Live: DragonForce/Between the Buried and Me

DragonForce pic #1

THE MERIDIAN -- 8/18/2006: Reviewer's note: My partner-in-crime at these shows, Brad, wanted to help with this review. He did. His wife, Dom, went along in order to "broaden her cultural horizons." Between the Buried and Me ably opened the show, getting the crowd whipped into a good frenzy.
DragonForce is, well, a force. A whipping, frantic, exaggerated maelstrom of a force that combines every excess of headbanging music and lifestyle so perfectly that you can almost imagine that the band has been designed as such. Oh, wait...
Whether the band is the (rumored) creation of marketing types or not is irrelevant. It's not often that something corporate works so well, so I guess we should applaud when it does. The Universal Theory of Rock Band Success (UTRBS?) goes like this: take one charismatic, big-haired lead singer, mix in a godlike guitar player, add an alcoholic second guitarist (or bassist) and an insane (as in mind-blowingly good) drummer, with an optional insane (as in bat-shit crazy) keyboard player, and finish with a unique twist. The lead singer appeals to the girls (of which there were many in attendence the night we saw the band), the partying appeals to the dudes, and the awesome musical ability give them credibility. If you take the former and twist in "California," you get Van Halen. Add "International," and you get DragonForce. Each band member is from a different corner of the globe, ostensibly "meeting" in London, according to their bio. International metal superheroes, if you will. If you've never heard them before, imagine Iron Maiden mashed with the theatrics of the aforementioned Van Halen. Epic songs, indulgent multi-instrument solos, and layered five-part harmonies, all played at two hundred beats-per-minute.
It's around 8:00 as we huddle near the stage left barrier at Houston's Meridian rock club, preparing for Between the Buried and Me to open the show. A roadie appears at the bar just behind us, and Dom exclaims, "Jesus -- he's got Richie Sambora's hair, Keith Richards' face, and Richard Simmons' shirt!" Just an awesome relic of the rock and roll lifestyle. As we listen to the pre-band CD playing, we realize that DragonForce is playing their own music over the PA. Any band with the nerve to play their own music for an hour and a half before the show better be fucking amazing (not to mention have stones the size of Nebraska). I'm pretty sure that this directly contravenes one or more of the Rules of Rock. I'll have to check.
The word that first comes to mind in describing the DragonForce live experience is "absurd." The whirling jump moves and cross-stage sprints evoke an absurdist rendition of David Lee Roth. The technical genius of guitarist Herman Li is absurd in its utter magnificence. The testicle-tightening high notes that lead vocalist Z.P. Theart hits are nearly as absurd as the lyrics he sings. It's absurd that the rhythm section of Dave Mackintosh and Fred Leclercq doesn't receive more acclaim as both bass and percussion are flawless. Keyboardist Vadim Pruzhanov's stage moves are even more absurd than his name.
In various chambers of the Internet chat world, one occasionally encounters posts suggesting that the DragonForce experience live is a pale shade of the studio-born virtuosity on the band's records. Such rumors should be dispelled immediately and permanently. DragonForce brings it live, every bit of it, right down to the 360 degree tornado jump that guitarist Sam Totman advertises as his "signature stage move" on the band's website. (As for the boasting of "hands-free drinking," I have to say that only Sam lives up to billing, unless you count water or Gatorade. Then again, Sam drinks enough for the rest of the band, so I don't consider it false advertising.) While Herman Li receives the bulk of the crowd worship as a world-renowned guitar god (deservedly), Sam completes DragonForce. Without Sam, the band is a technical marvel cum caricature. Sam brings a human element that would otherwise be missing: an absolute whirling dervish onstage, drunk and still drinking, enduring the barbs of Herman and Z.P., all the while nailing riffs that few mortals dare attempt.
Late in the show, as the band breaks into "Through the Fire and the Flames," from their new album Inhuman Rampage, Brad and his Dom retreat to safer quarters near the bar. Herman Li appears on the platform on our side of the stage and chides the crowd in our vicinity to produce just a fraction more passion. Dom howls with laughter as, without missing a beat, Brad snaps to attention and begins singing along in full voice. Herman gives them an approving nod and rushes off toward the other side of the stage. "I will never forget this," says Dom as we head for the door not too long thereafter.
Indeed. END