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Gothic Comes to Raleigh: Thoughts from the Front Line in Perilous Country

Epica - Live in Concert

February 27th  2010

Raleigh North Carolina / Volume 11


Epica / MFVF Live Stage


Raleigh North Carolina is hardly the place you would expect to see a world-class gothic band in concert. Frankly, I found it hard to believe they would select this backwater location for a tour date, and, since their bus broke down on the way, it almost never happened. But that would have been a disaster for the many who braved a cold night in the Triangle, many having driven hundreds of miles to catch a glimpse of some first rate music. The event finally took place, complete with 4 backup bands, two local groups from the North Carolina area, and two mainly Canadian bands who have been performing with Epica for this part of the tour.

I can’t see any reason to spend a lot of time doing a complete review of the performance, it having been well documented by Sarah Letourneau in her coverage of the performance in Worcester, Mass. In general, the performances are the same; even the set list remained constant in order to make it comfortable for Oliver Palotai, the keyboard player who was filling in for regular Coen Janssen. Palotai is, of course, the significant other for vocalist Simone Simons and that made for some interesting interactions since guitar player and bandleader Mark Jansen formerly held that position with the lovely diva.

There were a few differences between the Raleigh performance and the Worster performance; however, these were largely a matter of venue and supporting acts. The Raleigh performance commenced with two local bands and then moved to the two largely Canadian bands who have been performing with Epica for several weeks now. The venue in Worcester seems to have been a little different than the Volume 11 stage, but not by much. Neither was exactly Carnegie Hall and both probably limited the quality of the musical performance to some extent. Consequently, there is little I can add to the comments Sarah provided previously concerning the overall presentations. Rather, I would like to submit some overall thoughts regarding the evening’s events in an effort to capture the flavor of the festivities. These would cover the time from arrival at the venue to departure, and would focus on the entire evening’s activities. Of course, this would simply be my observations, and would in no way be representative of other people’s experience. But, it was an interesting night, and here’s how I remember it.

* That little bus breakdown meant we got to spend another hour in the cold, waiting for doors to open. Time spent happily with a number of folks who I got to know a little including a guy from Norfolk, VA who drove 3 hours to be there, and planned to drive the three hours back afterwards, a lovely little lady from Peru who’s name escapes me, Marvis I think, but who’s smile never will, and a bunch of kids from Vero Beach who drove some 700 miles to attend. Now that’s loyalty.

* The bartender who apologized for having PBR on the beer selection but no Fat Tire, but who remembered my choice all evening. And, it was a long evening, with a lot of visits to the bar.

* The kickoff band, Swarm Theory, a Raleigh bunch, that did, as did all the bands who proceeded Epica, a blend of hard metal at full volume, but featured a lovely little female keyboard player giving the sound a bit of the symphonic. Her name was Angela, or something like that. After the set, I talked to her, asked her if she could sing, she sure had the look. I told her there was always a place for female singers, especially with keyboard talents, in Europe. But, she seemed happy in her local environment, cuddled up with one of the black knights in attendance. Too bad, she was kinda good, and there’s a big demand for that kind of talent outside the US.

* I missed the same band Sarah missed, but did catch Threat Signal, the other Canadian band. Like Sarah, not my cup of tea, but they did have a killer lead guitar player. Can’t recall his name, Travis maybe, but he was from Dallas, Texas, of all places. I guess they’re too busy playing hockey in that part of Canada to develop the guitar players we get in Texas. He was outstanding. Easily as good as anyone on the stage that night.


Simone of Epica


* I’ve always liked Epica, but never felt that Simone was as good a vocalist as some of the others, Tarja, Floor, Sharon, just to name a few. But, in person, even given a less than outstanding musical environment, she was devastating. I had absolutely no idea. Simone is clearly one of those performers who is better live than in recording, and that is a rare complement. And stage presence, maybe as good as Tarja, and she’s the best I’ve ever seen. She played with the boys in the band, with the audience and with the material on occasion. And, she spent a lot of time with her main squeeze, it was a lovely picture of a romance that is clearly on the high end, and she wasn’t ashamed to show it. What a woman, what a talent.

* At the meet and greet preceding the event, those with VIP tickets got time to talk to the band. Simone was pretty busy; I didn’t spend much time with her. But, I had some really interesting conversations with Mark Jansen, mostly on the subject of languages, a topic near and dear to my heart. Mark cleared up some misconceptions regarding the Flemish language and we had some interesting conversations that, for me, were a highlight of the evening. He’s more than just a guitar player and a vocalist, believe me. Also got a chance to talk to Simone’s beau, another very literate sort who responded to a question I had regarding his main band, Kamelot. You’ll notice I mention them a lot in my reviews, they are listed as being from my old locale, Tampa Bay, Florida. However, Oliver pointed out that they are not necessarily Floridians; he is in fact, from Germany. So, my misunderstandings there were somewhat clarified, and I feel better about never having been able to see them in the Tampa Bay area. Also had opportunities to speak with other band members and enjoyed those conversations as well. All in all, Epica is a group of talented, and very warm and interesting musicians. And speaking to them was, in some ways, as interesting as listening to them.

Mark Jansen of Epica

* The sideshows during the performances were, as they often are in these events, as interesting as the performers. The violence erupted this night with the kids from Vero Beach, and escalated from there. These Pitt exercises can get pretty nasty, especially in a closed location like this one. I spoke to one exhausted combatant at one point who had collapsed at my feet and asked him if he thought these combative exercises would continue during the Epica performance. His reply, "God, I hope not."

* The Volume 11 is a bit of a hard-core site, and some of the patrons were not exactly European quality, OMG. The evening had its share of blips, the guy on my left collapsing in a drunken stupor long before Simone made her way on stage. She was probably better for the omission. And, of course, the typical tough guy who had to prove his manhood, until confronted by several bouncers who were ready to show him his limitations.

* And, speaking of bouncers, there was the mountain of a man I spent time talking to who informed me that he had a Sonic Cathedral poster on his wall at home and was a big fan of female fronted metal. I knew I was in the company of friends.

So, there you have it, thoughts from the front lines on an evening where quality music was brought to the hinterlands. I wouldn’t say it was a strictly Raleigh crowd, I saw license plates from South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, all over. Now, some may have been out of state college students at one of the major universities in the area, but I know for a fact many came from far away for the performance. And, according to management, it was one of the largest crowds in some time. And they got their money’s worth. Simone and the boys put on one heck of a show. I know I enjoyed it. And can’t wait to see them again.