The ineffable King Diamond played Stage AE Sunday, October 19, Year of Our Lord MMXIV. Backed by his band of Swedes and Americans, Diamond performed 14 songs, two from his Mercyful Fate days. The show in Pittsburgh was only the seventh stop on his 19-show North American tour*. So the King Diamond that we got Sunday night was fresh, energetic, and tobacco-free for at least a year now.
The night was also a reunion for many King Diamond fans of the Pittsburgh tri-state area. A "f***ing multitude" — as I overhead someone put it — of inveterate and fledgling metalheads alike. With the closest shows on the tour being in Silver Springs, Toronto, NYC, and Chicago many weekend warriors traveled far and stayed late, saying "lo siento" to their Monday morning selves.
The line for the show ran all the way down North Shore Drive, turned right onto Art Rooney, and just kept going, endless, like the entry line for Hell. To get to the start of the line I walked in front of a cartoon background. The same people kept popping up: Pointed eyebrows guy with long chestnut hair, a purple lip ring and a Melissa shirt, smoking a cig, holding hands with his black-haired, heavy eye-shadowed petite girlfriend in a Cannibal Corpse baby doll tee; bald, goateed old head in a leather vest adorned in patches representing the best of 1980s Deutschland thrash over top a 1990 King Diamond Conspiracy Tour shirt; mop-headed tweens in Priest shirts they bought the night before with their lawn-mowing or babysitting money; Burzum shirt, Municipal Waste shirt, Mercyful Fate shirt, Metallica shirt; repeat.
While I stood in line for what seemed like, seriously, 15 minutes, my dear friend Ö called. He had arrived, was walking the length of the line in hilarious disbelief, sounding like he’d had more beers than winks. While still on the phone with me he appeared. He wore a shirt whose unintelligible logo panicked me. And I saw that he was a metal-governed somnambulist, in the rarest of forms. For him tonight’s show was the red-eyed bushy-tail end of a bacchanal bender, and though little of his appearance betrayed this knowledge, I perceived it. As I’m sure he could tell, even in his state, that I couldn’t read his shirt, despite how covert were my attempts to do so. His night prior had been a conflagration of Vallenfyre followed by the charnel exhalation of PA’s own Evoken, featuring G. Mackintosh of Paradise Lost for Evoken’s cover of “Rotting Misery," followed up by some van-time through Brooklyn and Manhattan, hanging with dudes he grew up with and dudes he worshipped growing up. Greyhounded it back to Wilkes-Barre, caught a ride out with some long time metal friends. He introduced one guy as Bread: “Remember, man, I was telling you about going into the forest in long black robes and jamming Cathedral?” Said he’d slept some in the car, why had I asked?
Someone slapped my arm. The line was moving! Ö waved me on, he’d see me inside he said.
John McEntee of Incantation and his wife Jill, from Funerus, walked past, also on their to the start of the line. No one noticed who they were, or at least no one was bold enough to jump out of line and stop them to be like: “Hey! You guys! Oh man! This rules! Wow, right? Okay, so the show at Belvedere’s . . . back in December . . . How are things, by the way? etc.” They were flattered, mostly confused. And to think that only a few hours prior I had been writing about why Incantation’s latest record is one of the best of the year. Once again, the universe was smiling upon me.
I must say: The security at Stage AE have their jobs down pat. Sorry. Anyway. You’re hurried through the process without being made to feel like livestock. And that’s important in the extremely consumeristic subculture of music and show-going. The wait outside had seemed sempiternal, but once the venue started eating up the line I was inside the belly of that beast in only a few minutes. Most impressive considering I was more than three-fourths around the block at the start.
Stage AE was so crowded that no matter where you stood you were in line for something: The bar, the bathrooms, the merch table, the concession stand peddling pretzel sticks and Red Bulls. I found a support beam and clung to it like a screw to a magnet until the opening band, Finland’s Jess & the Ancient Ones, allegedly picked by King Diamond himself, took the purply illuminated stage. I have heard this subgenre of metal referred to as Mom Doom before. I admit that the sound is a little too popular for its own good, and Jess & her Ancient Ones don’t necessarily bring anything novel to the party, but I don’t think it’s right to resort to sexist mockery. Jess & the Ancient Ones are more Babysitter Doom anyway. Why they have three guitarists** plus a synth player remains as much of a mystery to me as the why the drummer was all the way over on stage right instead of being back and center where drummers ought to be. Could’ve been the enormity of what lurked behind the curtain in front of which they performed. As for the three guitarists: I guess why not?
Although Jess & her band were boring, they were not altogether intolerable. The singer wore a pretty floral printed long-sleeved navy blue dress, vintage I’m sure. She sang and danced; her thin arms swam through the air like she was impersonating a hippie. The guitars had a combined tone that was loud but feeble, with a neat buoyancy, like instead of guitars they were shredding on some rubber bands stretched over a few shoeboxes. Midway through their set they launched into a cozy little number with an organ intro that lasted longer than Easter church service.
I needed a drink.
The lines for the bar had not shortened. And, impotently, I let some people cut in front of me. I figured: They needed it more than I did if they were willing to disregard long-standing mores.When I was only a few people back I noticed, hanging from the taps, a sign that read: If You Are Wearing Face Paint You Will Not Be Served.
Here’s a tip for my readers. When patronizing a place that at the time happens to be slammed with business, before you give your order, compliment the person serving you on their hustle. It will mean a lot to them that you noticed. So as that handsome bartender poured my double whiskey soda I have no doubt he was thinking: I’m gonna get this kind gentleman nice and drunk.
Drink in hand, I tunneled through the crowd, shimmying and excusing myself over to the merch table that was surrounded by a mob like some post-apocalyptic rations distro. The King Diamond shirts occupied an entire wall while the Jess & the Ancient Ones merch was relegated to a corner nearer the floor.
I was not aware that J&tAO had finished, only that I was overwhelmed by a sweaty, thirsty influx of leather and long hair. I took the opportunity to go stand where everyone had just vacated so as to secure myself a good spot for the King.
Down there haunted a formidable specter of farts. So too was the floor slick with spillage and littered with crushed plastic cups, half-eaten pretzels, ruptured mustard packets, flyers; all the typical waste you can expect from a captive audience. It was intermission in bedlam and my heart goes out to those men and women with brooms and long-handle dustpans, those uphill battlers. The place was Elizabethan with refuse.
I spotted my married friends Anton and K-Lee up by railing near the bathrooms and waved. I had not seen Ö since coming into the venue and feared I wouldn’t see him again considering how many people there were to get lost among. The people were filling in around me. I was drowning in camaraderie. A dad led his daughter down a serpentine path only short people could see. “Hold on to me,” he said, and she looked scared.
The curtain rose to reveal a backdrop like a castle dungeon and an iron fence at the front of the stage. King Diamond’s band came out. There was the illustrious Andy LaRocque, legendary axe-slayer, whose solos will stain your memories. He had since cut his hair short, but still looked great in leather at 51. The crowd shouted: “King! King! King!” as an illuminated red pentagram ascended from behind the high-mounted balcony. His Bat-Signal. King Diamond strutted out onto the stage — no, he glided, a trve showman. He wore a black double-breasted frock coat with shiny round copper buttons and the collar up. He wore a thick black scarf, from its folds dangled a silver upside down crucifix. He wore all black, save for the white corpse paint foundation for his Puppet Master-era markings: Raven’s wings over his eyes; jagged stalactites from his mouth; his cheeks a canvas for crosses, both regular and inverted. On his head sat a stout top hat with a leather band centered by a pentagram talisman. In his left hand he wielded the infamous cross-bone-cross boom arm. Yes, fantasy had become corporeality; King Diamond stood upon his stage.
Without warning they went right into “The Candle.” Diamond sounded immortal. It could not have sounded better if he had been lip syncing because his voice was stronger than ever. (Take note, smokers.) Before you could turn to your friend to celebrate how awesome “The Candle” was, the band was playing “Sleepless Nights,”one of my personal favorites as it was my first King Diamond experience. That wretched old man with heart problems was bursting with energy, nothing like the decrepit ghoul he’s capable of sounding like; moving across the stage like an insubstantial banshee, as he’s also capable of sounding like. He used the cross-bone-cross for a pretend guitar—which, explained to a non-believer, might sound silly, but was somehow done to great effect, while still remaining just the right amount of silly. When he sang “And as the clock strikes midnight,” he imitated, with his left arm, a clock doing just that. My thought was: Move over, David Byrne.
After “Sleepless Nights” the band took a quick break and His Unholiness seized the moment to bid us all a good evening. The crowd was a field of horns, roaring louder than all the Orcs at the Battle of the Black Gate. King Diamond fed off our energy and oozed a blood orange aura.
To my right, some very tall man — for no reason except he felt I should know — nudged me to point out that the sole back up singer, a pale presence with sable hair in the shadow of the stage right staircase, was none other than Livia Zita, the May to King Diamond’s (late) October. I had not noticed her, and, admittedly, I wouldn’t have known who she was had it not been explained to me. Then the backup singer’s fairness was contrasted by Grandma, pushed out in a wheelchair by a hooded stagehand as “Welcome Home” thundered over the audience like the hooves of the apocalypse. The mask was not very convincing and so made Grandma’s appearance even more unsettling. After King Diamond pulled her out of the chair, he gave it a push and sent it rolling across stage and back behind the set with satanic precision.
After “Welcome Home,” two hooded minions removed the iron fence, and King Diamond played “Never Ending Hill,” from 2007’s Give Me Your Soul . . . Please. His voice sounded even better than it does on that album! Then onto “Puppet Master,” and not until the prop stirred did I realize it was a woman painted to look like a demonic doll. There were more theatrics for “At the Graves,” but hearing Diamond’s sonorous delivery in the flesh was beyond sobering. There might have been a few dry eyes at Stage AE then, but mine were not among them.
The night was carried along by the hooded stagehands. The band was tight, and those old songs were nowhere near routine for the band. The King was warmed up, practiced, but far from tired, or blown out. There were mounted acoustic guitars, played while their electric cousins just hung out; there were evil medleys, and, as mentioned above, a pair of Mercyful Fate songs—as good as these were I confess that they enticed my spirit for Mercyful Fate without properly satisfying it. Grandma came back out after King Diamond observed that although Stage AE was “such a nice-sized place it [was] hot.” He told us he was thirsty “. . . for tea!” The crowd was flushed and drunk, swaying in unison, ruled over by their King.
I sneaked out of that roiling mass and bought a very plain, one size too-small King Diamond shirt because it was the cheapest shirt they had. The double whiskey soda had been drunk without my knowing it and a headache was edging in to eclipse my vision. Hovering behind Anton and K-Lee, I watched “Cremation,” during which King Diamond burned Grandma alive inside a red and black coffin on stage, or so we were led to believe. Then the ensuing encore of “The Family Ghost,” and “Black Horsemen.” I peaced while the band was still bowing and throwing picks and sticks out into the desperate hands wriggling with want like germs on your face beneath the microscope.
My ride home was cold, but I rode hard to outrun the headache and keep my body heat up. At a red light I sent Ö a text apologizing for leaving without first saying good-bye, told him I’d see him at Dead Congregation.
*Sunday, October 19th, MMXIV was the first time King Diamond had been to Pittsburgh since Mercyful Fate’s Dead Again tour in ‘98; before that, MF was here in ‘93 for their In the Shadows tour. And, even though I wasn’t born at the time, I’m still ticked off that Mercyful Fate got booted from the opening slot of the Exciter/Motörhead stop in December ‘84. What a night that could’ve been!
**One of their three guitarists is Antti Boman, guitarist and vocalist of the Finnish DM band, Demilich, whose seminal album Nesphite (1993) is still lauded by many fans of extreme metal, including yours unruly. How I managed to keep from heckling out: “‘(Within) The Chamber of Whispering Eyes!’” just goes to show you how much I respect the blog of which I was a representative.