Well, I can safely say that last night was one of the better concert experiences that I've had. I've been a Blind Guardian fan for a few years now (got on the bus a little late, only been following them since "Twist in the Myth", which also happens to be my favorite BG offering), and this has been my first real chance to see them live, so I jumped at it! I did a little homework before going, and was also especially looking forward to hearing Seven Kingdoms, after I'd heard a little of their work.
The venue, a local dive called The Cabooze on the west bank of the Mississippi river in Minneapolis, was a first for myself. After waiting outside for nearly half an hour in the freezing Minnesota wind, we were admitted. After another minute trying to find my name on the will call list for tickets, the lovely lady at the booth just let me in and said she'd take care of it later, for which I was grateful. Props for service, at least. The Cabooze is decent sized, with more seating overall than Station Four in Saint Paul. It's also a little bit nicer, but with less room right in front of the stage. My friend and I took a seat up on the balcony for a short while, but quickly moved into the crowd and got very close to stage right, where we remained for the rest of the concert.
The first band to play was Florida's Seven Kingdoms, in support of their self-titled new album. I had listened to their album ahead of time, but was very impressed by how catchy all their offerings were (almost entirely, if not all off of said new album). Their lead vocalist, a lovely lady by the name of Sabrina Valentine, was very charming and has a heck of a pair of lungs for a small frame. Seven Kingdoms had pretty good stage presence as well, though the crowded room and poor acoustics made their sound (and that of all the bands) suffer considerably. I was very delighted with their performance overall however, and will make a point to see them live again, should they ever be in the area. Expect to see a review of this band's 2010 release on the site sometime in the near future.
I knew right off the bat that Holy Grail wasn't my cup of tea, but their performance was very entertaining nonetheless. The shrieking, head-windmilling, cursing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs style heavy metal isn't my dish, but the band had some real talent, and WOW did James Luna ever throw his head around. Unfortunately for Holy Grail, it was their frontman and lead guitarist Eli Santana that led the band alone. Their bassist and other guitarist may as well have been asleep for as much as they were moving and getting into the music. Melodies and rhythms were churned out in plenty, but the life was really only carried by two members of the band, and so there was really something missing.
The band that everyone (including myself) came for. Blind Guardian disappointed me only slightly in that they played only 2 songs off of their brand new album "At the Edge of Time", and only one song off of "A Twist in the Myth". Otherwise, their set material was almost purely drawn from "Imaginations from the Other Side" and "Nightfall in Middle Earth". I enjoyed these songs thoroughly as well, but I felt like the band contradicted themselves playing in this manner when they specifically stated their main purpose in performing was to promote their latest release.
That being said, Blind Guardian were as fantastic live as I'd hoped for. Hansi Kürsch was a very formidable frontman indeed, and had incredible stage presence. Howling like a demon at some points, while reverting to his trademark smooth croon during offerings like "The Bard's Song". I noticed him dropping octaves on multiple occasions, which was disappointing. Between his frequent trips to the back of the stage and a brief mention of things being kept somewhat short, I got the impression that he was not feeling well, so I can hardly blame him for this. Even Hansi's style of "classy" headbanging was fun and very much indicative of his personality.
As for the rest of the band, they were entirely marvelous. Both Olbrich and Siepen were very interactive with the audience. None of the band members came off as conceited or aloof, which I had been a little worried about. Rather, they put as much energy and passion into their performance as I'd expect to see at a huge open-air festival. Despite a somewhat stale setlist (it has hardly varied from city to city), I'd go see Blind Guardian again in a heartbeat. The entire concert was splendid. Short of my first Rush concert, it's probably the best I've ever attended.