The be-sunglassed rock and roll stallions you see in the photo above are known as Roadsaw. For the better part of 20 years, Roadsaw have been Boston’s foremost guardians of the riff (one assumes that picture was taken outside the riff’s castle, in the moat), updating ’70s heavy rock for each decade they’ve corrupted with their lecherous touch and predating much of the American stoner rock movement in the ’90s. They took a lengthy break between 1997′s Nationwide and the 2007 issue of Rawk ‘n’ Roll, but 2012 finds them in a similar position as their close British allies, Orange Goblin, as the statesmen of their scene.
In fact, thinking back to Orange Goblin‘s latest and most crisply produced album, A Eulogy for the Damned (review here), one can’t help but wonder if they weren’t inspired by Roadsaw‘s 2011 self-titled, which also had a surprising sheen in its overall sound. Either way, the realistic possibility that Roadsaw might be influencing also-influential bands across an ocean speaks to their position within heavy rock’s well-populated underground. As it was all too easy to observe at this year’s London Desertfest, which featured both bands in its lineup, Roadsaw are at the top of their game.
So this must be the part where I say, “But that wasn’t always the case,” right? Well yeah, it is that part. In 1994, the then double-guitar four-piece released their first 7″, containing the tracks “Fancy Pants” and “Handed You Your Ass.” The next year, those two and eight others comprised Roadsaw‘s first full-length, One Million Dollars (also written as $1,000,000) on the local Curve of the Earth Records. At that time, the band was drummer/vocalist Craig Riggs, bassist/vocalist Tim Catz and guitarist/vocalists Steve Malone and Darryl Shepard, the latter soon to solidify his position as guitarist for Milligram. They recorded the album early in 1995 with Tim O’Heir in Cambridge, and though it’s rough around the edges, a lot of what’s made them the sultans of swagger they are today was already present in the band even then.
Probably the most notable difference in One Million Dollars and Roadsaw today is the lineup. Not only was Riggs not the frontman of the band, he wasn’t out front at all. He was in back, playing drums. Vocal duties are shared, mostly between he and Catz, but Shepard and Malone have some parts as well, each pretty different from the rest. Those familiar with the band will be able to pick Riggs out as he contrasts Catz on One Million Dollars opener “Gotta Go” or takes the lead for the verse of “Fell off the Earth,” but the interplay between vocalists is intriguing and especially well done on the slower, more grooving “Sickest Ride” or the organ, mellotron and sax-infused closer, “Starcock,” on which the depth of arrangement is obviously not limited just to the singing.
But what’s most consistent in putting One Million Dollars and Roadsaw side-by-side is the band’s show of personality. I don’t think they’d make a song like “Fancy Pants” today, with its silly high-pitched cackling toward the end, but the echoing drums that underscore the psychedelic drones and Echoplex-type manipulations of “Theme From ‘Hassle’” seem to be directly realized on “Electric Heaven” from the self-titled, and the blazing guitars of “Rotted Out” likewise find motoring companionship from “Too Much is Not Enough” or “The Getaway.” The main difference — aside from a considerable jump in audio fidelity — is maturity.
Riggs and Catz are joined now by lone guitarist Ian Ross (Shepard toured Europe with them in 2009 and pops up occasionally, from what I understand) and many-tasked drummer Jeremy Hemond (also of Cortez and Black Thai). Ross came aboard for Rawk ‘n’ Roll, which is considered by some to be Roadsaw‘s defining statement, and Hemond for 2008′s See You in Hell, which, though solid, did little to preface the cohesiveness the self-titled showed in 2011 with almost unbearably catchy and impeccably structured tracks like “Weight in Gold,” “So Low Down” and “Long in the Tooth.” Smoother production from Sean Slade highlighted the melodic development in Riggs‘ voice — listen to the end of “Thinking of Me” for an example — and managed to cut a balance between a natural sound and professional presentation. The best of both worlds.
Also working considerably in their favor is the fact that they’re one of the tightest rock acts on the Eastern Seaboard. Catz and Hemond are devastating as a rhythm section, and Ross‘ guitar seems to fire off killer solos at will. Couple that with Riggs‘ inability to stand still while performing, running from one side of the stage to the next and swinging the mic to where you think standing in front that it’s about to hit you in the face. That vitality bleeds into the songs of Roadsaw‘s Roadsaw, and where it was there in a more rudimentary form on One Million Dollars, the purposefulness behind the songwriting now brings a whole new sense of accomplishment to the chaos.
Clearly, they’ve earned their sunglasses.
Tags: Boston, Curve of the Earth Records, Massachusetts, Roadsaw, Small Stone