With a tagline like "A pirate themed band that blends Heavy Metal, Celtic Folk and progressive rock" and this salty-looking poster, how could I resist the Dread Crew of Oddwood? Although I was in class until 9:30, I hurried down to Piratz Tavern afterward, and got there not long after the scurvy rascals started up.
I was a bit flummoxed at first, though - turns out in my excitement, I forgot to read the end of the tagline, or look closely at the poster, and so when I got to Piratz and squeezed into the back bar area where the rain had forced the event to retreat, I wondered where exactly the "heavy" and "metal" elements were. I could hear the pirate and folk influences quite clearly, but there was not an electric guitar or amp in sight - I could see a guy playing a "grandpa's guitar" and the top half of a double bass, could hear some snappy drums, and eventually caught sight of an accordion, a mandolin and what seemed to be a tiny piano in a wooden box, strapped on the musician like a concession seller's tray of snacks.
At first I thought it was something like Sabaton's acoustic promotional performances - or just that they couldn't use their amps at Piratz or something. Come to realize I missed some crucial information: "a unique acoustic instrumentation...Heavy Mahogany!" Which sounds impossible, you must be thinking - I mean, they're called grandpa's guitars for a reason. Most acoustic versions of metal songs suck. But these guys actually managed to capture the spirit of metal in spite of not actually being heavy at all.
It sounded weird at first, with the aggressive drums very prominent in the sound, the weak and soft grandpa's guitar struggling to compete. But the more of the wooden instruments got in the fray, the more it came together, and the more it started to make sense why a couple familiar metalheads were headbanging at the front and why something slightly resembling a folk pit erupted toward the end. These guys aren't trying to make soft, artistic, expressive versions of metal songs that ruin their inherent visceral power. They're bringing that same visceral power to a new medium, riffing and shredding on the acoustic guitar, harnessing the old-fashioned booming reverberation of the double bass, keeping it lively with jaunty melodies on the accordion and the piano (a toy piano, according to the band's website). While the vocals scream "pirate" (or "sea chanty" or "drunken rabble") rather than any particular metal genre, they're also in no way weak or soft.
So was the room full of the overpowering thunder of modern electronic instrumentation? No, not really. Was it thick with energy intense enough to headbang, jig, and push people around? Hell yes.
The band played two sets of about half an hour each, with a highly varied repertoire - fiendishly fast and aggressive folkish songs that could have been Alestorm without amps, more moderately paced tales of glory or musings on mortality, a humorous account of bawdy deeds around the world. Their best received song was a Flogging Molly cover that had half the room singing along to the chanty-like choruses. (They also played a rendition of Metallica's "Master of Puppets" and a snip of tin whistle from Eluveitie's "Inis Mona.")
While not what I expected, the piratical assault of grandpa's strings turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. Without any of the sonic qualities usually associated with heaviness - shaking the walls with bass thunder and pummeling your soul with distorted riffs - the Dread Crew of Oddwood managed to bring the energy of heavy metal to a small pirate bar without any sort of sound system to begin with. I really should have been at the front headbanging and jigging, but I was feeling unsociable. Too bad, cause this was probably a once in a lifetime chance to experience such heavy folk music made on such lightweight instruments.
Next concert: Kamelot on Tuesday - can't believe how soon it is!