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ConcertsAmerican Head Charge Defeats Adversity And Forges Ahead

Posted on Saturday, April 16 2005 @ 10:29:57 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Concert Reviews

You've heard the stories about a child that was born disadvantaged but was too stubborn to know it, raised on the wrong side of the tracks but forged ahead regardless, and by the time he reached his sophomore year he'd overcome the odds and went on to become rich and famous.

That analogy fits American Head Charge. The band was born in a rehab center, and its adolescence followed a rocky road of early successes followed by more than 3 years upheaval.

Duncan Glenday spoke with guitarist Bryan Ottoson before the band's Washington, DC show with Bloodsimple, Life of Agony and Mudvayne, and explored the events of that long hiatus, and Kenny Pierce reports on the band's New York show.

"We kept writing songs, and there were more that 20 of them but they just weren't what they wanted", says Bryan Ottoson of their previous record label. "But they were very gracious about letting us leave".

We're sitting is a dark little enclave at the back of Washington, DC's 9:30 club. The doors are about to open but the still-empty club is filled with bored club employees lolling against the walls while tour managers and roadies are completing sound checks and setting up the mixing board. There's a sense of urgency among them but their actions are quick, competent and practiced. You'd never know that until about 2 hours ago they'd never laid eyes on the premises.

Charging Ahead In DC

"Yeah - those three or four years were difficult," continues Bryan. "Some guys took full time jabs after a while - I mean, you just had to. At one time the band was almost gone, history. But we're okay again now. And then the new label was different. There was a budget, there were only four months of studio time..." The long layoff caused the band to fall off the radar screens of the notoriously fickle buying public. There was a bit more rehab, and there were some changes in the lineup. Some of the personnel changes were friendly, others were not.

"There used to be two keyboard players, now there's just Justin - and he has to do all the keyboards and the effects. But he does a great job - he does it all!" Guitar tech Karma Cheema joined as the second guitarist. Two guitarists can be a challenge or a blessing, so I ask how the guitar duties are divvied up. "Well - I wrote a lot of the songs, and I've been working on all the songs for a long time. So I tend to take most of the lead parts. Also - I had all the gear, and he didn't have all the stuff he needed yet, when he came in." I ask about the music, the structures, complex chord sequences, the surprising lack of guitar or keyboard solos. "No, you won't find any Zakk Wylde style music here - although I wish i could play like Zakk Wylde", he laughs. "We're pretty much a meat and potatoes group", Ottoson says. "But our target audience is people who like good music. I'm not saying it's the best, but we make sure that every song is different and has its own style. You won't find the same song played eleven times." This is one of the points we made in our review of the band's sophomore releaseThe Feeding.

"There's been a lot of rehab in the band's past, Bryan - what's the status now? Is everyone clean, sober ... or are there still issues?

"Most of us are pretty clean. The one guy - Chris - has been 100% sober for over a year. Sometimes some of the guys will come into some issues ... but we work together. We all give him a hand, we pick him up. We're like a family. We are a family! And there's no way we're going to blow this opportunity," he waves his hand around, taking in the premises. "I mean Mudvayne! We won't mess that up!"

In days of the band's adolescence, Head Charge had a reputation for unruly behavior. "Well that reputation came mostly from that Ozzfest performance. I mean it's ten o'clock in the morning and people are just coming in - we wanted to say hey, here we are, you know? Had to do something to get their attention. It was mostly spontaneous, although we did have to get those pig heads before we went on." So I ask Bryan if that is in their past. There's a twinkle th his eye as he says "Well - sometimes you'll see guys climbing on the gear, or spending half of the show down in the audience. But it's spontaneous, you know? You just see what happens, you know? I mean we get bored sometimes!"

Like so many American metal acts, Head Charge seems to have a bigger fanbase in Europe than at home. Their recent 10-stop tour in the UK was hugely successful, with concerts being sold out and on one occasion being moved to a bigger venue. "It was cool to hear them singing along - they knew a lot of the songs before the CD came out!" The band posted a total of 4 songs on their web site for free download, and fans across Britain knew these songs!

As my intended ten minutes with Bryan turned into half an hour, the venue's doors opened and he needed to get upstairs to the blue room. the venue was almost full when Head charge took the stage at 7:45 - exactly on schedule. Although many audience members were here to see Mudvayne their attention was riveted on the stage and it was almost impossible for me to move around and take pictures.

The show was very short, and there wasn't much time for stage antics. The band's style of nu-metal meets industrial meets punk is heavy and intense and the dual guitars led with powerful rhythm and riff section, the vocals cried out in brutal cries of anguish and the surprisingly small keyboard stack yielded layers and textures that were sometimes in the forefront, and sometimes hard to make out in the tight confines of the 9:30 club. The rhythm section of 'Banks' and drummer Chris - who appeared in what looked like a bathrobe - was impressively tight despite the deliberate chaos Head Charge brings to their music.

Ken Pierce reports on the previous night's new York show:

American Head Charge was the first band I saw on my attendance of the Mudvayne performance at the Roseland Ballroom in NYC the other night. Blood Simple opened, but I was not able to get in on time. It was good to see the AHC again delivering their brand of mayhem for they do it quite well. The sad aspect was the fact that they would only play 5 songs by my count. Overall this short set included the tracks "Dirty" and "Loyalty" which are the numbers I enjoy from their CD The Feeding. I was also happy to see the band going over well in this packed venue. It is a decent sized room and was was being very responsive to the group as they breezed through the songs they had time for.

After the show I ran into the drummer who was walking around enjoying Life Of Agony and what made this interesting was that he was eating a plate of salad. He told us that some people in the audience asked where he got that and he said "Oh it's from catering". They did not realize he was one of the performers and thought they missed out on something, it made me amused at least. Recently they played with Otep, but this is perhaps a better step in the bands gig status, for I feel the Mudvayne shows will reach more fans quicker. Especially with those who are enjoying their new release "Lost And Found".

So the band had a rocky beginning. That's common in this genre. But as we said in our review, we believe The Feeding will be commercially successful. Not for any musical brilliance or uniqueness - make no mistake, this isn't a Dream Theater, a Symphony X or even a Zakk Wylde. Instead, the music will succeed because of its attitude and intensity, because that's what people are buying today and as Bryan said - no two songs are the same, which already puts the album ahead of most of its competitors. WOur review also said that people are going to love this stuff. If Wednesday night in Washington was anything to go by, we were right.

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