Review By Jonathan Smith, Photos by Adam Wills
She looked up at us from behind the front desk.
“Where’s the cab going?”
“Harpo’s. In the East End.”
Her: “. . .Hmmmm. . .”
Us: “That doesn’t sound good. Should we be worried?”
Another pause from the desk manager, then:
“I live in the West End. I don’t go East.”
Type O Negative at Harpo’s Concert Theater in Detroit on Halloween night. There could be perhaps no better place to see such a band as in a city that has taken enough hard economic blows that it both resembles a scaled-down version of Gotham City and serves as the perfect shooting site for the upcoming remake of Red Dawn. Awakened in the middle of the night by controlled and repeated bursts of machine gun fire on Devil’s Night, my fellow concert-goers and I had to assume it was just the movie set doing its thing at particularly odd hours. In the weeks before the concert, we’d been collectively warned by more than a few people to be careful in the city. However, far from being a harrowing experience, the trip was not only a chance to see the downtown core of Detroit and some of its history for ourselves, but also an occasion that granted us the opportunity to see an excellent performance from self-deprecating and gothic metal giants Type O Negative. It was a show that has had people murmuring that it was one of the best in the band’s more recent history, and that enthusiasm is not misplaced.
We’d been told that Harpo’s had a reputation for starting things early and presenting a long roster of local acts. Sure enough, arriving at the theater shortly after 8 PM (and after making our way through the metal detector at the front door), we were still in time to see two and half acts and an on-stage costume contest before Type O Negative was to take the stage at 11 PM. Opener Hazzard were more or less winding down their set as we finally settled in with our first of a few seemingly watered-down drinks. After a brief break, Brooklyn’s Seventh Void took to the stage. Featuring Type O Negative’s Kenny Hickey and Johnny Kelly, a briefly-masked Hank Hell on bass, and Matt Brown on guitar, the band wasted no time in launching into a strong set of their dirty, doom-inflected hard rock. After nearly an hour of heavy chords and Halloween cheers, the band packed it in as the familiar blacks-and-greens of TON’s stage set-up began to become more and more visible. Next up was Destrophy. The Iowa-based band played an energetic set of their more pop-friendly metal and seemingly took their role as warm-up act quite seriously, frequently reminding the crowd that they were almost done and that Type O Negative would soon make their appearance. Before the main show, however, a costume masquerade acted as a brief interlude as many of the more enthusiastically-dressed fans paraded themselves across the stage to bursts of either cheers or jeers.
Making their entrance out onto a dark stage, Type O Negative opened the night with the energetic and anthem-like “Dead Again” before moving into the more moody “In Praise of Bacchus.” Vocalist and bassist Peter Steele took to the stage with both his side table of booze and an illuminated lyric sheet he initially appeared to be dependent on. Long known for his role in maintaining the consistent tongue-in-cheek aura surrounding the band but also the subject of fan speculation regarding the state of his health over the past few years, Steele’s performance seemed somewhat lackluster at the beginning of the set. As well, for the duration of the first two songs, the band seemed to be experiencing mixing issues. Steele’s normally strong vocals were barely able to be heard over the unique distortions of Hickeys’ guitars, Kelly’s drums, and the keyboard sounds of temporary Josh Silver replacement Scott Warren (Heaven & Hell, Dio). Between the poor sound quality and Steele’s dramatically fluctuating appearance (having recently gone from thin and gaunt to quite heavy, even for someone his size), I couldn’t help but briefly wonder whether the band might be struggling against a mixture of long-term personal problems and a bit of burn-out on the last night of their tour. However, I should have remembered that with Type O Negative the truth of things can change at a moment’s notice, perhaps particularly on Halloween night.
By the time the band wrapped up a cover of Sabbath’s “N.I.B.,” the sound had improved considerably and there was a dramatic increase in the overall energy of the band’s performance. With a set list that drew heavily on 1996’s October Rust, TON offered up crowd-favorites “Love You To Death” and “Wolf Moon [Including Zoanthropic Paranoia].” Particularly during the former song, with his vocals soaring above and beyond his singing on the studio recording, Steele proved that he was indeed in top form this Halloween. As the band ended their main set with the much anticipated “Christian Woman,” things had reached a fever pitch. After a brief break, they returned to the stage for a rousing rendition of “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All).” Even with the notable absence of Josh Silver, by night’s end it was clear that the Harpo’s Halloween crowd had been treated to one of the strongest performances from Type O Negative in recent memory. What else other than perfection could one expect from a band whose set featured multiple songs about Halloween and fucking vampires?
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