Somewhere along the line I got the silly idea that it would be an early show. Wednesday night at the Saint Vitus bar in Brooklyn, Wino & Conny Ochs, with Sean Ragon from Cult of Youth and Kevin Hufnagel from Dysrhythmia opening — three acts, I figured an 8:30 start, Wino/Ochs on around 10, and then call it a night, everybody gets up and goes to work the next morning. Since I mentioned it, it’s probably fairly obvious that’s not the way it worked out, but since I’m still alive to mention it in the first place, also fairly obvious that I lived to tell the tale.
The tale? Pretty familiar by now, I expect. Traffic, more traffic, Brooklyn. Dark room, Vitus brew, Earthride over the P.A. I hadn’t been to the Saint Vitus bar in a couple weeks, but I’ll be back there come Monday for Eggnogg, so it was what it was. After catching them at Roadburn in April, I knew what to expect from Wino & Conny Ochs, but that did nothing to lessen my excitement at the prospect of seeing them again. As previously reported, there’s new material to be heard.
And being long since familiar with Dysrhythmia‘s ultra-tech approach, I was interested as well to see how guitarist Kevin Hufnagel fared in a solo context. Apparently he’s done noise-type solo work before, but this set was more stripped down; just him on stage with a couple pedals and what I’m fairly certain was a baritone ukulele that he ran through them. A little delay here, a little looping there, and through it all, a current of blinding finger-picking. Dysrhythmia have never wanted on the level of technical proficiency, but in this sphere, even the scales and on-a-dime turns had a natural feel.
Playing seated and rocking back and forth, Hufnagel impressed though, and not just in technique. One rarely thinks of a ukulele as a tool of atmospherics, but as he stuck an emery board between the strings to add a fuzzy sound to the finish of his set, he’d conveyed a richer sense of mood than the string resonance of his instrument might immediately indicate. He was followed not promptly by Sean Ragon, who seemed dead set on not starting until he got some reverb on his vocals that I don’t think ever came, but nonetheless unleashed a burst of post-Joe Strummer acoustic aggression once he got going.
It wasn’t as drastic a change as if Dying Fetus went on after Hufnagel or something like that, but the vibe was notably different, and not being familiar with Ragon‘s work in Cult of Youth or out of it, I didn’t know what to expect from his set. The crowd — incrementally making its way from the back room to the front — was more into it than I was. Ragon had his thing on lockdown, but my head was in another space entirely, so I extricated myself to the front barroom and enjoyed the second of the evening’s standard three beers. There was a growing host of familiar faces, and had I not been rank, I might have doled out some quality fat-guy hugs, but I worried about offending both myself and others.
Just as I was dealing with that and about halfway through my beer, Ragon came out from the back room. He wasn’t bolting exactly, but clearly a man walking with purpose. I guess Kevin Hufnagel had the long set and he had the short one, or maybe that’s his thing — play loud, fast, angry acoustic songs for 15-20 minutes and then split off the stage like you broke it. A pretty respectable ethic, to be honest. It’d still be another 45 minutes or so before Wino & Conny Ochs went on just past 11PM, but the Saint Vitus bar offers no shortage of other entertainments. I already mentioned Earthride on the P.A., and after that, it was Hour of 13.
Word had been shooting around the venue as well that both Scott “Wino” Weinrich and Ochs had gotten tour tattoos in the basement earlier in the night. I didn’t even know that was a thing, though I guess it makes sense. Within the first 30 seconds of their set, it was readily apparent that these two dudes were super-tight, musically and personally. In April, they’d filled the old church Het Patronaat with righteous bluesy harmonies, and they did the same for Saint Vitus bar’s unrepentant dinge, opening with “Somewhere Nowhere” and “Labour of Love” to cover beginning and finish of their debut collaboration, Heavy Kingdom right off the bat.
They’d already been on the road together for more than two weeks, so they played the set like it was a given, Ochs in a flowing white linen shirt that screamed “I get ladies” fairly loudly and Wino in a sleeves-gone black t with the word “heavy” on it, as if to emphasize the improbability of their pairing and the improbability that it would work as well as it does. Ochs had a bandage on his arm, Wino showed raw skin with that freshly-peeled look that’s always a marker of new ink. They played most of the Heavy Kingdom record — and at one point between songs, Wino named the two of them as a band called Heavy Kingdom; whether or not subsequent releases will come out under that name, I don’t know — and threw in a cover of Joy Division’s “Isolation,” which was spirited and well met in equal measure, and the title-track from Wino‘s solo acoustic debut, Adrift.
“Adrift” was a surprise, but a welcome one, and it sat well alongside Heavy Kingdom highlights like the swaggering “Dust” and “Dark Ravine.” New song “Crystal Madonna” was dark and quiet in comparison to much of the set, and seemed to be the dividing point between those who were sticking it out to the end of the show and those not, but if there was a shift in mood, it was hardly unprecedented in Wino & Conny Ochs‘ sound, and in any case, the Ochs-led “Here Comes the Siren” was even bleaker. I was glad for the chance to see that song in-person, though, and whether the duo release their next album under the Wino & Conny Ochs moniker or Heavy Kingdom, “Crystal Madonna” — she turned out to be plastic — that song is sure to be a standout. At the end of it, Wino said it was a true story.
No less true seemed the post-divorce balladry of “Old & Alone,” Weinrich‘s sneering vitriol and latent anger coming through as clearly as the fuzz he’d hooked up to his acoustic guitar for periodic solos, Ochs stomping his foot on a bass drum to keep effectively minimal time that nonetheless underscored a groove inherent in the songs. Following a short, on-stage break after their “last song,” they tore through “Manifesto” from Wino‘s 2011 split 7″ with Scott Kelly, topped it with a mostly a capella “Find the Cost of Freedom,” a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover that can also be found on their Heavy Kingdom-concurrent Labour of Love Latitudes session, and built the ending to a raucous rock finish with Ochs speeding up his guitar and drum stomp just to the brink of losing control before cutting it off.
I cut out on the quick, the prospect of an hour-plus post-midnight drive staring me down (that was before I accounted for construction on Rt. 3 in Jersey), but though the evening had its ups and downs, there were good people and good times had, and seeing Wino & Conny Ochs as firmly unified as they were — you might say they got tattoos together in the basement of the venue before playing (only the most sterile of environments will do) — bodes well for the prospect of a quick follow-up to Heavy Kingdom, and that’s something to look forward to, whenever it might arrive.
A couple extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.