GOJIRA HITS THE WARFIELD IN SAN FRANCISCO – BY KYLE WISE
French heavy metal quartet Gojira are routinely described as being incredible live, so being the massive metalhead that I am, I snagged a ticket to their Oct. 7 show at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre as soon as they were available. I would’ve dropped everything to run out to see Gojira anyway, but the seventh fortunately fell on a Friday, which gave me the whole weekend to recover from the show. Maybe I don’t know the City well enough, but I couldn’t think of a better place to see them; Grateful Dead famously performed 15 sold out shows there in 1980 and thrash legends Slayer shot their War at the Warfield concert video here in 2003. And it wouldn’t be my first show at The Warfield, either. I caught Swedish Viking metal maestros Amon Amarth here back in May, and I was eager to return.
It took me an embarrassingly long time to get into Gojira, and they aren’t necessarily a band that I would recommend to people just getting into metal, on account of their signature blend of technical death metal and progressive metal can be a little inaccessible to novice ears, but I am so damn glad that I finally got onboard the Gojira train (and you will too). From Mars to Sirius and The Way of All Flesh are absolute must-listens and this year saw the release of their sixth full-length album, Magma. By far their most personal piece of work, Magma saw Gojira get a little bit mellower and slightly more accessible in a manner highly reminiscent of their American peers Mastodon and Baroness (both of whom are also dear to me) while still being progressive, groovy and heavy as hell. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of 2016 and it’s a perfect gateway drug for this band.
I arrived at The Warfield 10 minutes after the doors opened and the line was already wrapped around the block. One of the things I like most about going to metal shows is seeing all the band shirts people are wearing: The Haunted, Metallica, Lamb of God, Soilwork, Behemoth, Municipal Waste, Slayer, Deftones and Periphery were just a few of the bands I saw being represented tonight. I myself was clad in a particularly ridiculous Mastodon tee that features robotic space owls firing green laser beams at some guys mounted on giant purple cats. It didn’t raise a single eye among this crowd.
Gojira was being supported solely by the UK progressive metal band Tesseract, whom I had previously seen at the DNA Lounge last year. They’re a band I like and respect but don’t necessarily love. Tesseract isn’t particularly heavy; I would heartily recommend them to metal newbies not ready to dip their toes into the deep end of extremity. Vocalist Daniel Tompkins has a pretty damn sweet singing voice that’s easy on the ears and you don’t often hear any of the screaming, yelling and growling so prevalent in contemporary metal in Tesseract songs. They were a good warm-up act for Gojira and they had an impressive number of fans in attendance, which was nice to see.
The half hour wait before the headlining act comes on is always my least favorite thing about shows. In addition to feeling twice as long as it actually is, this is the part where you really have to think twice about going to the bathroom or the bar, because wading back into the crowd and elbowing your way into a decent position is a huge pain in the ass. I thought it best to get some water before Gojira came on, which in retrospect was a wise decision. After hydrating, I delicately maneuvered through throngs of metalheads and got as close to the front as I could get. Pretty much every music venue in the City has the same scent: sweat, spilled IPA and marijuana smoke all blended together in a distinct concoction. I’m pretty used to it at this point.
The crowd went infectiously nuts when the lights came down and the back screen projector fired up with a grainy video of an erupting volcano, which was appropriate, because, you know, Magma. Drummer Mario Duplantier, shirtless and wearing some goofy-looking gloves, came out first and took position behind his monstrous double bass kit. He was followed by his older brother, vocalist/rhythm guitarist Joe Duplantier, lead guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie. Gojira launched into their set with the Magma song “Only Pain,” and the mosh pit immediately erupted.
I’ve been in some wild pits in my day, but I woefully underestimated the amount of ruckus a Gojira crowd can unleash. The main floor of The Warfield (which is actually quite small) was pretty much a human blender throughout the show. After barely surviving all the jumping around brought on by “The Heaviest Matter of the Universe,” I got shoved over to the left side of the stage almost right in front of Andreu, which is where I more or less managed to stay for the rest of the set. It was pretty good spot, as it provided a nice view of Andreu and Joe shredding. Like many great guitarists, they make it look easy. Getting to watch Mario drum is a treat in and of itself. This guy got a whole intermission to himself where he just drum soloed and at one point he was drumming with one hand while launching his extra sticks into the crowd with the other. Labadie was the most mobile of the group, running around all over the place and at times leaping up onto the drum platform. He belongs to an elite group of bassists – which includes Killswitch Engage’s Mike D’Antonio and Ben Chisholm of Chelsea Wolfe’s eponymous band – who make playing bass look fun.
Gojira’s gigantic set featured material from all of their albums save for 2012’s L’Enfant Sauvage. New songs made up a good chunk of it. In addition to “Only Pain,” they played “Silvera,” “Stranded,” “The Cell,” “Shooting Star,” and “Pray” to promote Magma’s release. Fan favorite “Flying Whales” once again made the pit dangerously rowdy and it was gloriously accentuated with some erupting smoke machine effects onstage. Gojira graced our ears with the irresistible tech death riffs of “Toxic Garbage Island” before closing-but-not-actually with “Pray.” For their extended encore, they busted out “Clone” from their very first album and finished for real with “Oroborus” and “Vacuity.”
Metal shows bring out interesting characters, so there were plenty of people watching opportunities to be had. At one point I got shoved right next to some girl who was wearing the exact same Mastodon shirt I was. There was at least one guy in the pit who had to have been my dad’s age. Crowd surfers were going up all over the place and several of them almost kicked me in the head. I was in awe of these three guys who sparked up a blunt and were some how able to hang onto it – and still smoke – despite being near the epicenter of that maelstrom of a pit. Joe occasionally spoke in between songs though my ear plugs combined with his French accent made it hard for me to hear what he was saying. It was, however, abundantly clear that he and his band mates were incredibly grateful to be there, even though playing in front of frenzied crowds is quite ordinary at this point in Gojira’s 20 year existence as a band.
The Duplantier brothers, Andreu and Labadie all took turns at the mic thanking the audience when it was all over. I missed out on the post-show crowd picture so I could scurry back to the merch stand and pick up a Gojia shirt. I was tired, dehydrated, exceptionally sore and I was facing a long Uber ride home but I was glad to have made it out. Gojira more than lived up to their reputation as one of the best live acts in metal. Let it never be said that the French don’t know how to rock.
SHADOWBOX MVMNT / 2017.