Front to Back: The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 in Worcester, MA, 05.04.14

You learn the same lessons over and over at a festival. Being ibuprofen. Hydrate. If you’re going to be somewhere all day, know the spots to stand, to lean, to sit if you’re lucky, and if you want to sit early, do it for an investment in standing later. No one wants to bum out while the headliner’s on and the days are long. You do these things because it’s what you love to do. You’re not young anymore, you get tired. Your head aches. Your back aches. You smell. You’re in people’s way when you stand up front. Minimize that if you can. Be mobile. Enjoy yourself. This is where life gets good, after all.

There are cavernous potholes in the unpaved parking lot of Ralph’s Rock Diner. I kicked up dust even at crawling speed to park for Day Two of the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, making sure I was plenty early to catch Skrogg lead off a day that also included Geezer, Foghound, Clamfight, Rozamov, Ichabod, Volume IV, Curse the Son, The Scimitar and Order of the Owl. Had enough time to sit at the counter in the dining car, watch a little bit of the original Star Trek on the tv there and have a cup of coffee, which I was warned against ordering from one of the guys who wasn’t working that day for fear of being yelled at. I’d have to laugh at someone getting pissed at a patron ordering coffee in what claims to be a diner, but I’m glad to have avoided the issue altogether. Two bucks and about 15 minutes later and I was back upstairs and dug in for the start of the show.

A Sunday vibe is different from a Saturday vibe. You know this. Plague of hangovers, plus Monday’s looming threat of the return to real life — these things bleed in, even if subconsciously. Eye of the Stoned Goat came prepared for such an eventuality:

Skrogg

New Hampshire heavy-toned rockers Skrogg were a hair-of-the-dog start to Day Two and they knew it. The ink is barely dry on their later-2013 outing, Blooze (review here), but they’ve got a follow-up in the works called Done a Bad, Bad Thing and they aired the single “Wheels, Women and Whiskey” from that, as well as a slower, wah-loaded jam that would provide the prevailing impression of their set in laid back, weeded-out evil-woman boozer blues grit. If I hadn’t actually heard guitarist/vocalist Jeff Maxfield speak in the same voice with which he sings, I’d likely swear up and down his “whiskey-soaked” vocals were an affectation, but no, that’s how he sounds, and with the chemistry between him, bassist Jason Lawrence and drummer Felix Starr – who traded out the house kit in favor of his own, much larger set — what struck me most about Skrogg was how well they jammed. Last time I saw them, at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in 2012, they didn’t come across nearly as comfortable on stage. They were supporting their Raw Heat demo/EP (review here) then, so obviously the intervening two years haven’t been misspent on their part. I wondered what they’d do with more time to maybe elongate their songs and really stretch out and improvise. In hindsight, Blooze had some of that going in “Born to Blooze.” Hopefully they keep developing that side with their new one.

Geezer

If Skrogg were the first shot of the day, Geezer were a fitting chaser. The New York trio were jamming before they even started. Their soundcheck was a jam, and a good one. They opened with “Ghost Rider Solar Plexus,” and between that and “Ancient Song,” also from the 2013 Gage EP (review here) which has a vinyl issue impending on STB Records, they offered a support lesson in the importance of chemistry for a three-piece to work. Guitarist/vocalist Pat Harrington gets a lot of the attention in the band, between his Electric Beard of Doom podcast, gravelly voice and accompanying facial hair, but bassist Freddy Villano and drummer Chris Turco carried the psych-blues jams on which Harrington spaced out, and it was a classic dynamic made that much stronger by how well particularly Harrington and Villano know each other on stage, having played together for some time in Gaggle of Cocks in addition to developing Geezer‘s bluesier take over the last couple years. One of just two acts alongside Lord Fowl to carry over from 2013’s Eye of the Stoned Goat 3 in Brooklyn, Geezer rounded out with “Pony” from 2013’s Electrically Recorded Handmade Heavy Blues debut full-length and drew the early crowd in like moths to a lightbulb with the song’s quirky stoner bounce and nod-ready groove. Easy to dig these guys, and they’ve only gotten better the couple times I’ve seen them. If ESG needed a house band, they’d be a good bet.

Foghound

The second appearance in two days for Sixty Watt Shaman drummer Chuck Dukehart III, Foghound were a much different band. I don’t know if they planned their set to highlight the fact that all four members — Dukehart, guitarists Dee Settar and Bob Sipes, bassist Geoffrey Freeman IV – also contribute vocals, but it worked out that way and it was a major distinguishing factor not only between Foghound and Sixty Watt — who of course had a completely different presence anyway with one guitar and a standalone frontman who only sometimes added guitar — but between Foghound and the vast majority of the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 bill. And not only did everyone sing, but they all could. Foghound‘s late-2013 Quick, Dirty and High debut CD (review here) boasted the same elements, but of course it’s different seeing it play out on stage. Underlying that was a swing that was among the weekend’s finest as Foghound pulled more toward the heavy rock end from Day Two’s bluesy beginning, the standout “Resurrect the Throwaways” from the album reminding of Foghound‘s potential to land a hook when they need to and the new song “Truth Revealed” finding Dukehart taking the lead vocal on drums for yet another driving groove. They seem to be getting their approach together quickly, and as impressive as they already were, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Foghound even more solidified when next I’m fortunate enough to see them play.

Clamfight

Like the marauding bastards they are, Clamfight rolled into Ralph’s, set up, destroyed the place, and were gone. I’m obviously biased as regards the double-guitar foursome split between Jersey and Philly, but if the day had a quota of thrash, Clamfight met it head on and then some, kicking out “Sand Riders,” “Age of Reptiles” and staple closer “Stealing the Ghost Horse” from 2013’s Maple Forum release, I vs. the Glacier in addition to “Block Ship” and a new song called “Selkie” (or was that “Selfie?”) that will reportedly be on their next album. Perhaps the highlight of their whole set was watching lead guitarist Sean McKee shred his was through solos in the intro to “Stealing the Ghost Horse,” but there’s some stiff competition in that regard. I’ve been watching Clamfight play for the better part of eight years now and they have never been so good. I mean it. They’ve become an absolutely devastating live act, and their brutal groove has become a signature that’s their own much more than derived from any influence. Between McKee and Joel Harris‘ guitars, Louis Koble‘s bass and Andy Martin thud ‘n’ roar on drums and vocals, Clamfight barely stopped to let Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 catch its breath before their next round of pummeling began. Unreasonably heavy — and immediate. Barely half an hour off I-95, they locked into “Sand Riders” and didn’t look back. I can’t wait to hear their new stuff recorded.

Rozamov


Five bands in, it was pretty easy to see fest-organizer Brendan Burns‘ logic in how Day Two of Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 was going to flow, from the blues-styled start to more rock-minded push and into heavier, more thrashing terrain. In that regard, Boston’s Rozamov would take the evening to its most bludgeoning, darkest place. The trio of guitarist/vocalist Matt Iacovelli, bassist/vocalist Tom Corino and drummer Will Hendrix — who also earned my vote for best shirt of the weekend with his Maggot Brain tee — have some riff-minded aspects to what they do, but on the whole, their sound is much more rooted in the extreme. They were a step further into the abyss after Clamfight, impressively tight as a trio after scaling down from a four-piece since I saw them last fall (review here). Likewise, they seemed to have a fair amount of new material in tow, but “Famine” from last year’s Of Gods and Flesh EP was insistent and violent in kind, and no matter where the songs took them, Rozamov remained in control of their course, alternately blasting and bleeding out thickened and ferocious thrashing grooves, Iacovelli and Corino coming together periodically for dual screams that only added to the extremity at hand. I don’t know what their plans are for putting their new stuff together and getting it out, but they carried the songs across with such urgency that I had to stop and remind myself of how far the day had come since its start still just a short time before.

Ichabod

Mean, volatile and given to fits of utter sonic cruelty, Ichabod were nonetheless a pullback toward heavy rock from Rozamov‘s assault. Also native to Boston, the double-guitar five-piece were the band on the Stoned Goat bill I’d seen most recently, back in in late-March in Allston, but of course the setting and compulsion toward a half-hour set between Rozamov and Volume IV – not to mention the sound and lighting at Ralph’s, which, again, are among the finest I’ve found since moving to Massachusetts – gave this go a different context. Vocalist John Fadden, guitarists Dave Iverson and Jason Adam, bassist Greg Dellaria and drummer Phil MacKay have reportedly finished work on the follow-up to 2012’s Dreamscapes from Dead Space, titled Merrimack, and as last time, some new material was showed off prior to Dreamscapes cuts like “Baba Yaga” — introduced as a “stoner rock song” — and “Hollow God,” which seems to take a similar angst-fueled approach to Boston’s Irish Catholicism that a lot of Southeast heavy takes to the Southern Baptist Church, Fadden‘s screams proving particularly visceral on the lines “Your god is irrelevant,” driving home a passionate if somewhat familiar argument, reminding of just how devastated the cultural landscape of this region has been by corruption in its religious institutions. That’s the kind of thing one might think of seeing the band twice in little more than a month, but the bulk of the room seemed more consumed with the general nastiness in Ichabod‘s sound. Justifiably so.

Volume IV

Building on the more rock side of Ichabod‘s sound, Atlanta natives Volume IV steered the fest back toward crisp, pro-grade heavy. A somewhat odd pairing in all but geography, they arrived at the Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 on tour with Order of the Owl having played in New York the night before, supporting their Ripple Music debut, Long in the Tooth (review/stream here). A solid, cohesive trio, and particularly interesting to watch after Sixty Watt Shaman in giving a modern look at how similar influences have developed in the time since the Day One headliners’ first run. Their being from Atlanta, it was tempting to try and read some measure of Mastodon influence into Volume IV‘s approach, but apart from some eye-squinting on the part of guitarist Joe Carpenter while he delivered his vocals, there was next to nothing in common. Both bands use guitars, if you want to reach that far. Songs were straightforward in their structure and well executed, and whether it was the chug of “Awake the Dreamer” or the ZZ Top-style motoring of “Locust Have No King,” they made a more effective presentation than I had expected. Set closer “Iron Fist” would be the first of two Motörhead covers for the evening, and Volume IV Carpenter, bassist/vocalist Blake Parris and drummer Troy King — took one of classic metal’s most recognizable hooks and made it their own much the same way they added an individual sense to Southern heavy in the material from Long in the Tooth. I was into the record well enough, but they were better live without question.

Curse the Son

In a word: Tone. Playing in front of two full-stacks topped with custom heads from Dunwich Amplifiers that glowed from inside through a clear front with the word “weed” etched on it, guitarist/vocalist Ron Vanacore of Hamden, Connecticut, trio Curse the Son had thickest guitar sound of the entire two-day festival. Order of the Owl would outdo them for volume, but in terms of the sheer viscosity of their sound — which, as Vanacore joked in reference to his amps, was “brought to you by the power of weed” — Curse the Son was an overdose of righteously engrossing fuzz. Bassist Richard “Cheech” Weeden made the sound even fatter, and with Mike Petrucci (also of Vestal Claret) bringing subtle touches of complexity to the drums, cuts like “Goodbye Henry Anslinger” and the particularly catchy “Spider Stole the Weed” were rolling-groove high points of the day, the “whoa”s in the chorus of the latter seeming to come in layers even though Vanacore was the only one with a mic. Their 2012 full-length, Psychache (review here) is set to come out on STB Records vinyl any day now, and while it was “Pulsotar Bringer” from 2011’s Klonopain (review here) that closed out the set, the nod was constant throughout the room in Ralph’s as Curse the Son built successive walls of distortion. They’re a pretty well-kept secret at this point, though with that LP version of Psychache coming, I can’t help but wonder how much longer that will be the case. Tetrahydrocannabinolic riff worship of the highest order, and since the last time I saw the band play on all their own gear was 2011, it seems I’m about due for a trip to New Haven.

The Scimitar

No doubt Boston will miss Gein‘s gallop. The bassist’s technique has been a key element in Black Pyramid‘s warmongering, in Second Grave‘s explorations of the melancholic and in The Scimitar‘s still-nascent branching off from Black Pyramid‘s roots, but Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 Day Two brought the second and final of his last shows. Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, who has said he’ll continue to make music in this vein under his own name after the release of The Scimitar‘s debut and likely only full-length, Doomsayer, noted it as The Scimitar‘s last gig with Gein “for a while,” and it’s true you never know what’ll happen, but Los Angeles is a long way from Ralph’s Rock Diner, so yeah, a while indeed. I noted that drummer Brian Banfield cut his hair since the last time I saw The Scimitar, which at least meant we didn’t look so much alike, but more of a focal point was how well The Scimitar carried across the songs from Doomsayer, “World Unreal,” “Babylon” and even the night’s second Motörhead cover, “Metropolis,” leading to the longer album-closer “Crucifer,” which seemed like it was going to be their last song until they added “Forever and Ever and Ever.” The show was running early, and they started early as well, so there was plenty of time to spare, and that hook was worth including one way or another, Gein as ever reliably riding a foundational groove in the low end. He’ll make a good SoCal surfer. There wasn’t any grand farewell or anything like that when The Scimitar were done — he has always had a calm, collected stage presence — but it was still no doubt an emotional set for the bassist, who again, will be missed around these parts.

Order of the Owl


Imagine volume as a weapon. You knew some serious noise was about to be doled out when Atlanta’s Order of the Owl loaded no fewer than six Orange cabinets onto the stage, but I don’t think even the actual sight of such things prepared the room at Ralph’s for what was coming. To see that many dollars’ worth of amps in a single band, you know the parties involved have made a life choice. There had been a few instances throughout the day when I could feel my earplugs vibrate in my head — during Clamfight, during Curse the Son – but Order of the Owl went further and just rendered them useless from the start. Feedback proved no less essential to the sound than the trio’s riffs and lumbering grooves, but basically, Order of the Owl came through as a wash of noise. Bassist/vocalist Brent Anderson, formerly of Zoroaster, brought some of his ethic (not to mention his posture as he bent way over to the low microphone) from that band to this one, but with guitarist Casey Yarbrough and drummer Joe Sweat, Order of the Owl had a personality of their own carved from the massive tones emanating from that impressive backline. To Sweat‘s credit, the drums cut through, which Anderson‘s vocals didn’t — even a place with decent sound like Ralph’s can only put so much power into the P.A. before the lights shut off — and even in the back of the room was consumed by the overload. I couldn’t tell you what they played, but clearly the intent wasn’t so much to dazzle with individual songs or ideas so much as create a whole of such overwhelming push, and Anderson, Yarbrough and Sweat clearly had that working in their favor. Again, they seemed like a strange fit to hit the road with Volume IV, but they made a suitable closer for Eye of the Stoned Goat 4, giving the festival one final dose of ultra-heavy that nobody in their right mind would want to follow anyway. Their new album is probably finished being recorded at this point. One shutters to think of the devastation that awaits.

My ears were ringing fairly hard by the time I left Ralph’s. Sunday was an earlier night than Saturday had been anyway, and the last few bands had run short anyway, so it wasn’t yet midnight, but after running the full front-to-back of 20 bands over the two days, I’d hardly say I was up for more action than I got. The Masspike and news stories of Cinco de Mayo lime shortages carried me home and I’m not sure I’ve woken up since.

Thanks to Brendan Burns for his diligent efforts putting together The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4. Thanks as well to Derek and Jenn Bradshaw, Bill Kole, Ray Dickman, Jaki Cunha, Mark, everybody else who stuck it out for the weekend, and of course you for reading.

More pics after the jump.

Skrogg

Geezer

Foghound

Clamfight

Rozamov

Ichabod

Volume IV

Curse the Son

The Scimitar

Order of the Owl

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3 Responses to “Front to Back: The Eye of the Stoned Goat 4 in Worcester, MA, 05.04.14”

  1. Ron says:

    Thanks for all you do for “our” scene JJ. Would love to have you down to see us in CT at some point. Great to see you as well.

  2. John says:

    Every band that played this weekend kicked my ass from start to finish. My ears are still fuckin’ ringing!

  3. Tad says:

    I unfortunately could not make the festival, but a I would like to say thank you for the detailed review. I enjoyed reading it a lot.

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