By Ruben Gzirian
Around 10:30 p.m. last Thursday, with the Fillmore within a stone’s throw away, I walked up to Arepas Pues in Silver Spring. As I pulled at the door, only to realize I was 30 minutes too late to enjoy anything and everything on their menu, I still felt more satisfied than I had at any point in the previous two hours. Concerts are overly subjective experiences; what is one man’s emotional farewell tour for a melodic Finnish rock band that’s been around since 1991, is another man’s unimaginative boring performance. That’s not to say that the entire show was less exciting than being denied late-night Colombian food—3TEETH were crazy good despite fighting against a less than receptive audience unwilling to jam to lyrics like “I’m harbinger/the master of decay” at 7 p.m., but for the most part it left no lasting impact. And that’s not good, farewell tour or not.
The show began in earnest with the L.A-based industrial band 3TEETH bringing their energetic nihilistic soundscape in its full monstrosity. As you might have guessed, this was probably my favorite point in the night; an opinion not many of the people around me probably shared. The performance by 3TEETH frontman Alexis Mincolla was enjoyably sadistic, and it surprises me, even after seeing them once before, how well everyone in the group gels together. I love Nine Inch Nails, especially The Downward Spiral Nine Inch Nails, and 3TEETH continues to nail a type of constructed musical violence that would make Trent Reznor smile with joy in his Cupertino office. Admittedly, their lyrics aren’t exactly sing-alongs, but don’t tell that to the guy six rows from the front who was more than happy to shout “their distraction/is your subtraction/no one gets away” into his neighbor’s unprepared ears.
Following a short break, CKY came on. The reception for CKY was actually pretty enthusiastic, but I couldn’t tell if that was because all the HIM fans knew they were one band away from HIM or because people actually like CKY. I still don’t really know. CKY’s performance was full of bluster and energy, but at times it just felt forced and out of place. It was like watching a band that knew it was cool, that knew it was talented (which it definitely is, especially Chad Ginsburg’s guitar skills), but couldn’t understand why more of the crowd didn’t see that too. If I had to guess, I’d say most people in the crowd loved their sound but didn’t really know their songs. This was sort of readily apparent when CKY joked about how most people only knew them by their best-known single “96 Quite Bitter Beings” right before diving into the song.
The anticipation for HIM following CKY’s set was palpable. Every soundcheck and light test was met with applause, and made me think that something awesome was about to go down the moment Ville Valo and the boys came out. But it didn’t. In fact, after seeing Valo repeatedly struggle with his microphone during the earlier songs, I began to think that maybe the soundcheck crew totally ignored the mic levels in their pre-show set up. It got to the point where within a 30 second period Valo and Mige Lindström both separately tried to fix sound issues on the fly. And while that’s not a knock on the band, the early struggles of the performance gave off the vibe that after 26 years of performing, HIM was really getting too old for this shit. Once Valo hit his vocal stride halfway through the set, the band effortlessly delivered the melodic gothic rock their fans wanted. As an outsider though, none of it really made sense. Valo’s harmonic voice paired with the atonal guitars and drums was definitely unique, but the performance was just…boring. Valo barely interacted with the crowd, aside from the prerequisite shout out to D.C., and each song flowed one after the other in such succession that it felt like HIM was quickly growing through a to-do list of songs they had to perform.
But with all that said, HIM fans loved every last bit. A couple in front me almost broke into joyous tears when the band performed “Wings of a Butterfly,” and another group of fans to the right of me lost their collective shit when Valo used his voice to perfection to perform Chris Issak’s “Wicked Game.” And really, these reactions, and many others throughout HIM’s set, are all that matter. I don’t really get HIM or their appeal, but a sold-out crowd of jubilant people, each with their own connection to the band, were in visible heaven the moment Valo walked onstage. As for me, next time I’ll make sure to check when Arepas Pues closes.