Less than 24 hours after Michael Bloomberg gave an unceremonious middle-of-the-night boot to the protestors at Occupy Wall Street, I parked just blocks away from where the tumult had taken place (by all reports, the Occupiers were back in Zuccotti Park by then) and made my way around the corner to Santos Party House to catch Fu Manchu playing their In Search Of… record in its entirety. It was my third time at the NYC venue this year – see Orange Goblin, see Weedeater — and like at those two shows, I was surprised immediately at how crowded it was. There was a line outside before the doors opened.
I don’t know if that means Santos generally pulls people in, or if there’s something happening around heavy rock that no one told me about — always the last to know — but people milled about early waiting for SoCal trio The Shrine to open he night, and if I didn’t know better, I’d say it looked like a happening scene. Pretty sure it wasn’t sold out, but the room was certainly full for both Honky and even more so for Fu Manchu, and what’s more, people knew the songs. The crowd wasn’t just hipsters, though some of that element was there, and young and old, everyone seemed to be there for the music. I don’t remember the last time I left a show in New York feeling that way.
There was something liberating in flying blind into The Shrine‘s set. I didn’t even know they were from California until I heard them tell someone else on line outside as they stood in front of their van — I had somehow just figured they were local, and perhaps on the bill as a last-minute Brooklynite replacement for Naam, who were too busy preparing for their European tour with Black Rainbows to make it down. That’s what I get for assuming.
Watching them play was like seeing the future of Volcom. They were the youngest act of the night and played like it — the three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Josh Landau, bassist Courtland Murphy and drummer Jeff Murray — were excited and excitable. There was enough punkish energy and immediacy in their songs to offset the riffy ’70s swagger, and one of their songs started out so charmingly Sabbathian that I thought of fellow Californians Orchid, who seem to be the reigning American champs for that type of thing. I don’t know if I’d check it out every week, but I wanted to buy their 7″, didn’t, and was disappointed later for not.
In a fantastic bout of self-bargaining, I’d decided to allow myself three beers on the night. I’m on a self-imposed, much-needed dry-out, and anyway, had to drive home when the show was over. So three beers. Three beers for three bands. I’d already had two by the time Honky went on.
Somehow though, in the midst of all Honky‘s Texan charm — two out of the three of them in cowboy hats, they said they were from, “London, Eng-land” and bemoaned the cost of beer — I managed to keep to my limit. And Honky, who haven’t had a record out since 2005′s Balls Out Inn, killed. They served as an excellent transition into the good-times but still ultra-heavy sounds Fu Manchu would elicit, and by the time they were through the first song, I don’t think there was a head there who wasn’t aboard for what they were doing.
Bassist J.D. Pinkus and guitarist Bobby Ed led the charge on vocals, and drummer Justin Collins made sure that as out of hand as things got, they never actually were. Hats were tipped, drinks were sipped: It was boozy, Southern and heavy, and stoic as New Yorker crowds are, Honky was a lot of fun. Last time I saw them was in their native Austin, Texas, and they weren’t in their element at Santos like they were then, but they weren’t far off. Pinkus‘ Butthole Surfers bandmate Gibby Haynes stood on the side of the stage and watched them play, bobbing and smiling with glee as they tore their setlist a new asshole.
These things happened: They sent “Plugs, Mugs, Jugs” out to “Handsome” Joel Svatek, who worked the door at Emo’s in Austin until he was struck by a drunk driver in 2003 (Arclight Records released a tribute in his honor that Honky was featured on along with Mastodon, Amplified Heat, SuperHeavyGoatAss and two discs’ worth of others), covered Pat Travers‘ “Snortin’ Whiskey,” and brought out Fu Manchu guitarist Bob Balch to close out a solo during “Love to Smoke Your Weed,” Bobby Ed‘s slide guitar putting in some good work beforehand. They were like ZZ Top without any of that pesky class. It was lots — and I mean lots — of fun.
Ditto that for the Fu, who ran through some swift foreplay with “Hell on Wheels,” “Open Your Eyes,” “Boogie Van” and “Evil Eye” before getting down to business with In Search Of… front to back. They were tight, just about all the stops dead on, and it was excellent to hear the songs run into each other differently on stage than on the record, big rock finishes and so forth. “Regal Begal” got things under way, and they went onward to glory. I thought my head would explode halfway through “Neptune’s Convoy.” It was fucking awesome.
The hazard, though, of the complete-album gig is that sometimes there’s some filler, and Fu Manchu have had their share over the years. Some of those songs toward the end of In Search Of... are cool and all, but there’s a reason they’re back there and “Asphalt Risin’” is up front. Still, they kept the crowd with them. Scott Hill was pretty much shouting his vocals by the end, which ruled and underscored his Cali-punk roots, and I don’t know how he did it, but bassist Brad Davis looked like he barely broke a sweat. Dude’s riding some of the fattest grooves ever — period — and to look at him, he could be folding laundry. It’s like he lives in the pocket. It was a sight to behold.
And a sound to hear. Fu Manchu have had some serious players in their lineup over the years. Brant Bjork on drums comes to mind, and guitarist Eddie Glass and drummer Ruben Romano who both played on In Search Of… went on to form Nebula. But Bob Balch nailed those solos and added his own flavor to both them and each one of those landmark riffs, and on the purported occasion of his birthday (or so Hill said when telling everyone in the room to buy him shots; he wound up with eight), drummer Scott Reeder was smooth where he needed to be and pushed those older songs further than I thought they could go.
Only bummer was that as “Supershooter” capped the regular set and the band came back out for a two-song encore of “Weird Beard” and “Godzilla,” they didn’t play any material less than a decade old. I know a lot of bands I only wish would do that, but it might have been cool to have one song from either Signs of Infinite Power or We Must Obey. No time, I guess.
Nevertheless, Honky came back out for the rousing take on “Godzilla” that served as just one more reminder of how killer the show had actually been. The melee finished right around midnight, which I can only assume was curfew for Santos, and Fu Manchu sent us poor, hapless souls out into the NYC rain; a long, long way from the Californian sunshine that seems to emanate from their stalwart fuzz pedals.
Good people, classic tunes, good times. I popped open my laptop in my car to get the pictures off my camera on my trip back to the valley, in some misguided effort to save some time for today. It didn’t work out, but whatever. Extra pics are after the jump, as always. Special thanks to SabbathJeff for reviewing the show on the forum.
Tags: California, Fu Manchu, Honky, New York City, Texas