June 19, 2019 Avatar Take Over Los Angeles, CA 6-13-19 w/ Devin Townsend, Dance With The Dead, & ’68
In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world it is a challenge to remain a relevant part of the music scene. Finding a common denominator, along with the ability to adapt to the latest tricks of the trade, can make or break many bands. Answering the call, on Thursday, June 13th, a diverse tour package headlined by Swedish Heavy Metal leaders Avatar, with support from Devin Townsend, Dance With The Dead, and ’68, set the mood for an exceptional evening in downtown Los Angeles at The Mayan Theater.
The tail-end of the Avatar Country World Tour 2019 run which wrapped up on June 15th in Las Vegas, the evening at The Mayan kicked off with a very unusual duo from Atlanta, GA known as ’68. So, how do you even begin to describe these skilled suit and tie-wearing men who face each other on stage? Well, for starters, they are a Noise Punk band featuring Guitarist/Vocalist Josh Scogin, formerly of Norma Jean and The Chariot, teamed up with Drummer Nikko Yamada.
Proving to be a wise choice to start the show, the two men were quite entertaining and obnoxious in all the right ways. Releasing two studio albums since launching in 2013, including 2017’s Two Parts Viper, there was no shortage of variety with their set that ranged from a witty, almost early Nirvana-styled lyrics to a heavy Punk vibe, to fast, almost Thrash grooves. However you classify them, the power and punch of ’68, mixed with the unusual vibe they brought that utilized noise in a strategically pleasing manner, certainly earned them more than few new fans.
Following next was another duo going by the name of Dance With The Dead. Out of Orange County, CA, their music spans Darkwave, Synthwave, Industrial, Dance, Electro, and Metal. Featuring Justin Pointer and Tony Kim, their driving, dueling guitar and keyboard antics, mixed along with some backing track intro snippets, not only worked in harmony but was interesting to watch. Sometimes backing tracks used in this sense can feel inappropriate or unnecessary, but with Dance With The Dead it flowed smoothly, working with the fact that no other vocals were involved.
Possessing a creative knack, they displayed an array of songs including some off the 2018 album Loved to Death as well as a cover of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” which was a super fun rendition. Adding to the effect, their stage set up, with a giant 3D skull sitting on top of a smoking barrel in a hovering kind of way, provided more appealing visuals to the scene. Much in the vein of Perturbator and Gost, Dance With The Dead are a band that capture the audience with fast and catchy tunes well worth checking out.
Shifting in artistic approaches once more, the time came for the wonderfully liberating set of Canadian Metal master Devin Townsend. Known for his amazing songwriting and production skills, those who are not familiar with the history of Townsend ignorantly may just find this set charming, witty, and wildly interesting. While that may be all well and good, there is so much depth in his work in the most genius way of delightful reinvention that you would be foolish not to do some research prior to checking him out live. That all in mind, being aware of the pure weight of genius this man carries on his shoulders can create an even higher sense of awareness that only comes around once in a blue moon.
That is why it must be noted that the history which led us to the solo acoustic set that transpired at The Mayan is not something to be taken lightly. These facts laid out, Townsend came to the stage looking as if he just got off the island of Waikiki after spring break, spinning the audience’s heads with his mere seven-song, too short for Heavy Devy set. In fact, Townsend himself mentioned in a comedic way that forty minutes was just not enough for him.
In truth, the progressions and the spoken word comedy elements of each hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind rendered versions of his songs needed exactly the amount of love and caress he gave to them – and not a second less or more. That is why, in this case, it is imperative to mention every song, and to note that when he arrived on stage he claimed so boldly: “Hi, I’m Devin Townsend and I’m 47. I have a wife and kids, and a whole bunch of records.”
With that he went into a set list that included The Devin Townsend Band’s “Deadhead” and “Let It Roll” along with The Devin Townsends Project’s “Ih-Ah;” a genius, ridiculous ride from beginning to end. He also included a new tune off his latest album Empath, offering a new take on “Why,” all while playing insanely creative melodies on his acoustic guitar and telling stories. Nothing simple about it, he flawlessly crafted it all as he went on to bang out “Solar Winds” and “Life.”
Overall, one great man providing one great sound was the theme of this performance. Exciting to the end, he wrapped up with his wacky version of “Love?;” a pleasant surprise since couple years back he teased about playing older Strapping Young Lad tunes. In enough words, Devin Townsend has the audacity and mind corruption of Maynard James Keenan plus the poetical, nonsensical genius of Henry Rollins all rolled up into one sweet package deal. That is why it is highly recommended to never miss a live Devin Townsend performance, because you never ever know what he will bring to the stage.
What can thrive after a wild and unexpected Devin Townsend roller coaster? Well, Gothenburg’s own Avatar could when they provide a seventeen-song set list featuring a wide catalog of entertaining Heavy Metal works. Picking up right where they left off when they last visited the USA, continuing to tour in support of their 2018 album Avatar Country, the King was back and, as the Ringleader, was more fiery than ever.
A band with a rich history that dates back much further than the more mainstream success starting with 2014’s Hail the Apocalypse, Avatar dabbles quite a bit in the Melodic Death Metal vein. Full of unusual tricks and quirks, the stage show began with The King, Guitarist Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby, sitting up high at center-stage on his throne, following the running theme of the aforementioned Avatar Country. Meanwhile, Vocalist Johannes Eckerström took on the Ringleader role with his theatrical make-up and entertaining side show. This is all as the rest the of the band fit their roles perfectly – John Alfredsson punishing the drums, Henrik Sandelin rocking on bass, along with Tim Öhrström jamming heavily on guitars.
Unique to other bands on the Metal scene, just a mere listen to this band’s discography could warrant only half the magic they possess in a live setting, because it is like a big top circus sideshow of freaks and talented musicians goofing off on stage in the most serious of ways. These thoughts in mind, the full set included much off the new album, starting off with “A Statue of the King,” and “Legend of the King,” plus other elder favorites such as “Bloody Angel,” “Puppet Show,” “Smells Like a Freakshow,” and set closer “Hail the Apocalypse.”
As mentioned, just because Avatar may have been stateside a mere year ago, performing a very similar show certainly did not make this visit any less exciting. Yes, there is always something to be said about a first viewing of these wacky characters, but it always grants a desire for more. That is because their skill level is top notch, and while perhaps their music may not necessarily be everyone’s cup of tea, the theatrics are enough to keep anyone on their toes. After all, who else can incorporate trombones into Metal? Simply put, there is quite a range in style from song to song and The Mayan was packed to the max with engaged patrons who powered an exceptional performance that bled a carnival-like atmosphere.
When tour packages like the Avatar Country World Tour 2019 comes along and provide four diverse, modern yet solid bands, it is always a win/win situation. All four artists, while some more established than others, have a bright future ahead and it will be exciting to follow as fans anxiously wait for their next adventures to unfold.
Photo credit: Karina Diane Photography