Volbeat Brings the Throwback Thunder to Bayou Music Center

Volbeat, Anthrax, Crobot
Bayou Music Center
May 28, 2015

It’s a pretty short list of rock bands from Denmark that have broken big in the U.S. over the past 50 years or so. When it comes to Danish groups to grace the massive stage at Bayou Music Center, that list narrows even further — pretty much down to just one: Volbeat. Packing a nearly limitless supply of heavy-metal riffs, singalong choruses and slick guitar solos, the smilin’ Danish outlaws have made a real name for themselves among die-hard rock fans as a modern act unafraid to wallow in the sort of majestic, metallic pomp that once ruled the airwaves, back when “airwaves” were something that a rock band could conceivably rule.

Volbeat’s proudly analog subjects were ready and waiting for them at BMC on Thursday night, eager to pump their fists and scream right along with singer Michael Poulsen. The Danes brought along some pals to ensure that the crowd was primed thoroughly for their performance. Following the bluesy, Nugent-esque riffage of Pennsylvania throwbacks Crobot, none other than the mighty Anthrax took the stage to jolt the swelling crowd awake with its well-worn brand of maniacal thrash.

As the band lit into the high-octane opener “Caught in a Mosh,” it was clear right off the bat that while Anthrax may look a tad old and weathered up there, the band’s passion for performing remains strong. Singer Joey Belladonna was all over the stage, demanding more volume from the rather sedate weeknight crowd. Bassist Frank Bello mugged as wildly as ever, and guitarist Scott “Not” Ian bashed away happily on old ‘80s chestnuts like “Madhouse.”

It took a while for the audience to warm up, particularly those in attendance who were a tad closer on the rock-fan spectrum to Nickelback than Nuclear Assault. But Anthrax has been supporting bigger acts for seemingly their entire career, and they’re quite good at it by now. There were a couple of newer tunes in the mix, like “Sorur Irrumator” from the recent Catch the Throne, Vol. 2 mixtape. But mostly, the band relied on tried-and-true metal classics to get hearts pumping faster. “Indians,” in particular, driven by the tireless drumming of Charlie Benante, demanded a mosh pit wardance.

After promising a new record to come soon, Anthrax departed the stage, and a big cheer went up for the raising of a black curtain featuring Volbeat’s cowboy-hatted skull logo. Anticipation was high. Fans rushed off to the bar to make certain they’d be properly equipped for the action to come. A massive roar greeted the band when that curtain finally dropped, and a truly insane number of lights illuminated the large crowd upstairs and down inside BMC. Teenagers were going nuts right next to older folks in their late fifties, brought together by one of the few modern acts to reliably deliver unabashedly old-school rock and roll thunder.

It ain't hard to figure how Volbeat has managed to build such a large fanbase in the last seven years or so. Their live show is pure energy, with enough guitar crunch to satiate the metalheads and plenty of pop songcraft to entice rush-hour karaoke types. The dynamics in their sound make it possible for Volbeat to comfortably share a stage with everyone from Foo Fighters to…well, Anthrax. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Poulsen is a good-looking, charismatic dude with a great voice, either.

Despite the chainsaw stylings of American lead guitarist Rob Caggiano, it’s Poulsen’s voice that is undeniably Volbeat’s lead instrument, and fans were singing right along from the jump on set-opener “Hallelujah Goat.” The Johnny Cash tribute/ripoff “Sad Man’s Tongue” was practically made for a Texas audience, beginning as an acoustic outlaw anthem and ramping into full-blown distorted fury. A gaggle of young gals near me lost their voices screaming with glee to that one.

The coolest moment of the show came when Poulsen spotted a tiny young girl on her dad’s shoulders out in the crowd. Hailing the newest generation of rock and roll fans, the singer crowd-surfed all the way out to the middle of the theater to personally hand-deliver the four-year-old a Volbeat T-shirt. That’s how you make a fan for life, folks.

By the time he’d been returned to the stage, the crowd-surfing floodgates had been opened for good, and an army of fans were hoisted up during “Ecotone.” More than half the set was still to come, including what must have been a new song during the encore. But it was that moment of fan interaction that best illustrated the bond that Volbeat continues to build with audiences worldwide. It was fun, it was exciting and it was pure rock and roll, and Thursday night’s crowd proved there’s still a big market for such things in Houston, Texas — radio be damned.

Personal Bias: Curious observer.

The Crowd: Traditional arena-rock fans.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Yeah! THAT was metal!” “How metal was it?” (This stumped the poor man.)

Random Notebook Dump: Listening to Volbeat, it’s unclear whether or not Nirvana ever made it to Denmark. It’s almost as if the ‘90s, nu-metal and all, never happened.

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Nathan Smith
Contact: Nathan Smith