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savatage warm up at 95 degrees in the shade

Magazine: Rock Hard / Germany
Article by: Matthias Breusch
Issue: July 2001
Translated by: Yvonne Kluitman
Part I edited by: Kathy Tijou
Part II edited by: Tonya Dickie a.k.a Mau

 

PART I SAVATAGE WARM UP AT 95 DEGREES IN THE SHADE

Who is Damond Jiniya? How is the unknown 26 year old new SAVATAGE lead vocalist keeping up with the first hard live tests? And what performance can we expect from the Power Metal Kings when they will be touring with Judas Priest and playing the summer festivals? Breusch went for a short trip to the land of Jon Oliva and co., to review three live warm-up shows in the USA.

Antifreeze in Florida? Who needs that with 95 degrees in the shade and a humidity of 80%? One person can’t get away with it though, because after 5,000 miles on the road, he’s bathing in the last five liters: the busdriver of SAVATAGE himself changes the water pump of his vehicle in the late afternoon, and is laying on his back in between screwdrivers and self fabricated new gaskets with oil all over his arms in a green fluid sea on the asphalt. All this in the middle of germfree Disney Wonderland.

However, right here it’s going to take place. The first of the last three of 27 US Warm-Up-Shows. Host is the House Of Blues, in downtown Disney. A conglomerate of shops, food, and entertainment all jumble on the edge of the Mickey Mouse capital, Orlando.

In between the local branch of Planet Hollywood, and several shops where you can buy rubbish that you won’t use in this lifetime, stands on first sight, an insignificant building in saloon style which can easily hold 900 SAVATAGE fans. Some have traveled from Canada, Europe and even Australia. An original venue, with its bars and terraces on three levels, reminiscent of the Amsterdam Melkweg in wooden outfit.

Outside, just a few miles away, a forest fire rages. Thick smoke clouds are being driven by a Western wind into the small alleys till the air is as thick as the air in the chimneys of an eel smokery. But it doesn’t bother the, slowly coming in form all directions, Sava musicians in the least.

Jon Oliva Grins all over and is conducting the first improvised autograph session with US fans in Wacken shirts. Newly tattood lead guitarist, Chris Caffery, is in the best of moods (" the new line up beats the old one by far!"). New frontman Damond Jiniya seems to be a friendly, modest contemporary, and busy new guitarist Jack Frost is talking enthusiastically about the atmosphere on tour ("the guys adopted me as if I was a part of the band for 10 years already instead of 10 weeks."). Bass player Johnny Lee Middleton, who gave away sharp interviews after the departure of former guitarist Al, underlines this with saying:"finally I’m able again to run to the other end of the stage because there’s somebody there playing in the same band as me." Hard words directed to mr. Pitrelli, who still deserves respect as a musician but never was a real member of the SAVATAGE family and always cooked his own meal.

Also the opening act, Fates Warning, takes advantage of the relaxed atmoshpere in the fully air conditioned House Of Blues. Jim Matheos and co., strenghtened with tour guitarist / keyboard player Shaun Michaud, present with "Life In Still Waters", "The Eleventh Hour", the singalong tune "Point Of View", "Monument", two " A Pleasant Shade Of Grey"-chapters and the "Disconected"-Tracks "One" and "Still Remains" an attractively arragened program. Despite the dry as dust, and somewhat too soft sound curtain and with the fact that vocalist Ray Alder was suffering from a cold, the Prog-Metal-Veterans arrive (driven by the lustful to play rhythm section, Mark Zonder (dr) and Joey Vera (b)) in the winning zone, and are being led into the evening by passionate applaus from the audience, among which at least 40% are beautiful women.

Two hours later it becomes clear: Jon Oliva did not exaggerate in January, when he announced a line up that’s in firm control. Although Damond Jiniya isn’t yet merged with the SAVATAGE songs 100% (which also was the case with Zak on the " Edge Of Thorns"- tour), he defenitely brings his own, unchangeable cachet and quite an amount of capacity. The guy moves around unceasingly, preferably wanting to make knots in the microphone standard. He has a penchant for letting his black hair turn around in propeller-banging tempo, makes dramatic gestures, and most of all convinces with his dark crashing voice that he can compete easily with Jon Oliva’s voice in clasics like "Sirens". Some parts are being sung a little bit too light, some parts (like in "Chance") a bit too flat, but that will be a matter of learning: especially because Jon, more powerfull than ever, sings along on several parts as a co-lead-vocalist with Damond.

With getting whirlwind Jack Frost into the band, the guitar section in any case made a big step back to the roots. The Twin-Guitar-Duo convinces throughout by playing with very lustfull temperament. Every note is right. Chris Caffery is better than ever, has worked even harder in the past months on his playing, to keep the spirit of Criss Oliva alive -and at the same time tried to bring across the SAVATAGE guitar details to Jack. As the New Jersey man tells:"I appreciate it very much, that Chris took many, many hours outside of band practises, to work out every tiny detail with me. Instead of giving me, and this is usually the case with other bands, a tape and say: "learn this for next week."

Great advantage: the SAVATAGE set list is arranged perfectly. The songs of the new album melt smoothly into the repertoire, as if they already have been for years. Also, they don’t loose time with announcements and playing with the audience: here playing rules. In the first half hour almost every songs goes over into the next like in a medley. After an hour and a half, with two giant versions of "Gutter Ballet" and "Hall Of The Mountain King" a memorable show comes to an end.

Happy and satisfied, late in the night the caravan drives the 200 km’s to St.Petersburg on the Florida Golf Coast where the "real" home show is going to take place in a bizarre environment. After a minute of commemoration at Criss Oliva’s grave site in Clearwater, we arrive at "Jannus Landing" late in the afternoon. An open air stage in the backyard of the most expensive neighbourhood of "St.Pete", it's surrounded by Banking skyscrapers, sharp mowned lawns, stylish shopping arcades, and a fine yachtclub. Enclosed by windowless ruins, this is the biggest live-club of the Tampa Bay Area. With a show taking place almost every day, Chris Caffery explains smiling, this venue which is canopied under palmtrees, is "passionately hated" by the neighborhood, but apperently not to be ousted from the area.

Although you can save an airconditioning in a place without a roof, other dangers are threatening. As the Norwegian press guy, Frode Johnsrud, can tell his grandchildren someday. The favorite t-shirt of the "Scream"-editor was made beautiful with a "signature bomb" as big as a cow dung, from a Pelikan suffering from diarrhea.

Jon Oliva vividly remembers, in between soundchecks, his farewell-concert as a lead vocalist, that took place in 1992 at this same venue. There will will be as many people here this night as there was nine years ago. In the end, 1400 visitors were counted, most of them Jon’s "good old acquintances" who have been driving him mad since the early afternoon. "Today people showed up I haven’t seen in at least 15 years, and they all want to get in for free" complains the Mountain King.

Jon knows for sure why so many fans showed up today: "I spend $1000 from my own pocket to get some additional publicity. And it worked. No matter where we play, when the promotion is right and people know we’re in town, they will show up. Unfortunately, US promoters often want to save that money. In the end we play for a half filled venue." On the road a promotor in Texas beat everything, "he owned the venue as well and turned off the airconditioning all night just to sell more beer." These kind of tricks aren’t being used in St. Pete: fresh drinks are cooled with icecubes (delivered in 20 plastic sacks of 100 lbs each) because of the lack of fridges.

While the local music college can be found in whole bunches (Kamelot, Crimson Glory, ex-Doctor Butcher drummer John Osborn- nowadays with a shaved head), Zak Stevens stayed home. One can only assume that it is because the tumult of this meeting, so shortly after his departure, would be too big. It’s rumored though that Zak is working, for quite some time now, on his own song material and should be just about ready to get a new band on its feet.

Despite the somewhat static appearance on stage of the frontguys, Matheos and Alder, Fates Warning was as good as the night before, and the SAVATAGE show goes to great heights. Band and Audience roll from the first song into a unique frame of mind, which can easily stand the test of the big Euro-Shows of the last five years. Newbee Damond, dressed in a red metallic pants, sings soulfully from his body, and is quickly adopted by the fans without any problems.

Right after the show Jon Oliva is having misgivings about the last show in Boynton Beach on the Atlantic coast. A hamlet in between Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale: "probably not much more than an public reheasal". His pessimism is more than justified: In a semi-ranshakled stip mall, part of a shabby industrial area, SAVATAGE and Fates Warning are welcomed by 5 unannounced local bands. On the door, a lousy DIN A-3 poster is supposed to entice people. The house PA is a mediocre catastrophe, the acoustics nothing better than a crash-test in an empty oilbarrel- and the lightshow is a bad joke. As light tech Taz explains with a desperate smile: "When I turn on the front lights, the backlights go out and vice versa, this rubbish could not even be given away to a kindergarten as scrap electro."

After endless bickering with the local organizors, the crew manages to get the equipment running at about 50% somewhere around 10PM (doors were supposed open 5 hours earlier). The support acts drop out and after collectively smashing their glasses in the parking lot, many fans are (after hours of waiting at the door) anxiously trying to get their money back and leave.

However, in front of the left over crowd, Fates Warning playes their best show of the three Florida-gigs. While SAVATAGE, who are on stage just after midnight, have to shorten their program with a handful songs. However, they manage to pull them over the line with great passion.

When the guys get off the stage, backstage chaos is waiting. The bad atmosphere of the day has raised tensions, and the House security is trying to fight with Jon Oliva’s bodyguard, and friend Big Dave. Police officers are called to the scene and have to get in between. Johnny Lee, together with soundguy Gary Muchmore, additional manager of the tour, are totally frustrated: "Yesterday we experienced the best America has to offer, today the worst. It’s sad that there are evenings that have to end like this, and that the fans in the end don’ t get their money or long trip’s worth."

The Mountain King adds: "From the 27 gigs over here, around a third were under these kind of circumstances. You can only feel fucked up. I can’t wait to get to Europe. The circumstances over there compared to here are like a dream. At every gig everything is taken and you get the constant feeling of being respected as a musician."

PART II TRAVELER IN BETWEEN TWO WORLDS

Damond Jiniya was standing on a Country & Western stage already as a three year old, grew up on the road, traveled around half the world as a lightman with all sorts of bands, played in a Cyber-Gothic band before his entry in SAVATAGE, worked as a stage hand behind the scenes of big musical productions like "Cats" and the "Phantom Of The Opera", wrote songs, texts and short stories and on the side worked as an attendant in a Kindergarten. Enough for a lifetime. But the guy is just 26 years old.

Your history on the website of your former band Diet Of Worms is quite impressive to read. How much of it is true and how much imagination?

Damond: "O, actually nothing of that is made up. My mother was -as well as my grandmother and my sister- a Country & Western singer. And because of her way of life I grew up almost throughout every part of the States. When I was 10 years old, my mother settled in Nashville, and I performed in nightclubs and at talent hunts. As a teenager I already wrote quite some songs, impressed by the Sex Pistols, Prince and all sorts of heavy metal bands, impressed by energies that I didn’t know from the Country & Western scene. That’s it about the abysses of my musical life story, hahaha!"

So it’s the most natural thing for you to be on stage and in front of camera’s?

Damond: "Yes. Almost everything I’ve done in my life is somehow conected with public performances."

Irony of the story is that you, as well as your predecessor Zak, were discovered by Criss Oliva’s guitar roadie Dan Cambell in the "wildlife reserve" of Florida. By chance or did you know each other already?

Damond: "Punchy, the guitar player of Diet Of Worms, and Dan have been friends for quite a while. Together with Punchy, who is a huge SAVATAGE fan, I have a studio, and Dan dropped in every now and then because he had done something for Diet Of Worms. Someday he took Jon Oliva with him on one of his visits, and it came up that they were searching for a new singer. I was far from even thinking about joining SAVATAGE. A few weeks later the telephone rang, and Dan asked me if I could manage to fly for an audition to New York the next day. It was not hard to answer that question, although I only had 12 hours to prepare myself. I heard some of their songs of course, but never listened to them thoroughly enough to be able to sing them myself. So I rehearsed three songs- "Chance", "Taunting Cobras" and "Hall Of The Mountain King" - and went.

In New York I sat outside the door and heard the other candidate sing. The guy was just great. He was totally fixed on SAVATAGE, he knew to express every nuance with a great voice. With my own performance in this studio I was far from satisfied. Funny part of it, this singer from Boston and I went out that same night for a few drinks, and he was a real cool type. We handeled it quite relaxed that one of us had to drop out, and I discovered that it would not matter one bit to me if he would win the race, because he deserved it. Actually I didn’t consider any other possibility. Until Jon Oliva rang someday and said: "You have the job." And then I totally flipped hahaha!"

You have been busy mainly with Gothic sounds lately, howfar do your likings at all cross those of SAVATAGE?

My most dominating influences are Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Queen, The Beatles and Kiss. When the whole thing with SAVATAGE got serious, I conluded that they embody all of that, and that every of these musical elements are to be felt all around me. And to be alowed to be a part of such a tremendous varied band, is just like a dream."