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Bengaluru Feels the Wrath

Lamb of God’s first India show is a short but brutal lesson in the art of metal (Photographs by Bobin James)

Deepti Unni Jun 10, 2010
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“We’ve never been here before, so y’all know what a circle pit is, right? Alright, I wanna see one over there and one over there”¦ Two fucking gigantic circle pits”¦ And I wanna fucking hear you sing every word!” roars vocalist Randy Blythe to deafening approval from the gathered faithful. Not two but six humungous pits yawn open on either side of the stage, turning the 8,000-strong crowd into a maelstrom of writhing, colliding bodies. The visceral force of several thousand people smacking into each other travels all the way to the front, slamming the first row of people against the barricades with enough force to get the wind knocked out of them. But at this point no one cares. Eyes glazed, bodies in motion, the fans chant along as the band rips into ”˜Redneck,’ necks snapping, guitars flying. This, then, is Richmond, Virginia, metallers Lamb of God’s first show in India at the Summer Storm Festival, on May 15 at Bengaluru’s Palace Grounds.

Cut to four hours ago. The anticipated frenzied mob of fans so far has been limited to a trickle coming through the gates with barely a line outside to speak of. Inside the grounds the sweltering heat of the day has reduced everyone to a puddle and the bathwater warm beer does nothing to take off the edge. The opening bands ”“ Bhoomi, Boomarang, Scribe and Extinct Reflections ”“ take stage to muted enthusiasm from the crowd with Bhoomi and Boomarang bearing the brunt of the apathy. Scribe and Extinct Reflections still succeed in whipping up some energy in the crowd but Extinct Reflection’s set is often drowned out by the chants of “Lamb of God, Lamb of God” in varying degrees of hysteria. (In fact, Blythe, who’d been watching the crowd’s reaction quietly from backstage, would later go on to voice his disapproval on stage. “I think you guys need to show some support for your local bands. This guy flew down all the way from LA to play for you,” he says of Extinct Reflection’s guitarist, Sandesh Nagaraj, who’d done just that). The opening acts wind up their sets way ahead of schedule ”“ probably for the first time in the history of Indian music festivals ”“ leaving a good hour before Lamb of God gets on stage. While diehard fans refuse to relinquish their suicidal positions closest to the barricade even under the threat of dehydration and asphyxiation, the rest of the crowd is scattered over the grounds, sampling the merchandise and trampling the beer stall.

Backstage, the band members are warming up in the bare-bones dressing room, conversation punctuated by the rat-a-tat-tat tattoo of Chris Adler’s bass pedals. Bassist John Campbell paces the length of the room, fingers flying over his bass and Willie Adler does likewise on his guitar, taking a break every few minutes to puff away at a cigarette and obliging a few fans with pictures. Mark Morton sits quietly in a corner, thumbing through a magazine, looking travel worn and worse for the wear. (Later, rumours do the rounds that he had his Blackberry stolen, making him a very unhappy man.) Randy Blythe shuffles around the room a bit like Ozzy and nothing like the dizzy dervish he is on stage. A large quantity of weed wrapped in newspaper lies untouched in one corner of the room. “We had a fan on our flight here from Doha. He freaked out when he found out we were on the flight and had his seat changed so he could sit next to us. We were a bit wary at first but he turned out to be an okay guy. He brought us this,” says Campbell by way of explanation. But no one in the band seems inclined to touch it.

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Blythe meanwhile is chatting about Alex Chilton and Big Star. He looks up one of his favourite Chilton projects on his iPhone, the fairly obscure Cubist Blues which he recorded with Alan Vega and Ben Vaughn, revealing an unusual taste in music than what you’d expect from the vocalist of a hard-hitting metal band. Blythe stretches, trying to ease out some of the jetlag from his bones. “It took me two weeks to get settled into the Asian time thing and just when I got used to it, it was time to go back home. It took me about a week, a week and a half, to get back to normal and now I’m back here.” “Back here” is the beginning of the fourth leg of their Asia tour, the 11th leg of their worldwide Wrath tour which began in November 2008, and the 197th show in the series. Jetlag is the band’s constant companion and right now they haven’t even slept it all off, and they’re nowhere close to settling into this leg of the tour. “Have you tried flying across eight time zones in one day? You should try it,” chuckles Campbell. “This friend of mine says they found out that there are all these minute changes that happen in the brain when you do that, so we’re basically fucked in the head.”

Meanwhile, back outside, a glimpse of the guitar tech sends the scattered crowd scrambling towards the stage in a surge that almost asphyxiates the first row. Every sighting of another crew member provokes a fresh assault on the barricade which eventually goes down and the police have to step in to restore order. Five minutes to showtime, a series of explosions sound around the grounds. Startled, the band members emerge from the green room, looking for the source of the sound. “It’s a wedding,” explains their security detail, and reassured, the band takes stage to a deafening cheer from the audience.

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Emerging to the backing track of ”˜The Passing,’ the band tear into their short 80-minute set without preamble. Opening with tracks from Wrath, ”˜In Your Words’ and ”˜Set To Fail’ have the fans singing along to every word. Sacrament’s ”˜Walk With Me in Hell’ breaks out the first of the mosh pits keeping it going with ”˜Now You’ve Got Something to Die For’(Ashes of the Wake). The band spring surprises from their earlier albums, ”˜Ruin,’ ”˜Vigil,’ and ”˜As the Palaces Burn (As the Palaces Burn), though the madly popular ”˜11th Hour’ is conspicuous by its absence. Blythe’s happily invective-laden crowd interaction whips the audience into a frenzy as does his dedication that would have Bengaluru’s Ram Sene foaming at the mouth were they around to hear it. “This is a punk rock song and, since I’m in India, I’d like to send this song out to the memory of a really fucking punk rock dude, Mahatma Gandhi. He changed the fucking world. This song is called ”˜Contractor’,” he announces while one section of the crowd readies a wall of death, the irony completely lost on them.

Post ”˜Redneck,’ Blythe announces that the next song ”˜Black Label’ would be their last song, which the crowd reckons is bait for an encore. Post some furious moshing and another wall of death, the band take their bows to tremendous applause and make a run for their dressing room. While the audience waits disbelievingly for the band to return, they’re already in the cars that will take them back to their hotel ”“ there will be no encore. A few canny fans who’ve waited outside, ambush the band’s vehicles but they make their getaway. The Lamb of God experience is officially over. The casualties are wheeled out ”“ there are a few broken bones and plenty of bruises. The overwhelming feeling here is that the band played too short a set, and the there’s some grumbling and bickering on the part of the audience. But Chris Adler has the answer to that: “It’s better to leave them wanting more than wanting less,” he says as the band drive away into the muggy Bengaluru night.

Setlist

”˜The Passing’
”˜In Your Words’
”˜Set to Fail’
”˜Walk With Me in Hell’
”˜Now You’ve Got Something to Die For’
”˜Ruin’
”˜Hourglass’
”˜Dead Seeds’
”˜Blacken the Cursed Sun’
”˜Descending’
”˜As the Palaces Burn’
”˜Laid to Rest’
”˜Contractor’
”˜Vigil’
”˜Redneck’
”˜Black Label’

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