Live Review: Gozu, The Humanoids, Whitey and Hey Zeus in Boston, 01.26.13

Foremost, it was cold. I don’t know what part of the world you live in, but here on the US East Coast, we got slammed last week with temperatures that ranged on the wrong side of zero degrees fahrenheit, and even walking into the dark bar O’Brien’s in Allston, I could feel the wind through my shoes. My jacket, shirt, etc. weren’t even a consideration. But for public courtesy, they might as well have not been there. It was so cold the wind cut through my shoes. Welcome to Boston, Mass.

The Patient Mrs. and I were in town for the night and into Sunday to look at residences, and as I’d seen earlier in the week that Gozu had a gig booked, I decided to hit it up and also get the chance to check out another local venue. If I’m gonna live there, I might as well get to know the spots where shows are, and I know O’Brien’s has had many in the past just from reading lists of tour dates, so even with the unreasonable temperatures and did-someone-just-cut-my-face wind, the rock and roll must get through.

I knew little about Hey Zeus and nothing about Whitey or The Humanoids, but fortunately ran into Black Pyramid/Blackwolfgoat guitarist and all-around super dude Darryl Shepard, who was kind enough to act as my sort of tour guide for the night’s bill, pointing out guitarist Pete Knipfing and drummer Todd Bowman from Hey Zeus, both formerly of Lamont whom I’ve been subjecting to some posthumous appreciation (see here and here), vocalist Bice Nathan and bassist Ken Cmar, who ran the label Wonderdrug Records and with it released records by the likes of Tree, Roadsaw and Scissorfight, among others. Cmar reportedly hadn’t been on a stage in two decades and it was Hey Zeus‘ live debut, but they basically killed it with an opening set of that Small Stone-style rock that Boston seems to have at a permanent bleed. Straightforward, heavy, dangerous and even if you’ve heard it a thousand times before, somehow fresh.

Knipfing added vocals here and there, and he, Bowman and Cmar were tight behind the Nathan, who periodically picked up a drum stick to smash one of Bowman‘s cymbals or bang on a cowbell. The songs were familiar but engaging and if this was a first-show type of performance, these guys are going to be lethal once they really get going. Before they played, I thought it was cool to see their premiere gig, as kind of a curiosity. By the time they were finished, it felt much more like an event, and though I didn’t know anything about Whitey or The Humanoids, I knew immediately they had a hard act to follow.

The place was fairly packed out for Hey Zeus as well. O’Brien’s isn’t big, and the stage rests on an angle — it reminded me of like a smaller mirrored version of Jersey’s Brighton Bar, with a lower ceiling and a lower stage (a good thing, lest someone bump their head) — but even in a bigger room, the crowd would’ve been considerable, and though people came and went as the night wore on, Whitey still had enough people watching for vocalist/guitarist Randy to toss out a couple snide comments between songs about the sold out show they were playing. Shepard had described them to me before they went on as bluesier, but still heavy, rock, and he was dead on. Double-slide guitar made more than one appearance and there was an healthy dose of down-home rocking to what they did, drummer Kyle Rasmussen (also of Phantom Glue) punctuating as shades of grown-up punk and rockabilly worked their way in as well.

Hightlights “Rainy and Wendy” and “Straight A’s” made me interested in hearing how they might sound on a studio version — Whitey have four records up on their Bandcamp — and though they weren’t as riotous on stage as was Hey Zeus, they were still fun to watch and made a solid setup for The Humanoids, who followed. They were, by Darryl‘s much-appreciated estimation and subsequently my own, more metal. They had the vests to prove it, and I was foretold of a Manowar cover of “Black Wind, Fire and Steel” that the double-guitar four-piece sometimes used for a set closer. They’d almost have to. What else could you possibly play after that?

Power metal was a factor for sure, but there was a gritty side to The Humanoids as well, fitting for their garage-punk moniker. The crowd at O’Brien’s ate it up, and with good reason. From their upright posture to their pumping fists to three-part vocals to the classic riffing, The Humanoids‘ metal-infused-rock was battle ready against poseurs and all that was non-metal or at least non-metal and in a close enough proximity to bother anybody. They were fun and they were clearly having fun with their sound, but as in the best of cases, the musicianship backed them up and kept them from seeming clownish.

They did in fact close with “Black Wind, Fire and Steel,” and sure enough they just about nailed it. I knew I was in good hands from the time I saw the Lock up the Wolves patch on back of the bassist’s vest and the drummer’s Bible of the Devil t-shirt, and The Humanoids lived up to those lofty ideals. Gozu was setting up and it was getting late, but I knew I wasn’t going anywhere until they were done. Their The Fury of a Patient Man record was still about as fresh in my head as could be, having just reviewed it two days earlier, and I grabbed a water from the end of the bar and waited for the four-piece to get going.

It hadn’t been that long since the Small Stone showcase at Radio in Somerville, so I’d had a recent enough memory of Gozu live to work from in knowing what to expect. Bassist Joe Grotto (brother and Motherboar bandmate to Mad Oak Studios‘ producer Benny Grotto) seemed more comfortable in his role than the last time out, and drummer Barry Spillberg challenging the rest of the band — Grotto, vocalist/guitarist Marc Gaffney and guitarist/backing vocalist Doug Sherman – to keep up with him as he blasted through “Charles Bronson Pinchot.” That was just one of the cuts off the new album that received a welcome showing, “Ghost Wipe” being another high point.

I guess the difference seeing Gozu this time was I was more familiar with the material so could enjoy it more. They hit up “Meat Charger” and “Meth Cowboy” from 2010 debut Locust Season (review here) and for an otherwise unremarkable Saturday night — that is, it wasn’t a showcase or a fest or anything other than a regular, albeit pretty good, show — they tore through it. At one point, Grotto blew out his head, but another was brought out on the quick and that was really the only hiccup Gozu had. The rest of the time, they spent dealing out riff after riff, Gaffney belting out the verses and even getting a little booty-shake in here and there while Sherman‘s high-hoisted guitar left him room for thrashing out and walking back and forth on the stage, picking up, it seemed, the gauntlet Spillberg was throwing down.

You don’t often see a band who are actually on the same side challenging each other like that. It was exciting, and Spillberg was as expressive in his drumming as he was precise, so all the better. I was beat when they were finished — it had been a pretty long day and there was still another to come behind it — but Gozu‘s set still felt short, which I take as a good sign. They’re an act I’m hoping to see much more often following this move (which unless a piano falls on me or The Patient Mrs. is going to happen sometime before the fall), and I think once more people get a handle on The Fury of a Patient Man, I won’t be the only one. I certainly wasn’t the only one into them at O’Brien’s, as they seemed to sum up elements from each of the prior three bands while appealing to anyone who might’ve been there to see someone earlier and stuck around. Even knowing what I was getting, I was impressed.

Gaffney had apparently been sick, not that you could tell in his vocals, so I wished him well and said goodnight to Shepard and others and made my way out of O’Brien’s and back to the hotel where The Patient Mrs. and I were staying. The wind still whip-snapped at us as we crossed the street to the car and I was glad to finally crash out when I did, but the show had been the right choice, no question. Looking forward to many more.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Hey Zeus

Whitey

The Humanoids

Gozu

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