Very few experiences may qualify as “once in a lifetime.” This night, for me, was one of those rarefied points in time.
Since the somewhat belated discovery of this Iced Earth/Blind Guardian side project, and the purchase of their eponymous debut album, the idea of seeing them live has lived solely as a dream, of sorts. With full credit to one of my favorite concert partners, this dream took a considerable step toward reality in the Spring of 2019, when masterminds Jon Schaffer and Hansi Kursch announced they would be doing a “very limited” tour in conjunction with the release of the remastered Demons & Wizards catalog (of two albums). They also used it as an opportunity to stoke the interest in the still pending THIRD album sometime in the future.
With less than 24 hours of consideration, we agreed that a trip to NYC for the last date of the tour would likely be our only option. It all hung on the strength and speed of an Internet connection to be able to secure tickets before it sold out (which we anticipated). As of an excited text on April 12 which simply declared, “WE’RE IN!” this dream was taking shape. Ten days later, I received a photo of the actual tickets (without a ransom note, too!) It was…ON! (as colloquially appropriate).
Fast Forward 4-1/2 months – we filled the gas tank, hit the ATM and away we went for the ~3-hour drive to NYC. Thankfully, we gave ourselves plenty of time and had pre-purchased a parking space in a garage on W 42nd St., blocks away from Times Square and the Sony PlayStation Theater, sight of the anticipated spectacle. We arrived without incident. Once parked, we made our way to Maoz for some falafel and sides. We had a little time to wander aimlessly around Times Square before taking our place in line at the venue entrance, one-hour-plus before doors opened, but…you do what you have to.
Once inside, we made a quick stop at the merch table and found, for us, the most idyllic spot: center, unosbtructed sight line, elevated rear of the floor, at the railing. Perfect!
Now, all we had to do was wait through the two opening bands (with whom we were unfamiliar), TYR and Lizzy Borden. The venue staff had provided the following running order:
7:30 – 8:15 – TYR
8:30 – 9:15 – Lizzy Borden
9:45 – 11:00 – Demons & Wizards
Hailing from the Faroe Islands, this band of viking-styled marauders took the stage right on time. These four gents play a pretty traditional-sounding style of heavy metal with lots of viking themes, legends, imagery, etc. They feature two guitars, bass and drums. Vocals are clean, clear and melodic, with no screams or growls. They were quite tight as a unit, and they spared very little time for banter with the audience. They appeared to be enjoying themselves quite a bit. Perhaps the most awkward moments were the few times the turned the house lights on, seeming to encourage audience sing-along. However, those moments were when they decided to sing (in quite nicely blended harmonies!) in what I will presume is their native language (?) which left the crowd kinda…WHA? (or maybe it was just me)
They played an 8-song set that went by rather quickly, but the gathered fans seemed sated and I can imagine they perhaps increased their fanbase.
I’m old enough to (vaguely) remember at least the band name from the 80’s metal scene, although I would not have been able to offer any opinion on style, quality, etc. I suppose it is enough that a band from that time that seemed to not be a “global household name” was tapped as a direct support act for this tour.
As with TYR, they were right on time and the band arrived on-stage to a recorded symphonic intro track before erupting in power chords for the newer tune, “My Midnight Things.” Lead singer/namesake Lizzy Borden arrived on-stage with a chrome mask, cape. shimmering body suit and boots, and a weird set of spikes/cowl.
Each song thereafter came with another wardrobe/costume change for Lizzy which was almost amusing, but mostly annoying, as they were all variations of facepaint, capes and the like. I guess if you did a visual mash-up of Kiss, Blackie Lawless, and Alice Cooper, this would come close.
Again, musically, not terrible. I have certainly had to endure much worse opening acts in my concert-going career, so…not a total loss. They completed a 9-song set including an extended “There Will Be Blood Tonight” which began with Lizzy running an axe over his tongue and spewing blood everywhere, then crawling along the barrier to smear it on adoring (?) fans.
Given this act has been around since I was young, the visual impression I got of the band was of an aging rocker who hired a bunch of young talent to help re-animate a career. I’m not sure it was or will be successful, but hey! I bet they don’t have day jobs!
Finally, the anticipation was nearly ended. The stage was set. And, under a shroud of blue lights and with the pre-recorded track “Rites of Passage” chanting its way out of the sound system, along came:
Demons & Wizards
The band hit the stage with the furiously galloping “Heaven Denies,” and raised the performance bar incredibly high. Just in time for the first verse, Hansi entered and proceeded to sing as if 20 years hadn’t passed since he first recorded this tune. He made it look effortless!
The set continued with “Poor Man’s Crusade” before turning to the title track of the second album “Touched By The Crimson King.” Hansi took a brief moment to
incite notify the crowd that the venue had a strict curfew time and suggested they may have to cut “a song or two.”
Wait. Wha? Is this NOT Times Square, New York City?! The “city that never sleeps?!?!” WTH?!
Onward. Following “Love’s Tragedy Asunder,” Hansi provided a brief history of the band before playing Iced Earth’s “Burning Times” followed by Blind Guardian’s “Welcome To Dying.” In a word, FABULOUS! While Hansi’s voice isn’t the deep, husky type that is most fitting for Iced Earth, he truly made it his own. Jon Schaffer (and the rest of the band) looked like they were having a blast!
An odd low point (for me) of the evening was the acoustic “Wicked Witch.” But, you can’t have everything. There are always songs you wish would/wouldn’t have been played. A few more cuts from the “Crimson King” album and the band gathered up for another pair of shared covers: “I Died For You” (IE) and “Valhalla” (BG).
After initially discovering “Horror Show,” IE’s Spawn-inspired “Dark Saga” found its way into my library, and “I Died For You” is easily one of the best cuts. Once again, Hansi was doing a fine job owning this song, and…
OH MY GOD! Is that MATT F’IN BARLOW walking in from the back of the stage holding a mic!??!?!? NO F’IN WAY!!
<total giddy screaming fanboy me at this point>
Indeed. Matt Barlow, arguably Iced Earth’s most popular vocalists appeared to ramp up the “magicalness” of this encounter.
After much shrieking/wailing/keening/screaming, the band was able to move forward with “Valhalla,” which brings with it its own history of “crowd participation.” Always amusing.
The set then closed with the final trio of songs from the original album: “Tear Dwon the Wall,” “Gallows Pole,” and “My Last Sunrise,” and they were still performing quite on-point. “Gallows Pole/My Last Sunrise” is every bit as powerful as the first time I heard it, and still Hansi was more than up for it.
A brief break, with some more a capella crowd “Valhalla” before the band returned to the stage to play “Blood On My Hands” before closing the night with “Fiddler On The Green,” the sorta unofficial title track of the first album.
All in all, it indeed was a VERY magical encounter, one that I will not soon forget. For who knows when this little “side project” will tour the land again.
Now. For that three hour drive home…