“Imagine being irrelevant for 15 years, coming here and getting this reaction?”
Not the knowing words of Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, but those of Overhead, The Albatross bassist Joe Panama, who State happily finds themselves planted next to for this evening’s entertainment. He’s not far wrong. Davis, still clutching his H.R. Giger-designed mic-stand, looks and sounds better than the last time these eyes and ears took him in all the way back in 2002. The lousy Puddle of Mudd were all but booed off the stage that night and Korn proved slack enough. Tonight, in the cavernous 3Arena, they’re…not bad at all, actually. Time has been kind to them, as are those packed into the building like rabid pro wrestling fans starved for so long of the chance to see their heroes in the flesh.
Which isn’t to denigrate the occasion or those present. There’s more genuine spirit and emotion on display here than you get at most gigs. Korn’s set, though short and engaging, feels oddly drawn out. Drummer Ray Luzier’s constant Clem Burke impression doesn’t help. Plus, y’know, bagpipes. Still, you can’t deny the likes of ‘Good God’, ‘Falling Away from Me’, ‘Got The Life’, Top 30 Hits theme tune ‘Freak on a Leash’ and, natch, the song that launched many a teenage love affair with the Bakersfield outfit; ‘Blind’. All go down like a fine, nostalgia-tinged w(h)ine.
Outside, a storm that has been brewing all day is apparently getting a good deal worse, but nobody inside gives a damn. A fancy blue curtain that Leonard Cohen might approve of is unfurled and, following a slight delay, the strains of ‘XIX’ emerge from the speakers, playing out in full, no band in sight. Finally, the curtain rises and Hell itself breaks loose. Beforehand, Mr Panama had decreed that Korn would blow Slipknot out of the water. As a pulsating take of ‘The Herectic Anthem’ follows first song proper ‘Sarcastrophe’, he solemnly offers the following mea culpa: “I was wrong. So very, very wrong.”
Indeed. But it’s all good because what’s unfolding is all astonishing. Set to a backdrop that resembles a demon’s playground, Corey Taylor (clad in bulletproof vest) and his masked brethren simply do not let up over a spectacular 90 minutes. With the exception of drummer Jay Weinberg, nobody stays still. DJ Sid Wilson spends as much time behind his decks as he does bombing about the stage with an Irish flag and leaping to and from his platform. Chris Fehn and his opposite number Clown clamber down from their drum risers, stalking around with their signature accessories – distorted microphone and baseball bat, respectively – when called upon. Taylor is supercharged, sprinting to every corner and cheerleading between vocal runs. Right in the middle, new bassist Alessandro Venturella stands in dim spotlight, a deft nod to the departed Paul Gray.
Between songs, Taylor is a honey-voiced preacher – “My friends, my family, my fuckin’ people…” – going through the usual fan service superlatives that he’ll drop in a different city two nights later. He’s got enough conviction to sell it. As he notes halfway through, it’s been 10 years. Though he will somewhat confuse his band’s history with this nation when offering apologies and reasons, citing the time Slipknot were banned from performing as an obstacle (this occurred several years prior to their last appointment with the capital), it really doesn’t matter. The set is so expertly-constructed that he could pause to read the phonebook and people would beg for more. Despite having a new record to plug, this is practically a ‘Greatest Hits’ run-through comprising the high points of all five albums.
And so the thumping ‘My Plague’ sets the stage for the dark pop of ‘The Devil In I’ (superb) which bleeds into ‘Psychosocial’ before ‘The Negative One’ and ‘Eyeless’ match the intensity of the flames that pepper this parade. ‘Duality’, ‘Wait and Bleed’ and ‘Spit It Out’ (complete with traditional ‘jump the fuck up’ spot) carry the scream-a-long thread while a fevered run of ‘Custer’ steals the show. Vocally, Taylor has arguably never sounded so strong. Maybe too strong? Sure enough, some accusations of miming later pop up online, extending beyond the vocals to percussion and other areas. If true, so what? This is musical theatre, a full-scale production, one which likely relies on the odd backing track or two. The execution is clean and precise, the spirit of performance never in question. In any case, Slipknot will always provoke some degree of scorn; their image and ideals too much for many to get past. Tonight, their pageantry and professionalism is so transcendent that you wonder how anybody could ever resist them.
Slipknot photographed at 3Arena by Strati Hovartos