The problem with reviewing a Fu Manchu show is picking highlights. “Uh, yeah, the best part was when Fu Manchu showed up and played. That kicked ass.” Review over.
With Ohio Sabbath devotees Electric Citizen and supporting and Boston’s own Gozu – who played with Fu Manchu their last time through as well, also at The Sinclair, if I’m not mistaken — as the opener, the evening promised a three-band bill with no filler. My first time at The Sinclair – getting to know venues has been both terrifying and exciting — it turned out to be a cool space. Pro shop. The location is all Harvarded-out. I laughed seeing a kid get on a college shuttle bus carrying a 30-pack of Keystone Light at the notion of “higher” education, but restaurants and bars and whatnot line kind of a side-street near the same square where one finds Armageddon Shop. You go up stairs outside to enter and a couple more to step up to the stage area. There’s a balcony in back that seemed like prime real estate, and the stage, high, well-lit, boasted solid sound even up front. It was a cool place to see a show, and a cool show to see. I felt like I’d won just by virtue of being there.
Of course, that feeling only amplified once Gozu went on. Back less than a month from a European tour that took them from Roadburn, where they destroyed, to Desertfest Berlin, they were still in excellent form, and while it was early, they got a hero’s welcome from the local types present as they ran through a well-oiled set that included the regulars “Irish Dart Fight” and the always-appreciated “Jan-Michael Vincent,” as well as the Locust Season closer “Alone” to round out. That song, slower, longer, distinct from a lot of Gozu‘s other material, seemed to show particularly how much fun bassist Joe Grotto and drummer Mike Hubbard are apparently having in the rhythm section. Their styles are well-suited to each other, Hubbard‘s seemingly inherent swing a vast departure from former drummer Barry Spillberg (Wargasm)’s metallized precision. Grotto rides those grooves well, and as Gozu are probably the band I’ve seen most since moving to the area last year, I’ve dug being able to watch that dynamic develop.
It wasn’t a particularly long set, but it was precise, and guitarists Marc Gaffney and Doug Sherman offered crunch tones and shredded leads to start the night off right. It was Tuesday — as one ultra-clever showgoer near the front would tell Scott Hill later, it was “Fu-Manchuesday” — so I don’t know how many people were in it for a party to start out, but Gozu laid the foundation for one anyway and their tightness gave Electric Citizen a heavy lead-in. The Ohio foursome had a different vibe, and after checking out their debut EP last year and their newer Light Years Beyond 7″ released for this tour ahead of their first long-player, Sateen, which is due in July, I was curious to see how their retro mindset would play out on stage. There aren’t a lot of bands in the States — at least not nearly as many as seem to be floating around Europe these days — who’ve picked up on what the likes of Graveyard have done to revitalize ’70s heavy. The model is less firmly planted here. I wondered how that might affect Electric Citizen‘s delivery.
In short, it didn’t. I guess between acts like Blood Ceremony, Blues Pills, Jex Thoth, etc., there’s enough for a new band like the Cincinnati troupe to match with their own creative whims in terms of aesthetic. If there was any continuity from Gozu, it was in drummer Nate Wagner‘s swagger and swing, though Electric Citizen put it to more boogie-fied use. On stage, they came across as even more Sabbathian than their recorded material, to the point that I was somewhat surprised to see guitarist Ross Dolan playing through Oranges instead of Laneys, but he got his point across anyway. His leads seemed to do that Iommic double-layer effect, though of course he was only playing once, and well-fringed vocalist Laura Dolan carried the rush-grooves with more than capable melodicism. A more subdued presence, bassist Nick Vogelpohl was the anchor around which the rest of the band boiled, and in addition to “Shallow Water” from the new album, they made a highlight out of the single “Light Years Beyond,” ending their set with its memorable bounce and stomp. The vibe was a bit rawer without the organ that accompanies their recorded output, but Electric Citizen made plenty of new friends anyway.
And, well, Fu Manchu, right? I mean, if you know the band, you know what you’re going to get. For two decades, they’ve been among the top ranks of fuzz purveyors, beaming in riffs from the cosmos to vibe out earthlings everywhere. Their new one, Gigantoid (review here), was the occasion, but as with any band that has such a backlog of killer material, it was really just an all-around celebration of what they do. Highlights? Yeah, there were some. I’ll never, ever, complain about hearing “Boogie Van” live, or “Evil Eye” from 1997’s The Action is Go, or anything from 1996’s In Search Of…, from which “The Falcon Has Landed” and “Regal Begal” were aired, but seriously, it was Fu Manchu. Whatever they wanted to play, they’ve got more than enough to fill a set. Dudes up front kept yelling for “Hotdoggin'” from 2000’s King of the Road — guitarist/vocalist Scott Hill finally had to address it: “We’re probably not gonna play ‘Hotdoggin’,’ that’s right, I’m the asshole” — but who was about to argue with “Weird Beard” or “Hell on Wheels?” Nobody, if the crowd-surfing and moshing were anything to go by. Further proof that picking tunes for the set is best left to the professionals.
That said, there were a couple requests honored as the Fu tore through their planned set. “Weird Beard” was one, and “Superbird” from the band’s 1994 debut, No One Rides for Free (recently reissued on vinyl; review here), was another, and they broke it out like it was nothing. “Oh yeah, here’s a 20-year-old song that we had no intention of playing, watch us completely nail it.” So, playing in front of a backdrop of the Keiron Copper cover art and Peder Bergstrand logo for Gigantoid the band did leave a bit of room before closing out with “King of the Road,” leaving stage and coming back for an encore of “Saturn III” from The Action is Go, the song seeming in context like a jammy precursor to the new album’s finale, “The Last Question,” guitarist Bob Balch swirling out effects while Brad Davis and Scott Reeder held down the groove and Hill headbanged like a man with stock in Advil. They didn’t play “The Last Question” — no need to double up on the jam — but “Invaders on My Back,” “Dimension Shifter,” “Triplanetary” and “Anxiety Reducer” represented the new album well. I’d been hoping for “Radio Source Sagittarius,” but again, there’s that issue of there simply being too much Fu Manchu for one show. They should do two nights in every city they play.
Vinyl for Gigantoid, which the band has released on their own At the Dojo Records label, is reportedly forthcoming, though they had No One Rides for Free at the merch table. I bought a CD of the new record and made my way back out into a chilly spring night to walk down the block to where I parked. It wasn’t too long before I cracked open that copy of Gigantoid and put it on, either. Some bands, you just can’t get enough.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.