It’s a tricky proposition, playing in NYC on a Friday night. On the one hand, it’s pretty much the ideal, right? Get a bunch of people trapped in a small room on a small island — there’s really nowhere to go but to a show. On the other hand, there’s at least three shows for each of the eight million people on that small island, so it’s easy for a band to get lost in the mix. Truckfighters, on their first American run, made a landmark out of the Cake Shop on Ludlow St. Though I’ll certainly have other associations with it as well, it’s going to be a while before something comes to my mind when I think of the venue faster than, “Oh yeah, that’s the place Truckfighters played.”
A full 41 people took advantage of the “say The Obelisk and get in free” thing by the last tally I heard — which was about 38 more than I expected — and the vibe was insane. Like YOB/Dark Castle earlier in the week, it seemed like the people who were there were really glad to be there. And there were a lot of them. By the time Borracho were done, I turned around and the room was packed out. Weirdos, button-down yuppies and in-between-types came and went, but for most of the night, it was consistently hard to get to the bar for all the people standing around.
That has its ups and downs, which I probably don’t need to explain, but good for all the bands having heads to play to. The running order was Borracho, Blue Aside, Kings Destroy and Truckfighters headlining, and the show got going a bit before 9PM, allowing extra time for a crowd to arrive for Borracho, who were up from Washington D.C. solely for this one gig. Seemed like a haul, but if the bonus is you get to play with Truckfighters, I can’t imagine it wasn’t worth their time. They got a good response from the crowd too, played (unless I’m mistaken) four songs from their recently-reviewed Splitting Sky album, and were a fitting start to the evening.
I stand by the critiques I made of Borracho in that review, but it’s worth noting that as each song in their set began, I recognized it immediately. Sure, the record’s still relatively fresh in my mind, but I found myself anticipating the chorus of “Grab the Reins” and looking forward to what was coming next — even hoping for “Never Get it Right” — which I took as evidence of a certain level of quality in their songwriting. They have some growing to do yet, some smoothing out of their processes, but there’s something there. It’s not hollow stoner repetition, and while some of their parts wander, their potential as a unit is plain to see in the live setting. I bought a copy of Splitting Sky, and I think it’s going to be really interesting to hear how they develop with their next batch of material.
Their energy was infectious, in the meantime, which actually wound up not doing any favors for Blue Aside, who were decidedly more laid back and stoic in their on-stage presence. The Boston space doom trio started late following some technical problems with their bass head (an Ampeg SVT that they then put front and center on the stage), and shared vocal duties with an incongruence of atmosphere. Drummer Matt Netto had an almost frantic anxiousness in his playing that was contrasted by guitarist Adam Abrams and sandal’ed bassist Joe Twomey, both calmer and more methodical. Nonetheless, they gave a decent showing of material from their The Orange Tree EP, even if they were the odd men out on the bill.
Blue Aside also managed to separate the yuppie chaff, which was fine by me. It’s not that the band was bad, just out of place, and most of the crowd, which was anticipating a rock show, probably wasn’t ready for the spaced-out excursions they had on offer. That, combined with the conflict between energies as noted, didn’t do them any favors. Still, taken on their own level, they did well with what they had. Would be hard for anyone to play those songs bouncing off the walls.
At this point, I don’t even know how many times I’ve seen Kings Destroy, but it was awesome to catch them as a part of this lineup. I missed them with Sourvein in Brooklyn, so this was my follow-up to their Santos Party House gig with Orange Goblin, and as ever, they did not disappoint. They locked in a groove with “The Whittler” from …And the Rest Will Surely Perish and held it down across their whole set. “The Mountie” was especially tight, and the same new song they played last time around — now graced with the title “Holy Dice” — fit right in with the rest of the selections: “Planet XXY,” “Medusa,” “Dusty Mummy” and “Old Yeller” to close out. Good times.
And I mean that. In talking to guitarist Chris Skowronski after they were done, he said he didn’t think they’d ever felt so on point, and having attended as many of their shows as I have, I can’t help but agree. Each time I see them, they’re better than the last, and whether it’s the raised stage of Santos or the declining floor in the Cake Shop basement, they bring it, plain and simple. They’ve reportedly got more new stuff in the works, so here’s looking forward.
It had already been a good night before Truckfighters took the stage. If it had been just Borracho, Blue Aside and Kings Destroy for the show, it would have more than justified the search for SoHo parking. But Truckfighters made it something different entirely. There was no irony to what they did, no cheeky self-awareness masking insecurity. They took the stage, the crowd and the whole damn place. It was theirs. No worries. They gave it back after an hour or so.
I can’t remember the last time I saw people dance at a show. Not even just rocking out — legitimately dancing. Of course, it might have helped that guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren only stopped jumping up and down to take the occasional stroll through the crowd. It might have been the best use of a wireless rig I’ve ever seen. As he made his way toward the back of the venue, soloing all the while, the fuzz in his tone was epic, and the set played out like the stoner rock ideal. You could have filmed it and used it as a promo video, people were so excited.
It was kind of odd timing for Truckfighters to come to the States, since their last album, Mania, was released in 2009, but if this is just how the timing worked out and this was when they could all do it, fine. They killed. They managed to keep their intensity up for nearly the entire set, and it was easy to understand what prompted Josh Homme to say they’re the greatest band he’s ever seen, since they showed much of the same fluidity in their songs as does the Queens of the Stone Age guitarist/vocalist when playing live.
That is, though the songs had their given structures, there was an element of freedom in the trio’s handling of them. Bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm had his parts to sing and obviously he, Dango and drummer Oscar “Pezo” Johansson weren’t getting up there and improvising for an hour, but each stop was held out longer for crowd interplay, and where most bands set a clear divide between themselves and their audience — “I’m here and you’re there” — Truckfighters engaged completely. You wanted to be a part of it, to go along with it, and they wanted to bring you. And in the case of Dango and someone’s girlfriend in the audience, they also wanted to make out a little bit toward the end of the set.
They had fun. It seems like such an easy thing, but it wasn’t about mocking something, or being rockstar assholes, or performing in some theatrical sense. They delivered a slew of material and closed with “Desert Cruiser” from 2005’s Gravity X debut, and they sounded like desert rock kings doing it. It was dangerous, out of control and completely fucking awesome. Motion was constant. For the second time in a week, I feel like everything I have to say about a show is hyperbole, but it’s absolutely true. Truckfighters paid off in full every bit of the anticipation I’d had to see them, and I have no idea when I’ll see a rock show that’s that good again.
I was handed a tray of drinks as their set wound down from the bar next to which I was standing, and I placed them on the stage next to Dango, like an offering. Of course, they got off stage preceding an encore and in that time some spoiled yuppie scumbag girls stoke their beers, but the sentiment of appreciation was there, anyway. The room cleared out on the quick after that encore, and I too was splittsville, not imagining any way the evening could possibly get better.
Who knows when they’ll have another album out, and who knows when and if they’ll ever come back. While they played, none of it mattered. All there was was fuzz and glory.
More pics after the jump.
TruckfightersBlue Aside, Borracho, Boston, Kings Destroy, Massachusetts, New York City, Sweden, Truckfighters, Washington D.C.