According to the Google, that arbiter of all things directional, it’s about 26 hours by car from Lawton, Oklahoma, to Boston, Massachusetts. Twenty-seven if you take I-81. OK residents Grel and Oberon had been touring their way to the East Coast, playing in Lawton, in Kansas City, Chicago, Columbus and even another show in Western MA, and their run — dubbed the “Star Stuff” tour — would continue to Philadelphia and on to Richmond, Virginia where both play Stoner Hands of Doom XIII, their slots on that fest being the impetus behind the string of shows in the first place. Since I wasn’t going to be able to see them in Richmond, and since I dug Grel‘s 2012 EP, The Red Sun God (review here), what with their having come all that way, it seemed the least I could do to show up. So I did.
Local support at Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain — cool room, decently lit when they had the lights on, divided, bar in the middle, decent beer selection and a pug that showed up halfway through and was awesome to see until someone served it a Guinness; sorry, that shit’s not funny — came from Bion and Titanis, who opened and closed the gig respectively. It was a night of young acts. Not a full stack to be found. For a while there, I was the oldest person in the room not working at the bar, which is always a dubious distinction, and while each band showed they had growth in progress and still to undertake, it also wound up being a varied and enjoyable bill. Four single-word monikered bands with vastly different influences, starting with Bion.
It was easy enough to hear prog and extreme metal influences in Bion‘s set, guitarist/vocalist Charlie occasionally locked into a section of blackened squibblies en route to his next impressive solo. Both he and bassist Phil handled vocal duties, while drummer Jesse busted out shots of double-kick that served to presage some of what Oberon would shortly have on offer. Their lone EP to date, Hive Mind, is somewhat similarly minded in its will toward progressive heaviness, and I take it as an encouraging sign that the vocals sounded better live than they do on the studio recording. Bodes well for ambition to coincide with their stylistic intricacy. At one point, Phil said they only played one of the songs “for exercise.” They hardly seemed to break a sweat.
With the keyboard of vocalist Seth prominently displayed front and center on the stage, the five-piece Grel made an immediately different impression. A double-guitar outfit, they nonetheless rested heavily on the swing of their rhythm section, bassist Brandon and drummer Dustin, to convey the weight of their material, while six-stringers Ryan and Bentley seemed to come most to the fore with the Red Fang cover, “Prehistoric Dog.” Not unexpectedly. Elsewhere in their set, the Southern rocking EP opener, “Lady,” an engaging 12-bar blues that let Seth show off some surprising Midwestern classic rocker soul and “Astro Cannibalism” showcased a band who even as I was watching them were refining their approach. I’ve yet to tire of watching young bands do this, particularly those with enough belief in what they do to take it on the road. Grel were refreshing both in the reality of what they were playing and in the whole concept behind it. They’ll come off this tour a better band they they went on it, and I imagine they’ll be a riot by the time they hit Virginia on Saturday.
One might say the same for Oberon, but the application is somewhat different. Focused more on the instrumental side of their sound, with the catchiest song being “Phobos” from their thematically constructed Through Space We Ride EP, Oberon came across as more technical and progressive, and more metal in their influences certainly than Grel, but still far less tonally metallic than they presented on those recorded tracks. I got shades of Pelican in the early going, and though guitarist/vocalist DJ Bryant — joined in the band by guitarist Jeremy Wingard, bassist Adam Smith (not to be confused with the Adam Smith who plays in Ohio space rockers EYE) and drummer Logan Wood – had some technical trouble with his guitar and that derailed a bit of their momentum, they still found room to push through a reworking of Survivor‘s “Eye of the Tiger” that proved effective and managed to skirt the irony one might expect to encounter with such fare. A post-rock verse in the theme from Rocky III? Some Wednesday nights take you to unexpected places.
Oberon recovered from their technical troubles to finish strong, but unfortunately, Titanis wouldn’t be so lucky. The four-piece had made a mid-week weekender of playing in Northampton with Grel and Oberon the night before, but when guitarist Niko Galanis broke not one, but two strings within the first two songs and the band tried to keep moving with a Melvins cover with Galanis just on vocals alongside guitarist Brett Miller, bassist David Willoughby and drummer Pat O’Neill. That was going well enough until as he ran off stage to get a replacement guitar, Galanis caught on Willoughby‘s bass cable and tore it right out, breaking it off. Show over.
It was plenty late by then, after one in the morning. The word in my head for the circumstance of the night’s ending was “unceremonious,” but “unfortunate” works just as well. Titanis barely got to leave an impression. Like Oberon, they played mostly in the dark — for some reason, the first two bands had lights on and the last two didn’t — and before they could really get any momentum going, it was over. Maybe next time. My understanding was that the night before in Northampton had also been rough going. Hopefully not enough so to discourage Titanis from what seem to otherwise be worthy pursuits in their craft.
I ducked out on the quick. If you’d have told me that it would be 50 degrees at night in November in Boston, I probably would’ve told you to fuck off or at very least made some obnoxious Game of Thrones reference about southerners and how “winter is coming,” but the walk down the block to my car was barely brisk. I got in at about quarter to two and did my best to crash out right away, only to fail spectacularly. So it goes. A drag-ass Thursday well earned.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.