Posted in Features on October 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.31.14 — 5:40PM — Pre-show — Arts Riot, Burlington, VT
“This highway’s actually pretty mint.” — Carl Porcaro
It’s like a riot of the arts, this Arts Riot. Decent size room, supposed to hold about 300 people. I guess they do gallery shows and stuff here as well, which I could see pretty easily. Some of the walls have murals on them and the lighting fixtures are pretty wild. A creative space in what two or three years ago was probably an empty warehouse spot. Concrete floor, brick walls, high ceiling. Going by Sean Saley’s soundcheck, it would be a good room in which to record drums, though you might want to put up some wood paneling somewhere if you were going to go that route, if only for form’s sake.
Blood Ceremony are on the bill tonight in place of Radio Moscow, who had to hightail it back out west to play the Day of the Shred festival, which is tomorrow. I’ve only seen Blood Ceremony once before, at Roadburn 2011, though I can’t seem to find any record of it. Anyway, it happened. They’re stepping in tonight and tomorrow as well and then supposedly Radio Moscow are coming back east to finish out the tour in Providence, which sounds completely insane but totally in character for them. One can only cross one’s fingers and hope last night in Philly wasn’t actually their finish on this tour.
Carl did the drive north this morning. We left Philly with Jim Pitts driving and headed north to Steve’s place in Westchester, which was about two and a half hours on the road, but still it was five-plus more hours north to get to Burlington, and it didn’t really get pretty until we actually got into Vermont. Touched on Massachusetts and stopped for gas, to hit a crummy convenience store, and so on, but got back on the highway as soon as possible. There wasn’t really anything there. Far more productive, at least for the band, was the quick hit to Waterbury, Vermont, to pick up some Heady Topper by Alchemist Brewing. Most of these guys are into craft beers, hoppy stuff, and that was apparently a good get. A sense of victory after four and a half hours on the road is a rare enough thing, so if it’s beer you can’t usually get in NYC that does it, fine.
Steve drove up separately from the rest of the band — he’s got his kids this weekend so is going to be back and forth from New York, heading back late tonight/early tomorrow, meeting everyone else in Manhattan for the show tomorrow, heading up to Providence on Sunday — and I haven’t seen him around as yet, but supposedly he’s here somewhere. I don’t know what time doors are, but Arts Riot seems like the kind of place that if you want to get a decent shot, you need to get up front early. Also seems like the kind of place that’s going to have a couple photographers show up. We’ll see how it goes, I guess. I’m not particularly worried at this point. Of slightly greater concern is the fact that it’s 6PM and I’ve eaten nothing today.
Posted in Reviews on October 31st, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Even before I get to liking these bands, I’m biased on this show because both of the city and the venue. If you want to save some time reading, the short version is good times were had. I’ve seen some cool shows at Johnny Brenda’s, was more than a little bummed when Om recently rolled through and I couldn’t be there for it. That show was sold out and so was this one, with Pentagram returning to Philadelphia for what will be their last show in town before they go and record their next album. Traveling with Kings Destroy, we had to head out early, so I didn’t get to see them headlining, but caught Bang and a decent portion of Radio Moscow, and by the time Bang went on, second after Kings Destroy, the place was already packed out. One does not image it became less so as the evening wore on.
I had a weird, vegged out moment at the start of Kings Destroy‘s set. They kicked off this time with “Smokey Robinson,” and I was taking pictures from the balcony at Johnny Brenda’s, and I guess I just went on autopilot. My version of tour mode, maybe. It was a couple minutes before I sort of snapped back to consciousness, and I made my way downstairs from the balcony for “Turul,” which was also jumbled in the set, pushed much earlier than where it might usually appear. That song came to embody a lot of the character of last year’s A Time of Hunting LP for me, its unabashed strangeness and creepy feel standing in for how that material shifted outside the more straightforward riffy doom of the first record. Live, Kings Destroy always seem to revel in it, holding out the hits that slam down for the verse.
“Old Yeller” closed again, which I think works well, and “Mr. O” continues to reside comfortably toward the middle of the set, blindsiding people who think by then that they have the band figured out. With the added off-color element of the dude up front wearing one of those creepy horse masks and Steve Murphy‘s Clamfight shirt with “CENSORED” taped over the vagina-esque tentacle monster there featured, the vibe was pretty loose and where some of the bigger spots on the tour have seemed to kind of become events, this was just a show. It was kind of a relief, to be honest with you. I don’t know how many people showed up to Johnny Brenda’s in relation to how many were at the Soundstage the night before, but it seems like the tallies were probably close, and in the smaller room, it made for a much better mood all around. Sold out show. Hard to beat that in any size space.
Even if it means you’ve got just about nowhere to go. Bang went on second and ran through their set. It’s not their first time playing Philly since their reunion started, and they were treating it as a hometown show. So was the crowd. The room was plastered and dancing by the time Bang were rolling, and that seemed to suit the band just fine. Same set they’ve been doing, but no complaints. More so than in Baltimore, they looked again like they were really enjoying themselves, and it was fun to watch. As far as victory laps go, this tour would be a hard one for a band that hasn’t been on the road in 40 years, but “Keep On” was a stone groove as ever and the sound was heavier than it’s been all along with all the volume trapped in that confined room, nowhere to go but through the earplugs.
That served Radio Moscow well too, Parker Griggs‘ guitar screaming back on itself while young and old offstage got caught in the full-tilt conversation. A three-piece, Radio Moscow fit well on the stage where with five Kings Destroy had been somewhat more crowded — as had the four-piece Pentagram when they backlined their gear — and they took quick command of Johnny Brenda’s, which was happy to go along with them for “Just Don’t Know,” “Death of a Queen,” “Broke Down,” “Before it Burns” and “250 Miles,” which is what would remain stuck in my head for the rest of the night, its stripped down bluesy roll by now nestled well into the fractured, exhausted, tour-ebola-added remains of my consciousness. Paul Marrone‘s drum fills came in torrents and Anthony Meier‘s bass tone coated the room, and people just flipped out for them. That’s been the case all along — their audience skews young as compared to, say, Pentagram (though Pentagram have a fair number of younger heads out now as well thanks in part to Last Days Here, the documentary on frontman Bobby Liebling), and the kids go fairly apeshit with each arriving guitar solo — but their response seemed especially fervent in Philadelphia. What had been a chilly space quickly warmed up.
Load out started during Radio Moscow‘s set, all of Kings Destroy‘s gear had been brought down into the back hallway of the venue after they played and was basically just waiting for everyone to relax a bit and have a couple drinks, chat with Clamfight‘s Sean McKee, who was kind enough to come to the show, etc. I could still hear “These Days” while guitars and heads were being loaded in the back of the van, and we weren’t quite moving to a place 250 miles away, but I know it was about 130, so we took off before Pentagram, apologizing to drummer Sean Saley on the way out. See you tomorrows, all around.
Posted in Features on October 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.30.14 — 4:17PM — Thursday — Johnny Brenda’s, Philly
“We got a call about a suspicious van…” — The Cop
The smell of barbecue sauce is immediate and pervasive upon walking into Johnny Brenda’s. I’ve said many times before that I’m a huge dork for Philadelphia, and there are a lot of times I miss being in Philly more than New York since I moved away last year. Even being a two-hour drive from this city, just knowing it was there was reassuring. The area around Johnny Brenda’s is much the same as I last left it — hasn’t been that long — if incrementally more gentrified. Someone should set up a camera on Girard Street and do a time lapse for the next five years. You can see the property values being raised in real-time.
A knock came on the hotel door this morning and it was Carl saying we were leaving. Like now? Like now. I took a quick shower anyway — there was time — and hit the Flying J for coffee, iced tea, orange juice and some Tylenol Cold and Sinus. I’d woken up coughing pretty viciously and needed to get that shit under control. Still feel better today than yesterday as regards tour ebola, better than in Pittsburgh. Coffee was alright, which was fortunate because I bought a 24 oz. cup of it, and soon enough we got going. Carl’s had an abscess on his leg for most of the tour and yesterday it became clear enough that it wasn’t going to go away on its own and something needed to be done about it. By something, I mean a lancing and draining of pus. Pop.
He and Steve had tried to go to an urgi-center this morning near the hotel, but to no avail in terms of the place taking Carl’s insurance, so we had to head north a bit into Jersey to find another spot. I think we were somewhere around Cherry Hill when we pulled into the parking lot and he went in, set about filling out forms and all the rest. Steve and Jim Pitts went for a bite of pizza and C-Wolf, Rob, Aaron and I just hung around by the van. It was going to be a while, and yeah, that’s how it worked out. Rob went down the way to CVS and bought a devil mask that he may or may not wear tomorrow night in Burlington for the Halloween show, and I started the review of last night sitting in the parking lot using the place’s wifi so as not to eat up data in the van. My hope is it was vaguely coherent, but I have my doubts. The whole idea for today was that since there wasn’t a long drive — we’ll have five hours tomorrow, give or take, up to Burlington after two-and-a-half tonight to Steve’s place outside NYC — we’d just kind of loaf around the Comfort Inn until it was time to head to Philly. Didn’t quite pan out.
Carl had gone to the CVS to fill his prescription when the cops showed up. Two cars, two officers, said they’d gotten a call about the van. Fair enough. School kids were crossing the street by then and legitimately, it’s a van full of weirdos and longhairs. I mean, in a perfect world they’d be too busy locking up ass-grabbing crossing guards and shit, but I get where they’d want to ask a question and confirm what we were doing there. Steve explained to them that we’re just souls whose intentions are good and asked that we please not be misunderstood. It was an easy enough interaction but any time the cops are involved it could just as easily go the other way, so yeah, a little tense. We picked Carl up in the CVS parking lot and headed out at a perfectly normal speed. Nothing to see here, folks.
In the spirit of Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar, Johnny Brenda’s is a small place that does good shows. The difference is there’s also a bar/restaurant downstairs here. The gig is sold out, so I expect it will be good and crowded offstage as well as on. I should probably get some food between now and then, or I could just sit here and continue to cough.
Posted in Reviews on October 30th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Baltimore’s Soundstage is right down by the bay, so after Pentagram‘s soundcheck, I went down and looked at the water for a bit, listened to a street musician play drums on buckets of various sizes. He was alright, but the main attraction was the water. After being in the Midwest for a couple days, it’s good to be back near the coast. Even all the lakes in Michigan, rivers and whatnot on the way, there’s something different about salty water, even if it’s the kind you’d never want to get in and go for a swim. Makes the brain feel less claustrophobic, which is kind of ironic given all the open spaces in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, etc.
A five-band Wednesday night got started around 7:45PM. The sound was solid and it was the best lighting of the tour so far. I like Baltimore, have spent some significant time in the city over the years and was happy to run into Chuck Dukehart from Foghound (new stuff on the way) and Vang from Foehammer and chat for a bit. The Pilgrim opened:
Not to be confused with Rhode Island’s Pilgrim, Baltimorean five-piece The Pilgrim released their self-titled debut back in 2012 (review here), and as vocalist Mis Zill announced from the stage, this was their last show for an indeterminate amount of time. They played well and obviously had the crowd in their corner, and I recognized some of what they played from the record, which was satisfying two years after the fact. Stylistically, they’re somewhere between ’70s boogie and classic metal, the two guitars working smoothly together while the bass and drums made up a definitive rhythm section. It’s a pretty classic dynamic, but The Pilgrim wore it ably and seemed to fit as they spread out on the wide stage, Mis Zill having room for leg-up Shiva poses and/or yoga moves while pushing out high notes.
A little bit of changeup from Kings Destroy in opening with “The Mountie” from the first record into “Smokey Robinson” and “The Whittler.” The difference was notable immediately, and where “Old Yeller” often feels like the band is lurching to life, the crash-in with “The Mountie” was more immediate. At this point in the tour, it’s gonna work either way, frankly, and it did. I knew it was going to be a joy to watch these guys play every night. I don’t know if I’ve hit 20 times yet seeing them this year, but it has to be at least 15, and I’ve yet to walk away disappointed. Vocalist Steve Murphy called an audible at the end of the set, going around to guitarist Carl Porcaro, drummer Rob Sefcik, bassist Aaron Bumpus and guitarist Chris Skowronski to switch the closer from “Embers” to “Old Yeller,” and it looked pretty touch and go as to what song was about to start, but it worked out and “Old Yeller” made an excellent finale after “Casse-Tête” and the always raucous “Mr. O,” the value of which in the set isn’t to be understated in how the hook and uptick in tempo draws in a crowd on any given night, including at Soundstage.
Another tight set from Bang. “Redman,” “Our Home,” “Last Will and Testament” and others from their 1971 self-titled debut have become pretty familiar by this point in the tour, and it’s been satisfying to watch them come together over the course of these shows. Baltimore was a workman set. Bang — guitarist Frankie Gilcken, bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara and drummer Jake Leger — got on stage and were all business from there on out, and as usual, they had a few fervent supporters in the crowd who had obviously picked up one or another of the various reissues they’ve had over the years. There was less Ferrara/Gilcken in the middle of the stage, but they were as tight as they’ve been all along anyway, and Leger‘s swinging style continues to be a perfect fit for their classic material. “Questions” closed out as it has, its resounding groove a reminder of the influence that era continues to have even now. Bang play off that well, with their vintage gear and swagger, but the prevailing vibe continues to be how glad they are to be back on stage.
Slayed. Almost to a terrifying degree. Radio Moscow have demolished stages more or less since the tour began, but I guess the difference this time around was nothing went wrong, their set wasn’t cut short, there was no hiccup and Parker Griggs, Anthony Meier and Paul Marrone could just wail on their songs. They had the best sound of the night coming out of the Soundstage P.A., and there were a couple moments — “Broke Down” is still stuck in my head, along with “250 Miles” and “Rancho Tehama Airport,” not to mention Marrone‘s drum solo in “No Good Woman,” which closed out — where you just had to step back and let out a “holy shit” at how hard they were hitting it. They’ve been a big part of the draw for this tour, and while Soundstage wasn’t as crowded as some of the other shows have been, even at its most packed, t was clear that a lot of the people who showed up were there in no small part because Radio Moscow were rolling through. They did so at top speed, impossibly tight and with zero pretense. I feel like people who don’t see this band have no idea what they’re missing.
I feel like I’m repeating myself every day, but the truth is that at this point, the tour is locked in. All four bands are delivering their show. It doesn’t really matter where they are, who’s there to see it, whatever. They get on stage and just go for it. Pentagram is no different. They came on after their foreboding intro with guitarist Victor Griffin, bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley starting “Death Row” ahead of the quick arrival of frontman Bobby Liebling, who’s never failed to carry the stage of any size on this tour, whether it was the huge church in Pittsburgh or Soundstage with the back bar blocked off. This was as close as Pentagram will come to a hometown show on this run, and Baltimore is arguably the center of their influence — or at least in the central region of it — and they put the work in to show why they’ve earned the legendary status that they have. I continue to look forward to a follow-up to Last Rites and hearing this lineup take on more lost ’70s cuts and maybe a new composition or two.
Even at the end of the night, I felt better for this show than in Pittsburgh, took a couple minutes to just sort of enjoy it and let the night soak in before load-out had to start and I drove to the Comfort Inn in North East — which is both the name of the town and its geographic location — Maryland, about 45 minutes outside Baltimore. The plan was to hang around the motel for most of the next day, since it’s a relatively short drive to Philadelphia for the show at Johnny Brenda’s, which is sold out, but you know how it goes with plans.
“He is an epic failure.” — Aaron Bumpus, about anyone, ever.
Tour ebola is better today, or at least that’s what I’ve been forcing myself to believe as I mainline vitamin C and DayQuil. Tried to pick up some more Advil as well at a truck stop along the way, but failed. I wound up trying to charge an orange juice and had to buy a York Peppermint Patty to get past the two-dollar minimum for credit cards. Feels good. Rock and roll.
Jim Pitts picked up some Who and Thin Lizzy CDs and we listened to them in the van. Probably the right call as we made our way through cold, grey, bum-you-right-out Pennsylvania. I don’t know how many different weather systems we’ve seen — it was like 75 degrees when we got to Cleveland — but it’s been at least three so far, and there are still five shows left. It’s a small wonder the van resounds with coughs.
Slow start to the day, but the good news is I slept and slept hard. I didn’t necessarily feel like I had a choice in that — it was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not — but I’m glad it did. There was about an hour to kill before we left out of New Stanton, where we stayed last night, and headed to Baltimore, so I nodded back off after showering as well. The more the merrier, even if I continued to wake myself up coughing, and likely Carl as well, who has the misfortune to be sharing my room.
Trip to Baltimore was uneventful in the extreme except for Aaron introducing all of us to Mandrill Is, the 1971 second album from NYC’s Mandrill, who ran a line between funk and soul and rock and about five other genres before they were done. I was way into it. Pretty expensive on CD, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a copy. We stopped at a music store so Rob could get a backup head for his kick drum, and there was a barbecue pub right next door so the pre-show meal was had there. Early dinner, I guess. I had yet another in my ongoing series of chicken caesar salads. Chicken was good but the salad itself had almost no dressing on it. I didn’t care. I’ll take raw ruffage at this point. As long as it’s not from a gas station. Jim also bought dinner for everyone, which was very kind, but I threw in cash for myself since it didn’t feel right. Dude certainly doesn’t owe me anything and it’s not like I’m in the band. I don’t know.
Baltimore’s own The Pilgrim are opening the show tonight at Soundstage, so it’s five bands. I remember their self-titled CD from a couple years back was cool, so it will be interesting to see them live and see where they’re at now. Pentagram were soundchecking when we got here and I got to hear them do “Walk in the Blue Light,” which was right on because it’s a good song and though it’s written on the setlist for each night, they haven’t actually been playing it, I guess opting for the Animals cover instead. No complaints there, but if it was one or the other, I’d probably take the original. Whatever my druthers are worth in things like salads and Pentagram setlists.
Posted in Reviews on October 29th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
…Or at least near Pittsburgh, if not actually “in” it. Mr. Smalls Theatre, a righteously converted church with cavernous ceilings, incense smell baked into the walls and, thankfully, a spacious balcony, seems to be across the river from downtown, so I’m not sure what the exact designation is. Millvale, maybe? Anyway, it’s damn close to Pittsburgh, and that’ll have to do.
When I first got inside, I went and talked to the sound guy for a minute, just to say hi, cool room, etc. He asked which band I was with, and I said I was touring with Kings Destroy but I didn’t play, and he goes, “Just a hanger on?” That felt good. Deeply good. I think I said something like, “Yeah, basically,” and asked him for the wifi password. For what it’s worth, the sound all night was excellent. As I said last post, I was feeling pretty under the weather for this one, so I stayed on that balcony for the duration. The show was the four touring bands — Kings Destroy, Bang, Radio Moscow and Pentagram, in that order — and the place got fairly packed out by the time Radio Moscow went on, but even for Kings Destroy with an early 7:30PM start, there were people there. They were thanked for showing up early.
Granted, I was in a haze anyway — I kept nodding off before the bands went on, sitting in my chair on the balcony — but it was a very different experience watching the show from such a distance. More like a clip on YouTube or something. The energy was still there, but the physical sense of being away from it made it another kind of appeal. Add to that the pressure in my sinuses, which with the earplugs in made the whole thing kind of otherworldly as Kings Destroy started up with “Old Yeller” and got the show rolling in their lurching kind of way. “The Toe” followed, and while people were still coming in, I could see up front they were getting into it. A bird’s eye view of what I’ve been able to sense happening all along. I felt a little bit like I was doing an anthropological study.
The tour is in go-mode, so it wasn’t a surprise that Kings Destroy or anyone who played after them owned the stage as well as they did. It didn’t really matter how many people were there at any point, they were doing their show and did it well with nearly a week of every-night plowing through behind them. “Smokey Robinson” from the new album was one of three newer songs to be aired, with “Mr. O” given a much appreciated shout to yours truly and “Embers” following. Three really killer songs that represent the new record well in being some of their best work to date. “Blood of Recompense” closed and Bang came out after a long changeover and gave their set a workout. They’ve played the same songs every night, but they’re more locked in now than they were when the tour started in Chicago, Frank Ferrara, Frankie Gilcken and Jake Leger continuously smoothing out their classic sound, Leger blending seamlessly with the two original members in giving a fresh swing to the warm grooves, paced well and easy-rolling.
Radio Moscow absolutely scorched. Opening with “So Alone,” they tore into “Broke Down” and the dangerously catchy “Death of a Queen” from this year’s Magical Dirt LP, the always-welcome “Just Don’t Know” and “Open Your Eyes” — I think — before having their set cut short. That was a bummer and the crowd expressed their discontent in a round of boos that turned to cheers in support for the band. Nothing was broken, nothing out of order — guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs, bassist Anthony Meier and drummer Paul Marrone had been tearing ass through their frenetic heavy psych jams of which, even from as far away as I was, I could feel the vibrancy. Apparently the show was just running late and they were the ones who took the hit. Still, even the chance to see them play any songs at all was a win for Mr. Smalls, which showed appreciation in a fervent round of applause.
I was fading fast. I’d been nodding off during Bang – that’s not a slight on their performance, just noting that I was having a hard time keeping my head up. I knew I wanted to stick around for at least the start of Pentagram, and I did do that, watching “Death Row” and “All Your Sins” and the The Animals cover, “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” that has become a nightly inclusion before I had to tap out. The good news was that Mr. Smalls was loud enough that even laying down in the back of the van, I could still clearly hear the band playing, but yeah, my evening was done a little early.
Load-out happened at its usual leisurely pace and I drove to where we were staying, about 25 minutes out of Pittsburgh in a place called New Stanton. Got in around one and I know I was out before two, though much of the night was spent coughing and trying to keep my head in a position to allow the mucus to drain. Would I be out of line if I said “ugh?” Not my best night, but at least the show was good.
No extra pics this time, but I’ll hope to pick back up in Baltimore as the tour moves on for the next gig.
Posted in Features on October 28th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.28.14 — 5:52PM — Tuesday evening — Mr. Smalls balcony, Pittsburgh, PA
“I am Dr. Remulak. I am Dr. Remulak.” — Chris Skowronski and Rob Sefcik
My head feels like it’s going to cave in. Not in that good, rock and roll kind of way either, like when I watched Beast in the Field the other night. Like in the my-sinuses-have-revolted-and-are-trying-to take-the-rest-of-me-down-from-the-inside kind of way. I could feel it yesterday (was that yesterday?) when I woke up at Postman Dan’s, but it started to get real bad overnight last night, tossing and turning, unable to breathe and all that wonderful having-a-cold stuff. Traveling sick. I used to call it SARS. I guess if I wanted to be current I’d call it ebola. Another day, another plague.
I had a cold the week before I left to come on this tour, but was pretty sure I’d gotten over it, so I think this is just another round from the road time, lack of sleep and so on. I got maybe four hours of sleep last night, nodded off at 3:30 and woke up at 4:45 just in agony. It sucked. I shit you not, I walked outside the Red Roof Inn to see how far away I was from the traffic I wanted to go play in, but I was too far to even do that. Fucking brutal. Today I’ve been a full-on booger fountain, and coughing, and the pressure in my head pounding away. I claimed a spot on the balcony at Mr. Smalls — which as a photographer I met in Cleveland last night told me, is an awesome room in a converted old church — and plan to stay here for the duration, but even so, I might not make it through the show before I go back and lay down in the van. Aaron was kind enough to give me a pack of Halls he had that was apparently a spare, and I bought some severe strength DayQuil and have taken Advil in an attempt to bring the swelling down in my sinuses, but nothing’s given me any real relief. I’m also warm as fuck and think it’s probably a fever. My Ron Burgundy impression has taken a real hit as a result.
Honestly, feeling like shit has been my major activity for the day. We stopped once in Ohio on the way to Pittsburgh and sat in some bridge traffic once we got to the city, but other than stopping for a very quiet pre-show meal — not quite dinner, not quite lunch — at some sub-hipster exposed-brick brewpub in what quickly got referred to as the “Massage District” and getting a chicken caesar wrap and some fries and foolishly not getting a cup of coffee when it was being ordered, it’s been pretty tame. There’s like a 70 percent chance I’m going to take my shoes off as I watch this show tonight sitting on the balcony. Maybe even 83 percent. It’s going up by the minute because tilting my head downward to look at the laptop monitor is pushing all the mucus toward my face. Once again, brutal.
It’s worth noting that as of tonight, this tour is more than halfway over. Pittsburgh is the fifth of the 10 dates Kings Destroy are doing with Radio Moscow, Bang and Pentagram, but when you factor in the Lansing show, it’s the centerpiece of an 11-date run and it’ll mean more than half the tour is down when it’s over. A while to go before we get there, since the night hasn’t started, and I won’t say I’m not looking forward to watching the gig, but neither will I mind falling asleep as quickly as I possibly can afterwards and hopefully staying that way for at least five solid hours. Doesn’t seem like an unreasonable demand, but we’ll see how it goes.
Posted in Reviews on October 28th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Scholars maintain that if you’re driving through Ohio for two hours, it’ll feel like at least four. I’ve yet to make my way through the Buckeye State that its flat expanse, constant construction and ever-visible police presence haven’t gotten inside my head. When we got to Cleveland and the band had their gear unloaded — because it was House of Blues and apparently that’s how it goes — I made my way down the block to a coffee shop and had a red eye, coffee with espresso shots, and sat for a bit. Made it back in time for Kings Destroy‘s soundcheck (I’m pretty sure that’s the order it happened in, to be honest there’s a bit of fog on the whole night; sober, sober fog) and got to watch that before doors opened.
It was the smaller room at House of Blues, or one of them anyway, but the sound was big and full and the P.A. blared bands that all sounded one way or another like Soundgarden and later Saint Vitus, and with just the four acts on the bill, the show got off to a reasonable start around 8:30 or so. By then people had shown up, but it wasn’t a sell out so there was room even at the most crowded point, probably halfway through Pentagram or thereabouts. Bands were pretty relaxed after the off-day from the tour, so it was a cool vibe both back and on stage.
I think the chance to let loose in Lansing did Kings Destroy some good. They were back to the tour setlist, a shorter time on stage, but they got right into it and had solid energy the whole way through. I’ve been fortunate enough to see them be this locked in before, so it’s not necessarily a surprise, but it’s been enjoyable to watch either way, and with the House of Blues being all ages or at least 18-and-up, whatever it was, there were some actual kids there up front who seemed to get into it. By the time they were through “The Whittler,” which was second after the standard opener “Old Yeller,” the room was on their side, and though it was early, there was a healthy amount of noise after each song. “Smokey Robinson,” from the new album, was again a highlight, and I find that much like “Embers” on the last run, that’s the song I tend to gravitate toward every night. I pulled my earplugs part-way out to let a little more volume in, and no regrets. The House of Blues P.A. seemed to be keyed in for maximum low end the whole night, but that suited Kings Destroy well, their leads cutting through the rumble smoothly in the verses of “Blood of Recompense,” a winning finish even with its quiet ending.
“Our Home,” “Idealist, Realist,” “Questions” — Bang have no shortage of liquified grooves. Of the four acts on the tour, they seem most to be enjoying the time on stage, bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara joking with the crowd about screwing up recordings and so on. Drummer Jake Leger was in his element behind the kit as Ferrara and guitarist Frank Gilcken came to the middle of the stage as they have at all these shows to revel in the fluidity of the material. Once again, the audience knew them. I stood next to the dude from Outlaw Recordings, who had done a vinyl issue of Bang‘s self-titled debut — also put out Victor Griffin‘s Late for an Early Grave 2004 solo offering — and he wasn’t even close to being the only one singing along, up to the point of some dude behind me filling in the line “Yet she never locked her bedroom door” after the stop in “Last Will and Testament.” If Bang have proven to be anything over the course of these shows, it’s been a good time, and House of Blues was no less fun than they’ve been all along, their smooth style and positive vibes winning favor among both those new to them and the already converted.
It cost them another kick-drum pedal, or it re-cost them the same one, but Radio Moscow utterly slayed the House of Blues. I don’t know if the sound was just right to pick up the richness of Anthony Meier‘s bass tone or what, the balance of the band is so much geared toward Parker Griggs‘ guitar work and ever-ready shred, but they were full and heavy and as they sprinted through the hairpin turns of “Mistreated Queen,” it was all I could do to keep from getting dizzy. Drummer Paul Marrone put on his usual clinic, and even when the pedal broke, there was no snapping the momentum they had working in their favor. “250 Miles” from 2009’s Brain Cycles has become a personal favorite, the trio lulling the audience into a false sense of security with the soft bluesy beginning only to bust out the rager jam of “Brain Cycles” itself immediately thereafter. They just kill it, every night. It’s what they do. And even in by-now-familiar go-tos like “Death of a Queen,” “Just Don’t Know” and “Broke Down,” they maintain a sense of volatility, of being just about to fly off the rails, without ever actually losing control. They’re easily one of the best live acts I’ve seen this year, and I’ve seen them more than 10 times now thus year, and have yet to come out of one of their sets not feeling like I just had my ass handed to me.
Every venue, every show, there’s the same voice yelling “Bobby!” in the exact same way. And I’ve looked around, it’s not someone traveling with the bands. Pentagram‘s Bobby Liebling is simply just that charismatic, that attention-drawing, that everywhere they play, people go off at the mere thought of seeing him on stage.Cleveland was no different, and Liebling was in good spirits, smiling at the crowd and cracking with bassist Greg Turley, doing his usual stage moves with/on Victor Griffin and nailing the vocals in “Frustration,” “Forever My Queen” and all the rest. The Animals cover has become a standard inclusion, and if they played “Lay down and Die,” I missed it, but the set was right on anyway, and even with a smaller crowd than some of these shows have had, Liebling, Griffin, Turley and drummer Sean Saley were clearly fired up as they made their way to and through the encore of “Be Forewarned” and “When the Screams Come,” the “Bobby!” shouts and “Pen-ta-gram” chants continuing even long after the singer had left the stage. Their resurgence along with that of Saint Vitus over the last half-decade only continues to prove the timelessness of doom and of their contributions to it. Even after all the lineup changes they’ve been through and the years of turbulence, there’s only one Pentagram.
Was accosted by three homeless people outside the House of Blues. One said he had to catch a bus. One just asked for change. One cut to the chase and straight up asked for beer and/or weed. Despite these downtrodden apparitions, who indeed got all my change, load-out was done by the time I got around to asking if load-out was done, and we headed out to the motel with me at the wheel, as seems to have become the standard procedure. Got turned around owing to some highway construction, but sorted it eventually and got to the Red Roof Inn somewhere around 2AM, already looking forward to waking up this morning and being able to shower before heading to Pittsburgh.
Posted in Features on October 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.27.14 — 2:27PM — Monday afternoon — En route to Cleveland
“She’s not real pretty, but she’s rich.” – Postman Dan, on Senator Dianne Feinstein
I snapped the above picture last night before the show of the sunset in Michigan. If it looks peaceful or serene in any way, then please just imagine the exact opposite for how the rest of the night played out after the show ended. As ever, the party was at Postman Dan’s place — the Postmansion — which is an old converted church that he’s essentially corrupted in the name of riff worship and nuanced horticulture. Radio Moscow, who’d been hanging out at the show, came back as well, and Travis from Hydro-Phonic and two of the other members from Dan’s band Cruthu, and of course Mama Jo, Connie, Jim Pitts and I. Made for a crowded kitchen, but there were drinks flowing and Elonkorjuu playing through Dan’s kitchen setup — Swedish heavy prog as party music: awesome — and it escalated quickly. Charm-laden debauchery. Loud voices. Blatant social interaction. Enjoyment of good people and good times. Terrifying.
Dan had set me up with a bedroom, but once I’d charged the camera battery and dumped the pics from the show, I abdicated to Steve to let him sleep in a bed and said I’d go crash in the van. Great idea. Believe it or not, it wouldn’t be the first time I slept in a van in Postman Dan’s driveway. I think the third. It was about 3:30 in the morning by then and I was ready to crash out, so I went into the driveway. It wasn’t quite at the freezing point, but it was certainly cold enough that Carl remarked this morning that the beer left out here overnight was still chilled. I set up on the back bench with my hoodie on and my bookbag for a pillow and Mystery Science Theater 3000 playing and managed to crash for about an hour, but by 4:45, I was awake and too cold to really go back to sleep, so I decided to see if I could find someplace in the house that wasn’t yet occupied.
My mistake was thinking the festivities would’ve ended by then. Dan, Scott from Cruthu and Paul from Radio Moscow were up playing pool. I couldn’t see them at first through the window and the front door was locked and my phone was dead, so I had a moment of panic that I was going to be stuck outside for the night, but they were there and Dan let me in, wondering why I wasn’t upstairs asleep. Music still playing, though they’d moved on from Elonkorjuu to something else heavy ’70s. Fair enough. Dan took me up to his room and told me to take his bed, he’d sort something out and it was 5AM and I was too cold and tired to argue. I could still hear the music coming up from downstairs, but I nodded off for about an hour and a half and then set to work sorting pictures around 6:30, which I’d find out later was when the last stragglers fell out. I started writing the show review but was nodding off again soon enough and slept for maybe another hour between seven and eight. I’ve been up since.
No shower on the way out, but breakfast at the Fleetwood Diner in Lansing hit the spot — try the Hippie Hash — and we got on the highway shortly thereafter to head for Cleveland. The tour resumes tonight with Kings Destroy, Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang and the show is at House of Blues, so should be more like Minneapolis than Grand Rapids, though I’ll take it either way. I expect by the end of the night I’ll smell even worse than I already do, and there are some vicious sleepytime farts floating around the mostly-napping rear portion of this van. Might need to air that out at some point as we roll toward the cruel inevitability of the Ohio Turnpike.
Posted in Reviews on October 27th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Michigan’s capital city has always been good to me. I’ve been to Lansing five or six times at this point and I’ve continually found it a cool place utterly void of investment. That is to say, if anyone gave a shit or had money to spend, Lansing would be like Stroudsberg, PA, or Portland, Maine, in the ranks of those post-industrial towns that the creative types have moved to and opened brewpubs. The Avenue Cafe on Michigan Ave., which is being positioned as an alternative to the long-running Mac’s Bar down the road, has a vibe that speaks to the potential of Lansing overall. It has space, people who obviously care deeply about it and a prevailing sense of having gone it alone, no doubt reflecting the reality of the situation.
It was a night off from Kings Destroy‘s tour with Pentagram, Radio Moscow and Bang, and they joined with three Michigan locals in Cruthu, Hordes and Beast in the Field for one of the shows I’ve been most anticipating om this tour and one that, in the interest of full disclosure, I had a hand in putting together at least so far as making the intro between Kings Destroy and Cruthu guitarist and all-around excellent guy “Postman Dan” McCormick, and asking Dan if there was any shot at getting Beast in the Field out for it. I mark it an even bigger win that there was that chance now that I’ve seen them play.
They were completely different than I expected. What I knew of Lansing’s own Hordes came courtesy of their split tape with Bert, and it was drawn out and droney and more noise than song. Seems at some point Hordes got a drummer and that’s had some grounding effect on what they do, which is a blend of industrial and noise rock impulses. There was a lot of Godflesh in there, right down to how guitarist A. Hudson stands and shouts into the microphone, but some rawer crunch, and the live drummer made a huge difference alongside bassist Jon Howard‘s rumble. I was a little thrown off, to the point of wondering until I saw that tape at their merch table if I was thinking of the same band, but indeed, Hordes were Hordes. Once my mind made that jump — and I’m pleased to note it happened much more efficient than the explanation of it — their churning and chugging came together well throughout their set and made me eager to hear what they bring to their next recording.
I always get nervous writing about friends’ bands — I’ve known Postman Dan for a decade at this point — but with Cruthu, the issue was avoided in the best way possible in that they were actually good. As I understand it, this was their second show, and you could tell they were just getting going on stage, still feeling things out in terms of relating to each other in the material, but it was still easy to get a sense of where they were headed, the vocals of Teri Brown and McCormick‘s clean guitar tone nestled right into the heavy ’70s style, Brown belting out lyrics with a powerful push. She backed off the mic at times, and it just emphasized how little she actually needed it in the first place for how well you could still hear her standing out front. Bassist Scott Lehman added copious wah to his bass and joined in on vocals for the closer, and drummer Matt Fry kept the laid back grooves moving straight through. There were a couple awkward transitions and things to tighten up, but that’s why you play out in the first place. Cruthu had already surpassed their Creation demo (review here), recorded earlier this year, in pulling off the right mix of vibe, groove and tonal presence.
Allowed a somewhat longer set as the evening’s headliner and the only touring band of the four playing, Kings Destroy took advantage and stretched out to include some stuff not yet aired. “A Time of Hunting,” the title-track from 2013’s sophomore full-length, was played for the first time ever — and supposedly the last according to both vocalist Steve Murphy and guitarist Chris Skowronski, though I have my doubts — and they opened with “XXY” from the first album and threw in “Dusty Mummy” too, clearly relishing the chance to change it up on the small Avenue Cafe stage. Actually, I’m pretty sure the only reason Murphy was on stage at all was because the mic cable wasn’t long enough to let him leave it. He found plenty to do anyway, wrapping his scarf around his face for “Turul,” which ended the set paired well with “Embers” before it, and making shadow impressions on the wall. “Smokey Robinson” was the highlight, and is a song for which I’ve got only growing affection, but the whole set was a thrill, and it was fun to watch Skowronski, Murphy, guitarist Carl Porcaro, bassist Aaron Bumpus and drummer Rob Sefcik make the most of the gig. There were people there — hell, even Radio Moscow showed up — but I wouldn’t call the place crowded. If it was a set Kings Destroy were playing for their own enjoyment (and at one point Murphy did say something about masturbation), then at least that enjoyment was infectious.
Beast in the Field
One of the biggest problems with internet criticism is that there’s so much hyperbole out there and it comes out so readily that when you actually happen into something special like Beast in the Field – the duo of guitarist Jordan Pries and drummer Jamie Jahr – there almost isn’t a language to convey how righteous what you’re seeing is. One almost wants to be like, “Okay, but really guys, this is where it’s at.” Pries and Jahr played in front of what I hear tell is half their usual amount of amps, but it still made for a formidable wall, and rendered earplugs all but useless against the tonal onslaught. Doing headbanger calisthenics during the deceptively catchy “Wakan Tanka” from last year’s The Sacred above, the Sacred Below (review here), Pries looked like he was trying to shake his skull off, and Jahr made each tom thud count in following along with the wrecking ball of riffs slamming through the cabinets behind him. I had been very, very much looking forward to seeing them play, and Beast in the Field wound up surpassing my expectation. Like staring at a single-color canvas painted with volume. Superlatively heavy. I’ve bought one record this whole tour so far and it’s their new live album/comic book, The Astral Path to Satan’s Throne: Live at WIDR. I’m itching to check it out but need my ears to stop ringing first.
The party, and by then it was one, moved to Postman Dan‘s, less than a mile away, with most of his band, Kings Destroy, Radio Moscow, Travis from Hydro-Phonic and so on. I stayed upstairs for the most part and wound up sleeping in the van for a bit before I got too cold — Michigan at the end of October, might want to bring a blanket next time, buddy — and had to come back inside. I guess I’ll probably have more on that later on.
Posted in Features on October 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.26.14 — 3:30PM Eastern — Sunday afternoon — White Swan B&B, Gowen, MI
“He had twice devised the perpetual motion machine.” – Phil Jackson
I drove from the venue last night through some Michigan back roads. Steve had found this place on Airbnb that he said was a lake house with four bedroom that has bands stay on the cheap, and I was expecting something pretty deluxe, but I don’t think I imagined the kind of space this actually is, all wood floors, granite counters, old photographs on the walls. And as if it needed to be more idyllic, there’s a puppy running around. They call it the White Swan B&B. The guy who owns the house was a rock photographer for years and still takes pictures around here. Easy to see why and how one would be able to keep busy in such a way. Beautiful. I spent some time outside last night after we rolled in, breathing chilly air and just tilting my head back to zone out in the quiet. A few lights around, but the Milky Way easily visible bifurcating the sky. At one point the count was even between shooting stars and vehicles passing around the road out front of the house. Short of putting on YOB, which I only didn’t do because some fucker stole my iPod out of my car before I left to come on this tour, it was about as close to communing with gods as I come. Very, very cool, and very restorative.
When I came down into the basement last night to sleep on the couch, I found a turntable with Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick on it, which I took as an even better omen since that’s been played a couple times and sung even more in the van. Conked out around 3:45 and woke up this morning a little before breakfast, which was likewise lush and prepared by the couple who own the house, Mary Jo and Ray. Unreal. Bacon, spinach and tomato frittata, potatoes, fresh coffee. Afterwards some of the guys went out on a pontoon boat, Lincoln Lake just feet away from the back door. I didn’t go, had stuff to catch up on, but a little quiet time was good too. The last couple days have been so much rushing around that the chance to stay still for a couple hours feels like twice the luxury, though here it actually is. Radio Moscow and the two ladies they’re traveling with, Mama Jo (no relation to Mary Jo) and Connie came through as well and Steve, Carl and Ray went to the grocery store to buy grillables for a barbecue and to refill the growlers the KD guys got from Hammerheart Brewing the other day, two of which were kicked last night. I asked Steve to get me an orange pepper and he did — it was glorious. I could feel the life returning.
The plan seems to be to barbecue, hang out for a bit and then hit the road to Lansing, which is about an hour away. Show tonight is with Cruthu, Beast in the Field and Hordes, all of whom I’m looking forward to seeing. Kings Destroy are headlining and have been looking forward to playing a longer set than they have been, and I’m dying to see Cruthu and Beast in the Field. I’m not sure where we’re staying tonight yet — I don’t think we’ll be back here since it’ll be an hour in the wrong direction from Cleveland, which is where the Pentagram, Radio Moscow, Bang and Kings Destroy tour picks back up tomorrow, but I wouldn’t mind another look at that night sky if one were in the offing. Or, you know, a lifetime considering this is pretty much my ideal of paradise, right down to the ducks out on the lake talking smack to everyone standing and sitting on the deck with the two grills, one gas, one charcoal, fired up with burgers, sausages, steaks, asparagus, kebabs, more peppers, portobello mushrooms and so on. There have been a few tough rides, but it’s not exactly like this trip has been roughing it sleeping on shitty punk rock basements or anything — there’s wifi in the van — but this place is legitimately wonderful, and there’s been music on just about the whole time we’ve been here.
Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Oh, Grand Rapids. You got wasted. The Pyramid Scheme is an excellent space, and they know it. An orange and blue squiggle design on the floor, cool ’50s-style retro lights, a sweet bar, great stage, great sound, great lights. And that’s just in back. Out front there’s another full bar with tables, booths and a collection of pinball machines that was enviable to say the least. Apparently they host a Grand Rapids Pinball League, or at least they sell a shirt that advertises such. I immediately gravitated toward the Star Trek: The Next Generation machine and sapped the supply of quarters I’ve built up over the last couple days in change from buying the gas station coffee that has more or less been what’s kept me alive thus far into the trip.
I’ve never been much good at pinball — or fun at all, really — but I dug it anyway and then ran over to the hipster coffee joint across the way and had a real cup of coffee and some kind of weirdo pistachio/hazelnut roll that tasted like neither. Soon enough Kings Destroy had their soundcheck and the show was ready to start. I got up front shortly after doors and was fortunate enough to run into some excellent people I know from out this way, Postman Dan who’ll be playing with Cruthu tonight in Lansing, Steve Rarick from Emetic Records, Travis Witherell from Hydro-Phonic Records, also met Jeremy who runs the Pyramid Scheme and was super cool, and later on, one of the dudes from Blue Snaggletooth, who are another killer Michigan-based act with a new album on the way.
For the first time on the tour so far, the entire bill was just the touring acts, no locals opening or otherwise. Kings Destroy got things rolling a little after 8PM:
Best show of the tour so far, hands down. I suppose that’s the way it’s supposed to go, so maybe that’s not saying much, but it’s true either way. They’ve been pretty purposeful about changing up the set at least just a little each night, and for the Pyramid Scheme, they broke out “Embers” for the first time and it occurred to me how much I’ve missed hearing that song. It fit well between “Mr. O,” and “Smokey Robinson,” the new cuts once again coming out of a pair from the 2010 debut, And the Rest Will Surely Perish, this time “Old Yeller” into “The Whittler,” which was a groove that led easily into the start of “Mr. O,” drummer Rob Sefcik rolling out a quick fill picked up by the rest of the band — guitarists Carl Porcaro and Christopher Skowronski, bassist Aaron Bumpus, vocalist Steve Murphy (I’ll be honest: it doesn’t really seem necessary to introduce these guys at this point, but I’ll do it anyway just in case) — and then launched immediately into the first verse with the line, “I am the straw that stirs the drink,” a Reggie Jackson quote that’s been running around my head since this tour started. Murphy once again came off stage for the end of closer “Blood of Recompense,” this time walking deep into the room and, at one point, almost clotheslining a group of people wrapped in his mic cable. They got out of the way and I’m glad to report no injuries sustained, save perhaps for tinnitus.
What a pleasure it’s been to watch these guys on stage. Even for just the three nights of the tour so far, and even playing the same set for each of them, the Philly trio’s raw enjoyment of their comeback tour has been projected clearly from the stage. Before they started, bassist vocalist Frank Ferrara introduced the band, naming himself as “some guido from Philadelphia” or something close to that, a smile on his face the whole time. He and guitarist Frank Gilcken (whose name I’ve apparently been spelling wrong for the last three days; apologies) and drummer Jake Leger have only gotten tighter over the course of these shows, and in Grand Rapids, they seemed relaxed as they went about their business, enjoying themselves and the crowd, which was readily familiar with their work, enough for a couple sing-alongs. “Our Home,” “Last Will and Testament,” “The Queen,” “Redman” and “Questions” from their 1971 self-titled debut were greeted particularly well, but people were no less into the opening title-track from 2004’s The Maze, the grooves smooth, the tones rich, the drums swinging and the vocals spot on the whole way. They thanked the crowd copiously and the other bands, and ended the set locked in and in full command of their stage presence, sound and presentation. It’s been genuinely enjoyable to watch them click as they have thus far.
Rough night for Radio Moscow. When they had everything working, they killed it. Opening with “Death of a Queen,” they changed up the set a little bit, including “Rancho Tehama Airport” from this year’s Magical Dirt LP (review here) and “Don’t Need Nobody” from 2011’s The Great Escape of Leslie Magnafuzz, and I don’t want to say it happened just as they were hitting their stride — because, truth be told, they hit their stride the second they start playing — but a little while into the proceedings, drummer Paul Marrone broke what was apparently a brand new head on his kick drum and had to leave stage to get a replacement. He and bassist Anthony Meier and guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs set about fixing it, and then relaunched and were off and running when Griggs broke a string on his guitar and had to replace that on the quick. Done. Then Marrone‘s drum broke again and he wound up using Rob Sefcik from Kings Destroy‘s instead — I guess because you can really only travel with so many drum-heads before all of a sudden you’re carrying a music store and how many backups will you really need on a given night? They were fine going into “Rancho Tehama Airport,” which was announced as their last song but wound up being followed by “Gypsy Fast Woman” and “Open Your Eyes,” during which Marrone‘s snare gave way and Griggs busted yet another string. They were close to the finish line anyway, so they just sort of stopped playing, thanked the crowd and cut their losses. I still can’t really say they didn’t deliver, and the audience — by then mightily sloshed — was plenty into it despite whatever interruptions to their boogie-freight-train momentum arose on their way.
I’ve yet to see any footage from this tour of Pentagram‘s new song, “Lay Down and Die,” but when some shows up, I’ll be interested to give it a deeper listen. Like some of the stuff on 2011’s Last Rites (review here), it seems like vocalist Bobby Liebling is really pushing himself vocally, and as much of the image of the band is wrapped up in his persona, I far prefer the idea of him as an artist who, even as he plays out a catalog of some of doom’s most classic material — “Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram),” “Forever My Queen,” “Review Your Choices,” “Be Forewarned,” “When the Screams Come,” etc. — still has an interest in moving forward creatively and in terms of his technique. Maybe that’s reading more into it than I should, but with Victor Griffin on guitar and sharing the vocal duties, drummer Sean Saley and bassist Greg Turley, Pentagram are an absolute force on stage. With Liebling up front, they were going to want nothing for stage presence one way or another, but in terms of tone and volume, they came into this tour ready to give a professional-level show and that’s what they’ve done each night. Bobby had a cache of young ladies toward the front of the room hanging on his every word and/or obscene gesture, and Pentagram rocked their way through their time smoothly, taking a couple minutes to warm up through the Animals cover “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” and “Frustration” from 1994’s Be Forewarned, but living up to the title “Relentless” by the time they got there and giving the Grand Rapids crowd something to (vaguely) remember the next morning.
Was pretty beat by the time Pentagram went on, but I still had energy enough to sink the last of my quarters into some more pinball as the night wound down after loadout. I don’t know what my high score was, but it was not impressive. The KD guys and I loaded into the van and split out to crash in a town called Gowen at a sort of Airbnb house on the shore of Lake Michigan, chilly and beautiful in kind. More to come on that.
In the meantime, some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Features on October 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
10.25.14 — 2:00PM Central — Saturday afternoon — In van somewhere outside Chicago
“My fuckin’ fist is gonna be ‘solid.'” — Steve Murphy
En route from Tomah, Wisconsin, to Grand Rapids, we hit a truckstop pretty early on for coffee. I’d woken up around seven and taken in some of scenic Tomah around the motel, a truck wash next door called “Power Shine,” the sign of which became I guess the equivalent of a back yard tire for the football. Water tower, parking lot, not much else unless you’re into Long John Silver. Rest stop was next to a porn shack and had an Arby’s and a convenience store. Standard the whole way around. Guy in front of me in line was mumbling some unintelligible shit and when I got to the counter, the woman working said that he goes into the place every day and tells her the perverted things he wants to do to her. Her coworker chimed in that he did the same to her and he was a registered sex offender. Every day, the same shit. It was a bummer story and bummer coffee alike. There was art outside the porn shack. You take the positives where you can get them.
Then we sat in traffic for a solid hour after making the jump from Wisconsin to Illinois. I don’t think we went three miles the whole time. It was brutal. I didn’t count how many “this fucking sucks” there were, but suffice to say consensus was reached, and rightly so. At least for me, things got pretty fucking dire pretty fucking quick, my head spiraling fast into you’re-33-years-old-and-you’re-not-even-playing-these-shows-what-the-fuck-are-you-doing-here and all the rest of it. Oh, the drama. Tough five minutes until I remembered that I hadn’t eaten since fucking yesterday morning and took out a protein bar from my bookbag. Traffic cleared up, my head did likewise, and life improved. A quick stop was made, I think as much to catch breath and stretch legs after sitting in that construction — the nation’s highways: a vision of America’s future world-stage dominance -- as to take a leak and grab food. I took a pass on lunch. Have to feel like it was the right call.
There’s a time zone change between here and Grand Rapids, but a lot of good people are coming out to the show tonight, and so I’m looking forward to that and the place we’re staying overnight looks sweet as well, so sign me up. Was in a pretty shitty headspace for a couple minutes there, but tonight and tomorrow are some of what I was most looking forward to about this trip. There’s a little press because time’s a factor and it was even before we sat for an hour and stewed in it, but we’re hauling ass to Grand Rapids now, so that’s something.
Posted in Reviews on October 25th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
As advertised, Mill City Nights was a legit room. The exposed brick walls were lined with soundproofing, but you could still hear the bands from outside. Doors were at 7PM or somewhere thereabouts, people soon started milling in slowly. It turned out to be a five-band night, with locals Vulgaari joining the bill, effectively splitting the touring lineup in half, with Kings Destroy opening, then Bang, then Vulgaari, Radio Moscow and Pentagram. They were obviously anticipated to pull a good crowd and they did just that. Apparently one or more of the dudes in the band is involved in the Surly Brewing Co., who are putting on a big fest this weekend to release a Russian Imperial Stout collaboration with Three Floyds. The Midwest likes its craft beer.
Kings Destroy went on at 8:15, just about on the dot. It was early on a five-band Friday night, but the place wasn’t empty, and it was big enough that you’d have noticed if it was. The balcony was closed off, but there were people up there for most of the night, myself included for part of Bang‘s set, and Mill City Nights was professional all the way. Pro sound, pro lights, pro atmosphere. It’s the kind of joint that would exist everywhere if the US government subsidized artists, or maybe I’m just saying that because the tiered balcony reminded me of the 013 in Tilburg. Either way, cool space to see a show in a very different way than was Reggie’s in Chicago, where the grit was half the appeal. I’ll take it either way, I guess
The set was switched up from the first night of the tour, with “The Toe” brought in instead of “The Mountie.” “Old Yeller” was kept as the opener and it’s hard to argue, that song sort of mirroring the lurching to life of any given set Kings Destroy play. It was the same story in Minneapolis it always is: Band plays, people stare, then get it, then get into it, then it ends. I wonder how it would be if they opened with a faster song like “Mr. O” or even “Smokey Robinson,” which has its quicker parts mixed in there, if that would affect the immediacy of it, but it seems like people would just be scratching their heads by the time the band got around to a closer like “Blood of Recompense,” and I like that at the end of the set, which is where it was at Mill City Nights, with “Smokey Robinson” before it, and “W2″ from the new record before that.
It was a pullback on the overall thrust to go from “Mr. O” into “W2,” as the latter song has its groove but is less energetic, but it’s that way on the album too, so I’ve gotten used to it. Hard to believe it was just the second night of this run. Last time around, it took three or four shows before things really felt like they were rolling along. This time everything has locked in quicker, and I’d extend that to the other bands as well. Radio Moscow and Pentagram have been out recently, but even Bang, who, again, haven’t toured in 40 years, seem to have smoothed out rough edges if they had any. They came on after Kings Destroy in an immediate stylistic shift that I think I’m only going to enjoy more as this tour goes on, and gave the same set as Chicago a once-over, including the ballad “Last Will and Testament” — when bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara hit the line about a “private whore” in the song, someone shouted back, “whore!” I think just to be happy to use a semi-dirty word — and “Questions,” which rounded out in suitable fashion, emphasis on the smooth ’70s-style groove and of course the lead work of guitarist Frank Gilcken.
Drummer Jake Leger is largely hidden behind his kit, but even so, it was easy to get a sense of how crucial he is to what Bang are doing at this point. He’s not an original member, obviously, but he fits in exceedingly well with Ferrara and Gilcken, and his drums sounded fantastic at Mill City Nights. I feel like most of the time a snare sound isn’t something that really makes you stop and appreciate it, but Leger‘s snare had this rich, almost resonant clap that was just perfect, even if the ghost notes didn’t really get picked up by the mic. When he came down on it, you knew it. I guess the same could be said of his whole kit, but the snare stood out, particularly in watching from the balcony, the bird’s eye view allowing for a different perspective as the band continued to look like they were genuinely having a good time being back out on the road. It can’t be easy after so long away to just hit it for 10 dates or whatever it is, but they’re carrying it with class and the crowd ate it up, which of course is what matters.
Another real stylistic turn when Vulgaari took the stage. A triple-guitar five-piece, they lumbered out a deathly take on doom and sludge, vocals coming on in growls over riffs that in another context probably wouldn’t be so far off from Pallbearer, a current of instrumental melody running through what you’d still definitely call brutal metal. They were well received by the hometown crowd — even the guy up front who yelled “fuck you!” to the guitarist was clearly joking — and I intended to buy a CD but didn’t get the chance, but like Iron Reagan in Chicago, they were the odd men out in having the most metallic influence at play. Didn’t really matter one they got going. No dissension among the audience that I saw, and I think particularly a lot of the younger attendees — the show was all ages, so there were a few kids around — had no trouble getting into it.
I didn’t either, for whatever it’s worth, but with a drive to Grand Rapids ahead, it was decided that Kings Destroy would split early. I’d seen Pentagram soundcheck earlier in the evening, and yesterday, and I will again today, and Radio Moscow too, so I got it. Grand Rapids is a nine-hour ride from Minneapolis around Lake Michigan, and that’s with no stops. Even with putting in two-plus hours last night, it’s a bit of a crunch. Not really worried, though. Plenty of open spaces to stare at in the interim.
More pics from last night after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Posted in Reviews on October 24th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster
Stickers on the wall, a dim, red-hued bar next door, record store upstairs and rooftop deck that I didn’t venture out to see, Reggie’s wasn’t short on vibe. It’s one of those places I’ve seen listed on tour dates for years, but to be there and see the place, turn it from an abstraction on a list of mostly unfamiliar rooms to someplace with actual sights, sounds and beat-up couches on the balcony was an opportunity I genuinely appreciated. And the place lived up to expectations, as much as I had them, with a bare concrete floor, high ceiling, graffiti art all on the walls and a t-shirt shop out toward the front door. Very cool space, and good for them making it work.
Doors were at 7PM, and Richmond, Virginia’s Iron Reagan were opening. Here’s how it went from there:
They showed up not too long before the slated start of their set, which was 7:30 – a perfectly reasonable time to start a five-band bill on a weeknight; the venue had a 1:15 curfew in place – and set up their gear and thrashed in likewise manic fashion, tossing off period Slayer riffs amid an ‘80s-worship onslaught that was further conceptually than sonically from vocalist Tony Foresta and guitarist Phil “Landphil” Hall’s other band, Municipal Waste. They played under a huge banner featuring the visage of the former president from whom they derive their name – because the ‘80s – and were more than solid in their delivery if something of the odd men out on the bill. Didn’t stop a circle pit from forming as they quickly ran through a recent EP they put together for Decibel, five songs in about three minutes, which was a solid way to keep momentum going into the highlight “Miserable Failure,” a Cannibal Corpse cover and the finale, “Eat Shit and Live,” which had fists pumping up front. Not really my thing, but I couldn’t argue with the presentation.
First night of the tour. I’ve seen Kings Destroy enough times by now to know when it’s a rough night, but that wasn’t the feeling I got at Reggie’s. They opened with two older songs, “Old Yeller” and “The Mountie,” which seemed a fitting way of easing into a short half-hour set, and then broke out “Smokey Robinson” and “Mr. O” from the new album, one right into the next. That worked well, and by the time they got to “Smokey Robinson,” they were visibly into it. As much as I dig the speedier “Mr. O,” and I’m glad to hear “The Mountie” whenever able, “Smokey Robinson” was the high point of the set, though I won’t discount the sheer bizarro-doom thrust of rounding out with “Blood of Recompense” into “Turul,” both songs slow, lurching and vicious from the second album, last year’s A Time of Hunting, bringing the record’s closing pair right into people’s faces, loud and stomping and mean. As ever, people at the start didn’t know what was happening and by the end were into it enough that they stopped trying to figure it out and just went with it.
Guitarist Frank Gilcken announced this as Bang’s first tour in 40 years, which got a laugh out of drummer Jake Leger, who most certainly wasn’t there when Gilcken and bassist/vocalist Frank Ferrara last hit the road. Disparity of years notwithstanding, Bang were a tight classic-styled power trio breaking out cuts from their ‘70s era, injecting something a little newer with “The Maze,” and even finding room for a ballad in “Last Will and Testament.” Vintage amps pushed out warm tones, Leger added a swinging sensibility that fit really well, and Ferrara’s vocals had that smooth ‘70s vibe. It was funny to think of both Iron Reagan two bands before, whose idolatry was directed at a different decade entirely, and Radio Moscow still to come, who find the core of their influence in heavy ‘70s blues-inspired acts like Bang. Add to that Pentagram’s ‘70s lineage, and Bang made a lot of sense for the bill, since whether their material was newer or older, they played through with a classic feel and sense of poise, the two Franks coming together on stage regularly to share laughs and grooves alike.
I’ve never seen Radio Moscow that they didn’t show up to play, and I’ve never seen Radio Moscow not show up. I don’t think the San Diego classic heavy rockers have come off the road since their Spring run with Kings Destroy and Pentagram, or at least not for any great stretch of time, having done Europe and South America since, in addition to releasing the album Magical Dirt (review here), from which the bounce-happy “Death of a Queen” was aired. There were some issues before they started with guitarist/vocalist Parker Griggs’ gear, but they were solved quickly enough, and he, bassist Anthony Meier and drummer Paul Marrone sprinted through regular suspects like “Just Don’t Know,” “Broke Down,” “Before it Burns,” “250 Miles” and “Gypsy Fast Woman,” the latter closing out after Marrone ran off stage quickly to replace a busted kick pedal. The boogie was as fervent as ever, and Radio Moscow delivered the kind of air-tight rager of a set that I’ve come to expect from them since the last tour, Marrone and Meier reminding that while it’s Griggs who gets the most solos – at some point on this tour, I’m going to count who’s got more, him or Frank Gilcken from Bang – it’s just as much the rhythm section that makes the songs move.
Pentagram played a much bolder set than I expected. I guess after watching them do basically the same batch of songs last time around, my head was just positioned to think this would be more of that, but it wasn’t. “Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram)” was early in the set, after “Death Row,” “All Your Sins” and a cover of The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood,” which Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin also did with In~Graved when I saw them last year at Days of the Doomed III in Wisconsin. Even more notably, a new song called “Lay Down and Die” was aired, and frontman Bobby Liebling announced from the stage that the plan was to hit the studio this winter to record a follow-up to 2011’s Last Rites. Hopefully they’ll record with the same lineup they have now – Liebling, Griffin, bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley – since they’ve developed some genuine chemistry on stage, which one could see and hear both in that song, which had some double-time hi-hat from Saley and a fast verse delivery, and in the encore as they jammed out an extended take on “When the Screams Come,” which followed “Be Forewarned” in a raucous finale of sleazed-out doom well met by the Reggie’s crowd, fired and liquored up in kind.
We poured out of the venue circa 1AM and I drove to some town in Wisconsin – after getting much advice on how to get the van out of its spot, most of it bunk. The next show is in Minneapolis, which is another town I’ve never been to and am greatly looking forward to seeing, the land starting show some more hills on the way where it’s been pretty flat since Pennsylvania up to this point. No complaints either way.