The increasingly popular thrash-metal band Slipknot kicked off its 2009 All Hope is Gone Tour at the Xcel Energy Center on Friday night, with lead singer Corey Taylor promising to “lay waste to the entire United States of America” during the band’s thirty-four-city romp across the country over the next two months.
In response, the sellout crowd at Xcel howled their approval, and Slipknot commenced its banging. In the evening’s most intimate interchange, Taylor explained that Slipknot likes to start its tours in St. Paul because “the craziest mother******* in the world” live here—a declaration that pleased those in attendance, a substantial portion of whom seemed to by vying for the title of THE craziest mother****** in the world.
But who would expect anything less from a Slipknot concert? As a cultural phenomenon, Slipknot began ten years ago in the cornfields of Iowa and quickly became notorious for a) donning masks that evoke such psychopathic serial killers as Hannibal Lecter, Pinhead from Hellraiser, and various homicidal clowns, b) for presiding over concerts that leave many in the mosh pit battered and bleeding, and c) for actually being able to play their instruments and write songs with a smidgen of crossover appeal to mainstream audiences.
I’m not sure this last is a positive development for a band that professes to be everything mainstream American culture is not. Then again, is there anything more conventional than a rock band that spits anger and venom at the “society” that allows it to play?
To be sure, Slipknot is the current reigning champion of antisocial vitriol, and it has been rewarded for this dubious honor with a Grammy and an album ( All Hope is Gone ) that sat atop the Billboard 200 chart last year, making Slipknot more popular (for a while, anyway) than Britney Spears or Taylor Swift. Thus, Slipknot is about halfway through the familiar cycle of being co-opted by the culture it damns. In twenty years, they’ll be pumping “Pulse of the Maggots” through the loudspeakers at Lund’s, and selling cars to the chorus from “Disasterpiece.”
To their credit, the band seems to sense this inevitable slide into conformity. The backdrop for the All Hope is Gone tour looks like a huge circus poster, as if the band knows it is following a long tradition of circus geeks, people whose frightening differences from “normal” people is their only marketable commodity. In its way, Slipknot is becoming a kind of Blue Man Group for two-fisted beer drinkers and people who like to shove each other around with their elbows. And Slipknot has now been around long enough for its fans to procreate, so the next generation of maggots (Slipknot fans) is on its way. Two rows in front of me, a father and his two boys, neither older than ten, watched the whole concert wearing Hannibal Lecter masks.
About 80 percent of the show was familiar to Slipknot fans. They played a few songs off their new album, but mostly reached into the vault, opening the show with “Iowa,” and following it with such fan favorites as “Wait and Bleed,” “Psychosocial,” “Duality,” and “People = S***.” The band even revisited some old tricks from previous tours, such as the drum platform that lifts drummer Joey Jordison up during the encore, “Spit It Out,” until he’s playing vertically at a ninety-degree angle to the crowd.
To give Slipknot its due, though—its success is no fluke. This is a nine-piece band that incorporates some of the latest digital sampling technology into its songs, creates polyrhythmic arrangements that are sometimes mind-bogglingly fast and complex, and keeps it all tight and focused in performance. It also happens to have two percussionists who beat on beer kegs and wear disturbing masks, but that’s just for show. Musically speaking, Slipknot is all business, a devotion to professionalism that should serve it well as it “lays waste” to the country and inevitably becomes another beloved icon of American defiance.