When I’d called Starland Ballroom earlier in the evening to ask what time Monster Magnet went on, and been told 9:30PM, that was a dirty fucking lie. I rolled in at 9PM thinking I’d catch the tail end of Seventh Void, and instead, A Pale Horse Named Death — fronted by Life of Agony drummer Sal Abruscato on vocals and one of the total three guitars — was just starting up. Thanks a lot, box office girl. True, I didn’t want to risk a Sunday night DWI and I had to get up for work this morning, but there was a bit of spite added to my lack of drinking, to be sure.
It wasn’t crowded, but there were more people than I thought would be there. The least crowded I’ve ever seen Starland was for Candlemass — which was shameful, how empty it was — but by no means was it packed even by the time Monster Magnet took the stage. For A Pale Horse Named Death, there was a decent amount of people who’d shown up early or because they’d heard it was the LOA drummer’s band and maybe they’d play “Through and Through” or something. They didn’t. Instead it was a mediocre but passable kind of doom rock, topped off with the charm of Abruscato inviting everyone in the crowd back to his house after the show for sausage and peppers, which I can only imagine would have been delicious.
Johnny Kelly, drummer for Type O Negative and Seventh Void — which also features Type O guitarist Kenny Hickey — played in A Pale Horse Named Death, pulling double duty for the evening. I think it was their first show, but they were clearly enjoying themselves, and having grown up as a heavy metal Jersey boy, I have trouble begrudging them the good time they looked to be having. However, someone should really point out to Abruscato that it was Death riding the pale horse, and that the horse itself was not Death. Five dudes in the band, you’d think someone would have been on that already.
The first time I saw Seventh Void was at The Trash Bar in Brooklyn, and they weren’t nearly that good at Starland, but they put on a more than respectable show anyway, playing songs off their Heaven is Gone full-length and what sounded like some new material, Hickey of course shouting a song (“Last Walk in the Light”) out to departed Type O Negative bassist/vocalist Peter Steele. That was bound to happen, and Hickey has stepped into the frontman role nicely in Seventh Void, which is encouraging to see. I doubt they’ll hit the commercial heights of his and Kelly‘s former band — the shitbag musical climate having something to do with that as well — but at least they’re still working.
You have to understand, back in 1993, at the tender age of 12, I used to call Pure Rock Q104.3 every single day and request Type O Negative‘s “Black No. 1,” and they, Life of Agony and Monster Magnet were the local bands that made good. As a kid just really figuring out what I liked, it was a big deal to see their videos on MTV. I think everyone has those bands. So it’s not that I didn’t enjoy this show, and it’s not that I didn’t know what I was going to get, I just have my attachments to these dudes’ work (the fauxhawk bassist and girlie-shirt second guitarist of Seventh Void notwithstanding) already set, and that’s not about to change.
It was the first time Monster Magnet played New Jersey in years, and it was clear the varying camps of supporters present at the Starland Ballroom. There was the “Space Lord” contingent, who maybe got into them from their 1998 mega-hit, the local loyalists, who’d have shown up even if they were playing the pits of hell (or worse, Asbury Park — zing!), and the stoner rock heads hoping for some older material in the set list. I count myself a bit in the latter two camps, and to the band’s credit, they did their best to feed everyone — opening with “Nod Scene” was a nice touch — and still manage to push the songs from their latest album, 2010′s Mastermind.
My heart sank when I snapped a picture of their setlist and read that “Spine of God” wasn’t on it. I’d like to think maybe it’s because new guitarist Garrett Sweeny (also of Riotgod), who was brought in to fill the rather sizable shoes vacated by Ed Mundell, doesn’t know it yet, but it could just as easily have been some other reason. Any way you slice it, it was a bummer. That had more or less been the one song that got me off the couch, but I guess you can’t have everything. Gotta make room for “Tractor” and “Crop Circle.” “Dinosaur Vacume” was pretty good though.
They played several songs from Mastermind, including starting the encore with single “Gods and Punks” and “Bored with Sorcery,” but the high point of the new material was unquestionably “Dig that Hole,” even if Dave Wyndorf‘s quoting of the n-word does rest gratingly on my liberal sensibilities. Wyndorf basically had the show resting on his shoulders and he delivered a solid set, Sweeny and Phil Caivano working well together on guitar, Jim Baglino and Bob Pantella doing the same on bass and drums. Everything was tight, everyone played well, but it was pretty clearly a show, and by that I mean if you were looking for a raw outpouring of emotion or some kind of beastly psychedelic trip, you were probably elsewhere.
I will say this, however: It’s time for Dave Wyndorf to grow a beard. And not a little one. A big, honking beard. And he needs to let it go gray. And he needs to never be seen again in public without a Hawkwind t-shirt and some gnarly jeans on, and he needs to cut his hair just short enough so it can still be messy, and it’s time for him to put on some huge-ass mirror sunglasses and take the stage like the Rick Rubin-looking biker space rock god we all know he is underneath. He might even need a bandanna. I’m completely serious.
He’s obviously not doing the “check me out, I’m on pills” thing anymore, right? But the stage show hasn’t really changed, it’s just become less believable. Time to adapt. Time to unleash the weirdo within. He could hit the jam band circuit and have these fucking hipsters eating out of his hands in no time flat and and start bringing a crowd again in the US, but it’s a change that needs to be made. Every time he threw his hands in the air singing, I couldn’t help think to myself, “Dude, it is time to get strange on these motherfuckers.” Also, “Play ‘Spine of God!’”
I was splitsville before they closed with “Powertrip” — some of us do, in fact, have to work another day in our lives — and I caught an easy Sunday night back north on 287 to get to the valley around 1:00. Easily worth the trip, but not necessarily ideal. You know how it goes. At least I wasn’t asleep at the wheel like after the Pentagram show in Brooklyn.
I took some extra photos, which you can see after the jump.