Low energy, high passion fill metal venue Rock Box


Photo credit: Corrin Mccullough

Photo by Corrin McCullough

“I wanna talk about the things in life that make you say, ‘Fuck yeah,’ ” said Marty Friedman, prior lead guitarist for a multitude of bands — most notably metal band Megadeath — and current solo artist, as well as Japanese icon. Though he did talk about those things, Friedman mostly demonstrated them over the course of his concert on Wednesday, Jan. 30 at San Antonio’s The Rock Box.

The show opened with three artists, all charged with getting the sparse crowd — only a third of The Rock Box was full at the show’s peak — hyped up. The first artist, San Antonio native heavy metal band Jessikill, did the best at hyping the crowd as titular lead Jessikill had the best band banter of any of the musicians. Jessikill’s vocal performance hit all the right notes. When combined with her stage presence — especially when she started swinging a sword around — Jessikill brought the performance together with soaring vocal skills. In return for her efforts, fans jammed. Shout out in particular to the middle-aged man in front of me, air-guitaring when no one else would.

The second opening band, the metal-subgenre-bending A Good Rogering, stood out less — their visual aesthetic just didn’t hold up next to the other bands, and their music aesthetic focused on death-rattle vocals that just didn’t hit it off with my personal tastes. Their performance did, however, serve to highlight the skills of their drummer, Rom Gov, as his drum solos linked each song. On a similar up note, the lead vocalist’s name is Skunk Manhattan, which is just delightful.

The third artist, Immortal Guardian of the self-created subgenre super metal, delighted me further with in-sync hair spinning and the existence of Gabriel Guardian, who played the guitar with one hand and the keyboard with another. Add in head-banging with altogether-too-much hair while playing both instruments, and you get a performer who probably shouldn’t exist. Yet despite Guardian’s skill, bassist Thad Stevens had to be my favorite performer — his hair can only be described as frothy, he skipped around stage while delivering excellent bass solos, and he introduced a metal cover of Mozart with a hollered, “Nobody gives a fuck about Mozart!”

That said, I might just be partial to bass performance, as seen when I had to hold myself back from swooning when Marty Friedman’s bassist Kiyoshi took the stage with a bass solo to introduce the band. To be fair, Kiyoshi is just really good, so I hold that my particular emotion could happen to anyone. Because she’s really, really good. Her stage presence was filled with energy and emotion as she puffed up her cheeks, kicked across the stage, whipped her head around and slapped out a percussive, intricate flow of chords. Not that Kiyoshi was the only member with an impressive solo — each member of Friedman’s backing band had a chance to shine, with drummer CHARGEEEEEE’s high energy whirling of drumsticks during the drum solo and guitarist Jordan Ziff’s solo while Friedman challenged him to a riff-off and chucked picks into Ziff’s flowing locks.

Friedman himself really got the fans going — much of the crowd had remained lukewarm throughout the opening performances, but Friedman’s high-pace riffing got many to move to the music from nodding along to all-out head banging. Two particularly notable pieces he performed included a raging cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a more tender piece. Friedman introduced “For a Friend” by noting the need for men to express their feelings and saying, “I don’t talk so well, but I can make it work on my guitar.” And make it work he did — the entire show was a heated conversation with the audience and the rest of the band through instrumentation.

At the end of the show, I was left to wonder at the sparse crowd and their relatively low energy. Though one could consider both San Antonio and Marty Friedman relics of metal’s heyday, both have evolved past the glamour and fervor of the ’80s into smaller yet unique that both combines influences and splits into strange, new subgenres. Friedman himself split from Megadeth to follow his passion and blend Eastern and Western musical traditions. Invention is the new name of the game, and dedicated fans both old and new follow — even when it’s to The Rock Box on a Wednesday night.