Just a few weeks ago a tornado hit Belvidere, Illinois where Morbid Angel, Revocation, Skeletal Remains, and Crypta were set to perform at the town’s Apollo Theater. Intense winds from the storm caused the roof and marquee of the venue to collapse, injuring 28 fans and tragically taking the life of fellow metalhead Fred Livingston Jr. If you take away nothing else from this post, please take the time to consider donating to his family’s GoFundMe. Rest in Peace, Fred.
Morbid Angel’s “United States Tour of Terror” celebrating the band’s four decades of existence hit New York City’s Gramercy Theatre last week, with Revocation, Vitriol, and Crypta supporting. The show had been sold out for weeks and secondary markets like StubHub were devoid of fans willing to part with their golden tickets, leaving those still needing one to pace up and down the line of fans waiting to get in with the hopes of procuring a ticket of their own. The line, which stretched down and around the block, had formed long prior to the doors opening – a testament to the dedication of the fans and their excitement for the night of music that lay ahead.
After making my way inside Gramercy Theatre, I took a seat in the loge and started to set up my camera for the evening. I noticed a fan going from seat to seat, sitting down briefly, then standing up and moving to another seat nearby before standing up again. He noticed my attention and said “I’m trying to find where the mix sounds best”, trailing off in his unnecessary but endearing explanation as he continued his search for the perfect spot.
The moment served as a reminder of the love and passion for live music that is shared by so many people, and is expressed in so many different ways. For me, it’s about finding the best visual vantage point; for others, it’s about finding the right sonic coordinates to maximize their auditory experience. Many folks are just happy to be in the room and to be a part of the experience no matter where they are or how it sounds. Regardless of the means by which we choose to experience it, the happiness derived from live music is unmistakable.
The evening began with a performance by Brazilian death metal outfit Crypta. The band’s performance was much anticipated by the sold out crowd – this is Crypta’s very first tour of the United States – and they let the band know their excitement, roaring in approval as the house lights went dark and Crypta took the stage.
The band pulled no punches from the get go, kicking off the set with the thrashing “Death Arcana” from their debut album “Echoes of the Soul.” Bassist and frontwoman Fernanda Lira had a ferocious intensity that demanded the camera’s attention, her dramatic expressions and frequent crowd interaction creating a plethora of opportunities for shots.
Equally as demanding were guitarists Tainá Bergamaschi and Jéssica di Falchi as well as drummer Luana Dametto, their badass-ery on full display by the effortless precision with which they played their instruments.
Determined to prioritize getting drummer shots (I have a habit of leaving them until the last minute), I switched from my standard 24-70mm lens to my 70-200mm during the second song. I noticed almost immediately how much I was liking the shots I was getting with the 70-200. So much so, in fact, that I went right back to getting shots of everyone else and ended up leaving the drummer shots until the last minute – in other words, falling right back into my habit. That said, I felt like I was onto something with the 70-200.
My usual approach was to use my 24-70mm in the photo pit, then switch to the 70-200mm to shoot from the crowd. Using the 70-200 in the pit made me realize that I tend to enjoy more tightly composed shots, and that I often try to achieve that composition using my 24-70mm instead.
I decided to switch things up and try starting out with the 70-200 for Vitriol’s set. It was a decision that challenged me almost immediately when guitarist Kyle Rasmussen stood perfectly positioned under a stage light and channeled his inner Triple H by spitting his water into the air.
It was the kind of shot you just don’t want to miss and I reacted quickly to grab it, but the zoom-out limitation stressed me a bit. Still, I lucked out and got a decent capture. It’s nice to have some extra room to crop in – without it, you have to have a lot more confidence in your composition as-is. That’s not a bad thing, of course, but it’s something to consider when using a zoom lens in the photo pit.
I gave it until midway through the second song before switching to the 24-70mm lens. I appreciated the familiarity of the zoom range and was able to get the shots I needed quickly. That said, I liked how starting with the telephoto lens gave me the ability to knock out the close-up shots from the start and offered a potential a solution to my drummer prioritization issue. Had I discovered a process hack?
Vitriol delivered an absolutely brutal set from start to finish. I did my very best to capture the intense passion that every member of the band was putting into their performance – a passion that literally brought guitarist Stephen Ellis to his knees at one point during the set. It was a well deserved moment of rest for Ellis, and a great opportunity for a dramatic shot that I gladly took.
Revocation’s set started with a surprise when frontman and guitarist Dave Davidson walked out with a cast on his arm and no guitar. Davidson had had a self-described “whoopsie daisy” on stage a few nights prior, breaking his wrist in multiple places and leaving him unable to play guitar. As the tired phrase says, the show must go on, and the band delivered a set every bit as heavy as they’re known for.
I was excited to hear Revocation play “The Outer Ones”, a song that first made me a fan of the band when I shot their set back in 2018. I was also introduced to the beautiful blasphemy that is “Netherheaven“, the band’s newest album. I’ve had it on rotation ever since (I’m actually listening to the album at this very moment).
Heading to the very last row of the loge seating, I enjoyed the rest of Revocation’s set from afar. I took my camera out from time to time to grab some wide shots but for the most part I just enjoyed taking it all in and enjoying the moment and the music. I thought about the guy I’d run into earlier. The mix sounded pretty good from where I was sitting. I wonder how it sounded for him, wherever he ended up?
Gramercy Theatre was packed when the time came for Morbid Angel to take the stage, but that didn’t stop the pit from opening up the very instant “Piles of Little Arms” blasted through the speakers. Founding member Trey Azagthoth’s performance left little to question as to why he is considered one of the most influential guitarists in heavy metal. Azagthoth’s guitar is less an instrument and more an extension of his being.
I’d started with the 70-200mm lens again and while I was getting plenty of shots, I had a nagging feeling that I was at risk of running out of time before getting wider shots with the 24-70mm. This, of course, is the opposite of how I feel when I start with the 24-70. I didn’t learn a new process hack by starting with the 70-200 so much as I pulled an Uno reverse card. I’m apparently bound to stress about the shots I’m not getting, regardless of what shots they may be.
The simplest solution to a problem like this is to buy another camera body so both lenses are always ready to go and at arm’s reach. Simple, yes. Cost efficient, absolutely not. Instead, I just need to master the art of the mid-song lens swap. I need to be fast, to move with the grace and speed of an Indy 500 tire change. Do I need to buy a lens belt too? Sorry, I’m thinking out loud.
Morbid Angel’s performance bookended an epic evening of metal. I found it inspiring that despite the tragic events in Belvidere, these bands are still showing up night after night for their fans, determined to give them a good show – not as a means to forget what happened, but to remember for eternity the man that it happened to.