Review by Greg Maki
Let’s get one thing straight: “Unblackened” does not equal “unplugged.”
Many people, including fans, are under the impression that Black Label Society’s “Unblackened” tour is an acoustic affair, despite the presence of a 2013 live album of the same name that offers definitive proof otherwise. (Of course, the Wikipedia entry on the release begins, “‘Unblackened’ is a live acoustic album,” so there’s plenty of misinformation out there.)
While the show’s set list leaned heavily on the softer side of BLS, along with selections from Zakk Wylde’s mid-‘90s Southern rock outfit Pride & Glory and his 1996 solo effort “Book of Shadows,” and all four band members sat throughout the nearly two-hour show, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more electric performance.
Maybe the comfort of sitting freed Zakk up to unleash his guitar heroics like never before. Maybe the idea of a crowd anticipating a relaxing evening of acoustic music inspired him to shred as if he wasn’t sure if he would get a chance to pick up a guitar again after this night. Whatever the reason, Wylde held nothing back, keeping an audience of about 1,500 members of Black Label Society’s “Baltimore Chapter” (many of whom sported the BLS colors) watching—simply watching (and drinking), not moshing or crowd surfing—with rapt attention. Awe-inspiring, mind-blowing, godlike—these words don’t seem to do it justice.
Though the initial “Unblackened” show recorded for the live album included a keyboardist (Derek Sherinian) and backing vocalist (Greg Locascio), the tour features only the four musicians who have comprised Black Label Society for the past year: Wylde, bassist John “J.D.” DeServio (who’s put in about a decade in the BLS ranks), guitarist Dario Lorina and drummer Jeff Fabb (both Lorina and Fabb joined the band after the “Unblackened” recording). Using some prerecorded bits for song intros, and with Wylde and Lorina each taking turns on piano, four were all that was necessary to bring the songs to life onstage.
Aside from Zakk’s many extended solos (some of which occurred on “Machine Gun Man,” “Sold My Soul,” “Throwin’ It All Away” and “Stillborn”), highlights of the set included the tunes from “Book of Shadows;” the Dimebag Darrell tribute track “In This River,” with two large photos of Dime displayed onstage; “Empty Promises” from last year’s “Catacombs of the Black Vatican;” and the rearranged, set-closing, seemingly never-ending rendition of “Stillborn.” With no encore, the only break in the music long enough to do anything other than switch guitars came when Zakk introduced the rest of the band.
For the record, there were acoustic guitars, but they didn’t appear until the end of the set for “My Dying Time” and “Overlord,” the two songs preceding “Stillborn.”
SET LIST: “Losin’ Your Mind,” “Suicide Messiah,” “Road Back Home,” “Spoke in the Wheel,” “House of Doom,” “Machine Gun Man,” “Sold My Soul,” “Angel of Mercy,” “In This River,” “Empty Promises,” “Throwin’ It All Away,” “The Blessed Hellride,” “My Dying Time,” “Overlord,” “Stillborn”
The show began with Scott Weinrich, better known as “Wino,” a Maryland native and something of a doom metal icon through his work with The Obsessed and Saint Vitus. (Several years ago, during a show with Superjoint Ritual at Baltimore’s Ottobar, a very intoxicated and/or stoned Phil Anselmo repeatedly slurred between songs, “Where’s Wino?!” No word on whether he ever found him that night.) For this performance, it was just Wino and an acoustic guitar. He pulled it off well, but playing songs virtually no one in attendance knew until a cover of Motorhead’s “Iron Horse”—and even that likely was unknown to most—the 25 minutes he did probably was the limit before the crowd would have started to grow restless.
Even though it had little in common with the BLS show that followed, Wino’s performance somehow felt appropriate for this night, suggesting this would be different and one to remember.