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Korn Pops With Intensity

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The screams never stopped as Korn wrung out its emotions at the Oakland Arena

By Sarah Quelland

About half-way through Rob Zombie's set at the Oakland Arena Tuesday (April 13), he looked ready to blow headliner Korn away. With an elaborate set full of skulls and gargoyles, Zombie a Go Go dancers, a giant robot dubbed the Creeper, two video screens, lights, lasers and scorching pyrotechnics, Zombie really knows how to fill an arena. But where Zombie's strength is in his crypt-keeper image and hell-bent songs like "Living Dead Girl" and "Dragula," Korn's is in its high-velocity emotion and electrifying connection to its fans. About one-quarter through Korn's set, I found myself thinking, "Rob who?"

Korn's stage was set like a prison cell block with a giant cage--known as the Korn Kage--filled with kids who had won Korn's Kontest, er, Contest. Drummer David Silveria, guitarist Munky Shaffer, bassist Fieldy, guitarist Head and vocalist Jonathan Davis entered the stage one by one and kicked off the show with "Blind" from the band's first album.

It's still strange to see Korn in an arena rather than in the small clubs it used to fill with regularity, but the band is extremely capable of gripping huge crowds with its intensity. Long known for a rigorous touring schedule, in the past the band has opened locally for Danzig, Megadeth, KMFDM and Ozzy Osbourne; headlined clubs like the Edge and the Fillmore; and most recently spearheaded its own Family Values tour.

Largely led by frontman Davis, the band's attitude has varied from venue to venue. In the early days, Davis seemed terrified of performing, yet drained himself emotionally at every show while his bandmates watched with nervous awe. As Korn's popularity grew, so did its ego, and by second album, Life Is Peachy, Davis' tone had become arrogant and bloated. Judging from the Family Values tour and this performance, that ugliness has disappeared, and it's heartening to see Davis more like his old self.

What distinguishes Korn from so many other rock bands is Davis' willingness to bare his soul to his fans. When he opens his mouth, all his dark secrets fall out in his lyrics, like bones scattering from a closet.

While songs like "A.D.I.D.A.S.," "Got the Life" and "Freak on a Leash" make it to the airwaves, it's the dark, twisted, semiautobiographical tales that Davis shares with fans that give Korn its unusual identity.

Davis wrote "Pretty" about a dead infant who was brought into the mortuary where he worked who had been raped by her father. Then there's "Daddy," an anguishing song about child rape, which Davis never performs live.

There was something of that stripped-to-the-wire emotion in Davis' performance at the Oakland Arena, along with an exhilarating energy. Moving through "Need To," "Twist" and "Chi," Davis, who used to be incredibly stage-bound, addressed the crowd: "So what the fuck's up Oakland? Make some fuckin' noise!"

Davis has two immediately distinctive qualities: his unique, speaking-in-tongues vocals and his moves, which are best described as a frantic puppet on speed. He is also known for his skill on the bagpipes. While Head did vocals for a cover of War's "Lowrider," Davis stepped out of the spotlight and came back with his pipes for "Shoots and Ladders," a song about the malevolent messages in children's nursery rhymes.

Although it's always a joy to watch him play, the sound, usually haunting, was high-pitched and squeaky due to poor sound engineering. Another drawback was the medley Korn has taken to doing. During this show, Davis raced through snippets of "Justin," "Jump Around" (by House of Pain), "Ball Tongue" and "Faget" (sic).

Surprising the audience, Chino Moreno from Deftones came out to perform Korn's cover of Ice Cube's "Wicked." Not only is it noteworthy that Korn brings in outside performers for some of its songs, but that the band doesn't perform songs like "All In the Family" without Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst or "Children of the Korn" without Ice Cube--out of respect for the song, the performer and the fans.

Davis jammed through "It's On!," "Got the Life," and "Dead Bodies Everywhere" before leaving the stage the first time. Lighters fired up throughout the crowd as the audience cried for more, and some guys began chanting "Kumbaya."

Walking back out onstage, Davis ordered the audience, "You'd better open your fuckin' mouth and scream!" As the audience complied, Davis sat down, his head hung low, his legs apart and his hands in his lap, looking for all the world like a resting puppet. As the audience screamed for minutes, he sat motionless, absorbing its energy before singing "My Gift to You"--a narrative in which he fantasizes about strangling and killing a former girlfriend while having sex with her after she tore his heart apart--which left him on the floor convulsing with rage.

The band then performed a full-length version of "Faget," before exiting the stage again, only to return one final time for Cheech and Chong's "Earache My Eye." For this one, Davis took over drums, Silveria was front and center on the bass and Fieldy, always the ham, lumbered around working the crowd with the mic.

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Web extra to the April 15-21, 1999 issue of Metro.

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