Jonathan Davis, The Birthday Massacre, Julien-K
The Black Labyrinth Tour
October 19th, 2018
I know that I’m supposed to be unbiased in my reviews but it’s nearly impossible for me to not show favoritism when some of my favorite bands and artists tour together. Such is the case with the Black Labyrinth tour.
Tonight’s show was a reunion of sorts for me. I had not seen Julien-K since they opened for Evanescence back in 2007 on The Open Door Tour. The Birthday Massacre has been one of my favorite bands since discovering them in 2007, but I’ve not seen them on stage since 2011 when they toured in support of their Imaginary Monsters EP. Miraculously, tonight would be my 14th time seeing Jonathan Davis live since my first time seeing Korn during the 2006 Family Values Tour, but my first time witnessing his solo tour. Needless to say, tonights show would be historic.
Opening tonight’s show, Julien-K are somewhat of an anomaly. Named after a character in American Gigolo, I guarantee you’ve heard music from vocalist/guitarist Ryan Shuck, and multi-instrumentalist Amir Derakh before. Shuck and Derakh were founding members of 90’s glam inspired industrial-numetal band Orgy. The two also collaborated with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington for Dead By Sunrise. Derakh has worked with the likes of Spineshank, Coal Chamber, and Mumiy Troll, while Shuck, who co-wrote Korn’s Blind and Daddy, has done the scores for numerous movies and videogames.
It these men’s decades of touring experience with numerous bands that has given them an incredible stage presence. If you didn’t know who they were before Julien-k took the stage, you were a fan before the final song of their set. The band’s half-hour performance focused on the heaviest material from their current releases, the California Noir albums, and had the crowd bouncing. The band ended their set with a cover of New Order’s Blue Monday, a tribute to the song that put Shuck and Derakh on the map. The song, done in the style of Orgy’s late 90’s cover, really broke Shuck and Derakh onto the music scene nearly 20 years ago, and reminded the crowd how historic Julien-k are.
Following Julien’k’s blistering dance party set, Toronto Ontario’s The Birthday Massacre stormed the stage to thunderous applauds. It had been almost seven years since they had played Nebraska, and tonight would be their debut in Lincoln. I’ve been a fan of TBM since discovering them in 2008. It has truly been amazing to watch the band evolve and their fanbase continue to grow over the past decade.
While the band has crafted a stylistic and multi-genre spanning soundscape with each of their albums, the sonic landscape of their live show carries us further down the rabbit hole. The Birthday Massacre utilized their extended time on stage to once again prove their continued relevance to the music scene. Vocalist and founder Sara “Chibi” Taylor has an adorably unique stage personality and uses her charisma to interact with the band’s fans in a way that few artists do. Not only was it apparent that these amazing musicians were having fun while on stage, their energy transferred to the crowd. Stage lights burst and shifted from reds to purple to blue as strobe lights pulsated to accentuate the elevated energy of their set. Without a doubt, each of The Birthday Massacre’s live performances raised the bar on what a concert experience should be.
The band’s sound has evolved over the past 15 years but tracks off the band’s debut and sophomore releases mixed together perfectly with cuts from their current (7th!) album. “Counterpane” fit perfectly as their set opened and melted seamlessly into “Red Stars”. It was no surprise how well “Destroyer”, one of the band’s heaviest cuts, transitioned effortlessly into “One”, a hauntingly beautiful yet aggressive track highlighted by Sara’s ethereal voice. The older tracks that were played were altered ever so subtly. “Video Kid”, originally released on the band’s 2002 debut album “Nothing and Nowhere”, was played with precision and updated just enough to give it an incredibly modern feel. Closing their set with “Blue”, a fan favorite since its release 2004 release, gave the fans one last chance to really thrash out. I applaud The Birthday Massacre for continuing to play songs from their first few albums. They could easily put those tracks behind them and focus on their new material, but they have obviously realized that their fans love the older material as much as their current songs.
Already hyper amped from the previous sets, it wasn’t too long after The Birthday Massacre left the stage that the crowd began chanting Jonathan Davis’ name. On every level, tonight’s final performance would be one not soon forgotten.
Touring in support of his full length solo debut album, Davis’ used on deep red stage lights which served to heighten the somber mood and dark tone of his set. Anger. Frustration. Sadness. The recent passing of Davis’ wife was still obviously etched on his face throughout the entire performance.
I really enjoy his solo album but hearing these tracks live gave a whole new depth to them. “Basic Needs” and “Underneath My Skin” are even heavier tracks when played live, and “Happiness” was the perfect show closer. A lot of us are now used to seeing a string section during rock and metal shows but it wasn’t always that way. I would argue that the mainstream popularity of violins and cellos in metal started with Metallica’s 1999 S&M album, shifted to Apocalyptica in the mid 2000’s and firmly found its grip in the genre with bands like Evanescence and Startset. It was still cool to see a cellist thrashing just as hard a Davis was the set.
Along with cuts from Black Labyrinth, the tour’s set also featured several songs found of the Queen of the Damned soundtrack. Each of the songs that The Vampire Lestat’s band performed in the movie are Davis’ vocals but his contract with his label, Sony BMG, meant that his vocals were not allowed appear on the soundtrack album. Instead, the vocals were re-recorded by other musicians for the soundtrack release. The soundtrack is one of my favorites. As great as it is to hear David Draiman of Disturbed (“Forsaken”), Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (“System”), and Jay Gordon of Orgy (“Slept So Long”) singing Davis’ music, it was incredible to have the chance to finally hear Davis’ voice singing them.
Never did I think I would hear Davis cover Neil Diamond though. Davis told the crowd that the track was originally recorded with Brian “Head” Welch of Korn as a joke, “but it turned out really fucking good.” And it did turn out really fucking good, especially played live.
Returning to the stage for an encore, Davis told the crowd that the version of “What It Is” they were about to play wasn’t going to be the album version, and if we didn’t like it we could fuck off. The mellow tone of the track’s performance as a almost an acoustic version, but still retained its heavier undertones.
I also have a lot of respect for Davis not adding songs from Korn’s catalogue to his solo sets. While there was chatter that even from numerous fans wondering if he would play Korn songs, especially with the 20th anniversary of the band’s “Follow the Leader”, there was no reason for him too. It would be like Stone Sour covering Slipknot. Jonathan Davis may be the voice of Korn but he is his own voice as well. The Black Labyrinth album and tour gave us another view of Davis, and for that, we are grateful.