It was the second night of Graveyard and The Shrine‘s US tour and something of a victory lap for the Swedish forerunners of retro heavy, whose 2012 offering, Lights Out (review here), greatly expanded the soulful side of the band’s approach without — if the crowd assembled at Underground Arts in Philadelphia was anything to go by — alienating their fanbase or falling prey to accusations of going soft or betraying expectation. Lights Out is plenty raucous, as the Gothenburg foursome demonstrated once they took the stage, and the band showed why their reception has been so welcome over the last several years of crossover underground success. Because they rock, that’s why.
I arrived at Underground Arts absurdly early, parked outside and waited for the 9PM doors to open. I know people in Philly. I’m not a complete stranger in the town, and I say this not to tout social connections like I’m not some fucking misanthrope who spends his whole life in front of a keyboard, but just to point out that I had options I could’ve probably exercised instead of, say, sitting for 90 minutes and staring at my phone, obsessively lurking on the forum or reading hard-hitting speculation about the Yankees’ prospects this coming season. I could’ve called somebody and gotten out of my car. It could’ve happened. But on the other hand, it was like 10 degrees out. Cold leads to immobility.
I was downstairs — because here’s a shocker: Underground Arts is actually technically a basement venue despite being able to hold 1,000 people — before the doors opened and waited around with the other early-types, who were right to wonder why no one was being let in to drink even as the DJ had already begun to spin ’70s obscurities from heavy lore. As usual, the issue was dropped once they started letting everyone through and soon, soon enough, Venice Beach retro punkers The Shrine appeared to run smiling through a set of their heavied-up no-frills jams. They pretty clearly dig what they do, and I like to watch that, even if their sound is more suited to an empty pool in SoCal summertime than Philly in January.
The bulk of what they played I recognized from their 2012 Tee Pee debut, Primitive Blast (review here), and I’d seen the trio before opening for Honkyand Fu Manchu in NYC, so I had some vague idea of what to expect, but it’s always different seeing a band after you’ve heard the album, and where so much of my impression of The Shrine had been toward the skate-punk end — perhaps because that aesthetic factors so highly in their presentation; both guitarist/vocalist Josh Landau and drummer Jeff Murray wore shirts bearing the logo of Thrasher magazine — I guess I’d forgotten how thick their sound actually was. Landau shredded through his Marshall, true enough, but it was , bassist Courtland Murphy‘s Sunn providing the foundation on which the songs rested.
And as quick as I was to relate Primitive Blast to Black Flag – not inappropriately, in the case of some of the material — their sound live was actually much fuller and less raw than their grainy video for “Whistlings of Death” would lead one to assume. Album opener “Zipper Tripper” and closer “Deep River (Livin’ to Die)” were memorable highlights, though The Shrine moved quickly enough that they probably could’ve played everything off the record had they so desired (and if they didn’t). As I said above, it was the second night of the tour, so front to back there were aspects of the show’s operation that will probably be tighter in a couple more nights, but The Shrine‘s set delivered more than I could ask for and more than anything else gave me the impression that their real potential isn’t to capture the essence of early ’80s hardcore punk — all but impossible — but to grow into something new and individual based off that, similar to how Graveyard and a (very select) few others have been able to do with ’70s heavy rock. I look forward to seeing how it works out.
I’d chosen to hit Philly for the show instead of Manhattan of Brooklyn for two reasons: The crowd at Bowery Ballroom when Graveyard came through just over a year ago with Radio Moscow (review here) and fond memories of Underground Arts from seeing The Company Band there over the summer (review here). I won’t have been at either New York show to know for sure whether or not I made the right choice, but my inclination as Graveyard hit the stage at 11PM and blasted through 90 minutes of blues rocking supremacy was that the extra road time was justified.
Actually, maybe “blasted” isn’t the right word, because where after 2011′s Hisingen Blues (review here), they’d amassed a short catalog of mostly blistering classic rockers, the songs almost terminally upbeat and jagged in their Zeppelin crotchal thrust, Lights Out is simply a more diverse album atmospherically, with subdued, building numbers like “Slow Motion Countdown” and “Hard Times Lovin’” — both of which were played in Philly — to complement the rush of a song like “Seven Seven” or “Goliath.” Their 2008 self-titled had some of that moodier edge, and Hisingen Blues did as well on “Uncomfortably Numb,” which they also played, but its most resonant moments were the testimony of “Ain’t Fit to Live Here” or the title-track, drummer Axel Sjöberg challenging the rest of the band to keep up with him and guitarist/vocalist Joakim Nilsson — and his throaty falsetto — rising to the occasion.
With the siren that launches the album as their intro, they opened with “An Industry of Murder” from Lights Out, and if nothing else, it was clear that everybody had heard the record. That would prove to be the case throughout the 15-song setlist (it was numbered), which covered all three of their albums. Wider distribution for the last two through Nuclear Blast, the momentum of touring and growing repute are doubtless the cause of that. I’ll freely admit to not getting on board with what they were doing until the second record, despite having heard the first, but either way, they made the most of it on stage. Guitarist Jonathan Ramm had several instances of blowing out his Orange head — Landau‘s Marshall was brought in as a replacement and sounded fine, but they tried again with the Orange and met with similar results further into the set — and that derailed the initial push of “An Industry of Murder” into “Hisingen Blues,” which, since it was followed by Lights Out‘s fastest track, “Seven Seven,” clearly wasn’t where they wanted the break to take place.
Still, these things can’t be helped sometimes. Nilsson, Sjöberg and bassist filling in for Rikard Edlund jammed out for a bit while Ramm and the stage crew tried to sort out his amp situation, and before long, “Seven Seven” revived the energy of the set and carried into the downshift of “Slow Motion Countdown.” I thought this was an especially bold inclusion, since so much of what makes that song such a high point of Lights Out is the Rhodes, mellotron and piano added to the guitars, bass and drums, but Graveyard made it work, and where Nilsson had seemed rushed in “Hisingen Blues,” the slower tempo allowed him to work his voice more, much to the song’s benefit. It made a solid lead-in for “Ain’t Fit to Live Here,” “Buying Truth (Tack & Förlåt)” and “Uncomfortably Numb,” a trio from Hisingen Blues beginning with the opener that were each more welcomed than the last. They dipped back to the self-titled for “As the Years Pass by, the Hours Bend” and returned to Lights Out for “The Suits, the Law and the Uniforms,” which was rough — though lent extra presence by the bassline — but still grooving and “Hard Times Lovin’,” which Nilsson introduced as, “the most beautiful love song you’ve ever heard.”
I stood directly in front, just about in the middle, and the press of the crowd behind me was such that I’d have a line of bruise across my thighs from being pushed into the stage. This was enough at several points to make me think maybe I should head into the back and watch the remainder of the set from a more comfortable vantage, but to Graveyard‘s credit, they kept me where I was the whole time. “Hard Times Lovin’” turned out to be a highlight of the night, followed by “Thin Line” and “Goliath” (yes, those leads killed) to close out the regular set. After a couple minutes and some fervent chanting from the crowd, the band reemerged from backstage and hit into Hisingen Blues closer, “The Siren.”
The place went off. I continued to get pushed forward with nowhere to go. So what did I do? Motherfucker, I leaned back, trustfall-style. Among the few benefits of being a gentleman of such ample proportion is the knowledge that, if I want to go backwards, I’m going. That eased the pressure some and all was fine till some beardo decided it was time to stagedive, jumped up from the side and took my head with him on his way to the floor. After being summarily punched by his body, he caught my sweatshirt — and considerably more painfully, my hair — with him and then all of a sudden I was crouched over, caught and moving one way without really any choice in the matter. “The Siren” seemed 20 minutes long. Eventually whatever part of that dude was attached to my already-thinning-and-not-at-all-needing-to-be-ripped-out hair was unattached and he went on his way. It was… not boring.
He wasn’t the last, but thankfully everyone else was either tiny or going the other way or both. “Endless Night” from Lights Out and “Evil Ways” from the self-titled followed as a closing duo, the latter with an excellent jam included, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by the end of this tour Graveyard are closing with “The Siren.” That got the biggest response and seemed the most fitting, with the “Tonight a demon came into my head/And tried to choke me in my sleep” chorus igniting even more of a singalong than had the rest of their cuts.
Whatever they do or don’t do with the order though, it was a quality set, 90 solid minutes that wrapped at 12:30AM and sent me back into the cold night for a two-hour ride home that I made shorter the best way I know how — by speeding. I guess Graveyard will have that effect on you.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Tags: Graveyard, Graveyard Lights Out, Lights Out, Nuclear Blast, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Sweden, The Shrine, The Shrine Primitive Blast, Underground Arts