In response to my submission of a review and photos of Watain’s show last Halloween, my then-editor at the City Paper joked, “Damn - sorry I can’t get you extra hazard pay.” That comment would be even more appropriate for the Dillinger Escape Plan show I shot at the Ottobar in Baltimore last Friday. DEP live shows are pretty legendary for their intensity, and DEP shows at the Ottobar are particularly legendary.
The Ottobar is dim, a little dingy, and small, but I like it a lot. There’s no photo pit ever, but there is a little balcony which is cool to shoot from, and the crowds there always seem friendly. DEP transformed the place into one giant mosh pit, it seemed like, and not even the folks sitting in the balcony were safe from the mayhem. The band came onstage calmly enough, but the instant they slammed into “The Mullet Burden,” bodies started flying everywhere.
I would say that the band members pinballed around the stage constantly, but that’s not entirely true, as the stage was not sufficient to contain their energy. Guitarist Ben Weinman was jumping off every possible surface, stagediving into the crowd (as above), careening off the walls, etc etc, all while seeming to hit every single note spot-on. If you’re familiar with DEP’s music you’ll respect how unimaginable this is - their material is often mind-bendingly complex.
Meanwhile, one of the first things vocalist Greg Puciato was pick up the two monitors sitting front and center on the stage and toss them backwards so that he could lean in as close as possible to the crowd, or just jump right into it. (Eventually one of DEP’s crew members took them offstage entirely. They had a crew dedicated to, basically, fixing shit that the band members broke with all their kinetic energy.) Puciato was fond of getting into particularly enthusiastic fans’ faces and letting them sing along with him into the mic. He also had a penchant for climbing things, including the Ottobar balcony, which he did several times to share the love with the folks sitting up there watching the chaos. (See the photo below.)
All of which would have made for great photos, but there were a few problems. One, the lighting: DEP brought their own lighting, which was a definite upgrade over the standard Ottobar rig, but it was very tough for photography. Bright, colorful backlights, lots of fog, and two broken amps onstage with warm white light shining straight up from them. That was it, plus a couple dim Ottobar spots. The best light came from those floor lights, but that depended on the band members staying still for a second over them, which was a rare occurrence indeed (see above). I was at ISO 3200 all show in order to maintain fast enough shutter speeds, and if I’d had a D700 or something I probably would have been up at ISO 12,800 or something crazy like that.
Second problem, the crowd: despite the fact that I was right up against the stage, normally a relatively calm spot aside from the occasional crowd surfer going overhead, I was still essentially shooting from the middle of a mosh pit. I would have liked to have taken a lot more photos with flash, but I couldn’t use it off-camera (needed my off hand to brace/balance myself) and I was afraid of mounting it on-camera for fear of some stage diver’s stray body part snapping it off. All told it was somewhat miraculous my camera survived without taking a hit at all - although I did get kicked in the face by Weinman at one point.
Third: I was too close. My 17-55/2.8 wasn’t nearly wide enough at the wide end. If I had a fast 11-16 or something like that, it would have been ideal, and a 10mm fisheye would have gotten some awesome shots as well. As it was, I was up against the 17mm end of the zoom all night and it wasn’t enough. Not when things are this up close and personal.
All told though, this was one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to. DEP always brings it. I’d love to have another crack at a DEP show at the Ottobar with a wider lens and maybe a rented D700 or something so I can bump up to ISO 6400+.