In the history of hard rock and heavy metal, the live show has always been the best way for bands to connect with fans. For some bands, it’s about the songs. For other bands, it’s about an extravagant stage show. For HELLYEAH, it’s about being fully immersed in the experience, something that doesn’t happen often in today’s short-attention span, smartphone society.
More often than not at live shows these days, the audience is filled with people trying to capture the moment through their smartphones rather than living in it. That simply doesn’t happen at a HELLYEAH show.
This past Saturday – at The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie, NY – HELLYEAH turned back the clock to the glory days of heavy metal with a show that was as much a group therapy session as it was a concert. Early on in the show, frontman extraordinaire, Chad Gray, addressed the already-frenzied crowd, proclaiming…
“This isn’t a rock concert. We’re in this together. We are a fuckin’ family, and this is heavy metal psychotherapy 101!”
These were not just words being used to pump up the crowd. This was the truth, the gospel if you will, delivered by Gray, who could easily make a living as a heavy metal preacher, but that is not his calling. His calling is to orchestrate an experience so raw, visceral and real that you put down your smartphones and forget that the outside world even exists.
Unlike most live shows, fans (or family members as it were) are not waiting to hear their favorite songs, and they are certainly not there just to hear the hits. This crowd was there to deliver hits of their own in a mosh pit unlike any other that I have seen in over 30 years of concert going. Ironically, the only times that the frenetic pit calmed down was during the slower tempo of the band’s two most recent radio hits (“Moth” and “Hush”).
With a capacity of around 1000, The Chance Theater is as intimate as it gets, which only enhances the HELLYEAH experience.
The pit at most concerts is like a tornado that forms a natural circle, but there is no room for that at The Chance, as the first level is less than ten rows deep. As Gray would dial up the intensity on stage, the pit became a tidal wave of people violently crashing into each other. Amazingly, HELLYEAH’s tour manager was able to control the chaos whenever it would start to get too intense, sometimes with nothing more than a stern look similar to the one that a parent gives to a misbehaving child.
One of the band’s hit songs did make an impression early on in the set, but not for the reason that you might expect. “Sangre Por Sangre (Blood For Blood)” was delivered with the same primal intensity as the rest of the band’s up-tempo songs, but what set it apart was the interaction between Gray and bassist, Kyle Sanders at the beginning of the song.
The HELLYEAH experience is all about the energy that is created in the room between the band and the crowd, with music that hits you like a punch to the face (think Pantera’s Vulgar Display Of Power album cover). As powerful as that image is, it pales in comparison to the imagery created on stage when the massively dreadlocked Sanders spit a full mouthful of blood (likely artificial) directly into the face of Gray. With his face covered in blood, Gray’s signature, tortured vocals felt even more ferocious than usual.
You might not expect words of wisdom to emerge from a primeval, blood-soaked frontman with pink hair, a matching beard and eyes that seem to see right through you into your soul, but that is exactly what you get during the HELLYEAH experience.
With most dual-guitar heavy metal bands, the guitarists are front and center, but HELLYEAH marches to the tremendously heavy beat of their own drum (courtesy of the legendary Vinnie Paul). Founding member, Tom Maxwell, and newcomer, Christian Brady, fuel the freight train that is HELLYEAH, but you can’t help but focus your attention on the light of the train in the center of the stage (Gray, Sanders and Paul – in that order).
Often times, you leave a concert disappointed that the band didn’t play something that you wanted to hear, but with the HELLYEAH experience, the song selection is almost immaterial, as is the length of the show. It’s about quality, not quantity, and HELLYEAH packs so much intensity into their set, that you can’t help but leave feeling satisfied.
It’s hard to put into words the feeling of having adrenaline coursing through your veins, and yet, feeling emotionally exhausted at the same time, but that is how you feel after the lights go on at the end of the HELLYEAH experience. Undoubtedly, those in the pit felt the physical toll the following day after the adrenaline and alcohol wore off, but given the opportunity, they would all return the pit for another round of therapy, HELLYEAH style.
There aren’t many opportunities in this day and age to leave the world behind and immerse yourself in an environment that is both entertaining and therapeutic. The HELLYEAH experience is just such a place.
While Gray talked about how therapeutic a HELLYEAH show should be for the crowd, you have to believe that it is even more therapeutic for him. When you wear your life experiences and emotions as close to the surface as your tattoos, you need an outlet to release that energy, and for Gray, that outlet is the stage. Those fortunate enough to be in the crowd on Saturday were there to reap the benefits of his considerable angst.
When they come to your area, should you make it a point to go and see them?
The answer is a resounding HELLYEAH!