Live Review: Karma to Burn, The Atomic Bitchwax, The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels in Jersey, 09.06.11
I don’t get down that way as often as I used to, but once every year and a half or so, Asbury Park does me just right. Last night was one such occasion. I left the office a bit after 8PM, sloshed my way through the rain Southbound on the world famous Garden State Parkway, down to admirable Asbury mainstay The Saint, where West Virginian instrumental riffers were joined by Jersey‘s own The Atomic Bitchwax and The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels, who were about halfway through their set when I forked over my $12 and got in.
Despite having On the Radar-ized them as far back as last April, and despite my fandom of guitarist Mike Schwiegert and vocalist Kevin LeBlanc‘s prior bands (Lord Sterling and A Day of Pigs, respectively), and despite living a mere 90 minutes away, it was my first time catching The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels live, and I was glad to have the chance to do so. They’ve got some classic crossover in their sound that they offset with noisy crunch and thick tones, and with their first full-length reportedly in the can, there seems to be much more to look forward to.
The five-piece were something of a standout on the bill for how aggressive they were, but there was no denying the formidable presence they brought to the stage. LeBlanc is a natural frontman who plays to the strength of his screams, and Schwiegert — joined on guitar by Dave Anderson — excellently displays his hardcore roots without giving in to East Coast chest-thumping cliche. The material they played was pummeling, and it looked as though they were having fun finding out just how heavy they can be.
The Atomic Bitchwax, on the other hand, seemed just to be having fun. Not counting the couple minutes I saw at Roadburn, it was the first I’d seen them since the release of their latest album, The Local Fuzz (review here), and while they capped their set with about 20 minutes of that 42-minute instrumental riff-fest, they ran through a handful of other songs first, including “So Come On,” “Shitkicker” and the Core cover, “Kiss the Sun,” which served as a reminder of just how much a part of the Bitchwax guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan has become since coming on board prior to the release of 3 in 2005.
Rightfully so since he used to be in Core, Ryan took lead vocal on that song as per usual, but bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik seems to have stepped back on some of the material from 3 and 2009′s TAB4 as well — “Destroyer” from the former comes to mind — though both had smiles on their faces for “Gettin’ Old” from the band’s classic 1999 self-titled debut. The Atomic Bitchwax being rounded out by “Monster Bob” Pantella on drums, Kosnik is the only remaining founding member, but without hesitation, I’ll say their set at The Saint was among the tightest I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve seen them plenty.
Kosnik and Ryan were completely locked in on bass and guitar, their fingers rapidly making their way through the band’s signature winding riffs with speeds approaching Slayer levels at times during “The Local Fuzz.” That album probably took some flack for moving so far away from 4‘s pop-based songwriting modus — it’s easy to see it as a kind of “diarrhea of the riff” — but live, it made more sense, and it seemed almost as though the band were stripping everything down to the essential parts, and answering those who likewise denigrated 4‘s hyper-accessibility by saying, “Well, you want fuzzy riffs, here they are.” And there they were. For about 20 minutes solid.
And I guess if Karma to Burn is going to get a lead in, there probably isn’t one more appropriate than that. The trio’s anti-bullshit stance is long noted, most recently evinced on their second album for Napalm Records, V, but as they ran through a set of their numerically-titled instrumental pieces, it became increasingly clear that something was amiss, particularly with guitarist Will Mecum.
When drummer Rob Oswald (ex-Nebula) came around his kit early on to fix the foot of his bass drum, Mecum cursed audibly and with frustration. I don’t know what the situation is with the band, if he was pissed at Oswald for something or if he stubbed his toe — I refuse to speculate or spread rumors needlessly — but something had him off his game. He played much of the set like some men operate heavy machinery: with his ballcap pulled down over his eyes and his shoulders slumped in contempt.
And though he spent a significant amount of time facing the wall to the side of the stage, leaving Oswald‘s near-flatly-set toms high cymbals and bassist Rich Mullins with the task of acknowledging the audience in a manner not unlike someone trying to explain away a domestic disturbance to the cops the neighbors called, (prior to their going on, Mullins had told me the tour was, “a lot of work”), they sounded really good. It was almost in spite of themselves.
They’re clearly three very different individuals — Mecum with his grit and seemingly endless supply of riffs, Mullins with his gaunt rocker’s looks and stage presence, and Oswald the beardo wizard in back launching into impossible-looking fills — and again, I don’t know what the situation is in the band, but Karma to Burn has become so influential in heavy rock because there’s a special chemistry among the players, and that came through in the songs. They cut the set short, nixing “41″ from 2009′s Appalachian Incantation among others, and obviously it was a bad night for the band, but I didn’t leave The Saint disappointed.
The music was right on and I got to see a new band for the first time, a local staple who were mind-bogglingly tight, and an act who’ve left an indelible mark on their genre. It was a good night, I got to see some good people. For $12 on a rainy Tuesday, you can’t reasonably ask much more than that. It was a bummer that it was a bummer for Karma to Burn, but hopefully they’ll make it up on the rest of the tour, which hits Boston tonight (Sept. 7, with formidable locals Black Thai and Ichabod) and Brooklyn tomorrow, once again with The Atomic Bitchwax on the latter bill as a replacement for the apparently-defunct Black Pyramid.
More pics after the jump. Thanks to The Saint for being so brightly lit.
The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels
The Atomic Bitchwax
Karma to Burn
Tags: Asbury Park, Karma to Burn, Napalm Records, New Jersey, Red Bank, The Atomic Bitchwax, The Ominous Order of Filthy Mongrels, West Virginia