You would probably need a filing cabinet to keep track of the various players who’ve been in and out of Negative Reaction over the band’s 20-plus years. The lone mainstay is guitarist/vocalist Ken-E Bones, who to my experience is a singular figure in or out of music. He’s someone I’m glad to consider a personal friend, a former collaborator, and a player whose passion and dedication make many considered giants seem small by comparison. It had been a while since I last caught the band — SHoD XII in Connecticut, to be precise — so though I had family obligations to account for, I nonetheless popped into Allston to catch them at O’Brien’s sharing a bill with locals The Lorde Humongous, Xatatax, Slow Mover and Automatic Death Pill. A very heavy evening, to be sure.
I happen to know Bones – who’s also embarked on a solo career over the last couple years playing outlaw country — is a Boston fan. A fan of the city, its hockey team, its people, and so on, so I expected he’d be in rare form and was pleased to find that was in fact the case. At one point in their set, he borrowed a Bruins hat from someone in front of the stage and wore it for a song, and the mood despite Negative Reaction‘s persistent downer sludge was light and positive. A good time, in other words. Since I last saw them, drummer Joe Wood (also Borgo Pass) departed and Dave Ash filled the role with what served as rarefied swing for someone whose roots seemed to be so firmly in metal. You wouldn’t know it because Negative Reaction‘s material is slower overall, but I’d be surprised if Ash wasn’t a Dave Lombardo fan, if not now then at some point in the past, but he carried the material over with personality that played well alongside Bones and bassist Jamie Jervis.
Jervis has been around for a while — at least since 2012 — and came in to replace Damon Limpy, who played on Negative Reaction‘s last full-length, 2011’s Frequencies from Montauk (review here). “Dopamine” from that record was a highlight, and demonstrated how well this trio played together, the chemistry set between Bones and Jervis and developing between the rhythm section of Jervis and Ash. The trio made short work of Negative Reaction mainstays like “Go Die” from 2008’s Tales from the Insomniac and “Sludge” from 2003’s Everything You Need for Galactic Battle Adventures, and while I’d been thinking maybe they’d have some new material to show off, Frequencies from Montauk opener “Day after Yesterday” and “Shattered Reflection” were welcome ways to spend their time and both “Sludge” and the lumbering riff of “Worthless Human,” which Bones announced as “another uplifting, feel-good song” or some such, got the crowd’s heads banging and fists pumping. Literally. I wouldn’t call O’Brien’s packed out or anything, but those who were there were up front and way into it. I’m pretty sure Bones could’ve kept that Bruins hat if he’d wanted.
Closing out was “Loathing” from 2006’s Under the Ancient Penalty, which the way I see it was the beginning point for a lot of Negative Reaction‘s direction on their two subsequent albums, introducing an interplay of cleaner vocals with Bones‘ trademark raspy scream and refining their focus from punked-up sludge abrasion to rolling-groove songwriting that’s not about to shy away from an unabashed hook. “Loathing” has one of the band’s best to-date, and after “Dopamine” — a spiritual successor and a song that makes sense as a subsequent development of similar ideas — and “Shattered Reflection,” it makes sense as a way to round out what had been a riotous and fun set. I’ve seen Bones jump through more than one drumkit in my time, but he was kinder to Ash‘s gear than that, though the noisy finish of “Loathing” did come with a bit of rolling around, guitar-meets-cranium bashing and feedback enough to fill the entirety of Boston’s quota for the evening, let alone that of the other bands on the bill.
Negative Reaction have been an underrated band for a long time. Part of that has to be their constant lineup shifts, but this latest incarnation of the three-piece reminded me of what’s always been most on their side, and that’s the unabashed passion of Bones and the absolute catharsis at the heart of their deep-toned sludgy grooves. I expect they’ll continue to be a well-kept secret — sludge for sludgers — but for a band that has existed for the better part of 24 years to come across as having potential says something about the continued vitality at work. Fingers crossed for new stuff soon.
A few more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.