Date: Thursday, May 2, 2019
Place: House of Blues Chicago (329 N. Dearborn St.; Chicago, Illinois 60654)
Ticket price: free (comp tickets)
This was actually a free show for me. After the Hatebreed/Obituary/Terror/Cro-Mags show I went to on April 11, there were two people outside handing out free tickets to see Overkill. At first I thought they were selling them because people just kept walking by. It was raining outside and I wanted to get to the train right away, but I walked back to them to double check and actually got some free tickets. The woman giving them away had a huge stack of them too. The House of Blues website was also offering free tickets to the show. Tickets were still being sold as general admission for around $30. This was my first time experiencing something like that.
Overkill is out for their “Wings Over the USA” tour supporting the band’s new album “The Wings of War” that released on Feb. 22 through Nuclear Blast. It’s their 19th full-length studio album. That’s crazy. The album is another fantastic one from the New Jersey thrash metal group. I don’t think Overkill has put out a crappy album in their entire career. Some albums are kinda weaker than others, but generally the band has an incredible and consistent catalog of music spanning around 35 years. This was my second time seeing them live.
Death Angel have their ninth album called “Humanicide”coming on May 31 also through Nuclear Blast. The band is from the San Francisco Bay area. The original lineup were all Filipino, which is another unique aspect to them. The band’s drummer Andy Galeon was legitimately 14-years-old when they released their debut album “The Ultra-Violence” in 1987, which is insane when you go listen to those songs. He was even younger when they were forming the band and recording a demo a few years before that. As a teenager getting into music in the mid 2000s I could not find this album anywhere. It was one of my most sought after albums but I never did find a copy. Funny thing is the album’s title track was in a commercial for a Carl’s Jr. burger in 2013. When I heard the song on there I couldn’t believe it. Kind of like how Megadeth’s “Last Rites/Loved to Death” from their first album in 1985 was recently featured in an Apple iPhone XS commercial. It’s just weird to me.
Metal Church and Doro were also doing a show together over at Reggies on the same night. That sounded like it was probably a great time. I haven’t listened much to Doro’s career but I do enjoy Metal Church, especially the first two albums with David Wayne singing. They have Mike Howe doing vocals again now, who appeared on some of the albums after that Wayne period. Metal Church are also touring on a new album they put out last December. I like Overkill more though so I had to see them again.
The doors opened at 5:30 p.m, which is super early for a weekday show. I thought I was going to end up being late and miss Mothership or wind up all the way standing in the back. It was my first time seeing a show at the House of Blues. It’s located in downtown Chicago. I had a hard time actually figuring how to get into the building once I got down there. I first went into the wrong building and had to ask someone where the House of Blues entrance was, which ended up being around one corner down an alleyway and then around another corner. Pretty confusing. It’s a nice venue with balcony seating. The sound was good. I got into the show a few minutes after 7. Between sets the House of Blues had this screen on stage where if someone posted a picture on social media with the hashtag “HOBChicago” it went almost immediately on the screen, which was kind of cool.
It wasn’t a fully packed show, even by the time Death Angel and Overkill played. There was some room to move around a bit on the ground level. You weren’t squished next to people standing next to you. I wonder how many people actually paid to go to the show. I’m guessing a lot of people got in for free. I heard some people talking about it there too. It’s a weird thing, like the economics of essentially doing a heavily free show in a major market like Chicago. Maybe nobody was buying tickets in the months leading to the show.
Mothership opened the night. I hadn’t heard of them before. They were already playing by the time I got into the show. They’re a three piece band from Dallas, Texas that does a mix of stoner and psychedelic rock n’ roll. They were really good. I liked them a lot. The guitarist was super into his playing and solos. He had some serious tattoos all over the front of his body.
Mothership are a great band with plenty of cool riffs and guitar solos. They played a handful of songs and ended at 7:30. They definitely got a new fan. I want to see them again.
Death Angel were so good. This was my second time seeing them. I saw them back on tour with I think Anthrax and Testament around 2010 or 2011 in Chicago. The band started playing at 7:51. The set list featured mostly newer songs from the modern period rather than their earlier albums from the late ’80s and early ’90s. They did have a 14 year gap between albums (1990-2004) but the new releases are in some ways better than the old stuff. Death Angel opened with “Thrown to the Wolves” from their 2004 album “The Art of Dying.” Almost immediately a good circle pit started up. This song sounded awesome live and was a great opener.
They have a different bassist and drummer than the classic lineup, who have been with the band since 2009. The drumming was sick. The whole band was on fire. I think all the songs sounded heavier live. Mark Osegueda is a tremendous frontman. He sounded great the whole night. Early on in the set he said they checked the tour dates before going out and couldn’t wait for the show in Chicago because of how much they loved the city and the fans here.
They followed with “Claws in So Deep” from “Relentless Retribution” (2010). The third song was “Seemingly Endless Time” from “Act III” (1990). Osegueda said they were making history because it was the first time that Overkill and Death Angel had ever toured together. He was surprised and I was too. It seemed like that would have happened at some point. They followed the last song with “The Dream Calls for Blood” from the 2013 album of the same name. It was amazing live. It’s such a killer song. They then did “The Moth” from “The Evil Divide” (2016). At one point in the set a couple people behind me lifted a guy up and sent him crowdsurfing towards the front, who ended up kicking some unsuspecting people in the face.
The sixth song they did was “Humanicide” from the upcoming album. This was awesome too. It definitely fits into the live set list with a section around the middle point of straight heavy riffing leading up to the solos. After this they started playing the intro to “The Ultra-Violence” and then stopped. Osegueda talked to the crowd a bit and then they broke into “Kill As One” from the first album, which they ended the set with. It sounded awesome. They finished at 8:36. There were no bad songs. Everything sounded phenomenal. Towards the end Osegueda said, “You’re an in your fucking face city and we’re an in your fucking face thrash metal band.” That’s definitely all true. Death Angel did seven full songs and didn’t lay down. They were fantastic live.
Overkill played a lot of songs. Their setlist had a good mix of the classic songs and newer ones from the last several albums. They were amazing live. Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth still sounds amazing on vocals. The band started at 9:07 with the “Last Man Standing” intro sound effects playing over the room with the lights dimmed. This is one of the singles from the new album. It’s a great song with a killer riff and vocal delivery by Blitz. They followed with “Electric Rattlesnake” (2012). Blitz would be off stage during the guitar solos or lengthier instrumental sections then bolt back to the microphone and start singing again. Blitz just recently turned 60 years old, which seems crazy. Many people that age can barely move. He’s such an awesome frontman and still comes across with so much energy. Jason Bittner, who also played in Shadows Fall and joined Overkill in 2017, is a fantastic drummer that fits the band perfectly. Bittner was with his kit a little above the stage level with an Overkill backdrop behind him. D. D. Verni on bass is one of the best. His bass playing is just sick and has always been key to the band’s sound.
They did “Hello From the Gutter” from “Under the Influence” (1988), which is one of my favorite Overkill songs. Afterwards Blitz said, “I can smell ya but I can’t hear ya.” Blitz would talk to the crowd in between songs and always had a funny line or two to say. The fourth song was “Elimination” from “The Years of Decay” (1989). They followed that with “Deny the Cross” off “Taking Over” (1987). This was played faster live than how it is on the actual album. Blitz told the crowd in case we didn’t know that Overkill were our ugly cousins from Jersey. He joked that the band’s first album released in the ’50s when Elvis was in the army. The sixth song was “Distortion,” another new song from the latest album. It’s a more groovy, slower paced song in between the faster thrash stuff that were played so far. Distortion was a good live song too. They played “Necroshine” next, which is the title track from their 1999 album. This is one of my favorite songs from the band so it was cool to see it live. I don’t know how often they play it because their setlist can be filled with so many songs.
They played a few tracks back-to-back from “W.F.O.” that released in 1994 like “Under One” and “Bastard Nation.” I was surprised they played these. Before going into Bastard Nation, he said the next song was staying in the spirit of the ’90s. That was actually my first Overkill album back when I was discovering thrash metal. I had no idea about anything and just picked up a used copy at a record store based on only knowing the band name. I haven’t listened to the album in many years so it made me nostalgic hearing those songs again. I feel that the album is underrated since it came out when grunge was supposedly “killing off” metal and all the bands from the ’80s were either disbanding or changing their sound. It was also a different sound for Overkill but nothing seriously drastic. Blitz told the crowd before these songs, “You’re feeling 18 again ain’t ya. I’m feeling 55 again. I got my first hard on in a month and I’m not gonna waste it.”
After the W.F.O. songs Blitz talked to the crowd and said we liked the old school and we liked the new school. He was going to be selfish and play whatever he wanted next. They did “Mean, Green Killing Machine” from “The Grinding Wheel” (2017). This was so, so good. They did this cool extended bass and drum intro for “Feel the Fire” as Blitz introduced Bittner and D.D. Verni. He introduced D.D. as the next governor of New Jersey. I think he also said that Verni was also the most evil man in Illinois right now. The song’s guitar solo from Dave Linsk sounded fantastic. They closed the set with “Rotten to the Core” (1985). Introducing the song Blitz said, “I’ll say it once and I’ve said it before, Chi-town is rotten to the core!”
They ended at 10:15 but came right back out at 10:17 for an encore and did a few more songs. They played “Ironbound” (2010) first. The drums on this sounded so killer and heavy live. When the song ended Blitz said he doesn’t speak Chicago, he speaks Jersey but his sign language is perfect. The band was going to play “Fuck You” (1987 cover song of the Subhumans). Blitz yelled, “We don’t care what you say” and the crowd was supposed to respond with “Fuck you.” He said that Grand Rapids, Michigan was louder last night. Everyone booed but Blitz said he was just the messenger. Blitz tried it again and everyone yelled back and had their middle fingers up. Pretty funny. They followed that with “Welcome to the Garden State,” which is another one off the new album that’s their upbeat anthem for the band and New Jersey. It’s another great live song. They did another bit of “Fuck You” before ending for real around 10:35. Overkill had good crowd participation the whole night, with people singing the lyrics, moshing around, crowd surfing and headbanging. At one point Blitz said we were now also considered citizens of New Jersey, so we must have done something right.
I checked out the merch after the show. I kind of stumbled into it because I was actually looking for the exit and the bathroom. Each band had a small merch area with shirts, LPs and CDs. Overkill had shirts for $30 and their new LP for the same price. Death Angel had some cool shirts and a smaller sized poster with the band’s autographs.
Both Death Angel and Overkill were amazing live. Overkill should be up there with Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax as the “Big Four” of thrash metal. All of those bands either had some real dud albums, questionable stylistic changes, extended periods of mediocrity or some combination of the three. Overkill might not have the album sales as those bands but they do have the better music in many cases, especially in the last 10-15 years. The last five albums from the past decade are tremendous. They don’t just coast on the classic thrash albums from the ’80s. As a live act they have the same heaviness as bands half their age.