Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint, Chicago (US)

PAGAN ALTAR / HIGH SPIRITS / CAUCHEMAR

Date: 31st August, 2019
Venue: Reggies Music Joint
Ticket: $20/€18
Promoter: n/a


It is bittersweet to see PAGAN ALTAR crossing the Atlantic for the first time; obviously the ‘sweet’ part has to do with the British band setting foot on US soil, while the bitter part is the absence of Terry Jones. As you may already know, the band’s frontman lost the battle against cancer in 2015, leaving a huge gap in PAGAN ALTAR’s lineup that is impossible to fill. Still, the band recruited singer Brendan Radigan with the intent to keep PAGAN ALTAR playing some additional shows and give another chance to fans all over the world to enjoy the mysticism and poetry of Terry and at the same time give a fair chance to the latest release, “The Room Of Shadows”.

The billing featured our own hometown buddies of HIGH SPIRITS, with the openers being the Canadian Doomsters of CAUCHEMAR fronted by Annick Giroux. Fun fact; my first acquaintance with Annick was some decade ago through her cooking book Hellbent For Cooking: The Heavy Metal Cookbook” that I strongly recommend. HIGH SPIRITS would celebrate their 10th anniversary and I was super-excited to see what Chris had prepared for us. However, when considering how awesome this billing was, I could not understand why the event was hosted at the smaller Reggies Music Joint and not at a bigger venue. On the other hand, I was sure that the intimacy of the show would elevate the live experience into a higher level.

The weather was a bit rainy, but still, Joint was nicely filled with lots of familiar faces in and outside. Around 9pm, people started flocking around the small stage because the live music was about to start. “Good evening, Chicago - this is our first time here and we are gonna start the night with a song from our first EP”, said Annick dressed up in leather with a short cloak, putting the finishing touch on the visuals for CAUCHEMAR. As I said, small venues enhance the intimacy level but can be brutal for the opening band because getting people off the drinking / partying mood into watching a live show can be tough. The MERCYFUL FATE guitar rhythm of “Les Ailes De Da Mort” cut the partying mood like a hot knife in butter, and without waiting much, the attention was locked on the stage. And that’s a huge achievement if you add the fact that the lyrics are in French, making a bit challenging to relate, especially for the US audience. However, the galloping rhythm along with Annick’s hard work onstage did have the right impact and soon enough headbanging and fists in the air had entered the menu. Even though I do not speak French, I was intrigued by how Annick introduced “L'Appel” saying something about “ancient relatives from the ocean”, as it touched upon my Lovecraft-ian based interested in all things Cthulhu-related. Guitarist François Patry and bassist Andres Arango remained at stage-right and stage-left, respectively, leaving the rest of the Joint stage to Annick to move around, headbang and work as much and she could (remember the stage is small) the audience who song-after-song looked more engaged. This is the perfect proof if your music is good and the sweat your arse off onstage, people will notice (at least in Metal shows where my experience comes from).

“Etoile d'Argent” was dedicated to the memory of Terry Jones and although I did not hear the nice keyboards melodies of the studio recording, it did hold the appropriate mysticism and Doom-ness to be the right one for such dedication. On top of this, I believe you can find some PAGAN ALTAR hidden in the awesome guitar leads and how the tempos changes into higher bpms. Still, it was Annick doing all the hard work to the point that I wished the guitarist and bassist would have been more active, although I do recognize and appreciate different onstage styles. Some heavy chains were appropriately used as a rattling instrument by Annick’s hands during the BLACK SABBATH-esque and consequently Doom-heavy “Trois Mondes” before dropping the curtain after a packed with music set with the faster “Le Voile d' Isis”. CAUCHEMAR obliterated the language barrier and I am sure gained a new set of fans who right after their set paid a visit to the merch-stand and gear up.

CAUCHEMAR setlist:

01. “Les Ailes De Da Mort”
02. “L' Appel”
03. “Valse Funèbre”
04. “Etoile d' Argent”
05. “Comme Un Poignard”
06. “Magie Rouge”
07. “Le Fantôme”
08. “Trois Mondes”
09. “Le Voile d' Isis”

CAUCHEMAR

Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)
Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Cauchemar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)

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After the awesome start, it was time to get into a festive mood to celebrate the 10th anniversary with HIGH SPIRITS. The band started setting up the gear for the set, but wait a minute... Chris was helping to set up the drums but the kit did look like Ian’s kit. Had the band put together something really special? Apparently “no” was the answer because a family emergency did not let Ian to be with the rest of HIGH SPIRITS. Of course, the immediate response of anyone with a working mind is to wish that the emergency would prove to be a false alarm, so let’s hope for this. On another note, moments like this prove that life plays “funny” games and occasionally can be kinda evil. I mean, bad things tend to happen in the middle of something good, making you believe that irony is one of life’s beloved hobbies... The band refused to give up thpugh and entered the stage with the intention to have fun, with a helping hand from friends who were to play the role of a guest singer. Without saying much, “Wanted Dead” kicked off the set with Chris torturing the drum-skins and Mike handling the vocals for this MOTÖRHEAD-esque neck blaster... I love how the audience stepped up to support the band on this bizarre situation where HIGH SPIRITS had to improvise with zero time to rehearse and adapt. So yeah, there were printed lyric sheets and lots of onstage stress but no one seemed to be turned off by this. “Mr. Chris is behind the drums and we are going to do our best with vocals”, explained bassist Bob Scott and in response he got cheers of support, and I am sure this did help a bit with the stress. “Calling Out To You” was next with guitarist Mark Sugar on stage with a sheet of paper instead a guitar in hand... I have never performed onstage but I am sure changing roles with zero prep time does not sound a fun activity. Still, Mark did his best and became part of something extremely special and rare. “Please sing along, even if you don’t know the words” said Scott Hoffman who took his turn on singing another up-tempo song, “I’ll Be Back”. Based on the selection of songs, it became quite clear that HIGH SPIRITS had prepared something extremely special before life changing their plans. But when life gives you lemons... you enlist some friends who are not afraid to step a little bit out of their comfort zone, having skipped the rehearsal room. Although, for “Night After Night” and “Midnight Lady”, no one had to switch roles because singer Mandy Martillo (MIDNIGHT DICE, ex-SATAN'S HALLOW) was the next one behind the mic. She did an amazing jobs and I don’t think she looked much on the printed lyrics, and maybe, if Chris decides to have a female singer in HIGH SPIRITS, she should be high on his list... On a more serious note, you should check MIDNIGHT DICE and meet the reincarnation of SATAN'S HALLOW (at least part of it).

After the amazing “Never Going Back” (that one challenged our vocal chords but it was worth it), a drenched in sweat Chris left his drum-kit for Patrick Glockle (also in MIDNIGHT DICE) and assumed his natural role in HIGH SPIRITS. Oh yeah, “I Need To Know” came out more energetic than all the times I’ve seen the band live, and I am sure it was due to the realization that this lineup along with guests managed to pull off something extremely tough. Of course, the audience played an important role that shined through the loud singing along for “High Spirits”. This one was rightfully dedicated “to those who couldn’t make it here tonight” as Chris said, with Terry Jones being one of them. With all the commotion and the different guests, “Torture” felt like an early (almost abrupt) end to the set but no one, and I repeat no one, was left dissatisfied. After all, friends do not do such a thing!

P.S.: Loved the white-pant adjustment Chris did to serve his drumming duties...

HIGH SPIRITS setlist:

01. “Wanted Dead”
02. “Calling Out To You”
03. “I’ll Be Back”
04. “Night After Night”
05. “Midnight Lady”
06. “Never Going Back”
07.  “I Need To Know”
08. “High Spirits”.
09. “Torture”

HIGH SPIRITS

High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)
High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) High Spirits @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)

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There was no doubt that the energy inside Reggies Rock Joint was appropriate for a Saturday night despite the rainy weather outside. Yeah, the rows in front of the stage became packed, something that is totally understandable when considering that this would be the first (and probably the only one) instance for PAGAN ALTAR to set a Doom foot upon US soil. This added to the lurking sadness stemming from Terry Jones’ “absence”, but at the same time invited the audience’s laser focus in a futile attempt to imprint everything in the memory-preserving part of the brain. I do not want to sound judgmental (not even close) or biased, but each time I see an experienced British musician on stage, I get the feeling of an unfortunately rare aura of genuine musicianship and quality that matures over time like wine. The sense of melody, the onstage confidence, along with the – shockingly – down-to-earth attitude, are extinct attributes in the current music scene, so you better enjoy it at any given chance.

The pre-recorded mystical chanting marked the time to open a gate to a different plane of existence with PAGAN ALTAR being the only guide to direct our footing into these unexplored territories. I may sound a bit cheesy, but the guitar tone, along with the old-school sounding rhythm, were all that we needed to get lost into this high-quality NWOBHM with traditional Doom Metal undertones few bands can deliver. Without bells and whistles, Brendan Radigan took upon the lead-heavy role of delivering the Terry Jones poetry with outmost respect and with a timbre that is definitely PAGAN ALTAR appropriate. Damn, the pre-recorded cry sent massive shivers down my spine, because it meant only one thing; the definition of galloping Epic NWOBHM described in “The Cry Of The Banshee”. Watching at a spitting distance the flat hat wearing Alan Jones delivering these trademark guitar riffs like it was the easiest thing to do and with that tone, was enough to get into the PAGAN ALTAR mood and stay there for the rest of the set. After letting the powerful trio to give a hearty taste of how this version of PAGAN ALTAR sounds onstage, Brendan greeted us; “Hello Chicago, mostly from England and a little bit from the States, we are PAGAN ALTAR. That’s right; the lineup in front of us was a mix-match of nationalities but with the sole goal to perform the best way these amazing songs that soon will have to be put to sleep. “Sentinels Of Hate” slowed things a bit to give us some room to breathe, before getting back on the saddle with “Highway Cavalier” that Brendan dedicated to those who drove from neighboring States to see PAGAN ALTAR that night.

Still, it was the longer tracks that made the hair at the back of my neck stand up; those tracks carry the Terry Jones mark on the shoulder of the guitar driven music with that ‘70s-infused quality and the occasional JETHRO TULL ‘remind me of’. Definitely this was one of the highlights of the night, at least for me. Some beer and a sip of water was the proper fuel for Brendan to literally keep his cool because the combination of the high humidity and the crowded venue had put him in an imaginary sauna. That meant that the energy from the audience was bouncing off the band getting more excited with every song. The galloping “Dance Of The Druids” and the Hard Rockin’ “The Witches Pathway” fed with high octane fuel the PAGAN ALTAR machine that was burning high being the appropriate send off to the band’s frontman. I should add to this list, the latest “The Room Of Shadows” that made a nice pairing with the ‘70s rocker “The Aftermath”.

“Anybody wanna hear some old ones? We can make it happen”, said Brendan although I am sure he knew the answer. Oh yeah, the two-decade old “In The Wake Of Armadeus” and the BLACK SABBATH-esque “The Black Mass” sounded awesome and “appropriately” heavy, and because of this, were greeted with maybe the highest enthusiasm of the night, so I guess the singer got his answer in action… Brendan made the saddest statement of the night just before the end of the set, even though he did not say something we didn’t know: “I can’t say with certainty that we’ll ever come back, but we are glad we came – we had a blast”, giving at the same time an unofficial closer to the PAGAN ALTAR fans. And to me, this is the best way to turn the last page on PAGAN ALTAR’s history by celebrating the music and the lyrics with a set full of highlights. “The Time Lord” dropped the curtain on this performance that will remain imprinted to our minds and hearts for years to come. Getting the poster of the show from the band’s merch was the best way to maintain this show as close to heart as possible and nurturing the memories from this great gathering of genuine musicians. Thank you, lads!

"Dawning of a brand new day,
Lighting up the way,
With something new to say,
From beyond the stars"

PAGAN ALTAR setlist:

01. “Pagan Altar"
02. “The Cry Of The Banshee"
03. “Daemoni Na Hoiche (Demons Of The Night)"
04. “Sentinels Of Hate"
05. “Highway Cavalier"
06. “The Crowman"
07. “March Of The Dead"
08. “Dance Of The Druids"
09. “The Witches Pathway"
10. “The Room Of Shadows"
11. “The Aftermath"
12. “Lords Of Hypocrisy"
13. “In The Wake Of Armadeus"
14. “Black Mass"
15. “Judgement Of The Dead"
16. “The Time Lord"

PAGAN ALTAR

Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)
Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)
Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos) Pagan Altar @ Reggies Music Joint (photos by Dimitris Kontogeorgakos)

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