FEELING THE BEAT OF VOLBEAT IN NYC
I never used to “get” Volbeat. I’d tried listening to their albums after multiple friends had recommended them and I’d been pounded in the head with their music by constant spins on WSOU… but nothing registered, like an old man trying to pop a woody in the sack despite the presence of the hottest young piece of ass you ever did see. “I used to be like you,” someone recently told me. “Until I saw them live.” She then proceded to make a pretty impassioned plea, the kind I’ve occasionally found myself making when I’m trying to convince a friend of something I just know they’ll like.
So I gave her the benefit of the doubt and went to see Volbeat live in NYC last week on the first date of their U.S. tour. And now totally I get it.
Irving Plaza was packed — sold out, in fact — and word around the venue was that their second NYC show at the end of the tour, and most of the dates in between, were sold out too. And the people in attendance were by and large not scene kids… they were older folks in their mid 20’s through 40’s and even 50’s. Folks who have money to spend on things like beer and t-shirts and albums. So why did their recent record sell a mere 1,201 copies in its first week of release in the U.S. this past Fall?
Somehow there’s a disconnect. A disconnect between who the band’s record label (Universal friggin’ Records fer chrissakes!) thinks they are and who the band really is. Here’s who the band really is: slightly quirky and wholly unique aggressive hard rock/metal with slam dunks for hooks and an incredibly polished, tight and engaging live show. I can’t say for certain who the label thinks they are, but I can guess they view them as too indie/weird for mainstream success when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I could be completely off-base here, but here’s how I see it. Here you’ve got a band with fantastic songs that would surely appeal to the same folks who buy Nickelsuck and Godsuck CDs; I know this because I went to the show and saw who their core audience is. If this band can sell out two nights at Irving Plaza in Manhattan — a rock radio black hole and complete butt-rock void — there’s no reason the Active Rock radio station in Omaha or Cincinnati or Dallas or Dubuque, IA or whatever-the-fuck Red State flyover city shouldn’t be spinning the fuck out of this record, and there’s no reason in turn that people in those cities shouldn’t be going absolutely fucking bananas over it. As I said, I heard that a large part of this tour was sold out — so that’s good — but why no record sales? And why no arena shows instead of mid-size clubs? I’m serious; this band should be playing arenas. They have all the right elements.
Here’s the thing though: Volbeat are a lot better than the aforementioned bands. Not just because I saw them kick ass live (although I’ve actually never seen Nickelsuck or Godsuck), but because their music is good too. When I say that I previously never “got it,” I don’t mean that I thought they were bad or on par with those bands, just that it wasn’t for me and I didn’t understand what people were raving about. Their live show drives the point home; they’re all engaging on stage and fun showmen, they were almost unreasonably tight, and the sound was fantastic. I have honestly never heard Irving Plaza sound so crystal clear. And the crowd was absolutely eating it up! Every single word of every single song was met with rampant enthusiasm.
So yeah, if you’re a fan or would-be fan, go see this band when you have the chance. If you’re a big-wig at Universal, throw a shitload of money at this band, whatever it takes to get them on the radio where bands like this live and die if they’re going to justify the massive overhead of a major. If you’re the band… well, I guess it’s not such a bad thing to be selling out 1,100 seaters across the country no matter how things turn out. So, uh, keep doing what you’re doing!