Live Review: Truckfighters, The Midnight Ghost Train, Skeleton Hands and The Company Corvette in Philly, 03.16.12
The decision to hit Philadelphia instead of Brooklyn — which had been the plan all along — was made the night before. There was the looming prospect of family in from out of town (who would arrive Saturday afternoon) and inevitable obligations stemming from that which skipping out on would almost certainly result in my being seen as a complete jerk. “Here’s your seven-week-old baby back, I gotta head to Williamsburg.” Shit just doesn’t fly.
So, instead of that, Philly on Friday. It was two hours in the car each way, but Brooklyn probably would’ve been that too — especially if they were giving the Holland Tunnel its nightly power-washing — and there was the added advantage of not having to park in, or be in, Brooklyn on a Saturday night. I left work early — the excuse was another bonus — and headed south on the Turnpike like a man on a mission.
Perhaps that mission was a little too successful, because I was early as hell. The enthusiastic dude at the door of The Station, which was playing host to touring acts Truckfighters and The Midnight Ghost Train as well as local support Skeleton Hands and The Company Corvette, recommended hitting the South Philly Tap Room down the block for dinner and pre-show boozing, and even unadvertised mustard on my hamburger didn’t stop it from ruling. The place was packed, and it was chilly eating outside, but several Kenzingers helped me pretend it was summer and not, you know, still the middle of March.
Reports that The Station allowed smoking inside turned out to be true, but when I got back to the two-level venue — one bar a few steps up from another where a stage-less performance space was cleared out — that didn’t stop me from saying “fuck yeah” out loud. It was going to be close quarters and a late night, but that’s exactly what I was looking for. In short order, The Company Corvette got going and the night was under way.
I knew literally nothing about the Philly natives going into their set, but they were a good start to the show, proffering straight-up, still developing stonerisms in good working order. They seemed to be still finding their path, musically, but I like that in bands, so I was into their riff-led Sleep-y grooves. Curious that later, someone (obviously drunk, and it wasn’t someone actually from the three-piece) took it on themselves to try to put a logo sticker on Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm from Truckfighters‘ bass while he was playing it, but it was that kind of night. Smoky, drunk, riffy. Philly is a rock and roll town. That kind of shit happens there.
Between The Company Corvette and Skeleton Hands, who were more directly derived from the Southern heavy tradition, the City of Brotherly Love gave a pretty decent showing of its stoner scene. There were probably bigger bands who could’ve been on the bill — Sadgiqacea come immediately to mind, though they’re less directly in the genre; and I think Clamfight only played five shows last week, so they could’ve hacked another — but it seemed like both of the openers had, at one point or another, legitimately taken a cue on some level from Truckfighters, and that’s always encouraging. Skeleton Hands, for what it’s worth, also had probably the biggest crowd of the night.
Vocalist Pete Hagen laid it on thick with the post-Alabama Thunderpussy inflection, and like The Company Corvette, Skeleton Hands seemed to be in their formative stages, but they’ve obviously already made an impression if their draw is anything to go by. Being an out-of-towner (everywhere), I wondered a bit at times if there wasn’t something I was missing, but as Skeleton Hands hit the dense hook of their eponymous song, it was hard not to be consumed by the groove of it. They had CDs for sale with a “donation,” and I’d already gotten one before they played, but when they were done, I didn’t regret it.
How many years it had been since the last time I saw The Midnight Ghost Train play, I’m not entirely sure. I remember, vaguely, the show was in Bayonne, in Jersey, and I remember digging them a lot, but if you told me it was any date between 2006 and 2008, I’d have no choice but to believe you. In any case, guitarist/vocalist/madman Steve Moss got on the mic in Philly like a forgotten Ellwood, talking all kinds of indecipherable throaty jive about being on tour with Truckfighters and this and that. Hard to pick up what he was putting down, at least until the songs started. Then the mystery disappeared.
Not sure how to say it other than to say it, but they were killer. I know The Midnight Ghost Train‘s 2009 self-titled full-length (review here) was right on, but that was a different band entirely. In Philly, their sound was full, and exciting, and delivered with an energy that stood up to Truckfighters — which, if you’ve ever seen the headliners, you know is saying something — and their set, which was mostly comprised of new material according to the conversation I had with Moss afterward, was a stunner. Legitimately. I already knew I liked the band and they still caught me off guard.
Even when Moss busted a string on his guitar and had to get out a second one in the middle of the song — the name “Sophia” was stenciled on road case a bit to the left of the band’s logo — I don’t think bassist David Kimmell even stopped headbanging to look and see what was going on. They build up righteous momentum, Moss flailed his preacher’s hands as he ranted and raved, and the rock went epic. Drummer Brandon Burghart had his work cut out for him holding the songs to ground, but they never got out of control when they didn’t want to, and as a rhythm section, Kimmell and Burghart stood up to Moss‘ considerable barrage of riffs, leads and well-spit verses.
They reportedly start recording their new album tomorrow, March 20, in Georgia with one of the dudes from Harvey Milk putting them to 2″ tape. I’ll look forward to that, but in the meantime, I learned before Truckfighters went on that the two bands would be playing what was billed as a secret Tee Pee Records showcase in Manhattan on Sunday with NYC natives Mirror Queen opening, and was suddenly way less bummed out about missing the Brooklyn show the next night. The room had settled some during The Midnight Ghost Train‘s set as some of those who were only showing up for the locals had split and others had come for the touring acts, but if it wasn’t sold out, it’s only because they kept letting people into The Station. I grabbed a spot in front of the P.A. to stage right and waited.
You know, I had been a little bummed out seeing the reports and video coming out of this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, last week. Lots of good bands, lots of good showcases, and for me, some pretty positive memories of years past, hazy though they are. With the first cycling through of the riff to “Desert Cruiser,” all that went right out the window. Drummer Oscar “Pezo” Johansson dropped trow — literally, he played in his boxers — and recently-interviewed guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren took off his shirt, and off they went.
Truckfighters are rock at the speed of go. It was only a few months ago I saw them rip a hole through Cake Shop in Manhattan, but seeing that only made this show all the more necessary. On a tour that in terms neither of routing nor personnel involved was what they thought it would be, Truckfighters flourished and hit with an astonishing level of energy. It was like they were pushing the material to see how far it could go, how hard it could hit, how fuzzed it could get. Where I stood, Cedermalm‘s vocals were coming through so loud at times they hurt, even with the sock he put over the mic (which, incidentally, is where that The Company Corvette sticker ended up) but it was worth it to be that close to rock that visceral.
“Desert Cruiser” wasn’t over before Källgren was rolling on the ground kicking his legs in the air, and their whole set pretty much looked like riffy calisthenics, though they’re probably also the most audience-minded act I’ve seen in this genre — in people’s faces the whole time, taking advantage of their wireless setups (which also adds some compression to their tonal crunch that they seem to use to their advantage) to walk through the crowd, and, in Cedermalm‘s case, jumping on the bar before the encore to ask everyone if they wanted to hear another song — so they made it work and the audience had no choice but to go along with them. Not that there was much resistance, but it would’ve been pointless if there had been, is what I’m saying.
The set was pretty well balanced, with three songs from 2005′s Gravity X debut, two from 2007′s Phi, and three from 2009′s Mania, which is set for North American reissue in May as Truckfighters‘ debut on Tee Pee, but though it was killer to hear “Last Curfew” and “Traffic,” and “Monte Gargano” was a crowd favorite, I was even more stoked on “Majestic,” the 13-minute Mania masterpiece the payoff of which was so huge as to serve as the high point of an already excellent set. I’d been hoping for “Con of Man,” which they didn’t play, but they hit “Analougus” from the 2004 Fuzzorama compilation, The Ultimate Fuzz Collection, as the first part of a two-song encore that finished out with “In Search Of,” which seems to be the permanent closer. Hard to argue with its position.
I don’t remember what time it was exactly when they finished, but I know I got back to my humble river valley at about four in the morning, so I’d put it somewhere close to two. If you’ve never had the pleasure, the middle of the night is the best time to drive on the New Jersey Turnpike, or any major highway for that matter, barring accidents or construction — neither of which was hit on the way back north — and though I didn’t sleep nearly as late Saturday morning as I’d have liked, I did have plenty to look forward to going into Sunday night’s secret show.
More pics after the jump.
The Company Corvette
The Midnight Ghost Train
TruckfightersPhiladelphia, Skeleton Hands, The Company Corvette, The Midnight Ghost Train, Truckfighters