Vista Chino Interview with Brant Bjork: Peace and Progress

Posted in Features on September 5th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m going to go on a limb here and say that while it wasn’t their first choice and something that was brought about through a lawsuit from former bandmates, the name change that turned Kyuss Lives! into Vista Chino was a good thing. My reasoning is simple. Kyuss is a set entity. It’s in stone. It’s done. It’s been done for over 15 years now. There’s a legacy born out of the California desert that’s influenced thousands upon thousands of bands, and without Kyuss, that just doesn’t happen. They were an integral part of setting forth a movement in heavy rock that continues to this day.

The difference is they were and Vista Chino are. Even if vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork — who toured and wrote songs together as Kyuss Lives! — had been able to continue using that or just the straight-up Kyuss name, they’d be setting themselves up to fail, because even if original guitarist Josh Homme — who along with former bassist Scott Reeder brought the lawsuit that was settled with the moniker switch– had returned to the fold and they’d worked with the same lineup that resulted in 1992’s Blues for the Red Sun, it never would’ve been the same. It may have been conflict that birthed it, but with the Napalm Records release this week of Peace (review here) as the first Vista Chino studio album, Garcia, Bjork and Fevery (Oliveri having left after recording his bass parts) are moving forward in a way Kyuss wouldn’t have been able to do.

It’s a question of freedom, ultimately, and where any output under the Kyuss banner would’ve resulted in an endless stream of comparisons set to the impossible standard of a decade and a half of lionization, Vista Chino are free to progress, both on a career level and creatively. Peace finds Bjork taking lead vocals on “Planets 1 & 2,” something that never happened in Kyuss (though certainly it’s happened plenty since), and works off a different, new instrumental chemistry and playing style from Fevery. The record isn’t about capturing something that used to exist and doesn’t anymore, and at its heart, that’s why it succeeds. I’m not sure Peace would’ve worked as a Kyuss album, but for Vista Chino, it stands not only as an excellent debut but a potential-filled sign of things to come. It makes the listener look forward to what could be and not back to what was.

So while it may have been plenty ugly getting to this point and of course no one knows what days ahead might bring, Peace establishes Vista Chino as a band with both a past and a future. In the interview that follows here, Brant Bjork discusses some of those prospects, particularly as relates to bringing in bassist Mike Dean from C.O.C. to fill the position vacated by Oliveri and held for a brief stretch by Billy Cordell, and also creating music for the first time alongside Fevery, the legal tribulations that made Vista Chino who they are, his relationship to Vista Chino as opposed to Kyuss, when he knew that Kyuss Lives! would result in new material, the group’s plans after the US tour they’ll soon start and much more. As he spoke, I could hear a desert wind come through the line in the background.

Complete Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

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Vista Chino, Peace: The Desert was Our Home

Posted in Reviews on July 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Vista Chino has been a curious proposition from the start. As far as reunions go, I think even the members of Vista Chino would have to admit the circumstances that have led to their studio full-length debut, Peace (Napalm Records) have been convoluted and probably far less than ideal. What began as a Kyuss revitalization in the form of the John Garcia-fronted Garcia Plays Kyuss at the 2010 Roadburn festival and gradually morphed into tours with former Kyuss bassist Nick Oliveri (also Queens of the Stone Age, Mondo Generator) and drummer Brant Bjork (also Brant Bjork and the Bros., Che) with guitarist Bruno Fevery under the moniker Kyuss Lives!, Vista Chino wound up becoming Vista Chino as a result of a lawsuit that had former Kyuss guitarist Joshua Homme (who went on to bone fide rock stardom in Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist Scott Reeder as its plaintiffs. In this context, it’s just as easy to read the album title Peace as a desperate plea as a relieved exhale. Perhaps it’s both. Whatever the case, this multi-tiered clusterfuck born out of the original reunion spearheaded by Garcia, initially on his own with members of European acts (including the Belgian-born Fevery), has led to new band Vista Chino Garcia, Fevery, Oliveri (who plays on the album but has been replaced live by C.O.C. bassist Mike Dean) and Bjork — making their first record as the inheritors of the Kyuss legacy, which presented in the massive influence of the three studio albums after their 1991 Wretch debut — Blues for the Red Sun (1992), Welcome to Sky Valley (officially a self-titled; 1994), and the ominously-titled …And the Circus Leaves Town (1995) — is indisputably the largest in the genre of desert rock. This is no small challenge, but whatever else Peace is able to accomplish over the course of its 49 minutes and 10 tracks split just about evenly time-wise to allow for vinyl sides, it maintains an element of consciousness throughout of the context in which it arrives. Then it sidesteps it and rocks out with abandon.

However a Kyuss reunion might’ve played out in a perfect world, Vista Chino, who recorded Peace at Thunder Underground in Palm Springs, handled the task before them the only way they could; they wrote a collection of honest songs that didn’t outwardly try to recapture what Kyuss was in its heyday, but invariably showed flashes of that owing to the involvement of Bjork, Garcia and Oliveri and the effect that being in Kyuss has had on their lives, better and worse. Perhaps most pivotal to the album’s ultimate success, nobody throughout Vista Chino‘s debut is doing an impression either of Homme‘s tone or his songwriting methodology. If anything, the name change brought on by legal mandate has allowed the group to begin the establishment of a new musical identity, and though Fevery‘s tone is rife with desert-styled fuzz, his manner of play particularly in the leads here and his handling of the riffs throughout is his own. Maybe that new identity wasn’t what Vista Chino were looking to do when they started out as Kyuss Lives!, but it’s where they ended up all the same. The closest Vista Chino comes to directly referencing Kyuss on Peace is probably in the central riff of “Planets 1 & 2,” which seems to be nodding at “Green Machine” from Blues for the Red Sun — but even there, the band finds personality of its own as Bjork steps in to share vocal duties with Garcia, something that, though he contributed to the songwriting all along while he was in Kyuss (he left prior to the last album), he never did before. Likewise, songs like “As You Wish” and the sweetly open-spaced “Barcelonian” showcase a laid back heft that, though Kyuss touched on at times and one could easily argue had a hand in pioneering, is more mature in its presentation and sense of purpose than the members of Vista Chino could’ve been at a younger age. The inevitable tradeoff is that it’s not new anymore and that Vista Chino inherently cannot instantly show up and invent desert rock the way Kyuss is often credited with doing (of course the reality is more complex than the narrative; see also “Black Sabbath invented heavy metal”). It’s already been done.

How do you, in putting tracks together, ignore that and proceed to make a record? I don’t know. And I don’t know what the division of songwriting labor on Peace was between Bjork, Garcia, Fevery and Oliveri, how much of the album was written separately as opposed to together in a rehearsal space or in the studio, but at some point, these players stopped looking back at what Kyuss was able to spearhead and started looking forward at what Vista Chino might be able to do to make a mark on the form. That could be something as simple as the jam from which the shuffle of the later “Dark and Lovely” resulted, maybe. What matters is, it happened, and however a given listener might feel about the circumstances by which Vista Chino became Vista Chino, it’s to the ultimate benefit of Peace that they did. To call these Kyuss songs would be to set a standard in the mind of anyone hearing them with a clue as to who Kyuss was that they invariably couldn’t meet. Peace probably wouldn’t work as a fifth Kyuss outing. As the first Vista Chino, it not only affirms the relevance in the craft and performance of the band, but it gives them a starting point from which they can expand on subsequent outings should they choose to do so, free of the restraints that an idea of “what Kyuss should sound like” might otherwise place on them. Had Garcia, Fevery, Oliveri and Bjork started out under the new name, it wouldn’t even be a matter of discussion. It’s fascinating to think of that as the feedback intro “Good Morning Wasteland” gives way to the driving “Dargona Dragona,” which is Peace‘s first impression on the listener. An album that only gets stronger and more complex as it plays out, “Dargona Dragona” provides Peace a mostly straightforward beginning, Fevery, Oliveri and Bjork starting out instrumentally before Garcia joins on vocals. When he does, his voice is more blown-out sounding than anywhere else on the record, presented with a kind of compression that cuts through the otherwise natural-sounding tones for the “ooh-ahh” chorus and seems high in the mix as a result. Though on the subsequent “Sweet Remain,” he pushes his range to what seems like as high and as guttural as it will go, on “Dargona Dragona,” the vocals are almost abrasive, even as the swirl and richness of fuzz the rest of the band creates is just beginning to establish itself.

That can, for the first several listens, be off-putting — or at very least, off-throwing; which may well have been Vista Chino‘s intent — but it’s easy enough to get used to, and both the verses and chorus are memorable enough that the quality of track outshines any puzzling aspects of its presentation. The aforementioned “Sweet Remain” follows with Bjork setting the beat on drums as Fevery joins with a layered riff and winding lead while Oliveri rumbles with characteristic and creative fills underneath and Garcia recounts through the chorus lyrics what reads like a direct reference to the band’s legal struggles — “And they lost their souls/When they lost their way/Yeah, we fight to the bone/But the spirit remains” (or thereabouts). After work in Slo Burn, Unida, Hermano and guest spots on countless other bands’ albums across the world, John Garcia sounds perhaps most at home in these songs as he has since Kyuss‘ initial run (though I’ll gladly champion his performances in the other acts noted as well). On “Sweet Remain,” he bleeds, and after a bouncing, gleefully insistent instrumental stretch, returns to ask, “And I wonder/Who’s fooling who/And I wonder/Who’s fooling you.” If nothing else, we glean that the sundry dramas surrounding the band are present on the minds of Vista Chino, and it was arguably much the same on Queens of the Stone Age‘s …Like Clockwork (review here) when it was released earlier this year. So be it. Following, “As You Wish” sticks to a similar lyrical thematic — the opening lines “Rise from ash/The phoenix comes” — but resides in a less hurried instrumental sphere, the bass prominent amid buzzsaw guitar and Bjork‘s drumming, which is subtly creative and periodically the glue holding the jams of Peace together. On a general level, “As You Wish” is more indicative of the spirit of Peace overall, laid back, heavy, ultra-grooved and jammed-feeling but given to moments of propulsive riffing, topped with Garcia’s inimitable vocals. Most immediate, it makes a fitting lead-in for “Planets 1 & 2,” which not only is one of the most enjoyable tracks on Peace but also, for Bjork taking the fore vocally, one of the stretches in which Vista Chino most carves out its own personality, separate from the legacy of Kyuss.

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Vista Chino Announce North American Tour Dates; Mike Dean Playing Bass

Posted in Whathaveyou on July 9th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Aside from the regular-type awesomeness that Vista Chino are going on tour in support of the upcoming full-length debut, Peace, the news below gets an added level of intrigue because the band will be joined for the US run by Mike Dean of C.O.C. on bass. Of course, C.O.C. are currently working on a new album as well, so how that scheduling will play in with him splitting time on the road with Vista Chino remains to be seen.

For now though, the good news is they’re touring. The bad news is there’s no Boston show and they hit New York and Philly the week of my wedding anniversary. Peace is due out Sept. 3 on Napalm. Dig it:

VISTA CHINO Announce North American Tour Dates

New Album Peace Available September 3rd in North America via Napalm Records

VISTA CHINO the band formed by John Garcia and Brant Bjork (formerly of Kyuss) are gearing up for the release Peace. The album will be released September 3rd in North America via Napalm Records. The artwork for the album was created by the renowned California art collective – The Date Farmers.

Following their much heralded debut North American performance as VISTA CHINO at the “Orion Music and More Festival”, the band have confirmed a North American headline tour in support of Peace. Support on the tour will come from the Portland Oregon rock outfit known as Black Pussy.The tour kicks off September 6th in Calgary, Alberta and runs through September 28th in Columbus, Ohio.

Drummer Brant Bjork cannot wait to showcase the new music for the fans:

“VISTA CHINO is super excited to bring the fresh VC rock to the American fans. We’ll be rocking songs from our new Vista Chino record “Peace” along with some Kyuss classics and the legendary Mike Dean from COC will be bringing the electric bass…so, be there or be square.”

The band debuted the “Dargona, Dragona” on their Facebook Page. When visiting the page, clicking the “like” button will enable the audio.

Rising from the desert sands that birthed Kyuss Lives, VISTA CHINO’s sound is instantly familiar. With the trademark soulful vocals of John Garcia, the songwriting and production of Brant Bjork (drums) and the fuzz-laden riffage of imported guitarist Bruno Fevery, VISTA CHINO’s debut is one of the year’s most anticipated heavy rock albums. A new band born of a storied past, right now it’s about these players playing these songs.

VISTA CHINO North American Tour:
9/6: Calgary, AB @ Flames Central
9/7: Edmonton, AB @ Starlite Ballroom
9/9: Vancouver, BC @ Commodore Ballroom
9/10: Seattle, WA @ El Corazon
9/11: Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theater
9/12: San Francisco, CA @ Slims
9/13: Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex
9/14: Anaheim, CA @ House of Blues
9/16: Denver, CO @ Summit Music Hall
9/18: Minneapolis, MN @ Fine Line Music Café
9/19: Chicago, IL @ Metro
9/20: Pontiac, MI @ Crofoot Ballroom
9/21: Toronto, ON @ Phoenix Concert Theater
9/23: Montreal, QC @ Corona Theater
9/24: Quebec, QC @ Dagobert
9/25: Ottawa, ON @ Ritual Night Club
9/26: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
9/27: Philadelphia, PA @ Underground Arts
9/28: Columbus, OH @ Alrosa Villa

VISTA CHINO European Dates:
7/25: Tienen, Belgium @ Suikerrock
7/26: Feldkirch, Austria @ Poolbar Festival
7/29: Vienna, Austria @ Rock Im Wald Festival
7/31: Pinarella di Cervia, Italy @ Arena
8/3: Lierpop, Holland @ Rock Planet
8/7: Munich, Germany @ Backstage (Free & Easy Festival)
8/8: Geneva, Switzerland @ Usine
8/9: Puttlingen, Germany @ Rocco del Schlako
8/10: Eschwege, Germany @ Open Flair Festival

Vista Chino, “Dargona Dragona”

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Vista Chino Album Title, Artwork Unveiled

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Well, if Vista Chino (the former Kyuss Lives!) are going for a desert vibe in their artwork, it’s easy enough to imagine the cover of their forthcoming full-length debut, Peace, painted on the side of a chipped-away wall, so yeah, I guess they got there. The band are playing Metallica‘s Orion Festival this weekend in Detroit, and have announced some European dates, but the title and the art are the big news for the day, and presumably there’s more news to come before the release on Napalm Records.

So says the PR wire:

VISTA CHINO Announce Album Title, Unveil Artwork

First North American Performance This Weekend at “Orion Festival”

VISTA CHINO the band formed by John Garcia and Brant Bjork (formerly of Kyuss) have finished work on their new album. Today the band has unveiled the album title as well as the cover art for the record. The album is titled Peace and the artwork for the album was created by the renowned California art collective – The Date Farmers.

Drummer Brant Bjork commented about working with The Date Farmers:

“The Date Farmers are native to the desert where we are from. It is an honor to work together with such prolific artists!”

VISTA CHINO’s first North American performance will take place this Sunday June 9th at the “Orion Festival” in Detroit, MI curated by Metallica. VISTA CHINO will appear on the “Frantic Stage”. A full North American tour will be announced shortly

Recently the band debuted the “Dargona, Dragona” on their Facebook Page. When visiting the page, clicking the “like” button will enable the audio.

Rising from the desert sands that birthed Kyuss Lives, VISTA CHINO’s sound is instantly familiar. With the trademark soulful vocals of John Garcia, the songwriting and production of Brant Bjork (drums) and the fuzz-laden riffage of imported guitarist Bruno Fevery, VISTA CHINO’s debut is one of the year’s most anticipated heavy rock albums. A new band born of a storied past, right now it’s about these players playing these songs.

VISTA CHINO Live:
6/9: Detroit, MI @ Orion Festival
7/25: Tienen, Belgium @ Suikerrock
7/26: Feldkirch, Austria @ Poolbar Festival
7/29: Vienna, Austria @ Rock Im Wald Festival
7/31: Pinarella di Cervia, Italy @ Arena
8/3: Lierpop, Holland @ Rock Planet
8/7: Munich, Germany @ Backstage (Free & Easy Festival)
8/8: Geneva, Switzerland @ Usine
8/9: Puttlingen, Germany @ Rocco del Schlako
8/10: Eschwege, Germany @ Open Flair Festival

For More Info Visit:
https://www.facebook.com/VistaChinoMusic
http://www.vistachinomusic.com
http://www.napalmrecords.com

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Vista Chino Sign to Napalm Records; New Song Posted

Posted in Whathaveyou on May 23rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

We all knew it was coming, but Vista Chino, formerly Kyuss Lives! have officially announced that they’ve signed with Napalm Records and will release a new album this fall. The first taste of that record is posted now on their Thee Facebooks page in a studio version of “Dargona Dragona,” previously available as a live clip.

Vista Chino is John Garcia, Brant Bjork, and Bruno Fevery. Curious not to see Nick Oliveri listed in the lineup, but that’s probably a different press release entirely. Behold:

VISTA CHINO Sign to Napalm Records

VISTA CHINO the band formed by John Garcia and Brant Bjork (formerly of Kyuss) have inked a deal with Napalm Records. The album is set for an early fall release. More details, including album title, artwork and track listing will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Vocalist John Garcia said the following:

“Kyuss Lives is now VISTA CHINO!…it feels great just to write that….and to say it out loud, feels even better. Now that our relationship with Napalm Records is official; it’s time to forget about the past year, move forward, and execute our original plan, which was to make kick ass music and tour the world!

Drummer Brant Bjork added:

“We look forward to working with Napalm Records and we anticipate great support in rolling out the VISTA CHINO rock.”

Thomas Caser, Head Of A&R at Napalm Records commented on the signing:

It’s with great pride we announce the signing of VISTA CHINO. After all the band has been through they are ready to rock! We at Napalm Records are thrilled to work with such talented artists and look forward to a long-lasting cooperation!

Today Napalm Records and VISTA CHINO are excited to debut the first song from VISTA CHINO’s highly anticipated first full length album. The song entitled “Dargona, Dragona” is available as an exclusive stream on the VISTA CHINO Facebook Page. When visiting the facebook page, clicking the “like” button will enable the audio.

Rising from the desert sands that birthed Kyuss Lives, VISTA CHINO’s sound is instantly familiar. With the trademark soulful vocals of John Garcia, the songwriting and production of Brant Bjork (drums) and the fuzz-laden riffage of imported guitarist Bruno Fevery, VISTA CHINO’s debut is one of the year’s most anticipated heavy rock albums. A new band born of a storied past, right now it’s about these players playing these songs.

VISTA CHINO’s first North American performance will take place at this year’s “Orion Festival” in Detroit, MI curated by Metallica. VISTA CHINO will play on Sunday June 9th on the “Frantic Stage”. A full North American tour will be announced shortly.

VISTA CHINO Live:
6/9: Detroit, MI @ Orion Festival
7/25: Tienen, Belgium @ Suikerrock
7/26: Feldkirch, Austria @ Poolbar Festival
7/29: Vienna, Austria @ Rock Im Wald Festival
7/31: Pinarella di Cervia, Italy @ Arena
8/3: Lierpop, Holland @ Rock Planet
8/7: Munich, Germany @ Backstage (Free & Easy Festival)
8/8: Geneva, Switzerland @ Usine
8/9: Puttlingen, Germany @ Rocco del Schlako
8/10: Eschwege, Germany @ Open Flair Festival

For More Info Visit:
https://www.facebook.com/VistaChinoMusic
http://www.vistachinomusic.com
http://www.napalmrecords.com

Vista Chino, “Dargona Dragona” Live in Sydney, Feb. 27, 2013

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First Video of New Vista Chino Song Surfaces

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 2nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

In one of the last shows they’ll play under the Kyuss Lives! moniker, Vista Chino joined forces with Orange Goblin and Red Fang (god damn that’s a good show) at the Metro in Sydney, Australia on Feb. 27. All three bands and many others are down that way for the massive Soundwave festival, and Vista Chino closed their pre-encore set with — wait for it — a new song. The title is either “Dragona” or “Gakona,” but likely it’ll be something else entirely by the time their new album streets, so it probably doesn’t matter yet anyway. Joining drummer Brant Bjork, guitarist Bruno Fevery and vocalist John Garcia was C.O.C.‘s Mike Dean on bass.

Here’s their full setlist:

One Inch Man
Gardenia
Asteroid
Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop
100°
Thumb
Green Machine
Freedom Run
El Rodeo
Hurricane
Dargona

Encore:
Whitewater
Allen’s Wrench
Odyssey

I know I already closed out the week, and I hope if this isn’t actually the first video of new Vista Chino someone will correct me, but seeing this, it was too cool not to post. The video’s a little rough (shot on an iPhone), but it should still be enough to give a general idea until something a little cleaner surfaces, which it’s bound to do. Till then, dig you some of this:

Vista Chino, “Dragona” Live in Sydney, Feb. 27, 2013

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Kyuss Lives! Changes Name to Vista Chino; New Material in the Works

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 29th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

This was bound to happen, I suppose. Given all the legal drama surrounding the Kyuss Lives! 3/4 Kyuss reunion of John Garcia, Brant Bjork, Nick Oliveri (who announced that he’d returned to the band yesterday) and guitarist Bruno Fevery, a name change seems like the easiest way to solve the problem. The people who are going to see them know who they are regardless, so yeah, Vista Chino it is. Fucking a.

Now they can move forward and put out a new record. They may not have the Kyuss moniker, but it seems pretty safe to assume whatever these dudes put their minds and hearts into is going to wind up with that desert spirit. Here’s the news:

Former KYUSS Members John Garcia, Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri Announce New Band: VISTA CHINO

Legendary Rock Musicians Announce Final Live Performances as “KYUSS LIVES!”; Detail Major Plans with Exciting New Project

Brant Bjork, John Garcia and Nick Oliveri — formerly of KYUSS — are pleased to introduce their new project: VISTA CHINO. The group, comprised of the three founding members of the legendary rock band and guitarist Bruno Fevery, are currently recording new material in anticipation of a 2013 worldwide release that will coincide with major touring plans.

The final live appearances of “KYUSS LIVES!” will take place in early 2013 as part of Australia’s Soundwave Festival. The guys are looking forward to playing their classic songs along with new material.

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Live Review: Kyuss Lives!, The Sword, Black Cobra and The Atomic Bitchwax in New Jersey, 12.10.11

Posted in Reviews on December 13th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

Earlier in the day, while waiting for a table at the Alexis Diner on Rt. 10 in Denville, I asked The Patient Mrs. to buy a ticket for the Powerball. I don’t usually play the lottery, but we’d been there for a bit waiting for the rest of my family to show up (lunch following my nephew’s Xmas pageant was one of the day’s several social obligations), and still tired from seeing Mighty High and Cortez the night before, I thought how great it would be to both win the Powerball and see Kyuss Lives! in the same day. My reasoning was that one was great enough, but imagine both!

It’s a wonder I’m not divorced.

The early part of that same evening found The Patient Mrs. and I (she was driving; I’d already had a few and I’d have a few more before the night was out) racing northbound on the Parkway to get to the Wellmont Theatre in scenic Montclair, NJ, in time to catch The Atomic Bitchwax open the show for Black Cobra, The Sword and Kyuss Lives!, who were on the last night of their tour and under whose banner the whole show took place. The Bitchwax being Jersey locals, the appeal was plain, and with the added interest of Dave Witte (Human Remains, Burnt by the Sun, Exit-13, Birds of Prey, Municipal Waste, etc.) filling in on drums, I didn’t want to miss it. You know that hurried feeling when you get all anxious that you’re not going to make it in time? It was like at, and as per usual, completely without reason. We arrived well in time for the start of their set.

Last time I saw The Atomic Bitchwax was at the Saint in Asbury Park with Karma to Burn, and it was high on the list of the best shows I’ve ever seen them play. With Witte‘s taking Bob Pantella‘s spot on drums while the latter is on a European run with Monster Magnet, intrigue was high. Sure enough, Witte more than held his own, but as you’d expect, the chemistry that’s developed between Pantella and bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik and guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan just wasn’t there. Still, they did Jersey proud, and I spent the whole time trying to figure out how Kosnik would know Witte (Human Remains was a Jersey band; that’s the best I could come up with), taking minor mental detours to enjoy “Destroyer,” “Gettin’ Old,” “So Come On,” “Shitkicker,” “Hope You Die,” the Core cover, “Kiss the Sun” and the curious instrumental choice of closer, “Force Field.”

Witte is a master drummer. The reason he’s involved in so many projects is he’s so adaptable, and in The Atomic Bitchwax, he nestled in well alongside the fast-winding riffs of Kosnik and Ryan, though there was part of him that looked ready to bust out a grindcore blastbeat at any moment, and his snare seemed to pop with that kind of expectation. By contrast, Rafa Martinez of Black Cobra did unleash a few blasts, most notably during “Obliteration” from the band’s most recent Invernal album, but hit with a different technique altogether. This was the first I’d seen Black Cobra since Invernal came out, and I was glad to find them focusing on the new material, since I think it’s their best yet.

That Martinez and guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian were unbelievably tight should almost go without saying at this point, since that’s pretty much been the case with the duo since their inception as a touring act seven or eight years ago at this point. They opened with “Avalanche” from the new album, though, and it occurred to me how much they’ve grown in terms of stagecraft. Landrian, quiet and subdued off stage, is more confident than ever while on, and more apt to engage the audience as a frontman. He held his guitar over his head, headbanged, yelled off-mic at the crowd and generally worked to bring people into the show. It wasn’t yet crowded at the Wellmont, but the people who showed up early knew why they were there, and I think Landrian‘s efforts were appreciated.

“Avalanche” and “Obliteration” were highlights, but the irresistible riffing of “Corrosion Fields” made their set, and it would do so again the next night in Brooklyn. That kind of chugging groove is unmistakably righteous, and I didn’t in the least envy Austin, Texas, riffers The Sword for having to follow it. Still, they did, and as The Sword are more or less the commercial vanguard at this point for heavy rock, I felt in watching them like they were unavoidable. Bound to happen. I didn’t hear their last record, 2010’s Warp Riders, and I don’t remember the one before that, but I immediately recognized “Freya” from Age of Winters for its epic riffing and battle tales, and that was fine.

Look. At this point, The Sword aren’t going anywhere. They have a more than solid fanbase, have worked hard enough on the road to give their now-former drummer a nervous breakdown, and as guitarist/vocalist J.D. Cronise was out front watching The Atomic Bitchwax during their set, I’m inclined to think their hearts are in the right place, whatever the hype or promotional push around them might be. Hipster metal isn’t all The Sword‘s fault, and that’s coming from someone who doesn’t even like the band. They did their thing and the crowd responded well to it, and if I wasn’t into it, then at least I got a few minutes once I was done taking pictures to grab another beer and sit down before Kyuss came on, which I appreciated thoroughly.

And you’ll notice in that last sentence I dropped the “Lives!” from Kyuss Lives!, which seems only fair at this point. The looming prospect of a new album next year, plus the time the foursome of vocalist John Garcia, bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist Bruno Fevery and drummer Brant Bjork have put in on the road playing those old tunes, they’ve earned it. It’s Kyuss. You know it, I know it. This was my second time seeing them, and yeah, Josh Homme wasn’t in the building, but seriously, bands have toured with fewer founding members, and I defy you to watch Brant Bjork during “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop” and call it anything other than Kyuss.

It was pretty clear they were tired from being on the road, the show wasn’t exactly sold out even at its most crowded point, and the cavernous high ceiling of the Wellmont that so well suited Black Cobra didn’t do them any favors sound-wise, but how could I possibly think of a Kyuss set as anything other than a positive? What else would I have been doing that night that would’ve been better than drunkenly belting out the parts to “El Rodeo” along with Oliveri and Garcia, or watching the jam that developed out of “50 Million Year Trip (downside up)?” Nothing. Watching the current incarnation of Kyuss tear through their set with the level of poise and professionalism they did was a blast. Garcia didn’t talk much, but sounded killer singing, and Fevery seemed even more comfortable on the songs than he had in Philly, making “Hurricane,” “Freedom Run” and “One Inch Man” high points of a night mostly comprised of high points.

Whatever becomes of the Kyuss Lives! lineup, with Oliveri facing jail-time following a SWAT standoff earlier this year and Scott Reeder waiting in the wings to take up the bassist position as he did prior to the release of 1994’s genre-defining Welcome to Sky Valley, they’ve done well by themselves and most importantly, by the material on these American and European tours. After absolutely nailing “Demon Cleaner,” they came out to do a quickie encore that included “Green Machine” and (I think; someone please correct me if I’m wrong) “Odyssey,” and then were done. I’d expected “Thumb,” but the Wellmont house lights came back up and the audience was quickly escorted out the door and into the cold.

Jersey doesn’t get shit for heavy rock shows. Generally speaking, if it’s coming anywhere these days, it’s coming to Brooklyn or maybe Manhattan if it’s a big enough deal to get into one of the corporate venues, but something like seeing Kyuss on my home turf in North Jersey, I felt like it was a really special opportunity and one I think I made the most of. It was night two of three shows in a row for me, but definitely will standout as more than just the middle in a series. I got everything I could’ve asked for except cheaper beer, and as I woke up the next day sans hangover, I felt like even the $7 Shiner Bock was a favor directed in my way (well, maybe not). I didn’t win the Powerball, but I’d hardly call it a loss for that.

Extra pics after the jump.

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