Concert Reviews

Last Night: Norma Jean at Marquis Theater

Norma Jean, HORSE the Band, The Chariot, Arsonists Get all the Girls
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009
Marquis Theater
Better than:
Seeing an actual Kenny Loggins show -- this show had just the right amount of Kenny Loggins. Though, to be fair, I've never seen the guy play. It might be pretty badass, for all I know

It was a long time to spend waiting in the cold for tickets, but with a lineup like the one last night, the tight-pantsed hardcore kids who did knew it would be worth it. And it was. It was even better than expected. I'm not a huge fan of Arsonists Get all the Girls studio recordings (and I'm also racist against bands with full clauses for their names), but live, the band was accessible and energetic. There were some hi-hat-fueled dance-metal hooks, a la Powerman 5000 or bands of that ilk -- which makes it sound cheesy (and to some extent it is) but there was enough straight metal in it to satiate the masses. And as an opener, the band did its job: It gave the crowd something to latch onto and get warmed up, and the crowd happily did just that.

The Chariot was next, and even though HORSE the Band and Norma Jean both put on great shows, I almost felt as if the set blew its load too early. For starters, The Chariot's hardcore was both the most technical and the most brutal of the night, featuring odd time signatures, lightning-quick tempo changes, and guitars as angular as Vogue-era Madonna's breasts. And the performance was intense--the band spliced the most crowd-pleasing parts of its songs together, medley-style, and moved along so quickly it was hard to tell where one began and the next ended. It was an onslaught of abrasion, and it didn't stop until The Chariot got off stage.

There was a rapid shift in tone when HORSE the Band took the stage, from the pained, Jesus-loving earnestness of The Chariot (it's Christian hardcore) to HORSE's tongue-in-cheek irony-metal. HORSE bills itself as Nintendo-core, and it's a remarkably astute self-description: The band pairs a synthesizer straight out of Mario Bros. with shredding, which errs more on the punk-rock side of hardcore than the metal. It's a gimmick, sure, but the band puts it to excellent use--with more versatility than one might expect: During certain breakdowns, I felt as if I was in the flight montage of Top Gun. Performance-wise, HORSE lost some momentum with long pauses between songs, but ultimately put on a satisfying show.

Norma Jean brought back the earnestness for the last set of the night, and though it couldn't top the insanity of The Chariot, it came close (as well it should have -- The Chariot's screamer, Josh Scogin, was formerly the screamer of Norma Jean). It may or may not have otherwise, but it certainly helped that the band played its seminal LP Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child in its entirety. (Interestingly, Scogin fronted Norma Jean during the recording of that album, and accompanied the band during the set on a couple of tracks). Even at its most brutal, which Bless the Martyr arguable was, Norma Jean could not match the outright ferocity of The Chariot. But that wasn't necessarily a bad thing -- in fact, of all the bands of the night, Norma Jean probably did the best job of capturing the balance between mathy, angular breakdowns and catchy riffs you could grab onto, and I appreciate that.

But I can't help it -- I'm a sucker for breakdowns.

Personal Bias: I like hardcore for the technicality more than for the hardcore-ness. Judge accordingly
Random Detail: HORSE the Band's screamer became increasingly belligerent about the lack of vocals in his monitor throughout the set, but in a funny way
By the Way: For metal/hardcore-lovers who also love the Marquis, EYEHATEGOD is playing there with Denver's own Cephalic Carnage on Sunday