Begotten Stream Two Lost Tracks Recorded in 2001

Posted in audiObelisk on October 19th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

begotten

Just how far ahead of their time were New York riffers Begotten? Take a listen for yourself to these two lost cuts from 15 years ago and find out. I’ve gone on at some length over the last couple years about the effect that a changing social media landscape and generational shift has had on a period of heavy rock in the late-’90s and early-’00s, so I’ll spare (most of) that, but like NYC compatriots in Atomic Number 76, Kreisor, Puny Human, M-Squad and a host of others — The Brought Low might be considered survivors — the trio Begotten were a prime example of a band about to have their time who found it cut short. Tracked in 2000 and released in 2001, their self-titled debut was the final CD to come from the groundbreaking Man’s Ruin Records, and like many of that imprint’s acts — Suplecs, MassCavity, etc. — they were left wondering what to do next when label honcho and design artist Frank Kozik pulled the plug. The record, a quality offering of post-Sleep tonal weight with flashes of New Yorker edge and more psychedelic impulses, never got the push it deserved, and they never did another. End of story.

Yes and no. The MySpace era and many of the acts who thrived in the day may have dissipated, but in the case of Begotten, before they went their separate ways, they took part in what seems to be numerous studio and taped rehearsal sessions after the album came out, and it’s from those that “Apache” and “Nomad” come. The two songs — other versions of which you can actually still find archived on their MySpace page, linked below — are presented here in somewhat raw fashion, but give credence to what I’m talking about as regards those years in general, which is to say that if it showed up in my inbox today, the work of guitarist/vocalist Matthew Anselmo, bassist/vocalist Amanda Topaz and drummer Rob Sefcik — the latter of whom would resurface years later in Brooklyn’s Kings Destroy — would fit right in.

Insert your favorite cliche about the old being the new here, but listen to Begotten lumber their way through “Apache” in the context of what bands like Monolord are doing now and I think you’ll hear the adage is easily applied. In tone and the emergent jammed-out feel of “Apache,” as well as in the more intense initial chug that follows in “Nomad” (Sefcik‘s drum intro reminding a bit of Kings Destroy‘s “Stormbreak” from their second album) before that song nears the halfway mark and gloriously spaces itself out, ne’er to return, Begotten‘s emphasis on swing and laid back heft seems prescient in hindsight.

My understanding is that Begotten might start jamming together again at some point, but whether or not that comes to fruition, the three-piece left behind a quality curio in their self-titled, the value of which extends way beyond its tertiary trivia, and “Apache” and “Nomad” show there was clearly a progression underway in their sound that, to-date, remains unrealized. Seems to me that in another 10-15 years — maybe sooner; things move quickly these days — when this era of heavy rock gets mined for reissues the way releases from 1968-1975 have been, Begotten will be more than ready for a second look, whatever else their future as a group may hold.

Sefcik offers some comment on the tracks under the player below.

Please enjoy:

Rob Sefcik on “Apache” and “Nomad”:

So if I remember correctly we went in to record these because we felt we were really hitting our stride. I’m not sure if we had any intention of releasing them at the time but they were definitely a reflection f what we were going for — music that had weight but also an earthy spirit and a sense of freedom. Keeping things super heavy but maintaining a certain loose, jammy vibe is always easier said than done, but we felt like we were getting there with these tunes.

The consensus is that they were recorded late spring/early summer 2001, about a year or so after the record was out. There was a pretty good amount of other material, at least an album or two’s worth. They were recorded in Manhattan but in true stoner rock fashion no one can remember the name…

We definitely have some other recorded material that we have not been able to locate, but I’m sure it will rear its head. For Amanda, these songs for her personally were, ‘an expression of the sublime beauty of the gut-wrenching agony of her existence at the time.’ I was just tying to have a good time, ALL the time, ha.

Begotten on Thee Facebooks

Begotten on MySpace (yup)

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The Obelisk Presents: Geezer, Eternal Black, Matte Black & River Cult at Arlene’s Grocery, NYC, 9/13

Posted in The Obelisk Presents on July 22nd, 2016 by JJ Koczan

geezer eternal black show poster

On Sept. 13, Arlene’s Grocery in Manhattan will host GeezerEternal BlackMatte Black and River Cult as the first edition of a new series of shows called Ode to Doom. When I think about the trajectory of shows in New York over the course of that sentence, the key word in my mind is “Manhattan.” As someone born and raised in Northern New Jersey, I spent a lot of time in dinged-out NYC clubs like The ContinentalC.B.G.B.’s, Lit LoungeAcme UndergroundMidwayBowery Electric and so on, and though the bulk of the underground scene has moved as a matter of generational shift and relative affordability to Brooklyn, to see Arlene’s Grocery starting this series reminds me of how heavy rock first began to flourish in New York. And that’s a good thing, and something I’m proud to have The Obelisk associated with in conjunction with Freebird Productions.

And you’ll note the immediate dedication to up and coming acts. Geezer‘s new album? Yeah, look out for that when it arrives. Eternal Black, meanwhile, have been tracking their own debut and from what I saw them bring to the stage at Maryland Doom Fest, that’ll be one to keep an eye on as well, while Matte Black issued their debut LP at the end of last year and River Cult set an encouraging tone with their first demo in 2015. Right away, Ode to Doom is digging deep into the heart of New York heavy, and that’s exactly the way it should be. Gonna be an awesome night and hopefully the launch of many more to come.

Says show organizer Claudia Crespo of Freebird Productions:

“With so many venues shutting down in NYC, I think collectively we feel those losses… I wanted to — for a long time now — produce a bi-monthly doom/sludge/desert/stoner metal night, and luckily for me, I have a venue in my corner willing to support me and the ideas i wanna do. It’s a little intimidating coming in and producing a show like this — because first of all, I’m new. Secondly, I don’t want other producer thinking I’m trying to step on their toes. A lot of them are my friends and i have a lot of respect for what they do. They do so much for the metal communities in NYC and have certainly paid their dues and know their shit. I just wanna add another platform specifically for this particular genre.

It really comes from a good place, from a place where I connect deeply with this music and just wanna get involved in it. If anything, i don’t wanna take away from anything or anyone. Actually it’s the opposite of that: I wanna do more and give more back. The September 13th show will be our very first one, and I hope people COME OUT AND SUPPORT !! This is my love note to DOOM, SLUDGE, DESERT AND STONER ROCK !!! an ODE to THE RIFFS !!”

Freebird Productions & The Obelisk Present: Geezer, Eternal Black, Matte Black & River Cult

Sept. 13 – 8PM – $8

Arlene’s Grocery
95 Stanton St.
Manhattan, NYC

Event page on Thee Facebooks

Tickets at Ticketfly

Arlene’s Grocery website

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Live Review: Enslaved, YOB, Ecstatic Vision and Witch Mountain in NYC, 03.21.15

Posted in Reviews on March 23rd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

enslaved 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Driving the four-plus hours from Massachusetts to NYC to see Enslaved, YOB, Witch Mountain and Ecstatic Vision on Saturday wasn’t the practical choice, but it was the only choice. True, three of the four would be much, much closer to me this week, but to catch them in a bigger room and with Witch Mountain wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to miss. I left much earlier than I needed to, leaving as little as humanly possible to chance in terms of sitting in traffic, stressing out, etc. Turned out to be one of the easier rides south that I’ve had.

A positive omen? Maybe. I had time to hit Academy Records before the the show, which was a rare pleasure, and plenty of opportunity to catch my breath before doors to Gramercy Theatre opened. Last time I was there was for PentagramKings DestroyBang and Blood Ceremony, and as ambivalent as I was at being back in Manhattan itself, it would prove to be a night surrounded by old friends, laughs and good vibes. More than anything, that made trip worthwhile.

But there was a show on as well, and a killer one at that. An early start for a packed night had Witch Mountain on at 7:30, and here’s how it went from there:

Witch Mountain

witch mountain 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

A couple new faces in Portland’s scene-preceding four-piece, Witch Mountain. Very new, as it happened. As in, this was their second show. Led by founding guitarist Rob Wrong and drummer Nate Carson, the band had played Pittsburgh the evening prior, and that was the first gig with newcomer vocalist Kayla Dixon and bassist Justin Brown (also of Lamprey). Night two of the band’s Mk. III lineup was a short set, but they made the most of it and showcased the potential for continued growth. Dixon had a distinctly metallic presence as frontwoman, and the entire band, Brown included, seemed to relish the opportunity to have a bigger stage on which to unfurl their doom. Again, their time was brief, but “Psycho Animundi” from last year’s Mobile of Angels (review here) more than ably demonstrated Dixon‘s vocal range, while “Veil of the Forgotten” and particularly the end of “Shelter” from 2012’s Cauldron of the Wild (review here) thrust into an almost power metal presentation, already edging up to the boundaries of a shifting personality for the band. Especially for it being night two, it was an encouraging sight. I’d expect over time Witch Mountain will loosen up further in presence as they continue to tighten sonically, but I felt fortunate to see that process at its beginning.

Ecstatic Vision

ecstatic vision 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Of the four bands on the bill, I wondered most about how Ecstatic Vision‘s sound would translate to the spaciousness of Gramercy Theatre. The Philly three-piece would hardly be the first act in history to play space rock in a high-ceiling room, but for their being a newer band despite the experience of guitarist/vocalist Doug Sabolik and drummer Jordan Crouse in A Life Once Lost, it was a point of curiosity. Some of Sabolik‘s flourish, the chimes on his mic stand and melodica, weren’t as prevalent as they had been when I saw the band open for YOB at the Saint Vitus Bar in December (review here), but they did well all the same, and bassist Michael Connor‘s tone came through the house clear and warm in kind. Their custom lighting, the rope lights around the drums, strobe, and so on, left Connor more or less out of the equation, and that seemed to create some imbalance on stage, but unless you happened to be the black metal purists positioned in front of me as I watched Estatic Vision space out on encompassing, fluid psychedelic jams, there was little to argue with as they warmed up and settled into their engaging vibe. They still don’t have much recorded but are expected to make a debut sometime later this year on Relapse. Still worth keeping an eye on.

YOB

yob 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Would YOB do “Marrow” in that room? Yes, they would. Three of the four cuts from last year’s Clearing the Path to Ascend (review here) — also my pick for the best album of 2014 — were aired, with opening duo “In Our Blood” and the scorching “Nothing to Win” leading to the aforementioned 19-minute record-closer, which was followed in turn by the title-track of their 2011 sixth album, Atma (review here), the Eugene, Oregon, three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt, bassist Aaron Rieseberg and drummer Travis Foster crisp in their delivery but not at all dead-eyed in the here’s-another-show way one might expect after their having spent the better part of the last three weeks on the road. The run with Enslaved ends this week, but YOB will continue to tour their way back west before returning in May to the East Coast for Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore. In New York, their response showed a considerable crossover response from the clearly-there-for-Enslaved contingent, particularly as the culmination of “Marrow” hit and they followed it by the gallop-laden “Atma,” which seemed all the more furious in comparison. I’ve seen YOB at least five times in the last 12 months and have yet to come out of a set without any regrets. Foster‘s snare was loud in the house mix, but so was everything else, so, you know, it kind of worked itself out. Every accolade YOB gets, they earn. I know they did that European stint last year with Pallbearer, and that was a month-plus on the road, but it’s still a change to think of YOB as a touring band after their years of keeping shows limited. While I wonder what the rest of 2015 will hold for them, I also couldn’t help but notice how sustainable and decidedly un-worn they looked on stage, like they could just keep going. I doubt they’d have met any complaints if they had.

Enslaved

Enslaved (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Last time I saw Enslaved in New York was early 2013. They played the Bowery Ballroom (review here), which is a not-insignificant space in itself, but not as sizable as the Gramercy, and I think it says something about the long-running Norwegian outfit’s growing US fanbase that their return to Manhattan would be in a larger venue. They’re supporting the release of their 13th full-length, In Times (review forthcoming) on Nuclear Blast, but new material or old, they had the room on their side from the word go. Bassist/vocalist Grutle Kjellson joked with the crowd between songs, and by the time they got down to playing the title-track from In Times laughingly promised the crowd that it would be the last new song they played. For what it’s worth, I didn’t notice much of a change in reception for recent or older material. Sure, a song like “The Watcher” from 2008’s Vertebrae, with its mega-chorus, or a by-now staple like “Ruun” from the 2006 LP of the same name is bound to get a response, but “Thurisaz Dreaming” and “Building with Fire” sat well alongside those and “Death in the Eyes of Dawn” from 2012’s RIITIIR (review here), and wherever the band headed, the crowd went along. Of course, their stage presentation was air-tight, Kjellson holding down a frontman role flanked on either side by guitarists Ivar Bjørnson and Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, while keyboardist/vocalist Herbrand Larsen made a case for up-front featuring of his own with stellar command of the clean-sung parts — I saw Enslaved for the first time eight years ago at SXSW, and I’d mark Larsen‘s growth as a vocalist among the foremost catalysts enabling their musical progression in that time; that growth was, I’ll note, already underway for several years by then — and drummer Cato Bekkevold sat swallowed up by his expansive kit surrounding. They came out one at a time to start their set and for the encore, and each time Bekkevold sat down, he disappeared. Good for a laugh, but he also used that whole drumset, and flawlessly. Their encore was “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth” from 2003’s Below the Lights, “Fenris” from 1994’s sophomore outing, Frost, and the title-cut from 2004’s landmark Isa, and when it was over, there was nothing left for the audience to do but leave, having so thoroughly been handed its ass on a platter by the five-piece, whose reach seems only to continue growing with time.

If you want the short version, the show was a win, but what made it even better was seeing old friends throughout the night and catching up, and that was something that continued even as security started shuffling people out of the downstairs lounge. On my way back north on Sunday, it was the memories of good times and good music that seemed to make the trip shorter, both thoroughly appreciated.

Speaking of old friends, this review is dedicated to Loana dP Valencia of Nuclear Blast, alongside whom it has been my complete and utter pleasure to work for the last decade.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Fall Tour Pt. 21: Cockroach en Fleur

Posted in Features on November 1st, 2014 by JJ Koczan

empty gramercy

11.01.14 — 4:14PM — Saturday afternoon — Gramercy Theatre, NYC

“Don’t hit anybody in this neighborhood.” — C-wolf, on driving in Manhattan

We were up early this morning. My watch was set for 7:30 and I was conscious not that long after. Time to head to Manhattan. We stayed in Montpelier, the capital of Vermont, but there was barely a look at it on the way out of town. Fair. I wasn’t awake enough to soak any of it in anyway, so it would’ve been lost on me. We left somewhere right around 9AM. Load-in was reportedly 3 o’clock and it was going to be six hours on the road. Weather? Miserable. Rainy and cold. Stopped in Connecticut at a Wendy’s for lunch. I didn’t get anything.road in vermont I’ve been sick enough, I don’t need to add that to it, especially with the finish line so close.

The drive was long but not actually terrible until we got near NYC. I fell asleep in the van around Stanford, Connecticut, and woke up sitting in traffic on some on-ramp heading into the city. Won’t complain about that. The KD guys are excited to be back in New York, near home. I am ambivalent at best. Already walked in and asked to get a photo pass and got a “needs clearance with Klaus” (Pentagram’s tour manager) for the first time on the tour. Cool. 10 shows later I’ll go ahead and get right on that. The magic of Manhattan.

Oh yeah, and that 3PM load-in? Got here at four and heard “you’re early!” Good for a chuckle.

In the existential sense.

As opposed to weed candy.

Anyway.

None of the other bands are here yet. Pretty sure beating Pentagram to the venue is a first for the tour. riverI expected they’d drive all night in their RV, which is what they’ve usually done. A bang on the door got a “What the fucking fuck?” from the guy running the place, and it turned out to be Bang. Again, New York magic. I’ve always been back and forth love/hate with Manhattan, and with the rise of Brooklyn over the last decade, the once central borough itself has little culturally left to offer. City of cocaine, concrete and cupcakes. Even the museum costs $15 to get in and they judge you if you don’t make the suggested donation. Whatever.

Lots of AC/DC on the way down today. Some Baroness to change it up. Now it’s Danzig over the house P.A., no doubt in winking acknowledgement that the Samhain reunion is happening across town tonight. How the Gods Kill. Timing is everything.

Grey weather and lack of sleep in my head. Cough continues to nag, but it’s climate more than anything. Show reportedly has an 11PM curfew, and Providence is relatively close, so should be able to get a decent night’s sleep. And the show will be good. Show’s always good.

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Live Review: Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and Danava in New York, 09.26.14

Posted in Reviews on September 29th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

uncle acid and the deadbeats 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)

The tour had started two nights prior at Underground Arts in Philadelphia. The night before, they were in Boston, and it would’ve been a much shorter drive to hit that show, but it was my 10th wedding anniversary. A drive down to New York to pop into Manhattan and catch Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats with Danava at Bowery Ballroom didn’t seem unreasonable. Traffic on the way down, on the other hand, was. I still managed to get to the venue before they opened the doors to the upstairs room where the show was actually happening — I’d never seen a line inside the downstairs bar before — so though I felt like I was going to be late the whole danava 1 (Photo by JJ Koczan)time, I still managed to get a spot up in front of the stage. Doomly serendipity.

Portland, Oregon’s Danava, who are veterans of Kemado Records, were the lone openers. A double-guitar foursome, they weren’t unknown to me, having made a somewhat less than favorable impression at Roadburn in 2012. I wasn’t looking forward to seeing them, to be quite honest. I don’t even remember what it was about their Roadburn slot that had me so irked — maybe just the simple fact that they were on before Conan and the room was so crowded– but by the time their set was three songs in, it was clear I was the one with the problem and not the band, who boogied down on winding ’70s-style riffage like they were born to do it, bangs-sporting guitarist/vocalist Gregory Meleny trading riffs with Pete Hughes, also of Sons of Huns, in a flurry of shuffle and push met head-on by the bass and drums, not quite retro but definitely skipping a couple decades in its influence.

It was a sold-out show, and people came early, so Bowery Ballroom was plenty packed for Danava‘s set. danava 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)“Shoot Straight from a Crooked Gun” and “White Nights of Murder” from their most recent album, 2011’s Hemisphere of Shadows, were both aired, but the primary impression I had of them was mostly of my own jackassery after our paths last crossed. Again, not sure what my deal was or where the distaste came from, but they were more than solid and held the fickle attention of a Friday night Manhattan crowd. For that alone they deserve some measure of credit. I guess one of these days I’ll have to go back and dig into their records, but at least I know for the next time they come through that it’s worth showing up. Lesson learned.

Old tube televisions, one or two with built-in VCRs — there was a time when these things were a premium — were spread throughout Uncle Acid‘s amp backline, and they’d flicker on and off with static as part of the UK outfit’s lightshow, otherwise minimal. Guitarist/vocalists Kevin “Uncle Acid” Starrs and Yotam Rubinger and bassist/backing vocalist Dean Millar were backlit, their faces obscured, as the lights above switched colors from red to blue to green, orange, yellow, etc., each song in the set seeming to come with its own hue. Light-up cat’s eyes were attached to uncle acid and the deadbeats 2 (Photo by JJ Koczan)cymbal stands on either side of Itamar Rubinger‘s drum kit, and they remained on for the duration, feeding into the band’s schlock horror cultistry and malevolent mystique, the crowd eating it up from the start of “Mt. Abraxas” onward.

For a band to sell out a place like Bowery Ballroom is not an inconsiderable achievement, and NYC is far from the only city on the tour to receive the band thusly, but that it’s Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats‘ first run through the US only emphasizes the passionate response they have received. In the UK, they toured with Black Sabbath, and after a couple shows in London, they made their official live debut at Roadburn in 2013 with a slot on the Main Stage curated by Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard. Their two latest albums, 2011’s Blood Lust (review here) and 2013’s Mind Control (review here), are among the most lauded records in this half of the decade, and their influence is already being felt in a burgeoning movement of garage doom that one expects will only continue to grow. They’ve got a lot riding on their next full-length, but Uncle Acid are already a uncle acid and the deadbeats 3 (Photo by JJ Koczan)big fucking deal, and they were greeted accordingly in Manhattan, the audience roaring like something off a live record as the first recognizable strains of “I’ll Cut You Down” emanated from the stage.

I wouldn’t dare understate the power behind that song’s foreboding swing, murderous threat and otherworldly melody, but it was one highlight among several, “Crystal Spiders,” new single “Runaway Girls,” “Death’s Door,” “13 Candles” and “Mind Crawler” doling out rapturous hooks in Starrs‘ and Rubinger‘s vocals. They finished the regular set with “Withered Hand of Evil” and made an encore out of “13 Candles,” “Desert Ceremony” and the thudding “Devil’s Work,” a catchy finish but subdued in comparison to a lot of what preceded. No doubt this was by design, as was the entirety of the presentation, but the scale and realized sensibility with which Uncle Acid conjured up their demons and those of the multitudes in attendance — who almost to a head stuck through until the end — seemed to show a band rising to the occasion of the fervency they’ve induced. That is, while their ascendancy uncle acid and the deadbeats 4 (Photo by JJ Koczan)was already well underway by the time they started playing out, they’ve more than caught up with it. It would not be a surprise if on their next US tour, they play on even bigger stages.

Walking back the couple blocks to my car, it felt good to be back in New York. It had been a full year to the day since I last went to a show in Manhattan, which I think was the longest stretch I’ve had in more than a decade. I stopped into a cafeteria with some fantastic smelling Middle Eastern food and got a bottle of water for the road and then hit it, back up the FDR and toward the drunk-driver nightmare that was I-95 North heading into the weekend.

More pics after the jump. Special thanks to Jon Freeman for making this one happen and thanks to you as always for reading.

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Live Review: Vista Chino, Black Pussy and Kings Destroy in Manhattan, 09.26.13

Posted in Reviews on September 27th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

I had a pretty set vision in my head of how the night was going to work. Having left Massachusetts the evening prior and spent the day at work like so, so many others, I left the office early to get into the city. Traffic was anticipated and delivered, but I still arrived at Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan well advance of doors opening for Vista Chino — the time limit on needing to put “formerly Kyuss Lives! after their name seems to be running its course now that they have an album, Peace (review here), out — Black Pussy and Kings Destroy. The plan was simple: Get up front and plant. Take pictures of the bands and then, a little while into Vista Chino‘s set, drop back, relax and enjoy the fuzz. I’m happy to report that more or less that’s exactly how it went.

No joke, it was Kings Destroy who sealed the deal on my hitting New York instead of Philadelphia to catch the tour. There was no Boston date, and if I’m already driving four hours south, what’s another two? But when Kings Destroy got added to the bill as openers, that made the decision much easier. I knew I’d manage to catch them somehow before they headed north next month, and I don’t regret doing so. Their set, as has been the case the last couple times I’ve seen them, emphasized just how far they’ve come in their sound, opening with “The Mountie” from the first album but nestling into its real groove with cuts like “The Toe,” “Blood of Recompense” — an early highlight of the show — and the always gleefully bizarre “Turul” from this year’s A Time of Hunting.

That’s nothing new. The change was the size of the stage they were playing on. Now, I know Kings Destroy has done runs through Europe, that they played the Getaway Rock festival in Sweden, that they’ve done Chaos in Tejas and others — not to mention the shows some of these guys have done in bands like Killing Time, etc. — I’m not shocked they can hold it down on a big stage. Hell, the stage at the St. Vitus bar is pretty sizable and they kill it there on a regular basis, but it was particularly awesome to watch Kings Destroy deliver a pro-grade and unbelievably heavy sampling of their material — Rob Sefcik‘s drums came across especially loud and were welcome, and I stood in front to the side of the stage by bassist Aaron Bumpus and guitarist Chris Skowronski with no regrets; Carl Porcaro‘s solos had no trouble cutting through — with vocalist Steve Murphy not making mention of the fact that he, Sefcik and Porcaro played with Kyuss at C.B.G.B. nearly two decades prior, working at the time under the banner of Mind’s Eye.

The changeover between Kings Destroy and Black Pussy was quick enough, though honestly it didn’t matter if the Portland, Oregon, five-piece took the stage and delivered the stoner rock equivalent of “Raining Blood,” there was no way their music was going to make a bigger impression than their name. I’m not sure how you get five guys to agree on calling a band something like Black Pussy, but okay. Never mind the fact that “pussy” is one of three words in the English language I wouldn’t say in front of my mother, the group says that they took “Black Pussy” from the working title of The Rolling Stones‘ “Brown Sugar,” and that they don’t condone any kind of racism or sexism or whatever else. All well and good dudes, but whether you condone it or not, you still called your band Black Pussy and here I am talking about it instead of your music, which was actually pretty cool in that ultra-groovy and relaxed heavy psych kind of way.

It wasn’t long before white dudes in the crowd were doing DaveChappelle-as-RickJames voice saying the band’s name between songs, and the whole thing was both a bum-out and a distraction from their material, which again, was quality: Thick guitar and bass filled out with analog synth and Korg swirl, pusher-manned by classic rock attitude-soaked vocals and drums that were both theatrical and precise. As a privileged white guy whose only experience with cultural discrimination has been getting called fatass by, well, everyone ever, it was easy enough for me to look past the racial element and get lost in the dense fog of immersive nod, but the simple fact that it was there to be looked past seemed needless. I’m not going to pretend it’s cool just because they played well. Saying you’re not racist doesn’t undo racism, and if you need to go out on a limb and put it out there that, “we’re not racist,” maybe a harder look is needed at the reasoning pushing you to do that. If you want to say I don’t get it, fine. They were a better band than their shitbird moniker. I didn’t have cash on hand to buy a record, but I would have picked one up if I had.

Brant Bjork produced their forthcoming second album, Less Info More Mojo, so that they’d wind up on the road with Vista Chino made sense — certainly their first album, last year’s  On Blonde, which was dedicated to Bjork, owed him a sonic debt as well — but the night belonged to the headliner. I saw Kyuss Lives! twice during their run with that name, in New Jersey and in Philadelphia, but with the new songs from Peace and Mike Dean of Corrosion of Conformity on bass in place of Nick Oliveri standing opposite on the stage from guitarist Bruno Fevery, the appeal of Vista Chino was fresh despite the added appeal of seeing the four-piece play Kyuss songs as well. I won’t discount the value of hearing John Garcia sing “Gardenia” and “Thumb” and “Freedom Run” live, especially as someone who never got to see Kyuss during their original run, but I was just as happy to hear him absolutely nail “Sweet Remain” from Peace and make a home in the laid back groove of “Adara,” which opened their set leading into “One Inch Man” from Kyuss‘ 1995 swansong, …And the Circus Leaves Town.

Presumably, the hope is that as Vista Chino continues to develop as a new band apart from Kyuss and Kyuss Lives!, they’ll work more original material into shows. As of now, there’s only so much they have to put into a 90-minute set. The ratio was six Vista Chino to 10 Kyuss songs, but the division was equitable, bouncing back and forth initially only to deliver a one-two-three of classics to finish with “Thumb,” “Green Machine” and “Freedom Run” before coming back out for an encore that included the new song “Planets 1 & 2,” on which Bjork shared vocals with Garcia as he does on the album. Frankly, new or old, it all rocked. The frontman made one mention of the lawsuit from former bandmates Josh Homme and Scott Reeder that forced him and Bjork to give up the Kyuss name last year, working it into the lyrics of “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” but other than that, it was encouraging to see Vista Chino pairing their own work with the Kyuss songs and having Mike Dean on bass takes them to a whole new level.

I won’t say anything against Scott Reeder or Nick Oliveri. Not a fucking chance. They are tremendous bassists and hugely influential songwriters. I know it’s easy and fun for fans to pick sides in that kind of thing, but that’s not what I’m about. I like music. So to watch Mike Dean live in those parts — not just play them like a recital, but to crawl inside the new and the old material and actually make it his own — was vividly exciting, and it made Vista Chino that much more of its own entity. He owned “Hurricane.” And he made the shuffle in “Dark and Lovely” positively irresistible, Garcia‘s voice cutting through front and center of the Bowery‘s P.A. while Fevery‘s guitar seemed to fluctuate in prominence but ultimately settled in nicely. Bjork, who said recently in an interview here that Dean was his favorite rock bassist, was clearly enjoying sharing the rhythm section with him, and the swing the two concocted felt righteous and invigorated. I shudder to think what those guys and Fevery would/will be able to come up with when it comes time to jam on new material for a follow-up to Peace.

“Planets 1 & 2” fit well in the encore with a medley of “Whitewater” into “Odyssey” from Kyuss‘ genre-defining Welcome to Sky Valley and at the end of the set, Garcia offered a heartfelt applause for the crowd who stayed till the end. It had dwindled some as they pushed past midnight — nothing like a late Thursday to turn Friday into an utter blur — but for me, however long and far they go and however many times I’m fortunate enough to see these guys play, I don’t want to miss any of it.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Clutch in Manhattan, 05.02.13

Posted in Reviews on May 3rd, 2013 by JJ Koczan

With nearly 40 shows under their collective belt in support of their 10th album, Earth Rocker, Maryland roaddogs Clutch are still really just beginning the touring cycle. Fresh off a couple weeks’ break following a long run with Orange Goblin, they returned to Manhattan last night with The Sword and regular tour compatriots Lionize opening, playing a set that included all but two of the tracks from the new album as well as a few classics from their vast catalog.

There aren’t a lot of bands who can get away with this. The rock and roll cliche is that when you hear, “Here’s one from the new album,” it’s time to go get another drink. Clutch, and their fanbase, are an exception to the rule. Earth Rocker (review here) has been out for about a month and a half, and it was the new songs that people wanted to see, to get to know in a live setting, to find out where the band — guitarist Tim Sult, vocalist Neil Fallon, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster — would decide to throw in a jam here and there, and to learn how the new stuff meshed with the old.

Clutch last came through in December as part of their annual holiday tour (review here), and they had played a few of the Earth Rocker cuts then, but now with more gigs behind them, the songs were unquestionably more refined. And there were more of them. Save for “Unto the Breach” and “Mr. Freedom,” the entirety of Earth Rocker was spread throughout the set — eight tracks — mixed with a few cuts from its unofficial companion piece, 2004’s Blast Tyrant (the two albums shared a producer in NJ-based Machine), including “Cypress Grove,” “The Mob Goes Wild,” “Profits of Doom” and “The Regulator,” as well as “Mice and Gods” from 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus, “The Yeti” from 1998’s Elephant Riders, and the finale, “Electric Worry,” from 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion.

The real kicker here is that no matter what Clutch play at a given show, they both picked the setlist right and left something out. 10 albums deep, there’s no way they can get to everything in a single night, so they’re probably right not to try, and with the expectation that a New York crowd probably doesn’t have a lot of first-timers in it — they’ve done and continue to do really well in the area; the sheer size of Terminal 5 can stand as testament — the way for Clutch to give their audience something it hasn’t seen before is to play the new songs. Frankly, that’s what I was there to see.

And they did not disappoint. Opening with “Earth Rocker” into “Book, Saddle and Go” and “Cyborg Bette,” the rush was immediate and their energy palpable. Fallon as ever was back and forth on stage, gesticulating wildly to emphasize the lyrics while Sult, Maines and Gaster held down the still-funkified rhythm behind. “Earth Rocker” seemed a little slower than on the album, but they got up to speed with “Book, Saddle and Go,” and when “Cyborg Bette” slammed into its last verse and chorus — “Cyborg Bette/You done me/Wrong for the last time…” and so on — it was clear by the sing-along just how quickly the crowd had taken to the new material.

Any night I get to see Clutch, I feel like I’ve won out, and any night I get to see them play “The Regulator,” all the more so. Maybe it was because the bulk of the newer songs are faster and more straightforward, but the slowdown mid-set seemed even more dynamic, Fallon picking up a guitar and easing into a more melodic delivery. By then, they’d run through “The Mob Goes Wild” — suitably riotous — and “Profits of Doom” en route to working a jam onto the end of “D.C. Sound Attack” that only added to one of Earth Rocker‘s best grooves, cowbell included. Clutch are known to alternate which member of the band picks the setlist each night, and I don’t know who got this one, but it flowed well and “The Regulator” made a good marker after “Mice and Gods” and “Cypress Grove,” which was shouted out to all the ladies in the house as much good vibing ensued.

In December, “D.C. Sound Attack” had seemed rough in some of its transitions, but that was resolved and the song executed as smoothly as everything else. It feels like a given to say Clutch are one of the tightest live acts I’ve ever seen — like, well duh, of course they are — but it’s worth highlighting just how impressive they really can be on stage, and that even in a space like Terminal 5, with two balcony levels above the floor and a stretch back to rival Roseland Ballroom, not at all intimate, they managed to bring the crowd along with them for the party they were throwing. I’m sure it helped that those in attendance were so willing to go, but still. To seem human in a place like that is a feat and they pulled it off like it was nothing. One more reason to keep coming back.

“Oh, Isabella” followed “The Regulator” and led to “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” which closes the new album. Sult‘s guitar did well in conveying the grandiose sensibility of the final moments, but I wondered if Clutch wouldn’t go so far as to add a second for that part, whether it’s Fallon handling it or someone else, just to give it that extra push when it kicks in at the end. I guess they probably have another 300 shows or so to figure out if that’s a choice they want to make, but it’s a great live song anyway, and fit surprisingly snug with the subdued “Gone Cold” following, that in turn giving way to “The Face,” a highlight of Earth Rocker and probably the song I was most hoping — aside from “The Regulator,” which is a constant on my wish list — they’d play.

Similar in its scope to the ending of “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…,” “The Face” makes an impression on the album through its sheer size and its story of rock and roll redemption. Live, it’s obviously rawer, but its epic riff sounds no less epic, and Fallon nailed the rhythm of the verses, making it all the more thrilling to watch. Hopefully it’s one that stays in the set for years to come. For the encore, Clutch threw in “The Yeti” and added a jam to the end that transitioned into “Burning Beard” — it wasn’t easy, but they got there — and then capped with “Electric Worry,” as one has come to increasingly expect over the last couple years.

For me, it was a laid-back kind of night. I’d worked late the few days prior and been pretty beat, so hitting up a Clutch show was more like seeing old friends — also helped that there were plenty of those in the crowd — than something to stress over. I got to relax, lean back and belt out a few killer tunes along with the band, and I don’t think there’s anything more I could’ve reasonably asked for a Thursday night. They were done just before midnight, I got back to my humble river valley a couple minutes after one, and woke up this morning with “The Face” still stuck in my head. It was the best Clutch show since the last one and it’ll be the best until the next one. That’s how they do.

More pics after the jump.

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Live Review: Russian Circles in Manhattan, 03.16.13

Posted in Reviews on March 18th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

It had been four weeks since I’d last seen a show, and for lack of better phrasing, I was out of my fucking mind. Not that nothing had rolled through in that time — there’d been plenty of opportunities to get out — my mental and physical energy was occupied elsewhere. But when my weekend calendar seemed to be open just in time to catch Russian Circles at Radio City Music Hall, it was too cool an opportunity to pass up.

I mean, Russian Circles are a good band, but they’re still basically an underground act. Instrumental post-rock? The ads plastered up around the place were for people like Mike Tyson and Leonard Cohen. Even Coheed and Cambria, who were headlining the show, seemed like a stretch to me. I always thought of that as the kind of place you had to be Elton John before you could play. At very least James Taylor. Russian Circles you’d expect at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, or if you had to keep it in Manhattan, the Bowery Ballroom. To catch them at Radio City — in a place that big, in front of what would still be thousands of people even though they’d just be filing in at the time — seemed pretty special.

Even for that, the show was something of a departure for me. Usually, one idolizes seeing a bigger band at a smaller place — see any number of shows Brooklyn’s St. Vitus bar has put on in the last year-plus — so this, seeing a known but still relatively underground act at what’s indisputably a major venue, took the opposite route toward being an exception. Generally speaking, I don’t like big venues, big venue shows or big venue bands, but like I say, it had been four weeks and though there was other stuff going on I could’ve hit up, Russian Circles struck me as the one to catch.

It was the last night of a 28-date run, Russian Circles supporting Between the Buried and Me and Coheed and Cambria, though there was little of the end-of-tour pranking that I’d seen at Enslaved‘s recent Manhattan gig. Just as well, since Russian Circles essentially play in the dark and so any shenanigans might not have been seen by the crowd anyway, not to mention the heads-down-locked-in feel they have on stage. Before they went on, Coheed and Cambria‘s Claudio Sanchez and someone who appeared to be his wife, Chondra Echert-Sanchez, came out and did an acoustic, poppy take on “2’s My Favorite 1,” which apparently isn’t the teenybopper hit the title might imply, but a track of Coheed‘s latest album, Afterman: The Descension, released just at the start of the tour.

As someone who’s never even come close to being a Coheed and Cambria fan, I could’ve cared less, but the crowd, still milling in at the time — just about 7PM — went off, cell phones in the air to get the video. When the song was over, the Sanchezes said thanks and split on the quick and a couple minutes later, Russian Circles emerged, their stage lit by two single lightbulbs on either side — one in front of guitarist Mike Sullivan, one under the keyboard of bassist Brian Cook — and two floodlights behind drummer Dave Turncrantz. Last time I saw the band was in 2008 opening for Clutch‘s New Year’s tour at Starland Ballroom — not their crowd — so I knew they kept the lighting minimal, but at a place the size of Radio City, it was all the more accented, the shadows as expansive as the hall itself.

Russian Circles only played four songs, but in that time gave a fair sampling of their catalog. From 2008’s Station came opener “Harper Lewis,” followed by the title-track from 2009’s Geneva, which led into “Mlàdek,” the gallop-happy highlight from 2011’s Empros (review here), and from 2006’s debut, Enter, the closer “Death Rides a Horse.” For most of their time, I was up front taking pictures — a “first three songs” rule for a four-song set gave me a chuckle — so apart from having to crouch down in front of the stage, it probably wasn’t all that different from seeing them in a smaller room, but once I shuffled back to my seat for the duration of “Death Rides a Horse,” the sense of space really set in.

The three of them on the stage looked like they were playing in the mouth of some prehistoric megawhale. Their tones — Sullivan playing Verellen amps through Emperor cabinets, lest there should be any doubts of their dueling Chicago/Seattle origins — were full, but running through a house P.A. at what I don’t doubt was a don’t-be-louder-than-the-headliner level, so as I pulled my earplugs partially out to get a better listen, it was Turncrantz‘s snare that cut through most prominent. That said, Russian Circles managed to be ambient at Radio City Music Hall, a place scientifically engineered for acoustics but not for a wash of sound, and that seemed like a triumph. At very least, a hell of a way to end a tour.

Empros was by far the freshest on my mind of their material, so I was glad to catch “Mlàdek,” and their demeanor fit the mood of the material. There was no showy thrashing around, no arena-rock foot-on-the-monitor posturing. Russian Circles, apart from being older and perhaps more suspendered in the case of Cook, were much as I remembered them, which I was glad to see considering how it seemed to work for them last time around and on their lush studio work. They finished and said goodnight with as little ceremony as they’d walked out onto the dim stage, and I split likewise shortly thereafter.

It was not yet 8PM when I got back to my car. Probably I could’ve stayed and watched Between the Buried and Me or Coheed and Cambria, but yeah, no. I left the city like I was getting away with something. The Patient Mrs. and I went out to a late(r) dinner and still got to enjoy a decent portion of the evening, and I exhaled for what felt like the first time in two weeks, worried much less that my brain was going to explode for not having been out in so long, so on the existential and practical levels, this one was a win. Took an odd route to get there, but it got there, anyway.

Extra pics after the jump. Special thanks to Dave Clifford for making this happen and to you for reading.

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