04.21.13 — 23.02 — Sunday night — Hotel Mercure, Tilburg
My watch alarm went off at 13.00 to serve notice that it was time to wake up, get cleaned up and head back over to the 013 for Astra kicking off the traditional Afterburner, the final, pared-down day of Roadburn 2013. I hadn’t fallen asleep until after seven, could hear people leaving for an early start to the day outside my room, but rolled into the Main Stage room still with minutes to spare to see another showing of Costin Chioreanu‘s Outside the Great Circle. This time through, I learned Current 93‘s David Tibet was also involved in the music. Not that it was lacking dark and artsy cred anyway, but Tibet always seems to have some to spare.
Though it was a contrast to Outside the Great Circle‘s bleak visuals and the Attila Csihar groans those visuals came with, Astra‘s Cali sunshiny early-King Crimson prog was a welcome way to start the Afterburner. The lush melodies and multiple layers of keyboard wash work especially well in the morning, though of course it was 14.30 when they got on stage. Morning to me, though, so right on. They played most of last year’s The Black Chord (review here), including the title-track, “Bull Torpis,” “Cocoon,” “Quake Meat and the closer, “Barefoot in the Head,” but ultimately, they went back to the first album, The Weirding, to finish out with the eponymous cut.
I was a much bigger fan of the second album than the first, but “The Weirding” is a good song and Astra did justice to the expansive and psychedelic feel of their albums, without losing themselves in the staid, passionless presentation prog often winds up having. Switching between guitar and the keys (a Memotron and then some, it looked like), Richard Vaughn was out front and center with lead guitarist Brian Ellis, who seemed to have dressed up for the occasion. I hadn’t seen the San Diego five-piece since 2009 and they seemed all around a more solid band at the 013, and their heavy prog was just the sort of complex but welcoming start a lineup like this one deserved.
A second round of Pallbearer? Sure, why not? Diagonal, who were supposed to open in the Green Room, canceled on account of illness, so the Arkansas four-piece stepped in for another round in the smaller space — the Green Room is the middle space at 013; smaller than the main stage, bigger than Stage01; also smaller than Het Patronaat, which was closed today at least to Roadburn 2013 types — and were once more filled with potential, emotionally resonant and crushingly heavy. The setlist varied some from the Thursday night show, but they got their point across anyway. Interesting that for such morose music, the mood in the room was pretty up. I guess people were excited to see Pallbearer again or excited to see them having missed out the other night, but when whoever it was in the crowd shouted out a request for “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came through, there were laughs on stage and off. Even guitarist/vocalist Brett Campbell was more animated — not quite thrashing out like bassist Joseph Rowland or guitarist Devin Holt or drummer Mark Lierly — but still more than he was on the Main Stage earlier in the fest.
So be it. Even with less tickets sold than for the fest proper, the same basic rules apply to the Afterburner. If you want to see a band up close and personal, you need to get there early. I’ve done a lot of back and forth this weekend and don’t regret any of it, but with less bands on the bill, there’s more time to stick around and see a full set if you’re so inclined, and that takes some getting used to where over the last three days it’s been, “Okay, I have to run in here, stay for 15 minutes then split out and catch so-and-so over here” and so on. It’s a different vibe, and from all the Dutch I heard being spoken, it seemed that a lot of the people who hadn’t stuck around for this fourth day/transition back to reality were the ones traveling, which made sense.
That said, the crustpunkers — crustpunk is the new doom; also atmospheric black metal; also d-beat hardcore; also doom — behind me watching Pallbearer and brushing my back with their headbanging hair were from Australia, so clearly a sizable “fuck it” contingent was present as well, which I guess I also represented to some degree. Not to that degree, but some degree, anyway. I poked my head in the Main Stage as Sigh were getting ready to go on and found the Japanese black metallers duly theatrical. One doesn’t see fire on stage much anymore, or at least not in the venues I go to on the regular — which is fortunate, because everyone would die — but Sigh had a candle going and some light blowtorchery to go with the pummel and dual vocals. They were black metal-plus. Plus sax, plus fire, plus percussion, and so on. Their albums are supposed to be the shit according to a few in the know, but I’ve never been especially in the know, and the thought of leaving town tomorrow started weighing on me, so I ran back to the hotel to ask the kind soul at the counter if she could print my train ticket, and after about an hour, it worked out that she could.
Sigh were done upon my return, but I watched a couple minutes of Dutch black metallers Nihill (interesting about the lineup; had Diagonal showed, it would’ve been prog on one stage, prog on the other, then black metal on one stage, black metal on the other) through the doorway of the Green Room. Actually, I could’ve at least listened to them in the alley outside the venue, since they were loud enough to make the concrete wall of the building sound paper thin. It was supposedly their first show, though you’d never know it by the crowd gathered to see them play it. I guess everyone who hadn’t yet fully gotten their fix from Sigh were still looking for grim satisfaction.
Me, I was looking for Golden Void, but there was still a long time till they went on ahead of Spiritual Beggars and Electric Moon, the two acts who would close out the list I’d see today and my path through Roadburn 2013 as a whole. Neu! founder Michael Rother was going on doing music from that band and his subsequent project Harmonia, sort of bridging the gap between the prog elements and the psychedelic as only krautrock truly could. Being only remotely familiar with Neu! on any level other than the academic, the driving, spacy rhythms were enough to keep me hooked, but I did break for an early dinner partway through — chicken and gravy, mashertaters, salmon and salad — because I could feel myself dragging ass and wanted to be ready for Golden Void‘s set in the Green Room.
Another Californian act, the Bay Area four-piece set an immediately friendly vibe. The curtain in the Green Room was closed when I got there, I guess from Nihill (maybe someone can confirm that?) but before it was even reopened, Golden Void guitarist/vocalist Isaiah Mitchell – whose reputation as slinger of epic solos in influential heavy psych jammers Earthless preceded him — poked his head out from under to say hi. He made conversation as the band set up their gear and even when they got started, kept the atmosphere friendly and unpretentious, which couldn’t be anything but welcome. At one point, Mitchell pointed to someone up front in an Earthless shirt and said, “Nice one.”
Camilla Saufley-Mitchell‘s keys played a big role in their sound, bigger than I recalled from their self-titled debut (review here), and they ran through a JCM800 head, so presence wasn’t lacking, and she added backing vocals as well here and there. The Afterburner marked the end of a 12-date (13 if you count the Brooklyn show they did on their way out of the States) European tour, so no wonder they were feeling good. Golden Void were jammier live than on record, Mitchell taking what seemed to be a couple extended solos, or maybe it just came off that way because of the striking verse/chorus structures on the record where one wouldn’t expect from his work in Earthless that they’d be included at all, but they more than held the crowd’s attention, and the new song “Rise out of the Reach” — which they were selling as a Record Store Day-exclusive 7″ single — makes me look forward even more to their next record than I already was.
I would’ve loved to stay, but Spiritual Beggars were going on the Main Stage and it was time for me to once again “Excuse me” and “I’m sorry” my way through the crowd out from the Green Room. The Beggars – I can call them that now that I’ve seen them live — have a new record out called Earth Blues, and they were selling LPs and signed CDs. I’ll pick it up at some point, but haven’t bothered to listen to it for the same reason I don’t listen a ton of shit that comes out: No time and I fucking hate digital promos. That frustration actually made me less inclined to buy the record, though having autographs from Michael Amott (Arch Enemy/Carcass) and his formidable assembled lineup does hold a certain nerdish appeal. In this incarnation of the band are bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy/Mercyful Fate), drummer Ludwig Witt (Firebird), organist Per Wiberg (Opeth) and vocalist Apollo Papathanasio (Firewind), who now has two albums under his belt in the band and did a more than able job filling the frontman role while also tackling Spiritual Beggars tracks from the eras of Spice and JB Christoffersson, the former now of Band of Spice and the latter in Grand Magus.
Not easy voices to take on by any stretch of the imagination, as both singers could add dramatic flair, soaring highs or growling lows to any given song at any given time, but again, Papathanasio did well in that spot, and the newer stuff they played seemed right in line with their long-standing love of classic heavy rock. Amott‘s the driving force in that he writes all the material, but everyone was clearly on board — Ludwig Witt is a monster drummer — and the stage show was engaging, professional and fun to watch. They played “Turn the Tide” from the new album and dipped back to 2002’s On Fire for “Young Man/Old Soul,” which was a highlight, and just before “Wonderful World” from 2000’s Ad Astra, Papathanasio asked the crowd, “Have you got the energy left?”
The honest answer? Nah, man. It’s been four days solid of rock and rolling and I’m feeling pretty demolished. He got a response from the crowd that was probably less than the roar he’d hoped for, but the band didn’t miss a beat. Their shit was pro-tight and as next year will mark 20 years since the release of their self-titled debut, for all their love of classics, they’re on their way to becoming one as well. A band of string lights wrapped around the inside frame of Amott‘s speaker cabinet, Wiberg had a tapestry hanging from the front of his keyboard, and in everything they did, Spiritual Beggars were very put together, very rehearsed, but also very effective. It wasn’t the first time I liked a band more than I thought I would this weekend, but it was a nice surprise anyway.
Entirely true, I would have relished the notion of seeing Switchblade live, but I had an early-ish train looming, was beat and knew that I wanted Electric Moon to close out my Roadburn 2013. The German jammers were just right for the job — heavy, psychedelic, totally switched on in their groove and, as I learned, swirl-ready at a moment’s notice. Before they were even ready to play, before guitarist Dave “Sula Bassana” Schmidt had his shoes off, he and bassist Komet Lulu and drummer Michael Bongolious Orloff were jamming. I don’t think they even realized they were doing it, but all of a sudden, Komet Lulu had a groove locked in and the other two stepped right into it. Their set was great to watch too, but I found that little pre-jam even more telling, since it goes to show just how much chemistry there is between these three players. Lulu led a lot of the changes, with Orloff responding accordingly and Schmidt spacing out in guitar swirls, but she also took the time to add to the effects wash with her bass. I was really, really glad to see them.
What songs they played, I don’t know. They jammed like mad and had a recorder set up at the front of the stage, so hopefully audio or video surfaces at some point. Truth be told, they were the one band I really regretted not seeing at last year’s Roadburn, so watching them tonight was an absolute must, and though former Emperor frontman Ihsahn was on the Main Stage backed by progressive rockers Leprous, I couldn’t have felt better about being where I was. Nothing left to do then but slowly peel myself away from Roadburn 2013 as the thought of that train and what time I’m actually going to get to sleep tonight started to gnaw at me. I’d hoped to see fest promoter Walter and tell him thank you for another fantastic year, but no such luck. I tossed my earplugs in the trash, and bid farewell to the 013 for another year, when hopefully I’ll be back to have my brain melted all over again.
Many people to thank before I sign off from Tilburg and make my way to London tomorrow, but I’m going to save it for now and do a big thanks at the end of the trip next weekend. There’s still another week to go before I head back to Jersey — I cannot even begin to tell you about the plate of pasta I’m going to have upon my arrival there — and plenty more to come in the meantime, so please, stay tuned.
Thanks to all for reading. More pics after the jump.