Bottom line -- WASP rocked like a beast. I didn't see any of us ugly old extremists simpering about the lack of raw meat sprayed in our faces, or whining because the only saw blades onstage were decorative fins on the wrists of tall & craggy Blackie Lawless. Video projections of child abuse and icon martyrdom, yeah, fine, but mainly we just wanted to get mowed down by the sound of a relentless rock machine cranking out the strongest songs in the leatherbound headbanging book. And for that, the WASP name carries a lifetime guarantee.
The band has added a dimension in recent years. Maybe it's been the changes in guitarists and drummers. Maybe it's been the persistent reports that Lawless no longer despises his Xtian breeding. (He encouraged that image at night's end by crossing himself and casting eyes to the sky, a gesture permissible only to hellspawn like himself or Zakk Wylde.) But this time, like the last few occasions I've seen WASP, I experienced no subsequent desire to crawl into a cold cave and beat my skull on a pagan altar. Which is a desire I can live without. Somehow, no shame implied, Lawless just seems more humane.
The mid-'80s hits ("On Your Knees," "LOVE Machine," "Wild Child," etc.) retained full skin-scouring energy. It's always welcome, though, when WASP insert more recent weapons, as they did with the sword-rattling "Crazy" (from the "Babylon" album) and the blood-sweating spotlight prayer "Heaven's Hung in Black" (from "Dominator"). The set's most intense wave peaked with a dynamic suite from 1992's "The Crimson Idol," which WASP toured in its entirety a couple of years back and whose death-defying energy obviously sticks close to Lawless' heart. The concluding "Blind in Texas" blew out all the carbon and shut the door with a satisfying slam.
I think WASP's truly unflagging set held some other rarer gems, but it was hard to tell since my location (middle right) proved a non-sweet spot in the club, with Mike Dupke's precisely powerful drums coming into focus only toward the end and Doug Blair's lancet guitar faded into distant murk throughout, even during his solos. Though Mike Duda stood farthest from me, it was his bass that cut through clearest -- a sinewy Jack Bruce tone and pickin' so tight and quick that I thought it must be pre-recorded. Duda's high vocal harmonies and Lawless' excoriating melodic scream both sounded heavily processed and electronically doubled; while this kind of manipulation makes for a consistent show, I prefer a realer sound, even if it's flawed. But I'm old-fashioned.
Blackie's jersey displayed No. 25. Barry Bonds, anyone?
Each of the three warm-up bands made something of a case.
PsychicMafia dealt an intelligently varied proggo thing with virtuosic metal vocals and laser chops, even turning in a creditable cover of Yngwie Malmsteen's "I'll See the Light Tonight." (Guitarist Juan Carlos invented some dubious scales on PsychicMafia's own tempo-switching "No Hope," though.) The quartet's prole physicality detracted; I dunno why they don't go ahead and slap on the wiseguy tuxes and sunglasses they sport in their PR photo.
Wrapped in headscarves and campy shades, Prowler tried to inject some Hollywood glam into their '70s blues-rock, but since they're as old as the musicians they copy (variants on "Mississippi Queen" and "Stormbringer," a big shout-out to Van Halen), the effect was macabre. Bassist Bob sure has a groovin' deadpan, though.
Either Downey's Scarred have improved since I caught them four months ago, or a second exposure has clued me in. I really ground my teeth to the medium/slow Sab tempos generated by Andy Salas, who churned a potent low end and bashed some ancient cymbal that he must keep because it sounds like just the right kind of crap. (I love that.) Stolid guitarist John Toscano soloed with a cleanliness and rhythmic acuity aspiring to Tony Iommi level and not as far off as you might think. Singer/screamer Eric Claro got his palmsweat all over the local fans, and they were sweating back. Reverberative atmosphere. Stage smoke. "Rise! Rise-like-the-sun!" Yeah.