Hard Features

Raven / U.D.O.

The Birch Hill Nite Club – Old Bridge, NJ

The first time I’d ever seen Raven was back around ’95… they were part of the original Old Bridge Militia corps from way back in the Megaforce days and made a special appearance there with the likes of Anvil… and some other farts making a big deal out of the whole thing. Even Blitz from Overkill showed up, and truthfully, it was a night to remember. The last time I saw Accept was about a year later-same place. Is there a point to all this? Not really, just a bit ironic that the two should be paired up-to some extent, and I get to see them together at the same place. The warm up bands actually sounded pretty good but were relative no-names still waiting for their big break. I couldn’t say who exactly they were-the names weren’t listed on the marquee and in all honesty, I wasn’t paying too much attention. I think the one just before Raven was called Judge Drain or something and the last song they did was killer! Should’ve approached ’em afterward but…

For a Sunday night show, the scheduling was really ridiculous. I’m driving down there all the while thinking, am I the only one who realizes tomorrow isn’t a holiday or something? Kind of late for a Sunday night gig… and I believe this mattered greatly in the turnout. In fact the place would’ve been jam packed… if we were housed in a room that measured no more than 6 x 12! The turn out sucked in spite of WNEW fm’s Eddie Trunk and all his advance hype-the trick probably would’ve been to never disclose the actual time U.D.O. was expected to hit the stage and maybe the results would’ve been better. But still in all, ten lousy bucks to see bands like Raven and U.D.O. plus another two or three beforehand… I mean, come on!

Raven swooped down onstage around 11 and I wish I could describe what was a rush of enthusiasm from the throngs of onlookers, but with the exception of a couple of master liquor consumers, nothing too mind-blowing. The Gallagher boys themselves however made up for this quite effectively. No stage show, mind you, but the three guys here just react… to everything! Nothing exceeds like excess… remember? But it was really cool to see them again and though they’ll never go down in history as much more than underrated underachievers, they deliver some pretty solid music that’s as quirky and sloppy as anything found on their studio work and here was no different. Touring to support their brand new “One for All” release out now on Metal Blade, they opened with a new cut that sounded like typical Raven-traditional metal on the fast track to nowhere… but it’s what they do.

Things picked up quickly as they went into “All for One” from the ’83 release-possibly their best ever! Great interpretation and one that saw the crowd raise a fist or two. I think it was about here when Mark on guitar noticed me holding my cup at waste level, nursing it, trying to take everything in while avoiding any reason to do some involuntary “off-roading” after the show-so he was making this bottoms-up sort of gesture and of course, I took another drink! These guys are definitely into it. More so than the other bands, they’ve got this unorthodox way of going about performing that makes you wonder how they do all this running around and near-juvenile antics and still manage to pull it off. Actually, it was pretty funny, not to mention quick-witted when apparently one of Mark’s guitars crapped out and there he is in the corner of the stage, giving it last rights and flinging it off to the side. That was great actually! And John… he’s either got the world’s greatest chip on his shoulder and feels like letting off steam’s a part of everyone’s nightly ritual, or he’s prone to severe panic attacks-now I can see why he wears the headset when onstage… you wouldn’t dare put a mic stand near this guy!

Anyway, to call Raven “professional” would probably be interpreted as more an insult to the guys than anything else… but loud, wild, obnoxious-they’re all of these things and yes, they approach performing with a degree of professionalism that peaks through all the obvious fun they still have when they hit the stage… an 80’s thing I guess, laughter. Before their show was through, they did another new one “To Be Broken,” one from the “Stay Hard” album which I never expected but pleased to hear nonetheless, “On and On,” which if anyone’s heard it on their recent “Raw Tracks” release, it sounded about the same. They did a little medley toward the end that touched on “Break the Chains” and an assortment of classic stuff from Sabbath and The Who… I didn’t care much for these actually-just tiny bits and pieces really but considering their set was forced relatively short, they could’ve gone into another full track instead. But overall, the overactive power trio that’s managed to endure after all this time was in good form and still having a good time at it! And to show my appreciation, I’ll dedicate my next bottle of Newcastle to you John!

UDO Belting Out The Lyrics

So about an hour later, there’s this background music that begins, consistent with an impending German invasion-sounded actually like it could’ve been recorded by U.D.O. themselves specifically for such a purpose as advance notice… but within a few minutes, the scene was set for the emergence of the band-it was weird, like welcoming back a family member gone off to war for any number of years… then again, it’s been about thirteen since they’d ever set foot here as a band. A few more people thickened the mass in front of the stage but for all intents and purposes, you could’ve had an Olympic triathlon competition throughout the rest of the place and none of the participants would’ve been impeded in the slightest! By this time, we’re approaching 12:30 and I already know I’m dead for the ride home, not to mention the next morning… so as I sit and write this tonight, don’t wonder too much about things like cohesiveness and comprehensibility and all that… I’ve already left ’em back about six hours ago! Well U.D.O. as a band certainly take their craft seriously and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone do live rendition’s so closely to the originals… absolutely amazing, from each successive guitar lick, to the necessary background vocals and humming and you know, the general sounds commonly associated with those of the Teutonic origins. As a frontman now touring for his seventh album, Udo is the man. He’s got such a magnetic personality even though he did most of the talking within the boundaries of the songs, he’s got these strange onstage mannerisms and this goofy charm that makes you wanna just shake the guy’s hand!

So with their current release “Holy” out here in the U.S. for the first U.D.O. album to do so in about eight or nine years or so, most everyone was mouthing the words-not even just the words, but how about all of the chants and hmms… and that kind of stuff? It was pretty surprising actually-and about a microcosm of what they must receive anywhere else but here. Yes, “Balls to the Wall” had the added advantage of a full stagefront chorus but we’ll get to that momentarily. So opening with this character dressed as a reaper-or was he a monk? One or the other anyway, the beginning to the title track as “read” by this creepy figure leads into this typically heavy, pounding opening of a song and sure enough, on cue, everyone “raised their hands” during the chorus! It really is a terrific album though-UDO’s never gonna change, he’s the truest of the true when the metal tradition is at stake, he and whomever happens to be filling the band positions will deliver time after time. Along the way, the band followed with what appeared to be a favorite with “Raiders of Beyond,” then cut into an interesting one that I hadn’t heard since ’85, “Midnight Mover!” The response wasn’t quite up to snuff but… I was happy! Before long, you could’ve closed your eyes and I swear you wouldn’t know the difference between they and Accept… and this goes a step beyond just the shared vocalist and that maddening scream that after a while has you subconsciously clearing your own throat just listening to him and pressing on your ear to soothe the soreness!

They had these stained glass window props in the background trying to stay somewhat in theme with the current release and I think the effect might’ve been better had someone decided to plant lights behind them so we could actually notice them from the beginning… but then there’s Udo dressed to kill in his preacher / general look from top to bottom. Just brilliant! After the first two tracks though, that was all for “Holy” and the rest of the set touched on past U.D.O. records plus the many Accept classics that don’t ever deserve to rest. After “Midnight Mover,” the band went into the great opening song from “Solid” called “Independence Day” which surprised me and apparently everyone else who stood there gazing in wonderment. But as usual, another stunning rendition from the not as yet battle-weary metal commando. Then somewhere around this time, a little before or after, I don’t recall, they did “London Leatherboys” which of course I was in momentary dispose for and then flew back out there paying no mind to the general lack of absorbency in a Hanes product. But then soonafter… here’s the real surprise, the two guitar players sit together and begin the opening of “Winterdreams” which was amazing! I couldn’t believe they were doing it! One of my favorite Accept songs and just one of those little ballads which tail off an album that you’d never expect to hear live-and up to that point, I never did. And for the life of me, I still can’t tell what he’s saying during the last verse for the line that follows “The world seems so clear…” Wow, this was definitely worth staying around for.

They touched further on some of the earlier U.D.O. stuff like “Metal Eater” from the “Timebomb” release, and “Living on a Front-line” which is not quite… well, without bitching too much, they could’ve done a couple more from the first two records-where was “Black Widow?” But they satisfied any real need for nostalgia by really taking it to the old Accept tunes. At one point, the guitar player, not Kaufmann, who many remember as the former Accept drummer, but this guy Igor Gianola comes tearing off stage like a wild man and running around the room doing his thing and there’s everyone looking around in amazement-what was to be amazed at anyway? It’s not like there wasn’t enough room! Nice little break in the action however and again, Udo is never at a loss for quality talent. So finally “Balls to the Wall” and “Princess of the Dawn” and even “I’m a Rebel” of all things come rumbling forth from this tireless wrecking machine-it’s no wonder they had the lights out in the tour bus beforehand, who knew they were prepared to play all night! The encore, had it a few more songs, would have been about as long as the rest of the show! And Accept never sounded better. Finally, the last song for the evening and third from “Restless and Wild” begun… and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna help them with that ridiculous intro of the little girls singing-but luckily, everyone out front was all too willing and so the opening to “Fast as a Shark” was given a new slant for the fourth of June, 2000. Then comes Udo’s scream and look out! The song cranked, the band cranked and like I said before, Udo’s the man! Where he gets his energy from I’ll never know. It looked like he could have fallen flat to the floor five or six times over through the course of the two hours and I’m standing there waiting for the EMT’s to come rushing the stage… but thankfully for the band and the rest of us, he must lead a charmed life. U.D.O.’s first appearance was a night to remember for sure and it really was too bad the turnout was so poor. Who knows when or if the band can ever make it back-they certainly couldn’t have made any money for this. They’re due to hit upon a few more key cities on the rest of their four or five week East coast club tour here and then its back to Europe to get ’em out front for the real crowds to pay homage to… but until then, if there’s even the slightest chance for anyone in the area to make it out to the show, get out and see them-it’s really two great bands in one and they will not disappoint!

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