Mega-nÃ¼-metal bands are kinda like Microsoft. Every time they unveil a product, it’s gotta be more advanced than the last, and each new offering is accompanied with a celebration that upstages the one before.
On November 15, 1999, as Korn prepared to release their fourth album, Issues, the band played a rock show at the legendary Apollo Theatre in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, a site usually foreign to rock shows. On Monday night, to christen the release of their new disc, Untouchables, the band simulcast a one-hour concert from the Hammerstein Ballroom to 40 movie theaters across the country.
The entire stage at the event was surrounded with the face of a giant TV screen, and before the show, the band broadcast an infomercial for Untouchables, which began with the “Are you ready?!” scream from their classic cut “Blind,” and briefly chronicled the band’s history. The promotional spot was followed by a 15-minute documentary about the making of the record, in which the band discussed drummer David Silveria’s recent wrist surgery, pre-production and songwriting for Untouchables, how they chose producer Michael Beinhorn, and the birth of the first single from the LP, “Here to Stay.”
Then, as the video for that song splashed across the screen, the stage lit up and the band entered playing the track. Images of the group continued to project in front of Korn, and when the crowd’s screams reached a crescendo, the screen dropped, revealing the band chugging away at full-throttle. Davis’ gleaming, customized H.R. Giger erotic mic stand was front-and-center, and the singer prowled the stage wearing a long black dress decorated with two giant Victorian-looking crucifixes.
Guitarists Brian “Head” Welch and James “Munky” Shaffer were dressed head-to-toe in black, and spent much of the set hunched over their booming, growling seven-string guitars. Bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu, wearing a football jersey emblazoned with “Joker 69,” stomped in place as he plucked at his down-tuned instrument, which he held with the thick neck pointing almost straight at the ceiling. And Silveria, his hair black and cropped short, played shirtless, bobbing his head as he bashed his kit. Flanked by a stage-wide screen, Korn were backed by dramatic images of TV static, flames, worm-covered skulls, maggots, and images from their music videos.
Unlike the Apollo show, which was all Issues all the time (until the encore), the band only played four songs from Untouchables: “Here to Stay,” “Blame,” “Embrace” and “Thoughtless.” Each resonated with the group’s trademark rumble and eerie atmospherics, but added a new level of vocal melody and orchestral flair, likely garnered from Davis’ work on the “Queen of the Damned” soundtrack with composer Richard Gibbs.
The rest of the set consisted of a smattering of songs from each of Korn’s albums. For the most part, Davis avoided stage banter, letting the band’s brooding, evocative songs speak for themselves.
Korn’s performance was sonically and visually scorching. One highlight occurred when the band segued from “Make Me Bad” into Metallica’s “One” before Davis shouted “F– all that bullsh-,” and Korn catapulted into “Freak on a Leash” while the crowd roared in approval. It was a symbolic snatching of the torch from the old guard by the nÃ¼.
During “Faget,” Davis let out a pained scream and Welch and Shaffer leaned over, banged their heads and rotated in tight circles to the pounding beat, nearly knocking over their walls of effects pedals, which contributed so significantly to the band’s otherworldly sound.
In “Somebody Someone” the guitarists played dissonant, wobbling notes that fueled the desperate vibe of the song, and for “Falling Away From Me,” Welch conjured chilling scraping sounds over a beat that clattered like a den of mechanized rattlesnakes.
Korn closed their regular set with “Thoughtless,” a sobering and sure-to-be-controversial song that looks at the Columbine killings through the eyes of one of the murderers: “I’m above you, smiling at you/ Drown, drown, drown.”
For the encore, Davis returned wearing a black kilt and toting a set of bagpipes, then the band blasted into one of its trademark songs, “Shoots and Ladders.” The last song of the night was “Got the Life,” which accompanied Fieldy’s gut-tingling basslines with sparkling showers of silver confetti. As the feedback from Korn’s instruments cleaved through the venue, Davis bade the crowd farewell and the band slipped away.