April 23, 2014 Worldwide Plagues Tour: Iced Earth, Sabaton, & ReVamp Invades NYC 4-18-14
Friday, April 18th, 2014 was a night of triumph and power at the Best Buy Theater on Times Square in New York City. Touring the world for their brand new studio album Plagues of Babylon, Iced Earth returned to the Big Apple after only two years away. For long-time fans, even such a seemingly brief absence can feel like an eternity. Headlining the North American leg of their Worldwide Plagues tour, they are supported by the rollicking Swedish adventurers Sabaton and slick modern rockers Revamp from the Netherlands, as opening acts.
Things got started in front of a sizable, early to arrive crowd with the energetic Revamp As the houselights dimmed and the first notes rang out, Floor Jansen emerged from the shadows clad in a tight red dress. Towering and beautiful, both willowy and fierce, Floor did not look like this was her first jaunt through North America fronting her very own band. Despite her vocals being too low in the mix, she immediately engaged the crowd with the infectious title track to latest album Wildcard (2013). Revamp’s style of palm-muted chords and choppy, modern, almost metalcore style riffing at first seemed incongruent with her powerful, classically trained soprano singing voice. When combined with some slick keyboards and heady, fist-in-the-air song dynamics, however, the end result was both punchy and charismatic. With only two albums to draw from, Revamp followed their opener with one from their debut, “Head Up High.” The crowd stayed into it, as all eyes were fixed on the confident presence at center stage. At one point Floor pulled out a video cam, assuring the happy masses that they would all be a part of Revamp’s ongoing tour diary. Filming herself and the crowd, the statuesque singer was clearly enjoying the show. When she asked if the crowd wanted something heavy, they obliged her by starting the evening’s first mosh pit. Announcing “Wolf & Dog” as the final song, the crowd moaned their disappointment in unison. Such was the hold Revamp had on the Best Buy crowd. The band exited the stage with promises to return one day soon.
By now the crowd was feverish. Appetites whetted by a tall Dutch heavy metal star and her fresh new band, it was time for veteran Swedish brigade Sabaton to assault the Best Buy Theater. As roadies and techs scrambled to make ready, it was hard to ignore the four microphone stands they’d just anchored in place across the stage mouth. As backing intro “The March To War” pounded out its victorious cadence, the crowd worked itself into a frenzy usually reserved for the entrance of a headliner. As the intro wound down, “Sabaton!” chants rang out. The entire theater was as pumped as William Wallace’s Scotsmen before a battle. As “Ghost Division” began, the band sprinted onto the stage, much to the roaring delight of those gathered. What ensued was a lesson in catchy, triumphant Manowar cum Hammerfall power metal. Singer Joakim Broden, sporting his usual “Top Gun” sunglasses, camo pants, and faux armor shirt, was a commanding figure. Full of energy, he and the rest of his mates looked as unstoppable as the Panzer divisions and WWII armies they sing about. And yet, he was a comedian as well. It isn’t often you see the vocalist of a metal band get an entire crowd to chant ‘its fun to stay at the YMCA.’ “You must have us confused with some other band,” he quipped. “Sabaton has left the building. We are the Village People.” He even endeared himself to the New York crowd by mentioning Swedish hockey player Carl Hagelin, who just the previous night scored to seal a playoff victory for the hometown New York Rangers, an event which occurred just a few blocks from the venue. While having more fun in 50 minutes than most bands do in a lifetime, Sabaton laid down their stories of brave soldiers, impossible odds, and great battles to a salivating crowd who jumped, sang, and moshed in complete abandon. A more charismatic group of young men you will have a hard time finding. Sabaton left with this sentiment: Always remember the fallen soldier. Always remember the fathers and sons of war. With songs as catchy and a band so energetic, it will be virtually impossible to forget.
How to follow such a rousing set? It seemed the headliners would have their hands full. But as Iced Earth took the stage to a near capacity crowd, a roar of excitement shook the room to its foundations. By now singer Stu Block is as comfortable fronting Iced Earth as either Barlow or Owens was and it showed in his delivery. Opening with the title track of their new album, things really got moving when they launched into “Democide,” one of the fastest and heaviest songs they’ve written in recent memory. After the humor and pageantry of Sabaton, Stu kept the stage banter to a minimum, though the sincere appreciation he showed for the love of the fans was palpable. Jon Schaffer at stage left, the band’s guitarist, founder, and main songwriter, steered his mates through an excellent set, mixing newbies from the Stu Block era with unforgettable classics like “Hunter,” “Burning Times,” “Vengeance is Mine,” and “My Own Savior.” The crowd was treated to some ballads as well. Stu showed he is the right man for the job with masterful renditions of “A Question of Heaven,” “Blessed Are You,” and “Watching Over Me.” The sound was good throughout the set and it was clear that the crowd wanted more.
Singer Stu Block had some big shoes to fill in replacing long-time Iced Earth frontman Matt Barlow. Even Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens (ex- Judas Priest) was a well-established singer in a major international act before taking the mic for Jon Schaffer’s crew. Yet watching Stu hammer out this set it seemed like he was never anything else but the lead singer of Iced Earth. If anything it felt like he sang better live than on record, especially during the heart clutching “If I Could See You,” an emotional tune that fits right alongside similar Schaffer-penned ballads from decades past. With bands as prolific as Iced Earth, there will always be the feeling that they left out essential songs from the set-list. Although some long-time classics from their older albums were absent in favor of newer material, they closed out with eponymous oldie “Iced Earth,” which Stu handled with ease. The crowd ate it all up and probably could have gone on another hour quite happily.
Singer, band, and performance were impeccable. The band is one of the best to ever come out of the United States and there is no question that they are firing on all cylinders. In short, Iced Earth absolutely rocked the paint off the walls Friday night, and fans will be eagerly awaiting their return.