Never having the chance to see Savatage play live, I was thrilled to have the
chance to visit Detroit's legendary I-Rock and watch two of the driving forces
behind that great band perform on the same stage. Both Jon Oliva and Zak Stevens
have continued to produce great music respectively since the demise of their
combined band. With the promise of them joining together on this tour, it was
the closest I would ever come to seeing Savatage once more.
(Sea Of Tranquility's Scott Ward
Concerts: Jon Oliva's Pain, Circle II Circle, Manticora, Halloween, Justdefy
Location: I-Rock Detroit MI
The I-Rock is a small club located on the north side of Detroit. It has been
a legend for many years as a venue that draws top talent to a place that on a
good night might have 300-400 people crammed in. The chance to see two bands
that I have waited for so long to view under these circumstances was just too
good an opportunity to pass up. I did not know too much about the other bands on
the bill. I found some Manticora and was very impressed with what I heard. The
long time Detroit rockers Halloween are known to everyone who understands the
term heavy metal within the state. The total unknown was the band Justdefy.
So on to the show. While sitting at a table in the very front less than 20
feet from the tiny stage, we watched as the crew set up for the first act of the
night Justdefy. Finding out that this local Detroit band was rather new to the
scene, the first thought was that they were just there to fill time. Boy were we
wrong. These guys blew the roof off in their short 30 minute set. Playing mostly
original material and one Iron Maiden cover that they titled "Fuzzy Pig Bunnies"
the band proved to all there that they are a band that could tear it up. They
impressed me most with an original song called "Dark Creek" that sounded like
early Metallica. The lead singer Bryan not only has a lot of talent, he also has
the rock and roll attitude to go along with it. He has the look and stage
presence that will take this band far. I am going to keep an eye out for these
guys. There really have something special that should lead to good things for
Following the great start, the band Halloween took the stage. These veteran
rockers led by the maniacal Brian Thomas, reminded everyone why they have been
around so long with their short 30 minute set. Gearing up for a tour around
Michigan, the band gave a hellish bit of ghoulish metal that only fueled the
fires for the bands to come. The "Heavy Metal Horror Show" was in fine form but
were hard pressed to bring out there full fury with the limited time and space
constrictions. They are a great live band but were hurt by the shortcomings of
being on such a lengthy bill. There time was up before they really got started!
But we were still reminded why you "Don't Metal With Evil"
Next up was the first of the three headliners. Manticora from Denmark hit the
stage. Playing as a 5 piece without guitarist Kristen Larsen, these guys
threatened to take over the audience with their vicious metal attack. Relying
heavily on music from their last 2 albums, the fantastic Black Circus Pt. 1 & 2,
they unleashed a metal fury that totally brought the house down. Once again,
time restraint caused the band to be limited to 30 minutes but it was one of the
most intense half hours of metal mayhem I have witnessed for a long time. These
guys drew one more fan into the Manticora fold this night and I bet I was not
the only one. Lead singer Lars Larsen is a presence that demands attention.
Isn't that what metal is all about? I cannot wait to see this band do a full
set. That is, if my heart can take it!
As Zak Stevens says, the waiting is over. It was time for Circle II Circle to
take center stage. With the sound of thundering guitars, Zak strolled on stage
and delivered a performance that left little doubt why he is considered one of
the best voices in heavy metal. Blazing through an amazing repertoire of both
Circle II Circle and Savatage music, they left no one wondering who it was that
the crowd was there to see. If you have never seen them perform, it is a truly
awesome display of both brute heavy metal and melodic melody that is
electrifying. I stood next to Bryan from JUSTDEFY for a good portion of this
show and he said to me, "If anyone wants to be a singer of heavy metal, then
they need to study Zak Stevens". No clearer words can be spoken of the man that
is simply known as The Voice. I also have to mention that guitarist Bill Hudson
was outstanding. He thrilled everyone every time he took a step forward and
delivered one of his many outstanding solos. By the end of the set, it was time
for the oxygen mask as Zak and company had drained all the breathable air in the
place. I cannot say this enough, if you have the chance to see Circle II Circle
in concert, DO NOT PASS IT UP!
As I watched them set up for Jon Oliva's Pain, my thought was how can he play
so close to the audience. His keyboards were set at center stage right along the
front. It was within easy reach of anyone in the audience. Soon I found out why
he does this. With a furious flash of heavy metal thunder, Oliva hit the stage
and rocked the crowd for the next hour like they have never been rocked before!
Playing almost the whole concert from the keyboard he would constantly be
reaching for the crowd. Letting the people not only see, but touch the man they
were there for. Even going so far as to take drinks from the people who lined
the stage. This veteran rocker not only knew what the people wanted to hear, he
knows how the fans feel and does his best to give them what they want. Playing a
combination of his solo material and of course, drawing on the Savatage
catalogue, Jon's set was a mesmerizing display that showed everyone just how
talented he and the underrated Savatage were. When he played Gutter Ballet, it
sent chills up and down the spine as his unique vocals stir those places where
only this quality of music can reach. But the magic show was not complete yet.
Jon called Zak up on stage and you could feel the jolt of electricity as this
pair of old time friends reunited to give the crowd a heavy metal history
lesson. Pulling from the album Handful of Rain, the pair literally shook the
ground with the song Chance. This is one of the most dramatic pieces in the
Savatage book and it was one of those magic moments when you realize just what
the power of music can do. I felt privileged to be in the audience at that
As we left the I-Rock that night, ears ringing, I told my wife that this was
the best night of rock and roll that I had ever witnessed. Many a band has
entertained me, but the diversity and the shear power of the music we saw this
night is something that memories are made of. Sure glad we had the video camera!
The bands were all on the top of their respective games and it was a night to
remember. Not often do you get to sit in the Hall of the Mountain King!
Bill Hudson and I share a metal moment