Did you ever say something and then realize just how true it actually is? I felt that way a couple weeks ago when I posted the slew of dates for Naam‘s US tour and realized just how excellent a band I think the Brooklyn-based foursome have become and how much I thought their recent European stint would only increase that. The image of the psychedelic righteousness they brought to Desertfest in London fresh in my head as they played material from this year’s Vow (review here), I made my way into Manhattan to see them start the aforementioned US run at the Studio room at Webster Hall, with support from Brooklyn’s Blackout and the perennially adventurous Kayo Dot.
Just over two years ago, I was at the Studio to see Ghost and Sabbath Assembly (review here), and my principal memory of the room was that it was unbelievably, inhumanely hot. One of the hottest shows I’ve ever endured, hands down. And since this past weekend was likewise brutal, I expected to sweat some upon my arrival, but was pleased to find both parking right across the street from the door down into the basement of Webster Hall proper and that once I got inside, the A/C had been turned on. Kayo Dot had already begun their set by the time I got there, but I saw a decent portion of it, a bearded Toby Driver calling out changes to his bandmates across a slew of keyboards, guitars, and eventually, horns.
I deduced it had been probably seven years since the last time I caught a Kayo Dot set — I remember it was The Saint in Asbury Park and everybody beat on a 55-gallon drum — but the group’s underlying methodology remained consistent in a kind of kitchen-sink wash of post-rock/metal noise complemented and contrasted by ambient stretches, vocals peppered here and there but far less consideration paid to audience than to the experiments of the songs themselves. I can dig that. I don’t need a band to dumb down its material for the sake of accessibility if that’s how they think of traditional songwriting, and whether or not that’s at the root of Kayo Dot‘s approach, they come off very self-aware in terms of celebrating their non-traditional aspects, and though they at one point toward the end kicked into an extreme wash of blastbeats and aggressive riffing, they seemed just as glad to dabble in minimalist droning earlier on.
Blackout were much fresher on my mind, having seen them at the St. Vitus bar opening for Kings Destroy and Acid King in February. I was into them then and pleased to find at Webster Hall that the enjoyment wasn’t a fluke. The trio have their heads dug deep into riffy stoner traditionalism, guitarist/vocalist Christian Gordy running Laney tones through an Orange half-stack while bassist Justin Sherrell (also of Bezoar; hey, where’s that new record?) backed him on vocals and matched wits with Taryn Waldman‘s headbanging crash. A few of their cuts I remembered from the last time around, perhaps most notably the stops and starts of the more extended “Seven,” which they recently included on their first demo/sampler, We are Here. While their sound isn’t quite so massive live as it is on that release, they had plenty of volume working in their favor anyway, and though during Kayo Dot‘s quiet stretches it was easy to hear the crowd chatter, Blackout left little space for such things between air-pushing riffs and bombastic plod.
The short version is they’re on their way to being a really good band. Already, they give a more than solid showing of both personality and quality of material on stage, and the songs, while upfront in terms of their structures, are lacking nothing in overall heavy appeal. I had thought it was curious they’d be playing second and Kayo Dot — who’ve been around for a decade and have five records out — would be in the opening slot, but all around, it seemed to be Naam‘s party, and Blackout did well as the centerpiece of the three acts. They quickly won over a boozy crowd, and by the time they were done they seemed to be fully entranced in their own sound, locked into a groove classically stoner metal but fast becoming their own. It was as exciting a lead-in as Naam could have wanted.
About that: I alluded to it just now, but it’s worth reiterating that the mood at the show was less that of a regular gig and more akin to a release party. Of course, Vow came out at the beginning of June, but Naam fresh off one tour and starting another, this was kind of their going-away. They seemed to know a lot of people in the crowd and the crowd in turn seemed well familiar with them. Spirits were universally high and even before Naam took the stage, the positive vibes were palpable. Even when Drunk Dude™ dumped his beer on my feetandthrew his hand in my face to flip off my camera en route to the even-more-inexplicable dickery of space rock moshing, there wasn’t much that was going to bring me down.
Here as at Desertfest, Naam played as a five-piece, with the additional guitars of Jeff Berner alongside those of Ryan Hamilton, who has eased his way into becoming a frontman-type presence for the band while also giving bassist/vocalist John Preston Bundy space on stage to take the fore. I wondered if maybe the band’s stylistic growth since acquiring John Weingarten for keys and backing vocals a few years back couldn’t have accounted for some of that ease, but once they started, it didn’t matter. With a focus rightfully placed on their newest material, they were as I’d hoped they’d be — ridiculously tight, markedly fluid and performing at a level that was only hinted at years ago when they started out as a trio proffering the Kingdom EP.
Highlights included the swarthy “Midnight Glow” and ethereal “Skyscraper” from Vow, and a joyously jammed version of “The Starchild” from 2012’s The Ballad of the Starchild EP (track streamed here) that Hamilton ended with a satisfied “the Starchild!” reminiscent of that time Beastie Boys were on Futurama and any number of other lounge-type pretensions. He was goofing around, of course, but it was indicative of the jovial feel of the show, drummer Eli Pizzuto keeping his aviators on for the duration while driving cuts like “Pardoned Pleasure” and stepping back for the spacier sections of “Beyond,” the grand finale of the newest album. Weingarten took a brief but well-earned solo, and when all five of them were working toward the same sonic destination — i.e. the culmination of that song — I was thankful for the attentiveness of the person working the Studio sound for how excellently balanced Naam sounded, Hamilton‘s vocals coming through those of Berner, Bundy and Weingarten but not so much as to dominate, the resulting stew only furthering the psychedelic churn playing out instrumentally, grounded but not undercut by Pizzuto‘s steady fills.
I was really glad I had taken my own advice and made the drive into the city. As ever, Naam closed out with “Kingdom,” but I was glad when they came back out and delivered the “one more song” the crowd was shouting for. By that time, whatever dance party was taking place upstairs at Webster Hall was well underway. In quiet sections and between songs, you could hear the thumping of electronic bass — 1, 2, 3, 4, all muffled thuds — and people trickled into and out of the Studio room here and there, one guy making the unfortunate mistake of grabbing a girl only to find himself pressed against the merch table as she rightly punched him in his asshole face, another couple comprised of a girl in her early 20s and her boyfriend roughly twice her age making out to the strains of Naam‘s encore, “Icy Row” from their 2009 self-titled debut, before meeting the limits of their (or at very least, her) attention span and going back upstairs. “Icy Row” hit a huge, swirling apex that left none wanting.
Outside, there had been no real break in the heat, but a line of people were making their way upstairs, ropes leading the way and perhaps providing some leverage to those already stumbling. No judgment to pass — I’m too old and too tired to dislike somebody for their taste in music; nine times out of 10 there are better reasons — but I was glad to be coming up from downstairs and only too happy to cut through the line on my way back across the street to the absurdly good parking spot, which I gave up reluctantly to head out of the city and off to some victorious late-night empanadas.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.