Live Review: Gozu, Kings Destroy, Forming the Void and Test Meat in Boston, 03.01.19

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Someday the Middle East will be gone. The real estate is simply too valuable. Walking up to what’s one of Boston’s most celebrated venues, you can see the encroaching condos across the street looming over the restaurant, nightclub and huge Downstairs basement space like skeletal godzillae, hollow inside and just waiting for their alluring names to add to the faux-distinguished aesthetic. They will conquer, maul, consume and dismember ex-culture even as they celebrate the “spirit” of the place and little the street with green straws. This will be the story of Boston until the city drowns.

But while it’s still there, it’s all the more worth appreciating for its inevitably-fleeting nature, so I got off my ass and did that. Gozu headlining the Middle East UpstairsMidEastUp to the locals, which after six-plus years living in the area, I’m still not — as the second of three nights with New York’s Kings Destroy and Louisiana’s Forming the Void, plus Test Meat added as a fourth, Boston-based bookend opener.

The crowd was there early and stayed late and the vibe was a party all the way through. Here’s how it went down:

Test Meat

Test Meat (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Darryl Shepherd is nothing less than an institution. In the pantheon of New England heavy rock and roll, his decades of contributions in bands like Slapshot, Milligram, Roadsaw, Hackman, Blackwolfgoat, etc., are a CV that is a touchstone of the Boston underground. The man, in short, is a treasure, and rather than rest on his considerable laurels, he continues to move forward. Test Meat began as a trio and has pared down to the two-piece of Shepherd on guitar/vocals and Mike Nashawaty (ex-Planetoid) on drums. They played set up on opposite sides of the stage, both toward the front, and with Nashawaty‘s cannon-esque kick drum facing Shepherd head on. Shades of classic grunge were given a noise rock underpinning songs like “Brunt” and “Class,” the purposefully short songs digging intensely into the punk roots of Nirvana with some of Helmet‘s tonal crunch and penchant for starts and stops. Their 2018 7″, Please Hurt, was for sale alongside some winning-the-night stickers with their moniker presented in Testament‘s classic logo — it worked really well — and while those recordings were done as a trio with Aarne Victorine on bass, the inherent rawness of working as a duo suited the songs really well, and as they move forward, I’d have to wonder if they wouldn’t be best served playing off that spirit. Either way, they were a righteously barebones start to the night.

Forming the Void

Forming the Void (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Big riffs, big melodies, vocal harmonies playing out from guitarists on both sides of the stage while massive roll emanates from the drums and bass between them — Forming the Void are right there. Right on the edge of it. The material is strong, the performance is strong, and up to this point, they’ve built significant momentum in their favor, with both live shows and a steady stream of releases. Running through “Shrine,” “Arcane Mystic” and “On We Sail” from last year’s third album, Rift (review here), the four-piece showed clearly how much atmosphere they bring to their work, so that it’s about more than just tone or groove, and the mood they create feels as much purposeful as it is resonant. I don’t know another way to say it: This is really good band. They are on their way, and if they keep touring and tightening up their approach, watch out. They reportedly have studio time booked for their next album, which even though they’re signed to Ripple at this point and have worked quickly to get three records out in three years, feels fast, but they haven’t failed to progress yet, and their approach is only growing broader each time. This was my second time seeing Forming the Void. If you haven’t yet, that is a thing you should make efforts to rectify as soon as possible. They are right on the verge of becoming something really special, and the crowd at the Middle East knew it.

Kings Destroy

Kings Destroy (Photo by JJ Koczan)

What, am I gonna pretend to be impartial about Kings Destroy? Clearly not. Their fourth record, Fantasma Nera, comes out this week on Svart, and if you ever wanted to hear a band pour everything they have into a collection of songs, that’s what it sounds like. I’ll hold over-editorializing that thought until I review the album, but their oh-shit-we-just-hit-another-level feel was evident not only in the fact that they’ve changed their stage setup, but that all but one song — “Mr O.,” from their 2015 self-titled (review here) — were new. The uptempo “Barbarossa,” the title-track and “Seven Billion Drones” were highlights, that latter particularly given a harsher edge live than on the record, but it was fascinating to see Kings Destroy, who for nearly a decade have made on-stage confrontationalism such a huge part of their approach, function in a more restrained and controlled context. In some ways, Fantasma Nera is their most rock-based offering to-date, but it’s also the most undeniably their own, and though they were still getting used to presenting those songs live, watching them play, it was already clear that they’ve only become a richer and more complex band. Ending with the triumphant riff in “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse” didn’t hurt either. Again, I’m not going to feign critical distance from their work. I’m both a fan of the band and I consider them friends, so if you want to take this with that grain of salt, that’s fine. It’d only be your loss to miss them.

Gozu

Gozu (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Gozu have been the best heavy rock band in Boston for a while now, and it suits them. Whether it’s been their time on tour in Europe or playing bigger shows like their run on the Metal Alliance Tour in the States, they’ve of course branched out beyond Beantown’s confines, but when they play in town, they make it easy to root for the hometown squad. They always pull a good crowd, and this show was no exception, and they absolutely delivered. It had been a good night already. Three bands, all killer, each doing their own thing, but Gozu topped it all off beautifully. In impeccable command of the room, well familiar with the place and the stage and the sound and light or lack thereof. All of it. It was a band in their element. It has been too long since I last saw them, but their 2018 LP, Equilibrium (review here), stepped forward willfully from what they accomplished in 2016 with Revival (review here), and catching that material live was a total pleasure. Guitarist Doug Sherman called everyone to the front of the stage, and people came forward, and he, guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney, bassist Joe Grotto and new drummer Alex Fewell absolutely made it worth their trip. As midnight crept on and passed, there was no letup as Gozu underlined the absolute force they’ve become over the last decade-plus. They owned that room, and whatever might or might not become of the Middle East with condo-encroachment, on this night, Gozu capped an evening that showed a vitality that endures regardless of market prices.

Hood up, hat on, out the door into the cold. Down some poorly-shoveled sidewalk to the car. Home in an hour or so, no traffic. In bed about 10 minutes later and up four hours after that for a six-hour-in-the-snow drive to New Jersey to see three out of these four bands again in Brooklyn, but that’s a story for tomorrow.

Thanks for reading. More pics after the jump.

Test Meat

Forming the Void

Kings Destroy

Gozu

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One Response to “Live Review: Gozu, Kings Destroy, Forming the Void and Test Meat in Boston, 03.01.19”

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