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.
More pics after the jump.