Live Review: Elder, Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder in Brooklyn, 10.25.12

Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Another shitty day in another shitty week had me in full-on Fuck Everything Mode. Riffy redemption? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it wasn’t going to be easy going, and the traffic en route to The Grand Victory in Brooklyn to catch Boston’s Elder, with NYC natives Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder wasn’t helping. You ever yell at someone in your car with the windows up? I do it. All. The. Time. I honestly don’t know how I’ve made it this long.

So obviously I was drinking, right? I mean what’s better than the existential boner pill alcohol provides? What’s that? Depressant? Fuck that, let’s rock and roll.

I was (born too) late getting there, and so Pants Exploder – who immediately won moniker of the night — were already on. It was my first time at The Grand Victory, which is right across Grand St. (fancy that) from the Trash Bar, but I could tell right away when I walked in that I liked the place. Small, longer than it was wide, the bar was on the left side walking in, loaded with decent micro taps — I had a Brooklyn Somethingorother to start and switched after one to Kelso’s Pilsner, which I found wanted for crispness but went down smoothly nonetheless — and the small stage was in the back of the room. It was unrepentantly a rock and roll bar, but dark in the back and intimate enough that even if there wasn’t a show, I’d drink there. Maybe that’s not saying much these days.

Upon hearing that there was a band called Pants Exploder on the bill, I knew I wanted to see them. I mean, some names just dare the act to live up to them. It’s like naming your band We Will Blow Your Fucking Mind, right? You wanna be like, “Okay, so go ahead, make my pants explode, I brought an extra pair and they’re in the car so I’m ready to go.” They gave it their best shot. A noisy trio, there were elements on hand of High on Fire thrash offset by Torche-type melodies, and they showed they could rage when they wanted to, and they were metal-tight and punk-energetic, which is what you want on a hoppy Thursday night. Good fun. One more band to make me regret living in the suburbs.

There wasn’t much of a changeover, but I had another couple beers and before long, Reign of Zaius started up. It was my second time seeing the Brooklyn newcomers — the first was at Public Assembly in August with The Midnight Ghost Train (review here) — and I don’t know whether it was the beverages, the sound at The Grand Victory or just my already vastly-improved mood, but I got way more of a sense of where they were coming from this time around. Their sound has its classic ’70s elements in the riffs, but with charismatic vocalist David “Viking” Damiecki up front, they seemed way more in line with a post-grunge heavy ’90s rock this time out. One of their songs started out so much like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” that I thought they were doing a Primus cover. They weren’t, but they put that riff to good use anyway.

Elsewhere, Kyuss flourished as an influence, but there was a garage-type feel to their sound as well, guitarist Brady keeping a subdued presence while drummer Brian and bassist Davis added groovy push to the varying tempos. They’re pretty straightforward, and still feeling out where they want to be, but they seemed to have a much better idea last night than even two months ago, so I take that as an encouraging sign. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go sound-wise next time they hit the studio, and ditto that for Thinning the Herd, who followed and once again found guitarist/vocalist Gavin Spielman surrounded by a different band.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but even since last year’s Oceans Rise (review here), Spielman has revamped the three-piece, bringing in mustachioed bassist Wes Edmonds and drummer Rick Cimato to underscore his should-be-heard riffs and solos and bluesy vocal delivery. I dug the band before — I’m pretty sure they’ve had a different bassist every time I’ve run into them, but none of them have been bad — but the latest incarnation seemed to be the most professional-minded. I don’t know what their plans are, if they’re looking to tour or whatever, but they were apparently recording with Steve Albini in August, so they’ve got something in the works.

They closed out by covering Fu Manchu‘s “Hell on Wheels” like it was no big deal, and that was an awesome surprise, since I don’t generally think of them as being aligned to that kind of sunshiny fuzz — their sound is dirtier, rougher around the edges — but they pulled it off well, and even in the back of the room, I was singing along. With just Elder to go, the night had already proven solid. All three of bands who’d played were going for something different under the umbrella of capital-‘h’ Heavy, and the varying senses of identity on stage made it an interesting show as well as just being good sets. Right about when I got to thinking about how many different ways there are to spin your red sun blues, Elder got on stage and moiderlized the joint.

Elder were on their way south to this weekend’s inaugural Autumn Screams Doom fest at the Sidebar in Baltimore, and well, I was really glad they made a stop in town. This was my second time being fortunate enough to see them without a piano falling on my head or some such other hindrance (the first was at SHoD in Sept.), and the trio just flat out destroyed. It was the kind of good that makes you stand back and go, “Holy fuck this is good,” backing it up with all kinds of ridiculous hyperbole about how they’re the best band you’ve seen since this one time 17 years ago when you saw someone else who were really killer. Point is, they’re something special to watch on a stage.

It should say something to that effect that when we did that informal Top 10 Stoner Rock Albums poll last month, their last full-length, Dead Roots Stirring, was right on the cusp of making the list — Brant Bjork and High on Fire aren’t bad company, if you have to tie with somebody. They started their set with the title-track from that record, and played material off the Spires Burn/Release 12″ as well (streaming here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto missing no steps in the songs and seeming to outmatch even Pants Exploder‘s volume level. Donovan had his mullet in a ponytail — I guess you can’t unleash a beast like that every single night, lest the back of your neck overheat — but they made the most nonetheless of the small stage and proved it was no fluke when after last time I said they’re some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen. If you’re in Baltimore tonight, count yourself lucky.

I’d lost the cap to one of my lenses, and by the time I got back to my humble river valley, I was back to being impotently furious at everything, but it was probably good to get out of my own head for a couple minutes, you know, like a real human being might. Nonetheless, I stomped my feet like a spoiled child taking out the garbage and debated further beerings, but eventually crashed out, gritting my teeth in my sleep to the point of waking up with a sore jaw this morning. Went well with my half-hungover headache.

Music still sounds good.

Extra pics after the jump.

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Live Review: The Midnight Ghost Train, Reign of Zaius and Eidetic Seeing in Brooklyn, 08.09.12

Posted in Reviews on August 11th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I rolled into Public Assembly like a wheelbarrow full of suck. It was Thursday, and I’d worked late as the fourth day of the kind of week where even when I was ahead of myself, I was still behind (so much so, you might say, that I’m writing and posting this review over the weekend). Morale was low. What I needed was a bit of rock and roll revival, and in that regard, I was lucky it was The Midnight Ghost Train I was on my way to see.

The Kansas rockers you might recall from their stint earlier this year opening for Truckfighters (reviews here and here). They’re out touring — as they do, all the time — in support of their new album, Buffalo (review here), doing a US run before heading to Europe this fall. Simply put, they rip live. I liked Buffalo a lot when I reviewed it, and I still dig that record however long it’s been later (I thought I had it or I’d have picked up a CD at the show — more the fool I), but I know from the four or five times I’ve seen them over the last four years or so that they’re an entirely different beast on stage. Public Assembly paired them with local outfits Reign of Zaius and Eidetic Seeing, the latter of whom was just getting ready to go on as I arrived.

Some bands you can just feel the heat off the their tubes as they play, and that was the case with Eidetic Seeing. I knew nothing about the band — I could’ve easily looked them up beforehand, but frankly, I like going into shows sometimes without knowing what I’m going to get — and was pleased to find them a warm-toned heavy psych jam unit. The three-piece were still pretty clearly getting their bearings sound-wise, but it could’ve been much worse. There were maybe 15 or 20 people there when they got going, but Eidetic Seeing may have had the biggest crowd of the night, and the young lady who stood several feet in front of the stage seemed to love it.

They were, however, too loud for the room — which, if you’re keeping track, I believe makes me too old for the room. I like Public Assembly‘s back room. I saw Windhand and Pilgrim there with Magic Circle a few months back and dug the space, the layout of the darkened room reminding me of any number of dingy spots in and around Manhattan where these kinds of shows have happened throughout the last decade — the difference being that Public Assembly hasn’t been forced out of business as so many others have by the onslaught of corporately-owned or sponsored venues and promotion companies. Lucinda Williams was playing down the block at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. Obviously I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but at least on the surface, there seemed to be peaceful coexistence, and the bar between the two venues had live gypsy jazz, which, you know, is fucking awesome.

However, I only know about it because I went outside. Eidetic Seeing‘s wash of noise came through the Public Assembly P.A. as more abrasive than I think it wanted to be, so after several songs, I took my leave and took the air, chatting outside with The Midnight Ghost Train‘s guitarist/vocalist Steve Moss about how the shows were going, mutual acquaintances, and so forth. After a while, I decided to head back in, because I didn’t want to miss Reign of Zaius‘ start, and Eidetic Seeing were just finishing up. They had played a long set. I guess you can do that on a Thursday-is-the-new-Friday in Williamsburg, and they weren’t bad, just not really what I was looking for at the time — that being the aforementioned revival — so I won’t be surprised next time around when Eidetic Seeing and I run into each other and I have a deeper appreciation for what they’re doing.

One thing they had going for them, though, was their bassist. Please try to contain your surprise that I dug the bass tone in an underdeveloped heavy psych trio — something that’s definitely never happened before — but quality low end became a theme for the night. Reign of Zaius bassist Davis followed suit, playing through a fretless and being almost solely responsible for the thickness of his band’s sound. Not that something was lacking in the guitar of Brady, just that the band wasn’t geared on the whole to fuzz or showy about their distortion. They played relatively simple, straightforward heavy-type rock, however, called their frontman Viking and had an impressive, somewhat showy, drummer in the younger Brian.

Like Eidetic Seeing, it seemed watching Reign of Zaius that the band was still working out the kinks in their dynamic. There were a couple noticeable flubs, but nothing major, and overall their songs were inoffensive. The room as uncrowded as it was, it wasn’t going to be anyone’s best night, and as I pointed out in the very first sentence of this review, it wasn’t mine either. Nonetheless, cuts from their self-titled EP like “Cravings,” “White Horse” and “Revelation” gave a decent idea of the lack of pretense in their intent, and “Thick Thighs” had its own kind of charm. No shortage of it. Any band that lists Black Sabbath and the 1988 “Rowdy” Roddy Piper classic They Live among their influences is doing something right, and Reign of Zaius clearly were.

My spirits had picked up some by the time The Midnight Ghost Train had their gear set up. Since the last time they came through, the Topeka outfit jettisoned bassist David Kimmell, leaving Moss and drummer Brandon Burghart — who wore a Truckfighters shirt for their set — to search out a replacement. Before they went on, Moss told me they’d only been playing with Alfred Jordan, from Mississippi, for a few weeks, but watching them on stage, they were still easily the tightest band of the three that played, and Jordan‘s presence on stage, his dreadlocks tossed in several directions at once with each headbang, made a fitting complement for the already established dynamic between Moss and Burghart.

Moss introduced the band in his usual throaty affect, saying, “We’re The motherfucking Midnight Ghost Train from motherfucking Kansas,” pausing for a sip of water before adding, “That’s right, Kansas. Yes, we can read.” The Brooklyn crowd got a laugh out of that, and while I can’t imagine what talking like that with the kind of regularity Moss does so must do to your throat — if you’ve never seen them, think of any number of grizzled 85-year-old Delta blues players, then make it fast, and that’s kind of how Moss talks when he’s on stage — it’s clearly had no effect on his energy level over the course of the time he’s been doing it. The Midnight Ghost Train remain one of the most undervalued quality live acts in their genre, and at Public Assembly, they made a solid case for revisiting Buffalo.

The height of the stage at Public Assembly provides a little distance, and watching them closely, it’s pretty easy to discern the common patterning of The Midnight Ghost Train‘s riffing. They rely a lot on upbeat progressions, cycling through a riff, finishing it with a couple hits, then cycling through again, but what makes it exciting to watch live or to listen to on the album is that you don’t at any point know what they’re going to do with it, and they don’t always do the same thing. They are masters of the sudden stop. Burghart will mute his cymbals, Moss and Jordan will cut the strings, and even if it’s just half a second of silence, the raucousness that ensues following is that much stronger for the pause. Top that with Moss‘ hand-in-the-air raving testimonial vocal delivery, and Buffalo tracks like “Henry” and “Foxhole” wind up as exciting to watch as they are to hear.

Still, it was the slower “Tom’s Trip” that was the highlight of their set. Burghart played without a rack tom — his kit just the snare and bass drums and a floor tom, crash, ride and hi-hat — and that got me thinking about the balance for a drummer between stripping things down to force more creative play and oversimplifying. It’s easy for a drummer, provided he or she can afford it, to adorn a kit with extra toms, cowbells, wood blocks, china cymbals and the rest, but Burghart‘s minimal drumset worked to both his interests and those of the songs, and the play from the snare on his left to the floor tom on his right was a big part of what made “Tom’s Trip” so much fun. The song also reaffirmed that as bombastic and vibrant as The Midnight Ghost Train are on any given night, they’re also readily capable of locking in a stoner rock groove and letting it ride where and when they want it to.

All that feeds into the notion of their unpredictability, which is one of their strongest assets. They have a set context for themselves, but within that, you can never be quite sure where they’re headed. Shouts rose up when they finished for one more song, so they encored with “Southern Belle,” Moss rounding out the set by asking how much he should make it hurt, and then they were quickly done. With work in the morning and the drive back to Jersey ahead, I said a quick thanks and goodnight and split out back to my car, not knowing I’d spend the better part of the next hour in Holland Tunnel traffic.

And I won’t lie to you, there was a moment when — stuck in the tunnel after 1AM, having not moved for 10 minutes because of something no one could see or understand, as discordant chorus of car horns and New York-accented shouts rose up all around me — I really thought I was going to die there in that spot. There was a strange sub-harmony to the horns, and their futility — no one even knew what they were honking at — gave the anger driving them a melancholy edge. Sad, hopeless assholes, stuck in a tunnel together. No doubt after 12 hours, the weak among us would’ve been dismembered and eaten; my own flesh stripped off and cured, like bacon, for breakfast around what for the rest of the world would’ve been sunrise. No sunrise for tunnelfolk.

I barely escaped with my hide, and eventually got through to Jersey and back to my humble river valley, the driving rhythms of “Foxhole” still stuck in my head, where they remain. The Midnight Ghost Train were off the next day, and at The Station in Philly the night after (which is Saturday, tonight). All their tour dates domestic and abroad can be found on their website — they put them right out front. If the point hasn’t been made clear, they’re a highly recommended good time, and bound to improve whatever mood you might be in when you first show up.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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