Notes and Pics From the Small Stone Showcase in Philly, 09.24.11

I woke up at the hotel in Philadelphia yesterday late, after a disturbing dream of a sexual nature and saw, in the angled mirrors of the bathroom, the burgeoning bald spot on the back of my head for the first time. That was a bit of a bummer, but the day picked up from there. I was ridiculously, laughably exhausted after night one of the Small Stone showcase at The M-Room, but with one more night to go, it wasn’t quite time to punch/crash out yet.

Taking the bus down for the day, The Patient Mrs. met me in town (this weekend is our wedding anniversary) and we loafed around for a bit before eventually settling in to do some work, and then eventually I dropped her off at the 30th St. Station, so she could head back north and I could run over to the venue for the start of the show. I’ll confess that despite having seen the Brian Mercer poster above on more than one occasion, I didn’t even remember who was first on the bill, so when I walked in, it was a bit of a surprise to hear Ironweed playing.

We’ll begin with that:

Ironweed: Of all the acts on the Small Stone roster, they’re probably the one I’m the least a fan of, but I’ll hand it to the Upstate New Yorker double-guitar four-piece anyway and say they were tight as hell. Their stuff is just on the other side of commercially accessible from what I really get down with, but they do it well, and though I haven’t listened to their Your World of Tomorrow album since I reviewed it back in April, I still recognized some of the songs from it. That alone should say something about the strength of their songwriting, wherever how they use it might lie on the spectrum of my personal taste.

The Might Could: Don’t even like Pantera anymore. Despite not being able to stand too close to the stage on account of the formidable body odor emitting therefrom, The Might Could were loud enough that I could’ve probably sat on the on-ramp to I-95 a few miles down the road and still heard them. Both guitarists/vocalists Erik Larson and TJ Childers played through full  stacks, and though I think going on earlier didn’t necessarily suit the band’s performance — bassist Rob Gouldman (ex-Lord) mentioned from the stage several times they wanted drink tickets — they killed. There should’ve been more people there to see it, but the songs, the tones, the mix of Southern, stoner and sludge made The Might Could‘s set stand out. They were loose and clearly wanted to be that way, but sounded even fuller live than they did on their self-titled, and Ryan Wolfe started off a string of insanely good drumming that lasted the rest of the night.

Throttlerod: Kevin White continued that string that Ryan Wolfe started, and added a more technical sense to it, some theory to go with the speed. There were different styles throughout the evening, and with people doing different things musically, it’s hard to say who was the best, but White was up there, whatever metric you might want to use. Aside from rocking, Throttlerod‘s set was fascinating because of the noisy course the band’s sound has taken over their last couple records, Nail (2006) and Pig Charmer (2009). Seeing northerners take on a Southern aesthetic is nothing new, but the Virginian three-piece — which as of Pig Charmer featured Brooklyn-based bassist Andrew Schneider, also engineer and co-founder of Coextinction Recordings, who was absent — have gone the opposite route, adopting a start-stop crunch that’s straight out of the classic Amphetamine Reptile playbook. With guitarist/vocalist Matt Whitehead adding melody vocally, it’s a distinctive mix.

Gozu: Their spot on the bill was a clear indication that Scott Hamilton, owner of Small Stone Records, wanted to feature them to the crowd. Otherwise, Throttlerod has been around much longer and The Might Could, though a relatively new band, have added clout owing to their pedigree (Childers plays drums in Inter Arma, Ryan Wolfe was signed to Relapse with Facedowninshit and Erik Larson was in Alabama Thunderpussy), but to Gozu‘s credit, they earned their spot. One of the best aspects of their 2010 Small Stone debut, Locust Season, was the vocals of guitarist Marc Gaffney, and on stage at The M-Room proved no different. Locust Season flew under a lot of people’s radar, I guess because it seems like Gozu came out of nowhere with it, but the record was really strong, and the memorability of the songs held up. Gaffney, playing through a custom Matamp (I think) with “GAFF” on the faceplate, was joined on guitar by Doug Sherman, whose high-slung guitar, angled ballcap and stage demeanor was right out of the New England hardcore scene birthed in Gozu‘s Boston home. Still, with the two guitarists, it was bassist Paul Dallaire‘s low end that dominated the live mix, and coupled with Barry Spillberg‘s intimidating performance on drums, there was no question the band was where they belonged. They played a new song — I believe Sherman said it was called “Bald Bull” (the referential title would be befitting their modus) — that speaks well of what’s to come on their next album.

The Brought Low: Like Suplecs and Lo-Pan the night before, it was my second time in a week seeing Small Stone‘s NYC contingent trio. Their set was mostly the same as it had been in Brooklyn, but at the behest of Hamilton, they also included “Vernon Jackson” from 2006′s Right on Time, which happens also to be one of my favorite songs of theirs. Still, it was the ultra-catchy “The Kelly Rose” from their aptly-titled third record, Third Record, that I walked out of The M-Room singing under my breath at the end of the night. Nick Heller continued the night of 1,000 tom hits, and Bob Russell and Ben Smith did right by material both new and old. “Army of Soldiers” was again a killer inclusion, and though it was enjoyable on their Coextinction EP, I hope it winds up on their next album, because it’s worth highlighting and pressing to disc. They had a couple classic Brought Low barn-burners going, and that was right up there with any of them. It wasn’t like I was dying to hear those songs because it had been so long since I’d seen the band, but The Brought Low never fail to please, and Philly was no exception. They tossed around a few joshing Civil War references (a new shirt features the visage of Ulysses S. Grant) in the direction of The Might Could, and it was another enjoyable — day I say “fun?” — set from a rock band in total command of their style and playing.

Roadsaw: They were simply too big for the stage they were playing on. It was my first time seeing the mainstay Boston foursome of vocalist Craig Riggs, bassist Tim Catz, guitarist Ian Ross and drummer Jeremy Hemond since the release of their self-titled back in January, and the quality of those songs was palpable standing in the crowd, much of which had stayed late. There was a second or two there where I thought Riggs — who is a madman on stage — was going to fall right off, and likewise where I thought the microphone which he spins from the cable, was going to pop off the cord and hit someone in the head. Neither happened and the excitement was located entirely within the set, which is fortunate at least from an injury perspective. It was approaching 2AM, which was closing time for The M-Room, so they clipped a few songs off the top. Riggs said after they were done that they prefer it that way anyhow, short and sweet, and I didn’t hear anyone else complaining. Since coming back to active duty with 2008′s See You in Hell!, Roadsaw have emerged as being among a small number of masters of the heavy rock form, and between the Roadsaw record and the showing they gave in Philly, I’d say that anyone across the Atlantic who happens to catch them on their upcoming run with Dixie Witch and Sasquatch would be lucky to do so. A near-perfect combination of energy and experience, and probably the most fitting end the Small Stone showcase could’ve had short of a Halfway to Gone reunion. It was right on right from the start.

But when it was over, it was nigh on ridiculous o’clock, and with the two-hours northbound ahead of me, I made a quick exit and beeline back to the car. I managed to cut some time off the trip (am I the only person who races to shave minutes off their GPS?) and, by some amazing coincidence, fell into bed just in time to completely conk out. It was a hell of a week, and a hell of a weekend, but it capped just right. I won’t be able to make the Chicago showcase next weekend, but it’s Freedom Hawk, Gozu, Sasquatch, Backwoods Payback, Lo-Pan and Suplecs on Oct. 1, so if you can make it, consider this post and yesterday’s a hearty recommendation to do so.

Thanks to Scott Hamilton and all the bands for making it a killer time, and to The Patient Mrs. for being the kind of lady who doesn’t mind it when she calls her husband to say happy seventh anniversary and The Brought Low is rocking in the background.

More pictures after the jump.

Ironweed

The Might Could

Throttlerod

Gozu

The Brought Low

Roadsaw

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