The bill pushed the envelope of ridiculous. As part of their ongoing reunion, Wisconsin sludgers Bongzilla have been on tour since late February with nomadic thrashers Black Cobra and only-slightly-less-nomadic heavy rockers Lo-Pan. They met up with New York’s Kings Destroy — freshly back from their Australian run with Radio Moscow — at SXSW last month, and have continued along the Eastern Seaboard since. Friday night was a sold-out show at Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn, and Saturday was ONCE Ballroom in Somerville, Massachusetts, for a show that was put on by Grayskull Booking and presented in part by this site.
It was my first time at ONCE Ballroom, but I’d like to extend personal gratitude to whoever decided to leave the lights on while the bands played. The P.A. was formidable, and it was a night that would push its limits, and the layout like the kind of place you might rent for a wedding reception. That’s not a dig on it — actually the room was quite nice — it’s just the first thing that came to my oh-so-domestic mind. There was a dance floor in front of the stage and carpeted floor space all around, bar to the side and another bar upstairs in kind of a lounge with a pool table Addams Family pinball machine and so on. To the best of my knowledge, they haven’t been doing shows there long, which explains how the carpet wasn’t completely disgusting or otherwise gone, but for the most part, the evening ran smoothly.
Here’s how it went down:
I don’t know how many shows the Ohio four-piece have done with Black Cobra over the years, and in fact I doubt it’s a figure even they could quote at this point, but to understate it, I’d say they’re well past the range of “several.” It had been nearly a full 12 months since last time I saw them, which was at Roadburn 2015 (review here). To be blunt, they were missed. I was particularly interested to see a year later how guitarist Adrian Zambrano had continued to fit in the band after joining late in 2014 the lineup with vocalist Jeff Martin, bassist Scott Thompson and drummer Jesse Bartz, who was positioned, as ever, at the front of the stage. Most of what they played was new, and in terms of where they’re at in progressing from the high-impact delivery of their 2014 fourth album, Colossus (review here), they seemed not at all to have taken a step back, but to have integrated Zambrano‘s energy into their own. And the guitarist had plenty to integrate, stepping up to lead songs with riffs or space out just a bit in two quieter cuts. They reportedly have some new recordings in the can, which I’m dying to hear, and the last song of their set, “Pathfinder,” might be the best thing I’ve ever heard them play. I’d never heard the song before but was taken in completely by its flow, by Martin‘s out-of-this-world vocals, by Bartz‘s signature crashes, the swing in Thompson‘s bass and the dynamic volume switches in Zambrano‘s guitar. They’ve been on the road for a month, so I figured they’d be tight, but Lo-Pan served voluminous reminder of their place among the US’ finest heavy rock acts. Keeping my fingers crossed it’s not another year until I see them again.
Another case of been-too-long. Kings Destroy are very nearly a year out from the release of their self-titled third full-length (review here), and the last time I caught them was at the release show (review here) for it, which, yeah, is too damn long for my preferences. They played a six-song set, and the change in vibe from Lo-Pan was immediate. Each of the bands on this tour offers something different from the others, but I hadn’t really considered how smoothly the acts — especially the first three, but Bongzilla as well — would flow between them, Lo-Pan starting off with a charged-fuzz boot to the ass, Kings Destroy turning that more aggressive, Black Cobra hitting with unmatched intensity, and finally, Bongzilla finishing out with a mass of tone. For being disparate in their sound, Kings Destroy followed Lo-Pan well. They had a fill-in bassist in Mike Moebius (also producer for Pilgrim, Kings Destroy, The Munsens and others) holding down Aaron Bumpus‘ usual spot next to drummer Rob Sefcik and guitarist Chris Skowronski, and while Skowronski didn’t run across the stage to kick fellow guitarist Carl Porcaro, so I can’t call it the most raucous Kings Destroy set I’ve ever seen, they showed themselves plainly to be ready to move forward from the last record. This tour hasn’t been quite back to back with the aforementioned Australian stint, but close enough to it that when it’s over I wouldn’t be surprised if they hunkered down for a while and set to finishing material for their fourth LP. Whatever their plans, it was great to bang my head again to “Mr. O” and “Smokey Robinson,” to groove on the catchy creeper vibes of “The Mountie” and to hear vocalist Steve Murphy‘s changed cadence in the hook of “Blood of Recompense,” which finished out. I’m hardly impartial on the subject, but I’ve really missed these guys.
What can you do when Black Cobra take the stage other than bow to their utter supremacy? I don’t know. The San Fran (now) twosome of guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafa Martinez hit the 15-year mark in 2016, a decade since their first album, Bestial, was released, and their assault has only gotten more and more vicious. Their newly-issued Season of Mist debut, Imperium Simulacra (review here), made its primary impression — or at least a complementary one to their omnipresent fury — in an expansion of their capacity for atmosphere, in Landrian‘s willingness to drone out in contrast to the thrashing riffery that has become the band’s signature, and I was pleased to find them bring that sensibility to the stage as well. I’m not going to take away from the joy of watching Martinez blast the hell out of an all-out cut like “Obsolete,” slamming his floor tom in place of a double-kick, or the unmitigated tension of “Challenger Deep,” but to hear them hit the brakes even momentarily to ride out a rolling groove or to have Landrian create an excruciating soundscape of drone before the next wave of the attack was launched made the experience of watching them that much richer. They are a live band and always have been, and anyone who has heard their records but not seen them only has half the story, but the fact that the growth that was so clearly signaled on the record showed up so plainly on stage as well is emblematic of their all-around progression. I won’t say it’s a question of maturity, since I’d argue Black Cobra hit that stride with 2011’s Invernal, but perhaps of how they’re putting that maturity to use, deepening their approach. It’s a thrill to watch Black Cobra break the rules they’ve set for themselves, and one hopes that the explorations of Imperium Simulacra are a sign of things to come.
I’ve been wracking my brains for the last couple weeks trying to remember if I’d seen Bongzilla before and I’ve finally decided that the answer is no, because if I had caught them at some point during their initial run, which ended after their 2005 album, Amerijuanican, on Relapse, I’d remember it. The ultra-weedian four-piece of guitarist/vocalist Muleboy, guitarist Spanky, bassist Cooter Brown and drummer Magma stacked their amps high — everything was high — and were loud enough in their early going that, I think in their third song, the power cut out. Not like they blew an amp, like they blew a fuse. It was an unexpected break in the set, during which the band encouraged everyone to go out and smoke weed — because weed — but seemed somehow fitting for the band’s legacy of over-the-top, crusty-as-hell sludge that the room simply couldn’t take it. I learned later they’d plugged a bunch of their amps into a single surge protector, and I guess that’d do it if that’s how it happened, but they got everything back up and running sooner or later and the crowd was right back into the set as they had been all along, the reefer-obsessed anti-hits rolling out in a slow-motion barrage of consuming tonal density. On a couple levels, one knew what to expect going into the show — Bongzilla have never been in danger of being subtle — but those expectations were delivered on thoroughly, and with the response they’ve gotten all along on this tour, and the one before it, and the one before that, I had to wonder how long it might be before they embark on a new record to follow-up on the series of reissues that Relapse and Hydro-Phonic have done over the past years. Wouldn’t want to make any hasty predictions or anything, but I bet whenever they do come out with a fifth record, it’ll have a song or two about weed on it. No complaints. In life, you gotta follow where your passion takes you.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading, and once again, thanks to Grayskull Booking for having me as a presenter on this show. Check out their Thee Facebooks for more dates coming up.