Andrew O'Neill's History Of Heavy Metal | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Garage, Highbury Corner

Andrew O'Neill's History Of Heavy Metal

Note: This review is from 2014

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Garage, Highbury Corner

‘I can’t do this at Jongleurs,’ says Andrew O’Neill as he cracks a gag about Lars Ulrich. His History of Heavy Metal is not, it must be said, a show that aims for the widest possible constituency. Although more accessible than it could have been, the strength comes in playing the niche who know that Ulrich is Metallica’s drummer.

After a run in a typically artsy Edinburgh Fringe venue, O’Neill has now come to a rock venue, The Garage in North London, and brought with him the death metal band Reprisal, who provide backing for some of the gags and do a brief set after the comedy. The vibe is definitely closer to music gig than a stand-up one: the audience are standing, and some happy to chat or even repeatedly holler the name of their favourite band. Mind you, there’s nothing like a heckle-put down delivered with screeching intensity and squealing guitars to put someone in their place.

This is undeniably a Ronseal show, as O’Neill takes us through the family tree of metal from its roots in the Beatles, Hendrix and Queen (presumably chosen as a starting-point so as not to scare the non-metalheads) though early pioneers like Black Sabbath and through to all its various, nebulously defined sub-genres today – death, black, thrash, grindcore…

His preamble sets things up nicely for the layman, dividing the world up into things that are goth (intense, poetic) or metal (loud and boozy). His improvised categorisation of items suggested from the floor demonstrates a very quick wit, born from intimate knowledge of the tropes of his music and its followers. In this introduction there’s even a song about the origins of the universe – TV scientists being catnip to metalheads. As listeners to the QI podcast No Such Thing As A Fish would be aware, the Big Bang was actually quieter than a Motorhead concert…

Adding a full band to the comedy song is counter-productive, however, as metal lyrics, not known for their clarity, are lost under the distorted guitars – a problem when it comes to conveying the jokes. But for emphasising musical points elsewhere in the routine, the extra musicians certainly add punch.

Metal certainly has more than its fair share of larger-than-life characters to provide O’Neill with plenty of comic fodder, especially in its early days. Ozzy Osbourne is only the tip of the iceberg. More recent bands sometimes fall into the genuinely evil or the cartoonishly pantomime, neither aspect of which is ignored as we’re guided briefly though the development of both the music and the counter-culture surrounding it.

Combining the passion of a true fan with his communication skills as a stand-up, O’Neill informs and entertains about his favourite subject, even though one grizzled metalhead could be heard in the interval complaining ‘he’s got his facts a bit twisted…’ Yet while greenhorns aren’t left behind, die-hard fans will receive a lot more rewards as the in-jokes don’t need to be explained.

The metal-loving community – if that’s such a thing – is certainly large enough to sustain O’Neill’s genre-specific comedy, so it’s to his credit that he plays wider without alienating or patronising either side. He could even win over some new converts now they’ve been given a peak behind metal’s sometimes scary image to the uncomplicated, over-the-top hedonistic pleasures beneath.

Review date: 26 Sep 2014
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: The Garage

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