling, beer, and loud music, with a display of what suspiciously looks like a wall of voodoo dolls in the dark, lays the perfect backdrop for an esoteric act such as Avatar.
Doors open at 8:00, but an anxious cluster of leather and denim lined up before the metal-mesh barriers. Leaning up against the fence, looking up at the spotlight-dotted logo, successfully brought back a sense of childish anticipation in the carnival atmosphere, ready to ride the tilt-a-whirl while listening to Metallica’s S&M version of “Battery” and Pantera through the speakers. Looking behind from the stage to the people, the floor was only a quarter occupied after the sound check and they all seemed to belong to Avatar, even though Meshuggah was the main event. The age variation was hardly varying, but the diversity of the crowd was pleasantly noticeable; all shapes, sizes, colors, and apparently, a great handful of couples. (Nothing says “love” like clowns and djent…?)
And what a contrast to see the colors and lights and athletic theatrics of the dystopic Metal circus of Avatar against the black, black back of their Swedish bretheren. Before the show began, it was already memorable.
The very, very clean-shaven John Alfredsson took the kit, which rose a good two feet from the stage, before guitarists Tim Öhrström and Jonas Jarlsby, followed by bassist, Henrik Sandelin took their places to warm reception. Then, energy rises a decimal when frontman, Johannes Eckerstrom, with his lanky frame and black-painted toothy grin, steps center stage and the buzzy-buzzy plucking of “For the Swarm” begins to throttle.
The song kicks in and the house bursts itself to life with hammerheads.
Upon the stage, lights flash in unison with hairy windmills and immediately there is an understanding that in spite of what first impressions may be, these are not just boys in costumes. These are consummate, accomplished, well-practiced professionals who love their work.
Not only did the five Swedish invaders grace absolute “readiness” the moment they hit the lights, their stratospheric energy levels never faltered for one note or one of their precious little 45-minutes.
The sound mix was a bit troubling at first, with the guitars overpowering the vocals and a whispering bass. Though the bass levels were corrected during the second number, “Hail the Apocalypse,” Eckerstrom seemed to push his chops a bit harder than he should have needed to in order to be heard — fortunately, he has them to push to begin with. But, by mid-set, the mix was strong and fairly well-balanced, with the rhythm section impressively on point beat, every beat, in excellent form throughout. The guitars crunched and rang, though not album-perfect, but perfectly apt for live-performance charm, and their MC embodied his character with deleterious style, humor, and underrated skills as a crowning performer, who flawlessly demonstrated his ability to work the crowd with the best of them.
With all the elements of an excellent show presented, the real stars were the songs, themselves.
Avatar is comprised of riff-masters and master storytellers who pull no punches. Nothing is off the table. Those familiar with their discography can recall how beautifully they fit doom riffs with small town, harmonica-country bridges or slip ‘beach blanket surf’ thrash between distorted nursery rhymes. An Avatar song is an Avatar experience, exclusive only to them. And tonight, they had the unfortunate task to choose only a tiny selection of that rich collection.
After “Swarm,” from their latest, Feathers and Flesh, and the title track of “Apocalypse,” they chose a splashy-thrashy b-sider from The Black Waltz, “Ready for the Ride” in lieu of one of their staples, “Vultures Fly.” Though the choice was a bit disappointing, it was extremely well performed nonetheless. However, when their psychotic soliloquy, “Bloody Angel” swooned the room, the entranced crowd thickened before fully engaging with “Eagle Has Landed,” and the empowering anthem, “Let It Burn.”
By the time their final number, “Smells Like a Freakshow,” was over, there was only one word to describe the audience: Owned.
This was a low-production, high-caliber performance by talents who are teetering on the wire, ready to transit into a full-time, headlining position. For fuck’s sake, someone give these guys a bigger budget, please?