It was going to start early and I knew that, so I split out of the office a couple minutes after 5:30PM to get to The Grand Victory in time to catch openers Tarpit Boogie kick off the evening’s lineup, which also featured Infernal Overdrive, Black Thai and Mighty High. Even so, I was late. I rolled in around 8:15 for an 8PM start and managed to catch most of the NJ-based instrumental trio’s set for what I later confirmed was their first show.
Their tones and general ethic was pretty familiar to me, seeing as how bassist John Eager and guitarist George Pierro and I used to be in a band together, and though I thought it might be strange to watch them on stage playing different songs as Tarpit Boogie, actually, it was a reminder of what a fan I always was of their playing in the first place. Rounded out by drummer Chris Hawkins and reportedly in the process of hammering out material with a new vocalist, Tarpit Boogie set right to skirting the line between funkified stoner riffing and sludged-out slowdowns.
Of course, it being their first show, they were obviously getting a feel for their approach, but songs like “AmanaplanacanalpanamA” and “Hackman Caine Theory” showed the two sides at work in their sound, and the unpretentious heavy riffing went over well with those early assembled at The Grand Victory, myself included. All the bands on this bill were acts I’m pretty friendly with on a personal level, but getting to see the first Tarpit Boogie gig made the night even more special, and I was glad I made it in time to catch them. To hear them tell it later, it was a close call on their making it for the start of their set as well.
The whole night was slated to end early — I think The Grand Victory had a DJ coming in or something like that (which I don’t begrudge a club that puts on good shows; gotta make your money) — but as I had a drive to Massachusetts to make the next day, that was only a convenience from my angle. Infernal Overdrive, who’d also trekked in from Jersey, or Black Thai, come down from Boston, might have felt otherwise, but if they did, they didn’t show it. The two bands with very different takes on heavy rock were doing a weekender together, playing in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, the next night with Wasted Theory, and they both featured new material from forthcoming releases.
In the case of Infernal Overdrive, most of what they played was new, and while I recognized “Viking” for the several times I’ve seen it live now and “Duel” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sundebut (review here), a lot of the set was unfamiliar and moodier, taking some of the brazenness of the first record and making it more melodically complex and pulling back on some of the tempo. A four-piece on a small stage, they were tight in more than just how solid they sounded, but still made good use of their time in belting out tunes that they’ve obviously been busting their collective ass writing, and even though their set seemed short, they showed that the time since their first batch of songs made their way to the public hasn’t been misspent. Before they were through two songs, I was reminded of how much I’m looking forward to their next album.
Like their touring partners, Black Thai have only grown more stylistically diverse. The double-guitar foursome made their debut in 2010 with the Blood from on HighEP (review here), a potential-loaded five-songer from which only two of the total five songs played came, and while elsewhere the band — guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey (known for both his solo work and formerly of We’re all Gonna Die), guitarist Scott O’Dowd (also of Cortez), bassist Cory Cocomazzi and drummer Jeremy Hemond (also of Cortez and Roadsaw) — dug deep into riffy grooves and bluesy solos, it was the ultra-dark centerpiece of their setlist that stood out. Centered around what might easily have been a black metal progression if not for Healey‘s delivery, which, even at his shoutiest, retains a sense of melody, it was an immediate shift from everything I’ve heard to date from Black Thai and a genuine surprise.
The good news? It worked. They not only were able to execute the more extreme feel crisply and emphatically, but they tied it together with the rest of their material as well, which might have been even more impressive. Returning to the EP, they finished with “333,” which also closed Blood from on High, and went from a brooding tension to maddening swirl with an efficiency that betrayed the song’s actual tempo. For the unexpected elements at work, Black Thai were a thrill, but what made it even more enjoyable was to see how well they’ve come to work together in the last few years. Save for Hemond — who brought his Vistalites for the occasion, where both Tarpit Boogie and Infernal Overdrive had used the house kit — their stage persona is pretty subdued, nobody thrashing around not that there’s much room for it at The Grand Victory anyway, but they’ve only gotten tighter in the now handful of times I’ve seen them and this was no exception.
It was left to Brooklyn’s own Mighty High to round out the evening, and the stonerly punkers did not at all disappoint. Fronted by Chris “Woody” MacDermott, who contributes the Spine of Overkill column to this site, Mighty High released their Legalize Tre Bags(review here) full-length through Ripple Music last year, and they continue to blaze out short, speedy blasts of Motörhead riffs in a public service reminder to the world that it takes itself way too seriously and should probably just get over it. “Chemical Warpigs” showed up early in the set, shouted out to the recently departed Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, and familiar cuts like “Breakin’ Shit,” “Cable TV Eye” and “High on the Cross” were delivered on time and in style, guitarist Kevin Overdose taking the lead vocal for the beginning of the latter, which Woody shouted out to “any Blackfoot fans out there.”
By then, people had started to make their way into The Grand Victory, but Woody, Overdose, bassist Labatts Santoro and drummer Jesse D’Stills didn’t come on quietly and they wouldn’t go that way either. “I Don’t Wanna Listen to Yes” continues to be high on my list of favorites, and the brand new “Two-Hour Lunchbreak” hit pretty close to home, in overall attitude if not chemical consumption. “Kick out the Jams” ended the set, as ever for Mighty High, and with their painted leather jackets hung up behind them, they treated the MC5 classic like the manifesto it has become, throwing it in the face of, well, everything and everyone there. I didn’t see it to be sure, but it’s almost certain that, whoever the DJ was coming in, he promptly went home to rethink his life and meditate on Stooges albums. One would have to expect, anyway.
Between a new band, two acts working the kinks out of new songs ahead of recording and Mighty frickin’ High topping it off with some recent creations of their own — not to mention the chance to see good friends kicking ass — I left The Grand Victory feeling refreshed and reminded of just why it is I continue to go to shows in the first place. It wasn’t about being seen, or about some buzz act who’ll disappear in six months or a year, it was about unbridled, unfettered enjoyment of the process and about four different takes on the single idea of “heavy.” Even after four bands one into the next into the next into the next, I got in my car and put on a CD for the ride home.
Five bands, five states. Well, NYC has never been anything if it hasn’t been a melting pot, so when Black Thai (from Massachusetts), Infernal Overdrive (New Jersey), When the Deadbolt Breaks (Connecticut), John Wilkes Booth (Long Island, NY) and Wasted Theory (Delaware) converge on Tobacco Road in Manhattan on April 6, at least it’ll be in the borough’s long-standing tradition. If you’re on Thee Facebooks, the event page is here, and I thought I’d share the poster for the show, since it’s awesome.
Five bands for $7 is a pretty heavy deal, if you’re into bargain-hunting.
Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2012 by JJ Koczan
It was the night of a thousand riffs. At very least 100-150 very well purposed. A Small Stone Records showcase is always an occasion and this year’s Boston to-do was no exception. The scene was the Radio bar in Somerville, and though The Brought Low dropped off at the last minute owing to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lineup boasted nine bands — Boston natives Mellow Bravo stepped in to fill the hole, playing earlier than the NYC trio would have — and it was front to back quality between them, Blackwolfgoat, who opened and also played in between sets, Supermachine, Infernal Overdrive, Lord Fowl, Freedom Hawk, Roadsaw, Lo-Pan and Gozu.
What do you do with a night like that? Well, you drink. And I did. Hard. I have a tradition — someone choosing their words less carefully might call it a “habit” — going back nearly a decade at this point of showing up to Small Stone events and promptly getting obliterated. At last year’s Philly showcase (review here and here), I played it cool for the most part. Less so this weekend. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I knew I had Sunday to recover, maybe it was the fact that I still didn’t know if the power was on back home yet. Whatever it was, I opened a tab and didn’t look back. My storm-refugee ass needed a night of reckless abandon.
After being dropped off in front of Radio by The Patient Mrs. as though I was on my way to my first day of kindergarten — schooled indeed — I walked in to find Darryl Shepard of Blackwolfgoat early into his set. Downstairs in the basement, a matinee of three sets of Beatles covers would soon give way to a sweaty, smelly night of punk rock. Seems as good a jump-off point as any, so here goes:
With a cocktail straw in his mouth and a bounce in his step (minus the bounce), Blackwolfgoat‘s lone resident, Darryl Shepard — also of currently of Black Pyramid and Milligram and formerly of Hackman, Roadsaw and no shortage of others — showed off some of the latest wares from his one-man act. Shepard would soon adjourn to Radio’s semi-balcony off to the left of the stage, where he’d sit at the ready and wait to drone out a tune or two between other acts, but before he got there, he played some material from last year’s Dronolithand some newer stuff. The newer songs find him using more dynamic loops, setting a droning bed for himself and then launching into — in at least one instance — a grandiose classic rock solo over it. It was awesome to see, and the melody in that solo and around it proved just one more way the project is expanding sonically. He’ll reportedly be recording soon, and of course that’s something to look forward to. Pretty much any day you get to see this dude play guitar is a good day. If you get to see him do a full set to start a show and a bunch of mini-sets between seven or eight other acts, well then, all the better.
There was an interesting mix of stage presences when it came to Boston’s own Mellow Bravo. The first full band on the bill was also the newest to Small Stone‘s roster save for Supermachine, who followed, and they released their self-titled debut album (review here) on the label via a Mad Oak Recordings imprint earlier this year. In the case of charismatic vocalist Keith Pierce and guitarist Andrew Doherty, they seemed birthed of Boston’s formidable hardcore/metalcore scene, whatever soul records they may have dug into since those days, keyboardist/vocalist Jess Collins came off more on the heavy metal end, while guitarist Jeff Fultz (ex-Seemless) had the lead licks and enviable hair of a modern classic rocker. Mix all that with the rhythm section of sunglasses-clad bassist Seager Tennis and drummer Dave Jarvis, and it’s a strange six-piece stew resulting from Mellow Bravo‘s recipe. Nonetheless, they were resoundingly cohesive, putting on a professional show — staged in parts, like when Collins came out from behind the keyboard to front “Ridin'” — and looking like a band who should and expected to be paid for their work. “Love Hammer” was a highlight, but really just one of the memorable songs on their debut that the band did well bringing to life.
There are few phrases that will earn respect in my book as quickly as “ex-Scissorfight.” In the case of label newcomers Supermachine, bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin were founding members of that most excellent New Hampshire outfit — both also played in Mess with the Bull — and so interest in what they might be doing musically was automatic, especially as this was my first time seeing them or hearing any of their songs. Joined in the four-piece by drummer Mike McNeill and vocalist David Nebbia, there was a moment where I stood in front of the stage at Radio and was reminded of hazy afternoons and evenings at Room 710 on Red River in Austin, Texas, at many a Small Stone showcase years back there, when I was still relatively just getting my feet wet in terms of appreciating and being exposed to this kind of music. If that’s a long way around to saying Supermachine sounded fresh, so be it. Their performance was organic and unpretentious — though there was no question which of them was the lead singer, even before they got on stage — and while they seemed to still be feeling out their identity as a band, they gave a good first impression.
True enough, I’d had some beers by the time Infernal Overdrive started playing, maybe visited the basement Beatles show downstairs to weird everyone in the room out by singing along to “Can’t Buy Me Love” way louder than was called for. I nonetheless recall being entirely of sound mind when I scribbled my first note about Infernal Overdrive‘s performance. It was as follows: “New shit is right on.” I stand by that 100 percent. They might need to hit the road for a while to really step into what and where they want to be as a band, but short of that, they’ve got their aesthetic down. No less so at Radio than at Stoner Hands of Doom XIIin September. Part of me wants them to just go ahead and get the next record out so they can start closing with “Viking” already, but as the room was beginning to fill up, the Jersey/Massachusetts-native double-guitar foursome treated an eager and thirsty crowd to “Motor” and “The Edge” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sun2011 debut full-length (review here) and those songs rested well alongside newer cuts like “Quints Revenge” and “Ride to the Sun.” As ever, they tore through their set, capping with the cowbell/fuzz swiftness of “I-95,” which set the stage well for Connecticut’s Lord Fowl, who followed.
Continue to impress. Despite an apparently ongoing throat problem for guitarist/vocalist Vechel Jaynes — I actually take it as a sign of someone giving a shit both about what they do and what I think about what they do when artists tell me about their various injuries, illnesses, aches and pains; that kind of thing can be good to know sometimes, though Jaynes‘ trouble did little to hold back Lord Fowl at Radio — the New Haven, Connecticut, four-piece dove headfirst into material from their Moon Queenlabel debut (review here), rising to the occasion of directly following Infernal Overdrive and making me remember why I like this kind of shit so much in the first place. They also gave a fitting sequel to when I saw them at SHoD XII, guitarist/vocalist Mike Pellegrino comfortable as he always seems to be fronting the band alongside Jaynes while bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman locked in grooves thick and slick in equal measure. “Streets of Nevermore” was a highlight, and the one-two punch of “Quicksand” and the insistent swirl of “SOS” was no less engaging on stage than it was late into Moon Queen. I wondered a bit what their next album might bring, if they’d keep to a thematic, semi-psych heavy rock approach or branch out elsewhere as they move forward, and then The Patient Mrs. showed up looking all fine and I got distracted. Ha.
Quietly, more than a year had passed since I last caught Virginia’s fuzz buzzards live, but Freedom Hawk were the most in their element at Radio that I’ve ever seen them. The songs from their Holding On 2011 label debut (review here) have cooled and tightened into a fine, viscous ooze, and the set had more than a few killers to it, including the recent video track “Indian Summer.” They’re a good band, and fresh on my mind as I’d just that very afternoon acquired their first demo in a haul of old promo material (more on that tomorrow), so I was glad to have our paths cross again at last. A less raucous delivery than either Lord Fowl or Infernal Overdrive — both of whom put on a hell of a show — Freedom Hawk were nonetheless in the right place at the right time. The crowd was boozed and well warmed up, and Freedom Hawk‘s “all fuzz, no bullshit” was right at home, guitarists TR Morton (also vocals) and Matt Cave leading with ’90s-style stoner rock riffing while bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines provided weight and pulse to the rolling groove. I don’t know if someone thought they were being clever by playing Ozzy before they went on (Morton‘s vocals being geared in that direction), but Freedom Hawk showed they’re moving more toward becoming their own outfit and incorporating whatever influence it might be — Ozzy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, etc. — into a sound more fully theirs. Worth noting that at this point there hadn’t yet been a band whose next album I wasn’t stoked at the thought of hearing.
In true showcase fashion, Roadsaw delivered a set that not only showed why they’re the godfathers of Boston’s heavy rock scene, but ran a gamut through their own catalog — opening with “Look Pretty Lonely” from 2008’s See You in Hell!, and also including “Keep on Sailing” and “Thanks for Nothing” from 1997’s Nationwide — on which Shepard joined on lead guitar from his spot on the balcony — “Buried Alive” and “Disconnected” from 2007’s Rawk ‘n’ Roll, “Monkey Skull” from 2012’s Roadsaw EP, and “Weight in Gold” and “Long in the Tooth” from their 2010 self-titled full-length. I said earlier this year at London Desertfest that I wanted to see them on their home turf, and I was glad to have the opportunity at last. If it’s any indicator of how it all went down, they delayed the start of their set to get another round of drinks. Yes, it was that kind of party. The stage at Radio wasn’t as small as that at the Small Stone showcase in Philly last year — it was somewhere between that and the more spacious at the El ‘n’ Gee in Connecticut, where SHoD was held, and which Roadsaw also played — so I didn’t think vocalist Craig Riggs was about to bean bassist Tim Catz or guitarist Ian Ross with his spinning microphone (ever-shirtless drummer Jeremy Hemond being well out of range), but they made short work of it nonetheless, and even went so far as to bring up Infernal Overdrive guitarist/vocalist Marc Schleicher for an encore of “The Gentle Butcher,” from Nothing that a Bullet Couldn’t Cure by the band Antler, of which he, Ross, Catz and Riggs were a part. As ever, they were in classic form.
A scant two weeks before leaving for a tour with High on Fire and Goatwhore that will have them playing in the biggest venues of their career to date, Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan looked ready. I think they’ve already discovered that the reward for the hard work they’ve been putting in over the last couple years is actually just a bunch of even harder work, but they seemed hungry nonetheless. It had been more than a year since I’d seen them as well, and along with a new shorter haircut for guitarist Brian Fristoe, they had two new songs in the set alongside cuts from 2011’s brilliant-and-yes-I-fucking-mean-brilliant Salvador(review here). Both “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” had Fristoe‘s steady progressive-edged fuzz, made thicker by Skot Thompson‘s basslines, but seemed to push vocalist Jeff Martin farther into his range as well as Jessie Bartz — front and center as always — tied it all together on drums. As I told Bartz when they were done, I’d like to hear them 85 or 87 more times before I make final judgment, but they sounded pretty dead on, and fit well with “Kurtz” from 2009’s Sasquanaut(which Small Stone reissued) and “Chichen Itza,” “Deciduous,” “Bird of Prey” and set closer “El Dorado” from Salvador, all of which remain as powerful in a live setting as they were the first time I saw them. Lo-Pan was my only real headbang of the show. When they were done, I stumbled my drunk self around the side of the building and threw up barely a fraction of the beer I’d drank, taking care to keep it out of my hair and beard, then went back inside, washed up downstairs while trying to ignore the stench of punker sweat, lest I retch again, and headed back into civilization in time for the start of Gozu, who rounded out the night. I’d been a wreck despite having my last beer sometime during Roadsaw, but with just one band still to go, there was no turning back now.
Much to his credit, it was Gozu guitarist Doug Sherman — he of the perilously short guitar strap — who put the whole gig together. From the second I was walking into the venue, way back before anyone played other than Blackwolfgoat, before all the beer, the barbecue, the more beer, the rock and roll and the more beer, Sherman was outside greeting people, there the whole time, and he and his band very quickly showed by they were just right to close out. Guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (above, left) has a subdued presence on stage, quiet and reserved — a good balance for Sherman‘s energy — and his performance has been spot on every time I’ve seen him, making vocal up and down vocal dexterity look easy while also joining Sherman on guitar and driving the songs forward with driving riffage. Bassist Joe Grotto was a new addition to the band since I saw them in March — also at Radio, as it happens — but he fit right in the rhythm section with drummer Barry Spillberg, and being revived following my ritualistic purge, I was in decent enough shape to appreciate their even-thicker take on “Meat Charger” and “Meth Cowboy” from their 2010 Locust Seasondebut (review here), on which they were joined by Ian Ross of Roadsaw (above, on right guitar). Their sound is too thick to really be a boogie, but that forward motion is there, and Gaffney brings a sense of drama to their choruses that stood them out from everyone else on the bill at Radio. They had a couple new songs as well, and whatever they do next, it’ll be a welcome arrival.
I know I post a lot of shit about Small Stone bands. I go see them play when I can, I review the records, I do interviews, post tour news, posters, and so forth, but the fact of the matter is this: That’s not coincidence. It’s a short list of American labels contributing anything of merit to the genre of heavy rock — by my estimation there are maybe five, with a few others who’ve glommed onto this or that trend within the sphere of Riff — and Small Stone are right there at the top. From the label’s days providing a haven to bands like Acid King and Sons of Otis in the wake of Man’s Ruin‘s demise, to fostering its own upstart acts like Sasquatch (not that they’re upstarts now, but they were when their debut was released), Infernal Overdrive, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Sun Gods in Exile, and Lord Fowl, while still keeping a commitment to what he does best, label head Scott Hamilton has patronized some of the best American heavy rock out there today, to the point where “the Small Stone sound” is an influence unto itself for bands around the world to pick up on. To be perfectly honest about it, it’s a cause I feel is worth supporting.
Small Stone’s next showcase is in Detroit at the Magic Stick on Dec. 1. More info here.
When the show was done, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep walking to catch a cab back to the hotel. There were goodbyes to be said, tales of hurricane survival to regale with and be regaled by, and a bar tab to close out, but I was quick about it, and before too long, The Patient Mrs. generously corralled me into a taxi. I was more lucid than I had been at several points in the evening by then, but still, sleep came as quick and as heavy as the riffs still stuck in my head. We had to drive back to Jersey on Sunday and figure out if the lights were back on yet after the storm (they were as of that afternoon), but if that was to be the finale of “refugee living,” I didn’t make out so bad.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by JJ Koczan
I’ve never been to a Small Stone showcase in Boston before. Sure, I was at both nights of the Philly one last year (review here and here) and I caught Gozu and Infernal Overdrive together at Radio this past March (review here), and looking at the list, the only band on it I’ve never seen is Supermachine — and I saw Scissorfight, from whence they come — but still, Boston’s a different beast. To tell you the truth, every time I hit the town, I feel a little bit like I’m going to get my ass kicked.
Perhaps then, it would be wise for me to hit the warm-up show slated to happen one day before the showcase proper. Elder (who so far as I know are not on Small Stone) and Infernal Overdrive will play at the taqueria No Problemo in New Bedford at 10PM. If you’re north of there, Gozu and Freedom Hawk will be on a bill at Asylum in Portland, ME. Drummer Mike Bennett of Infernal Overdrive posted the following notice and flyer:
Tomorrow night there will be a few warm up gigs starring some of your favorite Small Stone bands….
Asylum -Portland, ME w/ GOZU, Freedom Hawk, Murcilago and Whitcomb No Problemo – New Bedford, MA w/ Infernal Overdrive and Elder….. All leading up to the big event Sat. !!!
And then of course there’s the showcase itself on Saturday at Radio in Somerville. As awesome an assemblage of Small Stone acts as I’ve had the privilege to see. Here are the details, courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:
Nov. 3rd-Radio, Boston Small Stone Showcase 10 dollars!!! Dudes- BEER-PETTING ZOO!! Purchase Tickets HERE:
Posted in Features on September 2nd, 2012 by JJ Koczan
How surprised was I to win the Stoner Hands of Doom XII raffle last night? Well, I’m not exactly the guy who never wins anything, but I am the guy who says he never wins anything when he wins something once every eight to 10 years, so yeah, I was pretty blown away. I didn’t even really get the chance to go through the box of goodies last night — Pale Divine had just played and The Skull was about to take the stage — but the loot is plentiful.
My ticket won me a bounty of doomly goods, from Iron Man vinyl to CDs from Kin of Ettins, Beelzefuzz, Faces of Bayon, Black Cowgirl, Ichabod, One Inch Giant, and so on, plus posters for the last several SHoD fests, including one for SHoD VII in Arizona, when Acid King played. There are ones in there for SHoD X and SHoDXI as well, both of which I played in different bands, so it’s kind of special to have them, and an assortment of doomly patches and stickers — not to mention an entire wardrobe of t-shirts — but the highlight of the whole package has to be the official Stoner Hands of Doom XII pedal, which has the Skillit-designed skull artwork of this year’s fest painted right on. I can’t wait to get it home and hook it up to my ukulele. I’m dead serious.
Thanks obviously go out to Rob and the whole SHoD crew. One of the great things about being here the last several days has been seeing all the familiar faces. Today is the final day of the fest. When I came out of the El ‘n’ Gee last night, the entire town of New London appeared to be smashed, so it’s not such a surprise that it’s kind of sleepy and quiet now as I write this in a shady corner in the parking lot across from the venue, but soon enough, Minneapolis sludgers Witchden will start another full day of excellent heaviness that I’ll once more be documenting as we go along.
If you’ve been reading these posts, thank you for that. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. It’s kind of a trip to be reviewing a band’s set and then have them come over and say hi, as happened a few times yesterday, but it’s been a lot of fun. More to come in a bit for day four of SHoD XII.
UPDATE 2:02PM: They had a hell of a trip to get here and a first-band-on crowd to play to, but Minneapolis sludgers Witchden were tight enough to show they had a little road time along their way. The two-guitar five-piece boasts Jeff “Kong”Moen, now apparently formerly of Sourvein on drums, and he provided both energy and crash behind vocalist Jason Micah, whose vicious screams came across with an almost hip-hop style presence. Maybe it was the upturned hat, but everyone else was pretty much headbanging, and his stage moves just gave off that kind of vibe. On the other hand, the riffs of guitarists were straight out of the sludge playbook, heavy enough to transcend the stoner and really get into some muddy nastiness. I bought the CD, and they were also selling handmade dugouts, which are apparently a thing that exist. They were $20 a pop, and as much as I like to support independent woodworking, I stuck with the album and think it was probably the right idea. A heavy start, and the first fog machine of the whole fest (surprised the hell out of me, like, “Oh yeah! Fog!” — it’s been a long weekend), but we’re underway for sure now.
UPDATE 2:46PM: They were a lot of fun, because they were literally kids — their parents were here — but Insano Vision also seriously brought it to SHoD XII, and by “it” I mean the inimitable vitality of rock and roll youth. They were fast and heavy and jumping around the stage, and it gives what I’ve been calling “energetic” all weekend an entirely different touchstone. A double-guitar four-piece from North Haven, I’d be amazed if a single one of them could gain entry to the bar area at the El ‘n’ Gee, but heavy is heavy. Lead guitarist Doug Glaser (above) tapped through a couple killer solos, jumping around the stage during set highlight “Unknown,” and while they still have their kinks to work out, they have plenty of time to do it. Very cool, very metal, and great to see some youngins kicking ass. As they’re local, I don’t know that I’d put them on after Witchden, but I think they surprised everyone here with both their chops and their presence. They tore through their set quickly, leaving a strong impression in their wake. Will be interesting to see how they develop, but it was more than pleasant to be caught off-guard as I was and I think a lot of others were as well.
UPDATE 3:39PM: I think I pulled my rock muscle. It was a pretty bold choice on New Jersey four-piece Infernal Overdrive‘s part to throw in the 12-minute jam (which was shortened, but still) “Motor” so early into the set, but they pulled it off, ranging far into psychedelic moodiness and then bringing it back into their own brand of classic-type riff rock. Brothers Keith (bass) and Marc Schleicher (guitar/vocals) held down cuts like “Viking” — which I’m dying to hear the final version of — the former with his customized Captain America bass, now featuring blue knobs. They’re always a show, huge on personality, but the songwriting backs it up. “I-95,” from their Small Stone debut, Last Rays of the Dying Sun (review here) is maddeningly catchy, and though Marc didn’t jump off the stage in his James Brown boogie routine, he and guitarist Rich Miele both sounded excellent and drummer Mike Bennett pushed a big rock finish over the top, the band’s logo proudly blazing off the front of his kick bass. For a band that doesn’t tour six or seven months each year, Infernal Overdrive always throw down, and every time I see them, I manage to enjoy it more than the last. Word is Hovel‘s brakes went out, and while they’re reportedly okay, they’re also reportedly not coming. Bummer, as it would’ve been cool to catch their set, but at least nobody got hurt.
UPDATE 5:OOPM: Some more familiar faces in Richmond, Virginia, SHoD veterans Fire Faithful. Their most recent full-length, Please Accept this Invocation (review here), was fit to please, if somewhat under-recorded, but like last year, the four-piece delivered in a live setting. As expected they called for backup (vocals) well into the proceedings, but the earlier “Wonton Lavey,” and “Dollar Bottomed Out” also stood out. The Ladies Faithful joined in for “Harvest Moon,” “A Devil in London” and the finale “King Macabre,” helping Fire Faithful do Virginia proud. Their Southern-style metal/doom is definitely traceable to its geography, with guitarist Shane Rippey‘s Pepper Keenan-style riffs and the post-Dave Sherman/Phil Anselmo vocal approach of Brandon Malone, but the band is clearly also working to come into their own more in terms of sound, and just going by this set, it seems to be worth their effort. There’s growth yet to be had, but they’re closer even than they were at SHoD XI. We’ll see when their next release drops how their development translates to the studio, but they’re getting there.
UPDATE 6:01PM: Near as I can tell, New Hampshire trio Skrogg only played four songs — “The Cajun Lady” and “Anita Ride” from their 2011 self-titled debut EP (review here) and two new ones — but man, that set was full. Low end permeated guitar and bass alike, and drummer Felix Starr had a floor tom mounted as his rack for extra thunder to stand up to Reverend Maxfield and Jasper Gloom. Maxfield handled vocals in addition to the guitar, delivering classic-rock-style lyrics with a dudely burl that seemed less like a put-on than some I’ve heard. Helps the authenticity cause that he spoke the same way. They cracked jokes between songs, with Starr referencing Wayne’s World (“I like to play”) and Dumb and Dumber(“the beer flows like wine”), among others, in the process. The two newer songs were both longer and more expansive instrumentally than the EP material, the first a wide-berth blues number and the second blending familiarly thickened fuzz into a twisted biker metal groove. They brought their own crowd to go with that already present at the El ‘n’ Gee, and I’d gladly wager that when Skrogg plays locally in New Hampshire, it’s a fucking rager of a party. I wouldn’t mind seeing it, but the export version was pretty killer as well. This is one of those bands who are just too dead on to not get picked up by some label sooner or later. I’ll look forward to hearing the new stuff put to tape.
UPDATE 7:02PM: Kind of a hard-luck set for Doom Capitol quality heavy rockers Borracho, who played SHoD XII as a trio sans guitarist/vocalist Noah. They made the best of it. Most of the set was instrumental — the midsection of “Grab the Reins” recognizable anyway — but guitarist Steve Fisher took the front position on “Concentric Circles.” Add to Noah‘s absence Fisher’s own technical problems with his Model T, and it’s probably not how they’d want to be remembered, but they still grooved the shit out of the El ‘n’ Gee, bassist Tim Martin also having his say vocally and filling the gaps in tone left by the lack of second guitar, the warmth of Martin‘s tone all the more audibly locked in with Mario Trubiano’s drumming. It was kind of an oddly-constructed set, with most of the instrumental material up front and then a last couple songs with vocals, but they made it work with what they had as a trio, though I think if they’d opened with “Concentric Circles” and then gone into the extended instrumental stuff, it might have flowed more easily. I don’t know for sure and so don’t want to conjecture, but I don’t think Noah is actually out of the band, just not here, so it doesn’t seem like something that was really planned for. Hopefully everything’s cool and Borracho can get back to four-piece form soon, and if for whatever reason that doesn’t happen, they still showed promise as a trio keeping the riffs at the fore.
UPDATE 8:04PM: This is a band about whom I can’t even really hope to feign impartiality. I’ve known frontman Ken-E Bones of Long Island sludge mainstays Negative Reaction for about a decade at this point if not longer, and drummer Joe Wood is my touchstone for awesome when it comes to human beings. Like you meet someone and go, “Wow, this seems like a really cool person.” My next step is to wonder if they’re as good a person as Joe Wood, and in every instance so far, the answer as been no. It was a thrill just to see these dudes, let alone watch them play a set. Of note, however, is that Bones and Wood have a new bass player in Jaime (pronounced hi-may), who replaces Damon Lippy. Not sure what’s the situation there, but as ever, Negative Reaction made for a strong trio, hitting up “Docking Bay 94” and “Dopamine” from their 2011 outing, Frequencies from Montauk(review here) amid classics like “Go Die” and rousing opener “Loathing.” They got a good response from the crowd and seemed to be genuinely enjoying each other’s company and that of the audience, so right on. Add to that Bones flopping around on stage during the finale of “A Bit of Numb,” and you’ve got good times all the way through.
UPDATE 8:56PM: I’m starting to drag, and not a little, but Boston double-guitar foursome Summoner (né Riff Cannon, which if nothing else was a more descriptive name) were definitely not. Once upon a time — last year — I was in talks with the band to release their full-length, Phoenix, on The Maple Forum. That didn’t work out, but the band remains killer, vocalist/bassist Chris Johnson jumping up on drummer Scott Smith‘s kit early in the set and only getting more into it from there as guitarists Joe Richner and AJ Peters alternated between post-metal noodling and sludged-out crunch. I’d never actually seen them before, either as Summoner or their prior incarnation, but it was like they were trying to drive their music directly into the skull, no need for soundwaves or anything. They played in the dark, as some bands will do, but were a treat to watch, and if I was just a little bit more the vinyl-buying type, I’d be walking out of here tonight with a copy of Phoenix. Nonetheless, I’ll be revisiting my download of the record this week for sure. Their builds and crashes warrant yet another in an ongoing series of listens. Good band, and they seem like they’re only going to get better as they keep pushing themselves.
UPDATE 9:45PM: So here’s a bit of breaking news for you on a Sunday night: Massachusetts trio Black Pyramid just finished recording a new album — today. Apparently right before the three of them — guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely — got in the car to come to New London. How badass is that? “Yeah, so we just finished our album, whaddya wanna do now?” “Let’s go play SHoD.” “Okay.” They rolled into the El ‘n’ Gee like the riff marauders they are and from there it was all battle axes and scimitars and bloodspurts. Most of what they played was off that new album, including a ripping instrumental that only served to emphasize how quickly they’ve come together as a unit and how tight they are performance-wise. Shepard brings a lot of personality to the band, and I don’t know the names of the songs, because they’re new and I’ve only just heard them here, right now, but there was one start-stop part where I feared for the lives of his strings he was hitting it so hard. I didn’t even know they were recording as of yet, so it’s awesome to hear that’s on the way, and gives me something to look forward to in 2013 as well as hopes of catching Black Pyramid again soon.
UPDATE 10:52PM: Holy shit. I finally got to fucking see Elder. You know those bands that every single time you would otherwise be in the same place on the same night — them on a stage, you probably drunk and awkward at a bar — it never works out? That’s me and Elder. It’s been years at this point. They’re in New York, I’m in Boston. They’re in Boston, I’m in Jersey. I’m in Boston, they’re in Germany. But here’s the thing. There’s not a chance I’d trade seeing Elder tonight for seeing them ever before, because right now, they’re at their absolute best yet. I don’t know if you heard the Spires Burn/Release12″ that was streamed here not too long ago, but it’s been nearly half a decade and Elder — guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, mulletted bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto — just keep getting better. They slammed into “Release” from that 12″ and it was glorious, no shit, and capped an already fantastic set with the title-track from Dead Roots Stirring. My only mistake was opening the laptop too early, so I had to stay back by the bar longer than I would’ve wanted to and not go up front, but other than that, it was perfect. I’m trying really hard lately to guard myself against hyperbole, because while it’s great for having bands use your quotes in their promotional materials, it’s shitty criticism and every act has things that work and things that don’t. That said, Elder fucking made my night. I mean it. Of all the really, really cool shit I’ve already seen today — from old friends to bands I’ve never even heard of — to finally see Elder was incredible. Might be some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen.
UPDATE 12:25AM: This was the first time I’d seen Iron Man since they acquired vocalist Dee Calhoun. In that time, they’ve put out two EPs — last year’s Dominance (review here) and the new Att hålla dig över, which I picked up tonight at the merch table. Calhoun‘s singing is pure Halford, right down to the face-ripping screams and the double-hand clutch on the mic, but god damn can he pull it off. If you want to compare to former Iron Man vocalists, he’s a better Halford than Joe Donnelly was an Ozzy, and Joe Donnelly did a pretty mean Ozzy. Decked out in bandanna, beard and doomly black duster, Calhoun gave Iron Man a presence of up front like I’ve never seen them have before, raw talent blended with performance edge, and it seemed more than ever like guitarist “Iron” Alfred Morris III has finally met his match in a singer. Morris is the walking embodiment of all that is Maryland doom (at very least, he makes up half and Earthride‘s Dave Sherman comprises the rest), so it goes without saying that he killed it, and watching them run through “Ruler” and other songs off the EPs and Iron Man‘s last full-length, 2009’s I Have Returned, like opener “I Have Returned” and “Run from the Light” gave me a new appreciation for the dynamic between Morris and bassist Louis Strachan, whose fills added both raw groove and vitality in playing off Morris‘ riffing. If there’s a more perfect way to cap off a Stoner Hands of Doom fest, I can’t think of it. For the finishing touch, they brought up SHoD organizer Rob Levey (above, with Calhoun) to sing the title-track from 1993’s Black Night, noting as they did that he fronted the band at that time. Before Iron Man started, Levey was on stage after they picked the raffle winner (I didn’t go two for two), and he said this was the best lineup of the band he’d seen in the last 15 years. I don’t have the same kind of experience with them, obviously, but they’re definitely in a new class, and well deserved. They brought the house down, and when they finished, I said a crazy amount of goodbyes and adjourned to the same parking lot where I posted from this morning. Seemed only fitting to round out the day in the same spot. As anyone who saw me move into the same corner and plug in my laptop during almost every band’s last song over the course of the last three days might be able to tell you, I’m a creature of habit. I’m going to get in the car in just another minute or so and drive back to where I’m staying, but unless some of the adrenaline in me from the end of SHoD XII dies down, I’ll add a conclusion to this when I land, so stay tuned. Not quite done yet.
Brian Mercer (interview here) killed it this time. He really, really did. Check it out. Small Stone‘s Boston showcase is Nov. 3 at Radio, with Gozu, Lo-Pan, The Brought Low, Roadsaw, Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl, Infernal Overdrive, Supermachine and Blackwolfgoat.
You might also note whose logo is on the bottom left. Bad ass. Can’t wait to get me one framed and then not have a house to put it up in (zing! Oh wait, I just zinged myself, damnit).
Showcase is Nov. 3 at Radio in Somerville. For more info on it and on the upcoming Detroit showcase, which I’m just waiting to get up the courage to ask Halfway to Gone for a ride out to, hit up Small Stone on Thee Facebooks.
Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.
Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”
That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.
One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.
Here they are, ordered by the date of release:
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)
Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.
2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)
Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.
3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)
In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.
4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)
The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.
5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)
I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.
6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)
Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.
7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)
It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.
8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)
Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.
9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)
It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.
10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)
If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.
That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘sSongs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.
And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.
Hard to remember which came first, the idea of the weekend getaway with The Patient Mrs. or the idea to drive up to Boston and see Gozu, Infernal Overdrive and the Darryl Shepard-fronted incarnation of Black Pyramid play at Radio in Somerville. The place, reportedly new, looked it, with good lighting and hardwood floors, a brick wall behind the door and Palm beer — who were sponsoring the night somehow, some way (I wish they’d sponsor my life, or at very least this site) — on tap and ready to go. So was I.
Because, you see, the three-beer rule was even more out the window than it had been at Windhand a couple nights earlier. After a quick stop at Armageddon Shop (same store as in Providence, but different locale), I’d begun a long process down downing draught Chimay Blanc, and, well, it’s made by monks. That should pretty much say it all. By the time I walked into Radio following some food and further imbibing at Redbones BBQ with the internet’s own Arzgarth, I was well on my way to a few things, and drunk was one of them.
Fortunately I conducted myself with the usual amount of class and social finesse (ha) and set to work almost immediately on arrival trying to snap some pictures of Lunglust, who were already on stage when I got there. A double-guitar fivesome with standalone vocals, they were an easy pick for being a Boston band — the way Jeff Sykes cups his mic is as much a tradition in New England as hating the Yankees, never mind their two-words-put-together moniker — but their heavy, semi-hardcore approach was tempered with an awareness of doomed groove, and with as much rock as the rest of the night promised, they brought diversity to a bill long on riffs but not necessarily fueled by aggression.
Heavy is heavy, and they were most certainly that. A decent break to change over the gear on stage helped make the transition less awkward for Infernal Overdrive, whose showtime charm is only getting more prevalent the more comfortable they get with their material. It was the CD release show for Last Rays of the Dying Sun (review here), and the band seemed to be in good spirits, whether it was guitarist/vocalist Marc Schleicher raising his rock and roll preacher’s arm up before they even got going or his brother, bassist Keith Schleicher, trying to give me his Shiner Beer t-shirt after I made fun of him for wearing it all the time when I posted their video.
Schleicher kept his shirt — a favorite shirt is hard to find; I couldn’t take it — and showed off his new Captain America-logo bass as Infernal Overdrive got going. The room was ready for the party they brought, but though the times they foster are invariably good, they’ve grown immensely since their demo, and each successive show proves it further. Lead guitarist Rich Miele, who might have been the only dude in the room with a tie, tore through leads as well as he classed up the joint amid a squelch of beardos (the official beardo grouping classification as of right now), grounding the overall chicanery left to the capable hands of drummer Mike Bennett, who made sure that nobody got out of line.
No easy task when Marc‘s put his guitar down for a little off-stage stoner rock softshoe, but Bennett‘s a pro by now and the solo in “Electric Street Cred” was short compared to other times I’ve seen it. Some of Infernal Overdrive‘s best stuff — “The Edge,” “I-95” and so on — was that which brought Keith and Miele in on backing vocals, and that bodes well for their next outing, but that was far from my mind when they closed out with “Duel.” Just right for the occasion, it might win the hard battle for catchiest track on Last Days of the Dying Sun, and was involved in another fight, this one with Black Pyramid‘s “Mercy’s Bane” for being most stuck in my head after the show.
And really, it was the whole bill that made me make the trip, but Black Pyramid had an added element of intrigue thanks to it being among the first of their shows to feature new guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard. The ex-Hackmanand Milligram guitarist — who also put out the album Dronolith from his one-man drone project Blackwolfgoat through The Maple Forum last year and has vinyl of the same album on the way courtesy of Bilocation Records — has been in all my dealings with him and is by all other accounts I’ve heard an exceptionally good guy. Being a fan of his and a fan of the band’s work since the days leading up to the release of their self-titledMeteorCity debut in 2009, four hours in the car seemed a small price to pay, even if I’d be catching them at London Desertfest in April as well.
They did not — seemingly could not — disappoint. The familiar components of be-chapeaued bassist Gein and drummer Clay Neely (interview here) seemed at ease and right at home with Shepard on guitar, and the air was more of excitement than of tension, both on their part and the crowd’s. Older material sounded fresh and from “Mercy’s Bane,” which led off their set to “No Life King,” which closed it, the trio excelled. Shepard came in as a replacement for Andy Beresky, who left after the recording of Black Pyramid‘s recently-released II, and more than filled the shoes vacated. His adaptations of Beresky‘s solos were spot on, and of all the songs they played (the set list is after the jump), the one that sounded the best was “Aphelion,” the first of hopefully many to come from the Shepard/Gein/Neely lineup.
That’s probably to be expected, that the players playing would sound most fluid on the song they wrote, but the cut, which comes from a Transubstans Recordssplit 7″ with Swedish doomers Odyssey, also fit well with Black Pyramid‘s older material, and Shepard‘s vocals were neither trying to match Beresky‘s idiosyncratic phrasing nor purposefully be different. It was a natural shift taking place, and one I was glad to be there to see. Heads banged, claws were thrown, and when they were done, it was like we’d all come through something together and survived. Maybe that was the beer. Whatever. Doom above all.
Ultimately, it was Gozu‘s night. Boston natives, they’d helmed a plundering of Radio the evening before with Motherboar and Livver, among others, and remembering the current of melody at work along with their heavy riffs and upbeat pacing that played out at the Small Stone showcase in Philly back in September of last year, especially in the vocals of guitarist Marc Gaffney, I was excited to hear them on their home turf. Propelled by drummer Barry Spillberg‘s near-frenetic pacing and thickened by Paul Dallaire‘s bass, Gaffney and Doug Sherman‘s guitars were given proper treatment and respect in the mix and the material from their 2011 debut, Locust Season, sounded tight and crisp and engaging.
For a finishing move, they picked Locust Season highlight “Meth Cowboy,” and it was a great way to round out the night, Sherman adding backing vocals to Gaffney‘s even as the riffing toward the end gave new meaning to “post-hardcore.” That record seemed to be well regarded, but I get the feeling Gozu will have more to say stylistically next time around, and I look forward to it. Dallaire adds a lot of character to the lineup, and Sherman and Gaffney work well together and with Spillberg‘s drumming. They’re a better band than people know.
Was it a cab at the end of the night? Yeah, it was. One of several in which I heard processed electronic pop soap operas playing out “mixed live,” as though such a thing could exist on commercial broadcast media. By “mixed live,” I’ll assume you meant “pressed play.” Next to what I’d just seen those four bands lay down, which was created live, there was no comparison… not that I’d have been sober enough to make one anyway.
Because it was Boston after all, someone leaned out of their car to call me “faggitt” as I and The Patient Mrs. walked back to the hotel from making a 7-Eleven stop — not the first time that evening I’d heard the word used; two dudebros at the bar before the show were throwing out hatespeech with the blissful abandon of ignorance even as they groped each other at a level that I’d probably be uncomfortable if it was my wife doing it to me in a public setting — and someone in an Escalade as well seemed to want to start a fight. Sweet, sweet regionalism.
Little did any of the bastards know my victory had already been earned well before they came along to flare their jackets and pretend to pose a challenge. Some nights you win outright.