It was a night of alt rock extremes as Mushroomhead and (hed) P.E. tore through the Gramercy for several hours of body slamming, ear-splitting music, highlighted by former Mushroomhead vocalist J. Mann returning to perform several songs with his old band.
The Gramercy Theatre regularly hosts a range of metal acts, but Monday night saw some of the most inventive groups and their fans take the stage as the Hed 2 Head Tour 2.0 reprised the debut 2009 outing. California’s B.L.U., or Better Left Unsaid, kicked off the show with their metal amalgam of breakdowns, death metal, and even melodic singing. Despite a sparse crowd, the band fought hard on every song, and by the end kids were gamely moshing and jumping about, which is impressive given Mushroomhead and (hed) P.E.’s notoriously aggressive and xenophobic fans.
But the heaviest action of the night kicked off when the lights dimmed and the eight members of Mushroomhead filled the stage. The Cleveland band is one of metal’s most inventive groups, and have made a true artform out of their performances. Giant water drums flanked either side of the stage, and the masked band opened up with their withering new single, Come On (watch my video of Come On from Mushroomhead’s New Haven, CT show last September here).
Vocalists Waylon and Jeffery Nothing prowled the stage as they traded off on howling screams countered by melodic harmonies, one of Mushroomhead’s signature styles, especially on epic songs like Save Us. Intensely colored lights amplified the splashing water as percussionists pounded the water drums in synchronization, but nothing compared to the roar of approval when vocalist J Mann, who left the band in 2004, ran out on stage to replace Waylon during Sun Doesn’t Rise. The musician, wearing zombie white makeup, appeared to be in top form, jumping around and nimbly spitting out his verses as if he’d never left.
A fierce moshpit churned throughout the show, with one or two particularly large and aggressive fans slamming into every corner of the crowd, but that didn’t stop members of the band from standing on the barrier to slap hands with fans, and even jumping onto the floor during Erase the Doubt.
The night wrapped up with new song Burn the Bridge, which can be seen in my video on the left sidebar. But the climax of every Mushroomhead show is their energetic cover of Pink Floyd’s Empty Spaces, which leads directly into Born of Desire, easily the group’s most pummeling track. J-Mann rejoined the band for Born of Desire once more, and even took a shot of Jagermeister with Waylon, his replacement in the band, dispelling any rumors of animosity between any of the frontmen before the band ripped through Born of Desire in a breathtaking display of heavy metal fury.
Members of Mushroomhead mingled freely in the crowd after the show, taking pictures with fans and interacting on a level rarely seen from professional rock bands. Overall, the group’s on-stage intensity was a wonder to behold, and thoroughly satisfied the metal fans in the audience. That audience, however, was shared with fans of (hed) P.E., a distinctly different group whose fans mostly sat in the back during Mushroomhead’s set.
Juggalos and Jugglettes streamed forward during the set changeover, chanting “Hed PE! What!” as they waited for the group to take the stage. Much of the crowd disappeared once Mushroomhead finished, leaving the Gramercy noticeably emptier and skewed towards a younger demographic.
(hed) P.E. hit the stage with high energy, vocalist Jared Gomes screaming through songs with a needles-on-the-blackboard intensity. The group’s unique brand of punk rock cum death metal and hip hop makes for an intense live performance, and fans violently danced around to the slamming beats.
In some ways, (hed) P.E. was the inverse of Mushroomhead’s art metal, with short, brutal songs blasted out at a breakneck high speed. The face-painted Gomes is a wild frontman, and as the show went on, he began opening up to the crowd between songs about politics, the environment, and especially New York City. He thanked the audience for coming out, while at the same time taking a shot at the Big Apple, saying “I don’t know how you guys live in this place.” The backhanded compliment seemed to leave fans unsure of how to respond, but fortunately all one has to do is shout “Family!” to instantly rally a crowd full of Juggalos.
The band played until midnight, dropping in radio hit Hey Bartender and some Bob Marley covers between raucous blasts of rap metal and punk. Towards the end of the night, Gomes began verbally sparring with a particularly rowdy fan in the front row screaming out for his favorite song, finally flat out refusing to play it just because of him. With other fans menacingly surrounding the heckler, security escorted him out during the night’s final song, much to the relief of the band.
With a catchy tour title like Hed 2 Head, and relatively small regional audiences on their own, it’s understandable why Mushroomhead and (hed) P.E. teamed up for a second go around from a marketing and ticket sales point of view. But with virtually polar opposite sounds – Mushroomhead has short but excellent rap passages in their metal sound, whereas (hed) P.E. has tinges of metal in their rap sound – it seemed like few fans had any interest in listening to both bands, as evidenced by the rapid exodus following Mushroomhead’s set. Nonetheless, those who did stay for the entire show were rewarded with high intensity performances from all three bands, although Mushroomhead came out the clear winners of the night. Hopefully each band will return to New York soon for full headlining shows in their own rights.
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