24 Feb 2012: The Congress Theatre Chicago
When Korn’s newest single “Get Up!” started landing on radio airwaves in mid-2011, it produced a love/hate reaction not seen since the Bakersfield band’s early days when it ushered in the oft nay-sayed nu metal genre that shocked many by finding critical mass in the ‘90s and early aughts. Metal purists chided the single on first listen and dance aficionados were left to wonder why co-producer and noted trailblazer Skrillex would make a questionable move so early in his career as to work with a band seemingly on the other side of the musical sound wave. Yet the current round of bipartisan attention worked out favorably by bringing the band back to the foreground nearly twenty years into its career.
“Get Up!” is featured on Korn’s tenth studio album The Path of Totality (only the second release on liberal label Roadrunner Records), which forged a new path for the alt metal troupe by incorporating deep cuts of dub step and more drum and bass virility than even all the previous power chords and drum drill bits offered in their aggro repertoire. Much in the way Korn stylized their early rap rock anthology, the bulk of The Path of Totality is driven by a new co-genre of doom dub with contributions from the edgier few who make up the billowing techno scene (so no Paul Oakenfold here). Examples include Datsik, Excision, Noisia, and Kill the Noise, the latter of who garnered an opening slot on the album’s promotional tour, which brought itself to Chicago’s Congress Theatre in late February.
If Korn couldn’t please everyone with the record, the band made every possible attempt to go above and beyond in their attempts to overwhelm the capacity crowd at the Congress Theatre (one of a limited run of dates on the second leg of their North American tour before bearing down on Europe).
The night encompassed four distinct acts: oldies and rarities, new material (mostly from Totality), proven hits (including a cover of Pink Floyd), and of course an encore of arguably their most distinct numbers (“Shoots and Ladders”… with bagpipes, “Got the Life”, and “Blind”). The sixteen songs were broken up into distinct modules offering a chronological trip calmed only by interludes of video footage from recent performances and the fan favorite biographical video Who Then Now? filmed during the band’s formative years of 1994-1997. Featured in the archival footage was long-gone but long-time members Brian “Head” Welch and drummer David Silveria. Welch was never replaced (except in studio sessions) while Silveria’s departure was picked up by former Army of Anyone member Ray Luzier who (as much as Skrillex) has revived Korn and provided a spinal fusion of brutal force the band needed to stand up straight in its ripe age.
Singer Jonathan Davis was not one to posture, either in attitude or literal gait as he lumbered around the stage lightheartedly skipping, bowing into visceral growls, and revolving around the whipping post of his famous Alien-esque mic stand. His rail-thin stature was outmatched by his boisterous voice that was as metallic as it was meteoric, telling stories of torture and self-loathing in earlier numbers (“No Place to Hide”) and blatant ego in later tracks (“Narcissistic Cannibal”).
The stage was a sea of flying dreadlocks as front runners Davis, guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer, and bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu bore matching hairstyles and marathon movements that volleyed around the forest of amplification from the too-many-to-count speaker setup onstage.
True, Korn has never been shy, but the power of this performance was enigmatically dictatorial as Arvizu’s ribcage-shaking bass lines (delivered from a glow-in-the-dark neon fret board) and Davis’ crashing croon made the audience pull themselves up by the bootstraps after being blown to timid wallflowers by the cannons of blitzkrieged orchestration.
If the sheer noise seemed child’s play to anyone (doubtful) then the massive 4 x 4 vertical to horizontal towers of video feed that dazzled with strobe explosions and Lichtenstein palettes of color were the second siege. Was it a distraction from a deliberate attempt to attract a multi-generational fan base? Maybe. Or maybe it was just part of the massive production that Korn has become.
By the time “Blind” brought the show’s end and the Congress’ upper tiers felt like they would cave in from the exacerbated crowd, it was clear the early hit was what the majority preferred; yet the number of younger bodies who built a pit during “Get Up!” and kept it fired up until the curtain call proved that Korn’s latest sound experiment is not only viable, it’s also relevant.