September 15, 2017 Orphaned Land & Pain Unite Gramercy Theatre, NYC 9-11-17
Being in and around New York City on the 11th of September is always both difficult and quite special. Difficult because the afterimage of the tragedy is burned into the retinas of every New Yorker who lived through it; special because its memory is one of the few things that brings the entire city together. While lower Manhattan went about its daily evening commute on this day sixteen years after the attacks, a band familiar with uniting people during conflict prepared to take the stage of the famed Gramercy Theatre on Monday, September 11, 2017. That band is Orphaned Land, hailing from Israel, who had not graced these shores since 2010.
Marking their exciting return, this year Orphaned Land bring along a special treat in the form of Industrial Metal juggernauts Pain, and Los Angeles, California’s Voodoo KungFu. A relatively short run, the tour began a few days earlier at Prog Power USA down in Atlanta, GA before the New York City date would see the full lineup come together, presenting fans with a unique and diverse, unlikely billing.
First up was a band that had fans lurking around the merchandise table knitting their brows as they glanced at the wares. Voodoo KungFu, featuring and founded by imposing vocalist Li Nan, hails originally from Beijing, China, but since then has moved to Los Angeles and is now based there.
Reformed with a new lineup, the band opened to a small but intrigued crowd of onlookers to begin the proceedings. Li Nan, shirtless and covered in tattoos and fake blood, commanded the stage. Between his imposing physique and plethora of shrieks, screeches, growls, and yells, it was impossible to look away. The music reflected the mania of its vocalist, building tension with breakdowns and a variety of Extreme Metal styling. An impromptu, unorthodox cover of Slayer’s “Reign in Blood” did nothing to hurt their cause.
By the end, the crowd gave hearty voice to its approval of this interesting, trying-something-new collective. Following the show, the atmosphere around their merch table was one of piqued interest and curiosity as opposed to confusion.Peter Tägtgren. The innovator behind Death Metal titans Hypocrisy, and the man behind some excellent studio work at Abyss Studios in his homeland of Sweden, was making history. Other than an appearance here and there, Pain had never played an American circuit before, and though the numbers here at Gramercy Theater did swell, the show would be well under capacity.
Pain came stateside to support their latest album Coming Home, released in September of 2016 on Nuclear Blast Records. Tägtgren is a showman, a veteran of hundreds, if not thousands, of live performances, and he and his mates wasted no time capturing the crowd with “End of the Line” from arguably their finest hour, 1999’s Rebirth.
Sure, Gramercy was not filled up, but the fans in attendance were dialed in for this one 100%, and whatever was lacking in numbers was more than made up in enthusiasm. Favorites like “Zombie Slam,” “Its Only Them,” and the epic “Suicide Machines” lit up the crowd something fierce. Tägtgren paused to alert the fans of the birthday of Bassist Andrè Skaug. The gray-bearded rocker, of Clawfinger fame, smiled big as the crowd sang him the birthday song. When Peter introduced the rest of band, he looked back to the kit where a very young man sat, and seemed as proud as any papa could be to introduce his own son Sebastian. The 19 year old’s performance behind the kit belied his tender age, as he absolutely ripped it up back there all night.
From speedy tracks like “Monkey Business” to the mid-paced “Same Old Song,” the crowd ate it up and sang along with alacrity. Tägtgren’s vocals sounded on point, adding some screams and growls more reminiscent of his work in Hypocrisy to give the punchy tunes even more grit. From their latest album, the aforesaid Coming Home, they gave the crowd “Pain In The Ass” and “Wannabe.” The songs went down well amid their older peers, and by the time young Sebastian blasted out a mini solo to signify the end, the crowd was satisfied and hungry, knowing there was so much more still ahead.
In the crowd, an Israeli flag could be seen unfurled, held up as the stately veterans entered the stage. As most heavier bands instill a sense of the aggressive or the sinister, Orphaned Land bring a feeling of celebration to the stage. Tonight was no different. With a boundless energy, Kobi Farhi and company launched into “Ocean Land,” “The Simple Man,” and “All Is One.” The crowd responded with such passion, lost in the melodies and in Farhi’s soothing, hearty voice.
When the cheers died down a bit, Farhi intoned to the crowd some personal feelings to help introduce the next song, “Let the Truce be Known.” After expressing what an honor it was for a band from the Middle East to be playing in New York on 9/11, he related the story of the Christmas Truce of WWI, where German and British soldiers on either side of the battle lines put aside their differences to drink and sing and exchange presents, together as brothers for just one night.
The following song brought a dreamy edge to the night’s proceedings, led by Farhi’s voice and some stunning lead work from Idam Amsalem and Chen Balbus. Orphaned Land has staked out this “no man’s land,” as Farhi puts it, planting the flag of peace in soil blushed crimson with spilled blood. The smiles on the band’s faces combined with their earnest poetry left no person untouched.
The New York City crowd was in for quite a treat yet, as the dulcet and shimmering beauty of Shlomit Levi entered the stage to accompany the boys from Tel-Aviv. An Israeli singer of Yemenite styling, her voice has been enriching the live canvas of Orphaned Land since 2004. The band included her on the studio recording of 2010’s The Neverending Way of ORWarriOR. Shining in a roseate dress with trailing gossamer wisps of fabric, she stood tall even as she was dwarfed by the tall front man, Mr. Farhi.
She led the crowd in some wordless singalongs, that spontaneous give and take between band and audience feeling like a spell of pure sorcery. When Farhi asked if the crowd was tired, Levi launched into the intro to “Sapari.” Perhaps the one song that most encapsulates what Orphaned Land can do, it is four of the most enchanting minutes one could hope for at a concert. Levi’s voice absolutely soared. A pit that was as much dancing with pure enjoyment as it was drunk dudes crashing into one another opened up. Farhi’s melodious lines were buoyed by Levi’s powerful accompaniment throughout.
By the time it was through, a breathless crowd met and exchanged hugs and friendly words with both of the headliners. Heavy Metal music is nothing if not a brother and sisterhood, an all inclusive family featuring members from all walks of life. Orphaned Land was here to drive home that point, and offer a glimpse of a world where this sentiment might be felt on a state and official level as well, wishful thinking as that might be. The night complete, lest we forget that Pain’s first foray into the United States was as awesome and fun as one would expect. Guaranteed, without competing area shows, this bill draws more fans. Those that did show up got more than their money’s worth, that’s for sure.
Photos by: Aintellin Photography