True, I probably should’ve been looking over housing rentals and formulating a plan for what apartments to see the next day — since that’s why I was in Boston a week and a half ahead of moving to Massachusetts anyway — but on the other, far less responsible hand, The Brought Low. The NYC trio were coming up to play Radio in Somerville with local-types Planetoid, The Scimitar and Hey Zeus also on the bill, and well, if I’m going to be living somewhere, there’s no time like the present to start getting my ass out to shows. What at its most convenient is a four-hour drive had taken more than six, my car’s air conditioner cutting out on the way. I’d been up since five in the morning. It was time to rock and roll.
I’ve been to Radio a few times now — I think every time I’ve been there a band on Small Stone has played, usually Gozu — and it’s a cool room. I had to remind myself that Boston’s a rocker town with a rocker crowd, so the place would probably be packed, and by the time Hey Zeus were finished, indeed it was. Last time I saw the native outfit was their first show, in January. It was one of the coldest nights of the winter. Go figure that I should run into them again as the heat index pushed its way past 110. A band for all seasons, they apparently are.
Opening up, I thought it was a pretty ballsy move for them to throw in a “Space Truckin'” cover halfway through, but they absolutely nailed it, vocalist Bice Nathan channeling his inner Ian Gillan to hit the screaming pre-chorus “Yeah!” high notes on the ultra-catchy Deep Purple classic. Ballsy as it was, they’d double-down by closing out a set otherwise comprised of driving original material with a take on “Speed King” from In Rock. It was almost like the set had a side A and side B and each closed out with a Deep Purple song. Not a bad way to go out, come to think of it.
Between Nathan‘s expert fronting the band, guitarist Pete Knipfing‘s red-hot Southern-style classic rock leads and the groove held down by the rhythm section of bassist Ken Cmar and drummer Todd Bowman, Hey Zeus were as tight as you could possibly ask them to be, varying their pacing somewhere between mid-moving stonerly lumber and the grown-up punk that has fueled so much of Boston’s heavy rock over the years. I dug it last time, I dug it this time, but more importantly, I’ll look forward to digging it next time.Feeling more metallic from their very start, The Scimitar followed in plundering fashion.
Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (see also Blackwolfgoat, Hackman, Roadsaw, and the League of Excellent Human Beings) announced from the stage that it was just The Scimitar‘s second Boston show. The trio, made up of Shepard, his Black Pyramid bandmate Dave Gein and drummer Brian Banfield, more or less functioned as an extension of that band’s marauding musical ideology, walking a line between thrashing metal and doom that Shepard‘s riffs navigated with ease. Some parts reminded me of Black Pyramid‘s 2013 outing, Adversarial(review here), but in cuts like “World Unreal” and “Forever and Ever and Ever” — based on The Shining and being played for the first time — there began to shine an individual personality for The Scimitar that will inevitably win out.
Gein and Shepard, recently back from a European tour in support of Adversarialwith Black Pyramid, were dead on from the start, which gave Banfield a task in locking in with the two of them, but the drummer handled it well, the trio sounding solid if formative in their chemistry and like they were only going to get filthier sounding as time went on. I wondered if crusty battle doom was a thing, or if it could be, and as if either to answer or to shake me out of my bout of overthinking, they ran through “Void Traveler” on their way to closing out with the Motörhead cover “Metropolis,” giving a suitably grooving treatment to the mid-paced swagger of the original, which appeared on the 1979 landmark, Overkill. Needless to say, beer was spilled.
Dressed up in elaborate and professional-looking alien costumes — one guy actually looked so much like Nightcrawler from the X-Men that I thought that’s what he was going for at first — as they walked around Radio loading in and hanging out, Planetoid were playing last, which meant The Brought Low went on third after The Scimitar. There was a moment right before they took the stage that I could feel myself hit the wall. I stifled yawns and kept myself standing upright, but wow, I was ready to be done. The Brought Low, who were viewing this show as something of a makeup from having to cancel on the Small Stone Boston showcase last fall owing to the post-Hurricane Sandy gas shortage, hadn’t even started yet. I’d only seen two bands!
Proud to report that I didn’t split before The Brought Low‘s set was finished. The trio — Ben Smith (guitar/vocals), Bob Russell (bass/vocals) and Nick Heller (drums) — were on my hypothetical list of stuff to see before no longer living in the New York area, so even though it wound up being in Boston rather than their hometown I caught them in, I wasn’t about to complain. Their on the cusp of 15 years together and lived up to the high standard the sets I’ve seen them play have set, Smith and Heller both having grown out their hair some since I last encountered the band in Fall 2011. In that time, they haven’t put out anything new — their last offering was a three-song EP on Coextinction Recordings (stream and track-by-track here) — but even “What I Found” from their 2001 self-titled debut sounded fresh among newer songs like “Army of Soldiers” and “Black River” from the aforementioned three-tracker.
“Black River” in particular made for an exciting shift just past the halfway mark in the set as Russell took the fore vocally with Smith backing, where the band’s usual process works the other way around, their chemistry and unique blend of country twang and rocking city grit underscored by the swing in Heller‘s drums, perhaps most prevalent of all in the slower “My Favorite Waste of Time” from 2010’s Third Record (review here), which was also a highlight. I don’t know how many times I’ve called The Brought Low the best rock band in New York, but I’m still right. Whether it was “Old Century” or “The Kelly Rose,” the only thing they left me wanting was more The Brought Low. Beat to hell though I was, I’d have stayed if they went on twice as long.
As it was, they didn’t go much further than 40 minutes. An encore after “Blues for Cubby” rounded out and I said a few quick goodnights and made my way back to the hotel, feeling guilty for not catching Planetoid but assuming this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to do so. The next day I got up and went and found a place to live.
Posted in Radio on January 23rd, 2013 by JJ Koczan
Actually, this should’ve been the Obelisk Radio’s Add of the Week for last week, since that’s when it went up and joined the playlist, but with all the server fuckery on the hosting company’s end and technical whathaveyou, I figured probably best to hold off highlighting it until there was a chance it might actually come up in the selection. As we seem to be back up and running, it’s a good time to point out the new Live in the Jam Room 2012 self-released EP from UK five-piece Smoke Pilot and all its dual-guitar riffing.
Back in the fall, I did a Buried Treasure post on the band Medamaki and their Warbirdrelease. Smoke Pilot is all the same dudes (you might also notice it’s the same picture), just with a new name. The songwriting ethic seems also not to have changed much, and that works well for the four tracks on the Live in the Jam Room 2012EP, the guitars of Rich Wright and Sean Bindy Philips leading the charge while the guttural-but-not-amelodic vocals of Max Ward add burl atop the fervent grooving. A strong bass performance from Shaun Webb and rocking sway in Paul Ford‘s drums makes the short offering a winner that should have no trouble finding friends amongst the heavy converted.
As the band lost some time prior to the name change, I’m hoping a full-length isn’t far behind the EP, as I’d be interested to hear how they develop their ideas over the course of a whole album. In the meantime though, Smoke Pilot‘slive EP engages in cask-ale fashion with inviting nod and little to distract it from the all-important business of rocking faces and a quality of recording that puts it well above most jam room demos. They’ve made it available as a pay-what-you-will download through the Smoke Pilot Bandcamp page, and here’s the stream as well to check out:
Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2012 by JJ Koczan
It was the night of a thousand riffs. At very least 100-150 very well purposed. A Small Stone Records showcase is always an occasion and this year’s Boston to-do was no exception. The scene was the Radio bar in Somerville, and though The Brought Low dropped off at the last minute owing to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lineup boasted nine bands — Boston natives Mellow Bravo stepped in to fill the hole, playing earlier than the NYC trio would have — and it was front to back quality between them, Blackwolfgoat, who opened and also played in between sets, Supermachine, Infernal Overdrive, Lord Fowl, Freedom Hawk, Roadsaw, Lo-Pan and Gozu.
What do you do with a night like that? Well, you drink. And I did. Hard. I have a tradition — someone choosing their words less carefully might call it a “habit” — going back nearly a decade at this point of showing up to Small Stone events and promptly getting obliterated. At last year’s Philly showcase (review here and here), I played it cool for the most part. Less so this weekend. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I knew I had Sunday to recover, maybe it was the fact that I still didn’t know if the power was on back home yet. Whatever it was, I opened a tab and didn’t look back. My storm-refugee ass needed a night of reckless abandon.
After being dropped off in front of Radio by The Patient Mrs. as though I was on my way to my first day of kindergarten — schooled indeed — I walked in to find Darryl Shepard of Blackwolfgoat early into his set. Downstairs in the basement, a matinee of three sets of Beatles covers would soon give way to a sweaty, smelly night of punk rock. Seems as good a jump-off point as any, so here goes:
With a cocktail straw in his mouth and a bounce in his step (minus the bounce), Blackwolfgoat‘s lone resident, Darryl Shepard — also of currently of Black Pyramid and Milligram and formerly of Hackman, Roadsaw and no shortage of others — showed off some of the latest wares from his one-man act. Shepard would soon adjourn to Radio’s semi-balcony off to the left of the stage, where he’d sit at the ready and wait to drone out a tune or two between other acts, but before he got there, he played some material from last year’s Dronolithand some newer stuff. The newer songs find him using more dynamic loops, setting a droning bed for himself and then launching into — in at least one instance — a grandiose classic rock solo over it. It was awesome to see, and the melody in that solo and around it proved just one more way the project is expanding sonically. He’ll reportedly be recording soon, and of course that’s something to look forward to. Pretty much any day you get to see this dude play guitar is a good day. If you get to see him do a full set to start a show and a bunch of mini-sets between seven or eight other acts, well then, all the better.
There was an interesting mix of stage presences when it came to Boston’s own Mellow Bravo. The first full band on the bill was also the newest to Small Stone‘s roster save for Supermachine, who followed, and they released their self-titled debut album (review here) on the label via a Mad Oak Recordings imprint earlier this year. In the case of charismatic vocalist Keith Pierce and guitarist Andrew Doherty, they seemed birthed of Boston’s formidable hardcore/metalcore scene, whatever soul records they may have dug into since those days, keyboardist/vocalist Jess Collins came off more on the heavy metal end, while guitarist Jeff Fultz (ex-Seemless) had the lead licks and enviable hair of a modern classic rocker. Mix all that with the rhythm section of sunglasses-clad bassist Seager Tennis and drummer Dave Jarvis, and it’s a strange six-piece stew resulting from Mellow Bravo‘s recipe. Nonetheless, they were resoundingly cohesive, putting on a professional show — staged in parts, like when Collins came out from behind the keyboard to front “Ridin'” — and looking like a band who should and expected to be paid for their work. “Love Hammer” was a highlight, but really just one of the memorable songs on their debut that the band did well bringing to life.
There are few phrases that will earn respect in my book as quickly as “ex-Scissorfight.” In the case of label newcomers Supermachine, bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin were founding members of that most excellent New Hampshire outfit — both also played in Mess with the Bull — and so interest in what they might be doing musically was automatic, especially as this was my first time seeing them or hearing any of their songs. Joined in the four-piece by drummer Mike McNeill and vocalist David Nebbia, there was a moment where I stood in front of the stage at Radio and was reminded of hazy afternoons and evenings at Room 710 on Red River in Austin, Texas, at many a Small Stone showcase years back there, when I was still relatively just getting my feet wet in terms of appreciating and being exposed to this kind of music. If that’s a long way around to saying Supermachine sounded fresh, so be it. Their performance was organic and unpretentious — though there was no question which of them was the lead singer, even before they got on stage — and while they seemed to still be feeling out their identity as a band, they gave a good first impression.
True enough, I’d had some beers by the time Infernal Overdrive started playing, maybe visited the basement Beatles show downstairs to weird everyone in the room out by singing along to “Can’t Buy Me Love” way louder than was called for. I nonetheless recall being entirely of sound mind when I scribbled my first note about Infernal Overdrive‘s performance. It was as follows: “New shit is right on.” I stand by that 100 percent. They might need to hit the road for a while to really step into what and where they want to be as a band, but short of that, they’ve got their aesthetic down. No less so at Radio than at Stoner Hands of Doom XIIin September. Part of me wants them to just go ahead and get the next record out so they can start closing with “Viking” already, but as the room was beginning to fill up, the Jersey/Massachusetts-native double-guitar foursome treated an eager and thirsty crowd to “Motor” and “The Edge” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sun2011 debut full-length (review here) and those songs rested well alongside newer cuts like “Quints Revenge” and “Ride to the Sun.” As ever, they tore through their set, capping with the cowbell/fuzz swiftness of “I-95,” which set the stage well for Connecticut’s Lord Fowl, who followed.
Continue to impress. Despite an apparently ongoing throat problem for guitarist/vocalist Vechel Jaynes — I actually take it as a sign of someone giving a shit both about what they do and what I think about what they do when artists tell me about their various injuries, illnesses, aches and pains; that kind of thing can be good to know sometimes, though Jaynes‘ trouble did little to hold back Lord Fowl at Radio — the New Haven, Connecticut, four-piece dove headfirst into material from their Moon Queenlabel debut (review here), rising to the occasion of directly following Infernal Overdrive and making me remember why I like this kind of shit so much in the first place. They also gave a fitting sequel to when I saw them at SHoD XII, guitarist/vocalist Mike Pellegrino comfortable as he always seems to be fronting the band alongside Jaynes while bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman locked in grooves thick and slick in equal measure. “Streets of Nevermore” was a highlight, and the one-two punch of “Quicksand” and the insistent swirl of “SOS” was no less engaging on stage than it was late into Moon Queen. I wondered a bit what their next album might bring, if they’d keep to a thematic, semi-psych heavy rock approach or branch out elsewhere as they move forward, and then The Patient Mrs. showed up looking all fine and I got distracted. Ha.
Quietly, more than a year had passed since I last caught Virginia’s fuzz buzzards live, but Freedom Hawk were the most in their element at Radio that I’ve ever seen them. The songs from their Holding On 2011 label debut (review here) have cooled and tightened into a fine, viscous ooze, and the set had more than a few killers to it, including the recent video track “Indian Summer.” They’re a good band, and fresh on my mind as I’d just that very afternoon acquired their first demo in a haul of old promo material (more on that tomorrow), so I was glad to have our paths cross again at last. A less raucous delivery than either Lord Fowl or Infernal Overdrive — both of whom put on a hell of a show — Freedom Hawk were nonetheless in the right place at the right time. The crowd was boozed and well warmed up, and Freedom Hawk‘s “all fuzz, no bullshit” was right at home, guitarists TR Morton (also vocals) and Matt Cave leading with ’90s-style stoner rock riffing while bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines provided weight and pulse to the rolling groove. I don’t know if someone thought they were being clever by playing Ozzy before they went on (Morton‘s vocals being geared in that direction), but Freedom Hawk showed they’re moving more toward becoming their own outfit and incorporating whatever influence it might be — Ozzy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, etc. — into a sound more fully theirs. Worth noting that at this point there hadn’t yet been a band whose next album I wasn’t stoked at the thought of hearing.
In true showcase fashion, Roadsaw delivered a set that not only showed why they’re the godfathers of Boston’s heavy rock scene, but ran a gamut through their own catalog — opening with “Look Pretty Lonely” from 2008’s See You in Hell!, and also including “Keep on Sailing” and “Thanks for Nothing” from 1997’s Nationwide — on which Shepard joined on lead guitar from his spot on the balcony — “Buried Alive” and “Disconnected” from 2007’s Rawk ‘n’ Roll, “Monkey Skull” from 2012’s Roadsaw EP, and “Weight in Gold” and “Long in the Tooth” from their 2010 self-titled full-length. I said earlier this year at London Desertfest that I wanted to see them on their home turf, and I was glad to have the opportunity at last. If it’s any indicator of how it all went down, they delayed the start of their set to get another round of drinks. Yes, it was that kind of party. The stage at Radio wasn’t as small as that at the Small Stone showcase in Philly last year — it was somewhere between that and the more spacious at the El ‘n’ Gee in Connecticut, where SHoD was held, and which Roadsaw also played — so I didn’t think vocalist Craig Riggs was about to bean bassist Tim Catz or guitarist Ian Ross with his spinning microphone (ever-shirtless drummer Jeremy Hemond being well out of range), but they made short work of it nonetheless, and even went so far as to bring up Infernal Overdrive guitarist/vocalist Marc Schleicher for an encore of “The Gentle Butcher,” from Nothing that a Bullet Couldn’t Cure by the band Antler, of which he, Ross, Catz and Riggs were a part. As ever, they were in classic form.
A scant two weeks before leaving for a tour with High on Fire and Goatwhore that will have them playing in the biggest venues of their career to date, Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan looked ready. I think they’ve already discovered that the reward for the hard work they’ve been putting in over the last couple years is actually just a bunch of even harder work, but they seemed hungry nonetheless. It had been more than a year since I’d seen them as well, and along with a new shorter haircut for guitarist Brian Fristoe, they had two new songs in the set alongside cuts from 2011’s brilliant-and-yes-I-fucking-mean-brilliant Salvador(review here). Both “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” had Fristoe‘s steady progressive-edged fuzz, made thicker by Skot Thompson‘s basslines, but seemed to push vocalist Jeff Martin farther into his range as well as Jessie Bartz — front and center as always — tied it all together on drums. As I told Bartz when they were done, I’d like to hear them 85 or 87 more times before I make final judgment, but they sounded pretty dead on, and fit well with “Kurtz” from 2009’s Sasquanaut(which Small Stone reissued) and “Chichen Itza,” “Deciduous,” “Bird of Prey” and set closer “El Dorado” from Salvador, all of which remain as powerful in a live setting as they were the first time I saw them. Lo-Pan was my only real headbang of the show. When they were done, I stumbled my drunk self around the side of the building and threw up barely a fraction of the beer I’d drank, taking care to keep it out of my hair and beard, then went back inside, washed up downstairs while trying to ignore the stench of punker sweat, lest I retch again, and headed back into civilization in time for the start of Gozu, who rounded out the night. I’d been a wreck despite having my last beer sometime during Roadsaw, but with just one band still to go, there was no turning back now.
Much to his credit, it was Gozu guitarist Doug Sherman — he of the perilously short guitar strap — who put the whole gig together. From the second I was walking into the venue, way back before anyone played other than Blackwolfgoat, before all the beer, the barbecue, the more beer, the rock and roll and the more beer, Sherman was outside greeting people, there the whole time, and he and his band very quickly showed by they were just right to close out. Guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (above, left) has a subdued presence on stage, quiet and reserved — a good balance for Sherman‘s energy — and his performance has been spot on every time I’ve seen him, making vocal up and down vocal dexterity look easy while also joining Sherman on guitar and driving the songs forward with driving riffage. Bassist Joe Grotto was a new addition to the band since I saw them in March — also at Radio, as it happens — but he fit right in the rhythm section with drummer Barry Spillberg, and being revived following my ritualistic purge, I was in decent enough shape to appreciate their even-thicker take on “Meat Charger” and “Meth Cowboy” from their 2010 Locust Seasondebut (review here), on which they were joined by Ian Ross of Roadsaw (above, on right guitar). Their sound is too thick to really be a boogie, but that forward motion is there, and Gaffney brings a sense of drama to their choruses that stood them out from everyone else on the bill at Radio. They had a couple new songs as well, and whatever they do next, it’ll be a welcome arrival.
I know I post a lot of shit about Small Stone bands. I go see them play when I can, I review the records, I do interviews, post tour news, posters, and so forth, but the fact of the matter is this: That’s not coincidence. It’s a short list of American labels contributing anything of merit to the genre of heavy rock — by my estimation there are maybe five, with a few others who’ve glommed onto this or that trend within the sphere of Riff — and Small Stone are right there at the top. From the label’s days providing a haven to bands like Acid King and Sons of Otis in the wake of Man’s Ruin‘s demise, to fostering its own upstart acts like Sasquatch (not that they’re upstarts now, but they were when their debut was released), Infernal Overdrive, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Sun Gods in Exile, and Lord Fowl, while still keeping a commitment to what he does best, label head Scott Hamilton has patronized some of the best American heavy rock out there today, to the point where “the Small Stone sound” is an influence unto itself for bands around the world to pick up on. To be perfectly honest about it, it’s a cause I feel is worth supporting.
Small Stone’s next showcase is in Detroit at the Magic Stick on Dec. 1. More info here.
When the show was done, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep walking to catch a cab back to the hotel. There were goodbyes to be said, tales of hurricane survival to regale with and be regaled by, and a bar tab to close out, but I was quick about it, and before too long, The Patient Mrs. generously corralled me into a taxi. I was more lucid than I had been at several points in the evening by then, but still, sleep came as quick and as heavy as the riffs still stuck in my head. We had to drive back to Jersey on Sunday and figure out if the lights were back on yet after the storm (they were as of that afternoon), but if that was to be the finale of “refugee living,” I didn’t make out so bad.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by JJ Koczan
I’ve never been to a Small Stone showcase in Boston before. Sure, I was at both nights of the Philly one last year (review here and here) and I caught Gozu and Infernal Overdrive together at Radio this past March (review here), and looking at the list, the only band on it I’ve never seen is Supermachine — and I saw Scissorfight, from whence they come — but still, Boston’s a different beast. To tell you the truth, every time I hit the town, I feel a little bit like I’m going to get my ass kicked.
Perhaps then, it would be wise for me to hit the warm-up show slated to happen one day before the showcase proper. Elder (who so far as I know are not on Small Stone) and Infernal Overdrive will play at the taqueria No Problemo in New Bedford at 10PM. If you’re north of there, Gozu and Freedom Hawk will be on a bill at Asylum in Portland, ME. Drummer Mike Bennett of Infernal Overdrive posted the following notice and flyer:
Tomorrow night there will be a few warm up gigs starring some of your favorite Small Stone bands….
Asylum -Portland, ME w/ GOZU, Freedom Hawk, Murcilago and Whitcomb No Problemo – New Bedford, MA w/ Infernal Overdrive and Elder….. All leading up to the big event Sat. !!!
And then of course there’s the showcase itself on Saturday at Radio in Somerville. As awesome an assemblage of Small Stone acts as I’ve had the privilege to see. Here are the details, courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:
Nov. 3rd-Radio, Boston Small Stone Showcase 10 dollars!!! Dudes- BEER-PETTING ZOO!! Purchase Tickets HERE: