Korn and Sluggo at Comerica Theatre, 3/1/12

Korn and Sluggo
Comerica Theatre
Thursday, March 1

James Blake would've been in absolute hell watching Korn last night. The waifish English electronica producer, who's loudly decried the overflowing machismo and thuggish aura of Americanized dubstep, would've seen his worst nightmare writ large and lit with high-tech spotlights.

More than 4,000 of the Valley's Korn faithful were in full-on aggro mode as their godhead Jonathan Davis used his H.R. Giger-designed mic to howl the angsty lyrics of "Narcissistic Cannibal," "Get Up," and other songs from its new-fangled dubstep-drenched sound, as heard on their newest LP The Path of Totality. The smoked-filled air was assaulted with unrelenting flurry of knockout punches and whipped with dreadheaded locks when five tracks from the Kornstep-filled album were trotted out during the heart of their set.

See the full slideshow of Korn at Comerica Theatre.

It was a manic, certainly, but not nearly as berserk as when the opening wails of "Freak on a Leash" pierced the air at Comerica Theatre. The roar was deafening and the message was resounding: The emperor's of nu-metal's new clothes were good, even great at times, but they weren't classic Korn.

Hence, the reason why the concert was broken into three chapters that had "New Korn" bookended by old-hat hits, rarities, and the biggest blockbuster singles in the band's 17-year-old discography. Davis even dusted off his crowd-pleasing bagpipes.

As much as Davis has brayed about reinventing rock 'n' roll with the hybridization of Korn's nu-metal swagger with the grimly powerful crunch of dubstep, the band's M.O. is crystal clear. The Path of Totality was borne from the desire to avoid a path to obscurity. In creating their new grooves, all five members of Korn essentially hopped on the back of dubsteppers like Skrillex, Kill the Noise, and 12th Planet on a trip away to reinvention and away from the rocky shoals where other nu-metal acts of the aughts found ruin. In a symbiotic exchange, the genre also gets to infect the musical mainstream even more.

The show itself transformed in the feel of a rave or performance by an electronic dance music heavyweight, as the stage setup involved banks of colored spotlights illuminating the band like an arena rock show. When the Kornstep flowed forth, however, columns of LED screens flung hypnotic non-stop streams of Matrix-like digital rain, jerky and static-filled video. Get enough MDMA into your average raver and they woulda swore it was some illicit all-night dance party starring Deadmau5.

It may have seemed self-delusional and self-aggrandizing when Davis declared in interviews that Korn was dubstep before dubstep was cool. But while the snarksters of the music blogosphere had a field day with that one, the declaration wasn't completely off-base. The adrenaline-filled structure of Korn's music is not unlike that of a rank-and-file brostep track: Angsty melodies and kinky riffs building towards an sheering climax that drops into oblivion. In the case of The Path of Totality's songs, it's dominated by the thrum of electronically-built wub-wub in lieu of bassist Fieldy Arvizu's murky guitar work, which is why he spent a majority "New Korn" segment of the show slapping his axe and dancing around instead of strumming.

Basically, it fits the aggressive nature of Korn like a tee for someone who's a casual fan of Korn and is eager to hear dubstep anywhere and everywhere.

The less explosiveness of the Comerica crowd's reaction is echoed in the comments of one diehard fan, who told me that Kornstep "isn't a favorite."

"I like the new stuff, I guess, and the album's good, but I came to hear the old stuff," he stated. "I like dubstep, but I don't like it with Korn. And when I come to see them live, its not what I want to hear."

His middling response to dubstep at a Korn show was illustrated by the anemic response that local producer Sluggo and Davis -- performing as his nom de electronica J Devil -- got when opening the night with back to back DJ set. Both were just as brutal with their set list (and believe us, they murdered it) whether it was Sluggo's air-quaking gorefest or Davis' more electro-inclined mixes, and both were met with scant fist-pumping and movement that could best be described as half-hearted. (At least the crowd was bigger than when Steve Aoki brought his Dim Mak tour to Comerica weeks ago.)

Even though he endured some hecking, empty stares, and a good chunk of the audience taking a beer break, Sluggo - who's been opening for Korn during the western swing of the tour -- later told me he had the time of his life.

"It's the biggest thing that's happened to me ever getting to do this," he says.

Set List:
1. "Predictable"
2. "Lies"
3. "No Place to Hide"
4. "Helmet in the Bush"
5. "Narcissistic Cannibal"
6. "Chaos Lives in Everything"
7. "My Wall"
8. "Get Up!"
9. "Way Too Far"
10. "Here to Stay"
11. "Freak on a Leash"
12. "Falling Away From Me"
13. "Another Brick in the Wall" (Pink Floyd cover)

14. "Shoots and Ladders" into "One" (Metallica cover)
15. "Got the Life"
16. "Blind"

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Korn and Sluggo at Comerica Theatre

Better Than: Watching the South Park Halloween Special guest-starring Korn.

Personal Bias: I've been a closet Korn fan since their self-titled debut dropped during my freshman year in college. I dug them then, I dig them now, and I really dig Kornstep.

The Crowd: Two-thirds were longtime diehard fans of either the band or of nu-metal in general with the remainder made up of screamos, Jeff Hardy clones, and the glowstick brigade.

Overheard: "This is BULLSHIT. You could go to Ozzfest for this stuff. They should be mauling us right now."

Best Korn clothing: One middle-aged gentle went beyond a band shirt and dusted off his black denim jacket with a ruby red Korn logo bedazzled on the back.

Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.