Seen ‘Em Live: Gojira

Disneyland. There’s no other place quite like it. (Except for Disney World, I guess.) An enchanting artificial reality plotted and meticulously, painfully executed down to the most inconsequential detail, smack dab in the middle of hotels filled with the working poor and an ever-expanding tent city butted up against the one-and-only 5 Freeway. It’s a fool’s paradise, but a paradise nonetheless, where some of the biggest names in music align at the Anaheim House of Blues. This past Saturday, the 5th of August, was one of those occasions, seeing technical/progressive metal titans Gojira joined by doom proselytizers Pallbearer and progressive upstarts ONI in unleashing sonic devastation upon The Happiest Place On Earth.

Unfortunately, due to the special hell that is the Downtown Disney parking structure, I completely missed ONI, and by the time I got into the venue, it was already packed. Inside, people of all ages milled about the foyer, filing into something resembling a line in front of the merch tables. Past the bar, where scene vets jockeyed for position over eight dollar beers, I glimpsed the stage looming tall over a sea of bodies. I had to force my way to the front of the stage, literally and figuratively stepping on more than a few toes in the process. There was a very real, very physical energy in the air, a sort of unease. But not one borne out of any sort of malice. It was more of an anticipation. A bracing for impact.

Photo Credit: Joseph Simpson

Not long after I made my way to the barricade, Pallbearer took the stage. Hailing from Little Rock, Arkansas, Pallbearer have been making tremendous waves within the metal underground, and for good reason. They are one of those increasingly rare bands who are not only able to translate their studio virtuosity to the big stage, but breathe new life into their material by allowing it to stretch and bend; each member’s instrumentation building upon one another with a powerful intuitive command. Now I will be the first to admit that doom generally isn’t my thing, and I had never given seeing Pallbearer live much thought before, but these guys create straight up magic. Let it be known Pallbearer has won over at least one new follower—one who now will make a point of seeing them again and again.

“Thorns,” off of this year’s masterful HEARTLESS, cascaded over the crowd in towering waves of heavily-grooved riffage as guitarist/singer Brett Campbell’s evocative vocals pulled the audience deep under his spell. I’ve always been curious as to how well traditional clean doom vocals would come across live, but any skepticism I may have had was quickly put to rest. Brett is a truly fantastic singer and his performance was simply triumphant. Also pulling double duty was bassist/singer Joseph Rowland, and it was clear he loved every minute of it. The man’s energy is infectious. Dashing about the stage as he laid into the audience with blasts of his crowd-leveling bass, he injected a bit of adrenaline into the band’s saturnine ruminations.

That is not to say the rest of the band was in any way boring or disengaging. Hell no. Skinsman Mark Lierly, far from being just incredibly good at playing in the pocket, has got some serious arms on him. Scoff, call it hyperbole, whatever, but there are shades of Bonham in this man, and I think after a few more years of really pulverizing his set he will become a powerhouse in his own right. Pallbearer closed on (even though OC Weekly would suggest otherwise) “Foreigner,” a 12-minute epic that could very well have lasted much longer for how enthralling it was. Here the whole band came together in weaving a radiant, almost psychedelic tapestry that fell over the venue, before spiraling off into a transcendent outro. Pallbearer knows what it’s all about. They know why we started going to these things, and they want to remind us that they do.

Photo Credit: Joseph Simpson

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, as Pallbearer’s gear was broken down and wheeled offstage, a constant stream of people poured into the already slammed venue. Chants of “Go-Ji-Ra” broke out, increasing in volume and duration as more and more fists rose to pound the air. Before I realized what was happening, it had already become damn near impossible to move. I should have known. After 13 years worth of shows and nearly getting my neck snapped at a Red Fang show a few years back, I should have been paying attention. It was going to get ugly.

The onslaught began with “Only Pain” and never once let up. The whole damn place came alive as a heaving, seething mass of hair and fists. Gojira then went into “The Heaviest Matter of the Universe” (about as close to a one-song summary of a band as you’re likely to get), and just as soon, a weight on my back knocked me into the stage. I turned to see two burly security guards who had appeared behind me haul a rather large crowd surfer over the barricade in their arms like an improbably large and sweaty bride before he could annihilate me. Thank you, Anaheim House of Blues Security. They continued their assault with “Silvera” and “Stranded,” cuts off their most recent (and most subdued) album, 2016’s MAGMA, before pulling out the big guns, “Flying Whales” and the organ-rupturing, skull-shattering “Backbone” off their landmark FROM MARS TO SIRIUS.

Photo Credit: Joseph Simpson

Over the course of their set, propelled by the unrelenting madness of Mario Duplantier—unequivocally one of the greatest metal drummers around—Gojira only gained in power and intensity. They were unstoppable. Security was upped, but the only relief from crowd surfers and the maelstrom of the circle pit came when guitarist/vocalist Joe Duplantier would take five seconds between songs to address the crowd. Then it was right back into the fray. A drumstick ricocheted off the barricade immediately to my left. I turned again, this time to see a tidal wave of arms surging forward, followed by their owners going ass-over-elbows at the railing to grab the stick. By the time Gojira kicked into “Oroborus,” both the band and the crowd were bearing down on the heart of the venue like a hurricane.

If you are reading this and you haven’t seen Gojira live, maybe never even thought about it, or have just not been interested, let me tell you to sort that out right quick. There is no other band quite like them. I may have mentioned how Pallbearer is able to bring it live, but Gojira is in a league entirely of their own. No one else even comes close. Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier are two of the most brilliant, straight up mind-boggingly gifted songwriters and musicians in metal—today or any other day—and both guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie are impeccable in their execution of the band’s most bizarre, violently abrasive material. What I’m saying is, for all of their bizarre time signatures, syncopated counter-rhythms and flatout unmatched intensity, they are tight. Few other bands could do what they do, let alone while grinning the whole time.

Photo Credit: Joseph Simpson

Together, Pallbearer and Gojira captured a perfect snapshot of everything that makes metal metal. There wasn’t a soul that came out of the House of Blues that night not possessed by the spirit of the evening. And yet, for all the ferocity, sweat, and pain, there was no ill-will to be seen or felt anywhere. We may have all entered as strangers from various walks of life, with differing backgrounds, opinions, and political leanings, but we left all connected by at least one thing—the music.

Joseph Simpson prefers to be called Jack; yes, he knows that's not the actual nickname for Joseph. He is the only person in his family who can grow a beard.

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