Concert Review – Disturbed (Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, ON, 03/04/2019)

David Draiman and his henchmen took Toronto by storm once again, providing us all a touching and memorable night of heavy music, life and friendship.

OPENING ACTS: Three Days Grace

Monday night in Toronto was damn cold, windy and, even if it was sunny and hot, it was still Monday. However, there’s nothing better than a good rock and metal concert to warm us up on such a boring day, right? That’s exactly what over 20,000 fans got at the now named Scotiabank Arena (formerly known as Air Canada Centre) during the Disturbed: Evolution Tour, featuring Three Days Grace as the opening act and, obviously, Disturbed, spearheaded by the iconic David Draiman. I was surprised with the amount of very young people at the venue, proving that rock music is far from being done (and I’ll talk more about it later), and not even that annoying bitterly cold wind was capable of stopping us all to raise our fists in the air to one of the most important bands in the history of Alternative Metal.

I must confess I’ve never paid too much attention to THREE DAYS GRACE, mainly because their music is not my cup of tea, sounding way too radio-friendly at times. That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy their performance, though, as those Toronto-based rockers put on a very energetic and fun concert, still promoting their 2018 album titled Outsider. Frontman Matt Walst didn’t stop running around and jumping up and down for a single second, demanding the audience to sing along with him and to ignite some circle pits. A few songs stood out from their setlist, like The Good Life, Pain, Riot and, of course, their biggest hit I Hate Everything About You, all working as a good warm-up for the main attraction of the night. In other words, if a fan of Thrash, Death and Black Metal like me enjoyed their show, I can imagine how happy they made their diehard fans playing in their hometown.

Setlist
Intro (Livin’ On a Prayer)
The Mountain
Home
The Good Life
Pain
Infra-Red
Painkiller
Break
Right Left Wrong
I Hate Everything About You
Animal I Have Become (with “Seven Nation Army” interlude)
Never Too Late
Riot

Band members
Matt Walst – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Barry Stock – lead guitar
Brad Walst – bass, backing vocals
Neil Sanderson – drums, keyboards, backing vocals 

DISTURBED

It was around 8:50pm when the lights went off and the humongous screen at the back of the stage started showing scenes from several DISTURBED concerts through the years, also presenting some rebellious and inspiring messages to the crowd, and that video worked flawlessly to pump up every single person at the venue for the opening track Are You Ready, from their 2018 album Evolution (which is definitely not their best effort, but it still has some very good moments, I might say). And although the whole concert might not have been as electrifying as their latest performance in the city in 2016 with Breaking Benjamin while promoting their 2015 album Immortalized (partially due to the extreme cold outside, as their 2016 show was outdoors in the middle of the summer), David & Co. kicked ass with a very solid and diversified setlist, proving once again why they’re still relevant after all those years on the road.

It was indeed a feast of classic tunes from the band, with crushing hymns like Stupify (where David gave a short speech about how the media wants us to believe we’re divided, when in fact we’re all united no matter our color, race, gender or sexual orientation), Voices, Ten Thousand Fists and their cover version for Genesis’ Land of Confusion (my favorite of the night, by the way) inspiring everyone to jump, headbang, mosh and sing together with the quartet. Dan Donegan, John Moyer and Mike Wengren were on fire with their instruments, providing David everything he needed to blast his unparalleled screams. Furthermore, despite the biggest part of their setlist being comprised of heavy songs, it was when they played their ballads that they truly connected with the audience, and that happened for a very simple and delicate reason. It was visible that all four members of the band were very sad and touched by the death of their longtime friend Keith Flint, the wicked frontman for British electronic music trailblazers The Prodigy, who committed suicide at the age of 49 at his home in Essex earlier that same day, turning the concert in Toronto something very special for the entire band.

When they played Hold On to Memories on the main stage, showing photos and images of their entire career including some pictures and old footage with their friends Chester Bennington (from Linkin Park, who also committed suicide in 2017) and the unparalleled Pantera brothers Dimebag Darrell and Vinnie Paul, who died in 2004 and 2018, respectively, it was already a memorable moment for everyone at the venue, a celebration of life and friendship by Disturbed, but it was when they moved to the smaller acoustic stage at the back of the floor section to play A Reason to Fight and Watch You Burn that we could clearly see a lot of tears falling down from their eyes. David took some time to give a very meaningful speech about how depression is not something people choose to have, but a very serious disease that can consume even the most famous and richest people on the planet, dedicating that part of the show to Keith Flint just like what he had done a week before remembering the lives of Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland and Chester Benington during their concert in New York. There are (several) other people out there either suffering from depression or who had already reached the unfortunate point of suicide, like the talented Huntress frontwoman Jill Janus who passed away in 2018, and as David said we need to reach out to those in need to win this battle against such horrendous illness.

The other three unforgettable moments for me (and for most people at the venue) were first and foremost their already classic tribute to Simon & Garfunkel with their flawless version for their ballad The Sound of Silence, the insane fire on stage during Inside the Fire (for obvious reasons), and the amazing kids with their parents on stage to celebrate rock music during The Light, proving once and for all as David said that rock is not dead like the media enjoys “vomiting” in our faces every single day. And lastly, as the icing on the cake, how about two of my all-time favorite Disturbed songs, the superb Stricken and the demented Down With the Sickness, which ignited a big, fun and frantic circle pit that took over a significant part of the central area of the floor section? That’s what good rock and metal music is all about, right? Having a good time with your loved ones, enjoying a nice beer while watching a great band like Disturbed perform, and resting assured that while bands like Disturbed are alive and kicking, our beloved Rock N’ Roll will never, ever die.

Setlist
Are You Ready
Prayer
The Vengeful One
The Animal
Stupify
Voices
Land of Confusion (Genesis cover)
Hold On to Memories
Ten Thousand Fists
The Game
A Reason to Fight
Watch You Burn
The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
Indestructible
Inside the Fire

Encore:
The Light
Stricken
Down With the Sickness

Band members
David Draiman – vocals
Dan Donegan – guitar
John Moyer – bass
Mike Wengren – drums

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Concert Review – Disturbed & Breaking Benjamin (Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Toronto, ON, 08/08/2016)

The city of Toronto got awesomely “infected” by David Draiman and his horde on a warm and beautiful night of alternative music.

OPENING ACTS: Saint Asonia and Alter Bridge

Disturbed_Breaking Benjamin_2016Due to my hectic working schedule yesterday and the distance from my place to the fantastic Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, I wasn’t able to see the performances by the two special guests of the night, Canadian Nu Metal/Hard Rock band SAINT ASONIA and American Rock N’ Roll/Hard Rock band ALTER BRIDGE. To be honest, I wasn’t very excited to watch Saint Asonia, despite the fact they’re portrayed as a “supergroup” based in Toronto formed by lead singer and guitarist  Adam Gontier (ex-Three Days Grace), lead guitarist Mike Mushok (ex-Staind), bassist Corey Lowery (ex-Stuck Mojo) and drummer Rich Beddoe (ex-Finger Eleven). I’m not sure how many people were actually able to watch their concert, nor if they were a good warm-up for the following bands. All I can say is that the music they play is not my cup of tea and I don’t really regret missing their performance.

What I do feel slightly sad about was missing the excellent singer Myles Kennedy and the talented guitarist Mark Tremonti (together with bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips) playing their straightforward and honest rock music with Alter Bridge. We all know Myles and Mark are awesome musicians, and even considering the music by this Orlando-based group a bit too soft for me I’m sure that might have been a kick-ass concert. Well, that’s the price to pay when there are too many bands in such a short period of time, fans end up missing a good chunk of what they paid for unless they arrive REALLY early to the venue, which was not the case for most fans last night.

BREAKING BENJAMIN

IMG_1585The Molson Canadian Amphitheatre got packed only a few minutes before American Rock N’ Roll/Hard Rock band BREAKING BENJAMIN began their show, with frontman and guitarist Benjamin Burnley leading his competent band from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania formed by Jasen Rauch on lead guitars, Keith Wallen on rhythm guitar, Aaron Bruch on bass and Shaun Foist on drums. The band got back in action a couple of years ago after Benjamin was finally able to overcome his phobias and addictions, with all members being completely new to the band (except for Benjamin, of course), and based on the warm reaction from everyone at the venue I believe fans truly missed Benjamin’s melodious mix of Alternative Metal and Hard Rock during the band’s hiatus.

As a fan of the darkest side of music who’s always listening to the most visceral forms of Thrash, Death and Black Metal, I must admit their music didn’t excite me despite being extremely well-crafted and played to perfection by all band members. Except for the brief moments when they played an excerpt of the superb Walk, by one of my favorite bands of all time, Pantera, as well as another excerpt from the classic Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, I couldn’t really connect to the band’s music. One thing I enjoyed a lot though was the vocal range by Aaron, going from clean and melodic lines to furious growls whenever he was responsible for the vocal parts, and for me that was the best ingredient of their concert. Please don’t think I hate Breaking Benjamin with all my strength or that it was a horrible concert, let’s simply say it’s hard to pay some decent attention to a band you’re not a fan of their music or style when you’re anxious for the following act.

Setlist
So Cold
Angels Fall
Sooner or Later
Blow Me Away
The Imperial March / Schism / Smells Like Teen Spirit / Walk
Polyamorous
Ashes of Eden
Believe
Breath
Failure
Until the End
I Will Not Bow
The Diary of Jane

Band members
Benjamin Burnley – lead vocals, rhythm guitar
Jasen Rauch – lead guitar, electronic strings, programming
Keith Wallen – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Aaron Bruch – bass, backing vocals
Shaun Foist – drums, electronic percussion, programming

DISTURBED

IMG_1592Only one day after playing at Heavy Montréal, Mr. David Draiman and his Alternative Metal horde DISTURBED hit the stage at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre to do what they do best, which is playing electrifying razor-edged modern metal music. Still promoting their 2015 album Immortalized (which by the way was awarded gold in Canada as well as platinum to the single The Sound of Silence, as informed by Draiman during the show), this iconic band from Chicago, Illinois not only revolutionized music with their inception back in the 90’s, but they also keep bringing different generations to their live concerts like what happened yesterday, something only traditional bands like Iron Maiden and Metallica do nowadays.

Blending classics such as the opening song Ten Thousand Fists and the classy Stricken with new songs like the kick-ass The Vengeful One, Draiman and his crew conquered all from the very first notes of their powerful performance. Draiman might not be moving around like before, but it looks like that’s a task he’s leaving for guitarist Dan Donegan, drummer Mike Wengren and especially bassist John Moyer to do, with those three guys being unstoppable on stage while Draiman focused on his unparalleled vocals (including his classic “monkey screams”) and leading gestures. They even invited the guys from Saint Asonia and Breaking Benjamin to sing the classic Who Taught You How to Hate with them, although it felt a bit weird seeing two bass players on stage at the same time.

IMG_1602One of the most anticipated moments of the show was their beautiful version for Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence, and I have to say that lived up to all expectations and beyond. The drumming by Mike was incredible, as if he was pounding our hearts, and the piano notes embellished the entire ambience, but of course the main ingredient in such a unique ballad were Draiman’s vocals. He sang each and every note to perfection together with the fans, a memorable moment in a warm Torontonian night that will stay fresh in our minds and hearts for many years to come. Another great example of how Draiman flawlessly captivated and commanded the audience throughout the whole gig occurred during their new song called The Light, where he asked everyone to raise their lighters and mobiles during the chorus of the song and every single person obviously attended his demand, creating a sensational view of brilliant dots all over the venue.

My only complaint is that their setlist was way too short, with only fourteen songs being played in total. They could have played a few more tunes like the title-track “Immortalized” or even their version for “Land of Confusion”, which has been part of their recent setlists. Anyway, the icing on the cake came in the form of their biggest hit Down With the Sickness, with all fans jumping up and down and screaming the lyrics together with Draiman, especially the ones in the floor section like myself. The heat of the fire coming from the stage might have been strong, but the heat coming from their music was even stronger, leaving all fans happier than usual on a Monday night on their way back home. When introducing Down With the Sickness, Draiman said Toronto was “infected” by their music. I can’t think of a better definition to their concert than that.

Setlist
Ten Thousand Fists
The Game
The Vengeful One
Prayer
Liberate
Who Taught You How to Hate
Stupify
The Sound of Silence
Inside the Fire
The Light
Stricken
Indestructible
Voices
Down With the Sickness

Band members
David Draiman – vocals
Dan Donegan – guitar
John Moyer – bass
Mike Wengren – drums

Metal Chick of the Month – Vicky Psarakis

vicky01

You! Pull me out and plug me in!

As our Metal Chick of the Month beautifully chants in one of her band’s best songs, fear is not her master. Owner of a powerful and wide vocal range that allows her to sing anything from the smoothest Jazz to the most visceral Heavy Metal, she’s the present and future of female singing, with a more-than-promising career ahead of her. I’m talking about the dashing long-haired singer Vicky Psarakis, the frontwoman of one of the most influential contemporary metal bands in Canada, The Agonist, and a woman that represents pure talent in heavy music.

Vicky was born on June 22, 1988 in Chicago, Illinois, United States, but moved to Greece with her family at the age of 10. Her Greek roots were the main reason why she grew up listening to traditional Greek music (as well as Jazz, Blues, Pop and Disco classics), something not very common in the background of most Heavy Metal musicians. Our blonde diva started singing when she was around 5 or 6 years old, when her teachers would make her participate in school plays and musicals. Then when she was 10 she laid her eyes on a piano and fell in love for it, getting her first keyboard and starting playing on her own. When Vicky was attending middle school she started listening to metal and rock music, singing a lot and writing her own songs, later growing an interest towards orchestral arrangements and soundtracks. She mentioned during one of her interviews that the great support she received from people around her was the main reason why she continued to pursue a career in music, leading her to where she is today.

Before joining The Agonist, Vicky had a band named E.V.E., which started off as a Progressive Rock personal project in 2010. Among the bands that influenced the music by E.V.E. there are some very interesting names such as Pain Of Salvation, Ayreon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd and Fates Warning. In regards to the meaning of E.V.E., according to Vicky herself it stands for “Equations Vanquish Equality”, where the first word is connected with science, math and technology, while the following words refer to humankind and how each person is affected by modern society, giving the idea of how progress, usually a positive term, can affect our lives in a negative way at the same time. You can take a listen at their only release, the 2012 self-titled EP Equations Vanquish Equality, at the band’s BandCamp page or at their official YouTube channel (by the way, on YouTube you can check out their tribute to the renowned diva Anneke Van Giersbergen with a cover version for the song Beautiful One), and witness how Vicky’s vocal performance used to be in the early stages of her career.

Another key point in Vicky’s career are the cover versions for several different bands and artists available on her official YouTube channel, which are either personal favorites or requests from friends or fans and have nothing to do with E.V.E. or The Agonist. Among all the awesome versions uploaded by our stunning singer, I recommend you go check her performance in Audioslave’s Show Me How To Live, in Nightwish’s Slaying The Dreamer, in Disturbed’s Stricken, and especially in Aerosmith’s Dream On and in one of the biggest Iron Maiden classics of all time, The Clairvoyant. Moreover, what seemed to be just a nice and healthy hobby became in fact the spark that changed her life forever: The Agonist’s guitarist, songwriter and founder Danny Marino sent Vicky a message saying how he was impressed with her covers after watching some of her videos on YouTube, asking her later on if she wanted to try and track some vocal and lyric ideas on a couple of his new songs. Vicky ended up sending him back almost a full song (which is now the incredible Danse Macabre), and after listening to it and sharing it with the rest of the band he asked her if she would be willing to join The Agonist as their new frontwoman.

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Although Vicky’s been with The Agonist for such a short period of time, having recorded only the single Disconnect Me in 2014 and the superb full-length album Eye of Providence in 2015, which showcases all her versatility in songs such as Gates Of Horn And Ivory and A Gentle Disease, she already has a lot of interesting stories and facts to share. When asked what’s easier for her to record, if clean singing or harsh vocals, she said screaming might be faster to track, but it’s something relatively new to her and her clean vocals come out a lot more natural due to her music background. Regarding her live performances with The Agonist, Vicky said she was really nervous before stepping on stage for the first time with the band, but as soon as the adrenaline kicked in all nerves were gone and she enjoyed the moment. She also said the most intense concert with The Agonist so far has been Summer Breeze 2014, where they played for a crowd of over ten thousand people. And it looks like Vicky doesn’t have any issues singing songs she didn’t originally write or record: she just sings them in a way that’s comfortable to her, giving her own personal touch to the music.

Apart from her career with The Agonist, E.V.E. and her cover videos on YouTube, Vicky has featured in some other projects and bands as a guest musician, recording female vocals on the song Siege of Ruad, from the album Nuclear Winter (2008) by Greek Heavy/Power Metal band Orion’s Reign; backing vocals on the album Depressive Icons (2010) by Greek Doom/Gothic Metal band Daylight Misery; female vocals on the album Lasting Forever (2013) by Chinese Power Metal band Barque Of Dante, as you can see in the song The Way to Freedom; additional vocals on the album Anthem to Creation (2013) by Greek Progressive Metal band Until Rain; and female vocals on the 2014 self-titled album by Greek Power Metal band Rage of Romance, as in the song Let Me Breathe Again. Is that enough Vicky for your taste?

Such a multifaceted artist like Vicky couldn’t have a short list of influences, of course. If you thought she would say her favorite singers of all time are Angela Gossow or Phil Anselmo, for example, you’re totally wrong, because as aforementioned screaming is something new to her music career. Although Heavy Metal inspired her to become a musician, her list of influences include names from different genres of music like Anneke Van Giersbergen, Daniel Gildenlow, Mikael Akerfeldt, Mikael Stanne, Devon Graves, Roy Khan, Russel Allen, Tom Englund, Marilyn Manson, Sting, among many others. She also enjoys listening to classics such as Led Zeppelin, and to more modern bands like American Rock group Rival Sons.

Lastly, despite all the growling and jumping on stage, her personal hobbies and interests are similar to what most of us like to do in our free time, including activities such as working out, watching a movie, cooking, hanging out with her friends and going out for a beer or to a good restaurant. In other words, if you’re a fan of Vicky Psarakis keep your eyes open wherever you are: she might be sitting right next to your table, sharing a beer with her friends and having some fun, just like you.

Vicky Psarakis’ Official Facebook page
Vicky Psarakis’ Official Twitter
The Agonist’s Official Facebook page
The Agonist’s Official Twitter

“I believe it’s very important for a vocalist and musician in general to be able to maintain their identity by adding their own stamp instead of copying someone else’s rendition on a song.” – Vicky Psarakis