House of Lords

Budapest - A38
4 April, 2008

Well, I have been going to concerts non-stop for the last 30 years or so but I have to tell you I have never felt so out of place at a rock concert in my life. Just read some more and you'll see why.

As much as I loved the band around 1990 I knew not to expect the classic House of Lords 30 years after their debut that got me their fan. So my expectations weren't as high as they would have been before, plus I'm not getting any younger either so no hot-headed enthusiasm drove me when heading out to the gig. I was also very "professional" about not arriving too early having to survive the opening act yet I got to the venue early enough to witness the majority of their set.

There are no words to describe this outfit who are supposed to be Germany's answer to Nightwish but in an absolute Cow & Chicken cartoon like fashion. The band (of a wooden handed drummer, a teenage construction worker apprentice on rhythm guitar, his 40-some bald overman on bass, and an almost-rocker looking lead guitarist) was fronted by an anorectic opera-singer dropout. By the end of their set (during which Sylvia, the singer, changed her outfit about five times, had several performances from reading newspaper then tearing it apart to rolling on the floor covered with a grey blanket) there were about 100 people squeezed together in front of the cloakroom, the only place to espace to from the concert hall itself. They didn't only run from the noises (yes, the thing these people did with their instruments can hardly be considered "music") but also from the performance itself: imagine a 40-some bass guitarist with the skills of a 13 years old beginner who picks every damn G sound from above the neck with an absolutely self-satisfied face thinking he's friggin' Billy Sheehan doing so. Ouch! Add the unbearable screaming of Aida gasping for air in her cave while dying with the looks of a female dancer who just escaped from Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and you don't even get close. Had I not met countless friends and former fellow musicians of mine at the "cloakroom ball", I would have thought I missed the venue.

My mood was rather low by the time House of Lords hit the stage. They opened up with "Sahara" followed by "Chains of Love" and by the time they got there, my idols were killed. I have to admit I was not prepared, I haven't checked reviews of the tour before and was not prepared for the lack of a keyboard player. All the keyboards during their entire setlist were canned, coming from samples, a thing that ruins the intensity and the spontaneity of a rock concert for sure but a thing that one learns to tolerate these days. However I can not get used to canned vocals. Whenever the band got to a refrain, I felt like I was in some fuckin' Japanese kareoke bar. And on top of all that when I took a look at James Christian I thought I was in the Blue Oyster Bar. The man who had the looks of an absolute rock star once, looks like Ann Wilson (of Heart) these days. He has his hair died black and cut to Cleopatra, he weighs around 250 pounds and moves on stage like a fuckin' crossdresser. I have never seen anyone with such a feminine impression on stage. Don't get me wrong, I ain't no homophobic (at least not more than it is healthy) but I think I've found the next Marcie Free...

Yet I have to admit his voice was absolutely in shape, and the band was as tight as it can get (okay, what else can you expect when having to play along with the tapes?!). The tapes took their toll on the performances for sure. BJ Zampa played drums like you have never seen before. He had his head facing forwards with a stiff neck the entire gig long, not moving his face an inch to the left or to the right, it was only his hands that were moving as if he was afraid his ear-plugs or his hair-scarf would slip if he moved his upper body. I could have sworn he was fuckin' mumbling to himself while counting the rounds. Matt McKenna, a relatively young "I'm always there when they need a pro" bassist did a good job and sang the best backing vocals of the entire band while Jimi Bell had a guitar sound that sticked out of the mix as much as his stoner looks would have sticked out of the band back in its glory days. His playing was okay though, I only wish I could forget his absolutely pointless guitar solo.

Speaking of solos, there was a drum-solo with a (canned) synth backing that was just about as pointless as the guitar solo. The setlist also gave a lot to desire, it was too heavy on the post-classic era (the first three albums I mean by that) songs. Those classics that still surfaced left me disappointed ("Talkin' 'Bout Love" lacking all the energy of the original, "Can't Find My Way sounding like a cheesy bluegrass song with an awful guitar sound in the beginning, etc.) As much as I hated the guitar sound during "Can't Find My Way", I have to say James' voice brought back great memories there. He was as good as ever and not only in that on this particular song but during the entire show. I just couldn't get past his anti-rock star looks, not to mention his attitude on stage. He talked twice (!) to the audience throughout the entire show (we talk about a club gig with about 200 people) and one of those occasions was when he announced they would be back signing autographs after the show... (with the obvious intention to boost merchandise sales). I may be wrong but I believe a club-gig should be about spontaneity, about a once in a lifetime occasion, a friendly atmosphere of a musical wonder where things you could never imagine at a stadium gig happen, at a club-gig the audience feels like they are part of the whole thing, they are drawn into the flow of the event. Just like Jeff Scott Soto did not much more than a week before on the very same stage.

I know that "These Are The Times we live in", the times when singers tour with the names of their once famous bands with hired musicians nowhere near the classic line-ups (Mike Tramp anyone?), the times when rock bands use samples almost as much as hip-hop DJs but for fuck's sake, don't call it House of Lords. Call it the Hut of a Lord or something cuz that was what I saw...

Review by Endre "Bandi" Hübner, bandi "at"
Photos by Zoltan Bertli,

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09 June 2008