Gig Review Dragonforce Live at Shepherds Bush Empire
Support Act: Alestorm 8/10
I rarely review support acts but Alestorm deserve special mention because they were really good! A group that don’t take themselves too seriously Alestorm’s official genre is ‘pirate metal’… Scottish pirate metal to be specific.
I only knew two songs before I went in and they only played one of them. Never the less the sound was tight, the between-song banter was hilarious but the most amazing element of this show was the audience response. The crowd was ****ing loving it! Boisterous morris dancing, furious circle pits, fists pumping and plastic cutlasses literally being thrown into the air. Many pirate costumes were placed throughout the crowd and a lot of people were screaming the words, a Dragonforce fan could be mistaken for thinking they turned up to the wrong gig. Even I managed to pick a few lines here and there (‘rum’ and ‘yo-ho-ho’ mainly, there was also some mention of sawing midgets in half).
Anybody remember the hoedown scenes in ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ set in Tortuga? Imagine that cross- bred with an Alice Cooper gig and that’s pretty much it. Highlights involved ‘Nancy the Tavern Wench’ and ‘Buckfast Powersmash’ (I swear I’m not making this up).
Main Event@ Dragonforce 4/10
Now it was time for the main event, Dragonforce. Before we get on with the review I would like to fast forward time to the morning after the gig when I awoke to receive a text message from a friend who asked me two questions concerning the band’s performance:
1) How did new singer Marc Hudson compare to ZP Theart?,
2) Can they really play the ludicrously fast solos in ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ at full speed at a live show?
Based exclusively on the show I had just witnessed, I had one honest answer to both those questions: I’ve got no bloody idea!
That in short sums up the audio quality of the concert. From the moment Dragonforce took to the stage with ‘holding on’ their set was absolutely plagued with sound issues. For starters Marc Hudson’s microphone was broken and kept turning off for the first 3 songs. Eventually he resorted to taking one of the backing vocalist’s mics to complete the show.
The performance was, for the most part, a tragic mess with the drums dominating everything. Even when Hudson’s mic did work he was barely audible. The guitars were not balanced well with Herman Li being significantly louder than Sam Totman, so when it came to one of their famous high-speed guitar duels it was only Li’s side of the sonic altercation that could ever actually be heard. The keyboard player put on one hell of a visual spectacle though and kudos to him for the effort! Strange how crap the sound was considering the overall volume wasn’t even that loud.
I went to this concert as a Dragonforce fan and had every intention of enjoying it, but I have never been more disappointed with a band I love in my life. Apparently some other fans shared my sentiment since there were some subtle ‘boos’ being fired out from the front. I think it is worth stating that I was located pretty much central at the front barrier and I’ll admit this is not the position for optimum sound quality but that was no excuse for what I was listening to. One of my friends was so appalled that he retreated to the back of the venue for a beer after the fourth song and he remained there for the rest of the set. In doing so he was able to confirm that firstly the sound quality was no better from his new position and secondly the audience response was significantly more subdued compared to the reaction Alestorm received. Indeed the crowd was completely stagnant until fan favourite ‘Fury of the Storm’ came on, but movement did pick up in a big way from then onwards.
The absolute low point of the whole experience for me was a around mid-set when the band played a couple of songs that I didn’t recognise at all, somewhat curious considering I’ve listened to every Dragonforce album. Just an assault of drums and distortion, listening out for lyrics from Marc to give me a clue didn’t help since I still couldn’t hear him! With the exception of older favourites such as the aforementioned ‘Through the Fire and Flames’ the audience around me wasn’t encouraged to sing much so I wasn’t getting clues from them either.
Let us move on to my next gripe with the show, the setlist. Dragonforce played a whopping 10 songs. That is an inexcusably short set for a headlining show. Who cares if their songs are all over 5 minutes long, Iron Maiden doesn’t use that as an excuse and they’re in their 50’s! Another personal disappointment was the apparent omission of my favourite Dragonforce song ‘Soldiers of the Wasteland’. I ended up having to look up the setlist the next day to identify the mid-set anomalies for the purposes of writing this review only to find that apparently they DID played ‘Soldiers of the Wasteland’… not being able to recognise a band I know playing a song I love is unprecedented.
Maybe I’m being a fanboy at this point but I refuse to point blame of this sub-par performance exclusively on the boys of Dragonforce themselves. On the rare occasions I could make out the solos they sounded decent and on the quieter breakdowns when Hudson didn’t have to contend with everyone else he seemed to be delivering decent vocals. Giving credit where it is due the last two numbers ‘Cry Thunder’ and ‘Valley of the Damned’ were delivered pretty well and if it was supposed to be a karaoke set I could’ve said the same about ‘Seasons’.
This was a show that wreaked of bad mixing, maybe the dude at the sound board gave himself a DIY lobotomy using a hand-drill before the show ‘cus he was bored, whatever it was he didn’t know what he was doing. I’m not a sound engineer but if the lead singer is quieter than his backing vocalists, logic would denote that you turn him UP! Every past headliner I’ve seen at the Empire was tight, the acoustics are not at fault here but something was definitely going wrong. I’ve seen professional shoots of Dragonforce gigs, I’ve heard their live album ‘twilight dementia’ and these guys CAN play at full speed with tight precision but it didn’t happen this time.
Heroes of our time
Fury of the storm
Die by the sword
Soldiers of the wasteland (supposedly)
Fields of despair (didn’t sound like it but that’s what Marc said it was)
Through the fire and flames
Valley of the damned
Review by Al Westlake