Since the time change, it’s been getting dark at around 5PM, which means that as I made my way out west on the Masspike to Florence to see Blaak Heat Shujaa and Mirror Queen at the pleasantly-named JJ’s Tavern, it was too dark to enjoy the late-fall scenery. Too bad, as that’s some good forest. Anyone interested in demographic study might do well to take a look at how hardcore did so well up here in the ’90s instead of black metal. I’d suspect it has to do with socioeconomic factors — a hardcore 7″ is cheap and Norwegian LPs would’ve meant paying import prices; with its roots in zealotry, Massachusetts maintains a healthy love of its working class foundations — but from the bare branches to the legacy of witch burnings, it seems like someone would’ve put some corpsepaint on by now and given the misty Pacific Northwest a run for its money. So it goes.
I had time to consider these things on the drive to Florence (my grandmother’s name) and JJ’s Tavern (my name), which was a solid two hours. Both bands would be in Providence, Rhode Island, the next night, which is only half as far away, but I had other obligations and didn’t want to miss Blaak Heat Shujaa, who were making an overdue first appearance on the Eastern Seaboard in support of their sophomore full-length and Tee Pee long-play debut, The Edge of an Era (review here). The young desert rock trio from Los Angeles via Paris were partnered up for the excursion with NYC labelmates Mirror Queen, whose own style of grooving has become familiar at shows this year with The Atomic Bitchwax and Truckfighters (see here and here). There were four bands on the bill, but by the time I arrived at JJ’s, local radio rockers Odds of Eden were on as the second of four, which meant that Mirror Queen weren’t far behind.
Drummer Jeremy O’Brien was local to the area, so there was a familial contingent present in the short-ceilinged upstairs space — almost a loft, with a bar in another little room to the side and pool tables in back — as Mirror Queen got going. Lead guitarist Phi Moon and bassist James Corallo had played Brooklyn two weekends prior as members of Polygamyst, who opened for Orange Goblin at the St. Vitus bar (review here), and it hadn’t been that long anyway since I last caught Mirror Queen, so although I felt like I knew what I was getting, that didn’t make their set any less enjoyable, whether it was the Cream-y riffing of “Scaffold of the Skies” or the catchy and insistent chorus of “Vagabondage.” Guitarist/vocalist Kenny Sehgal set up to the far right-side of the stage, and Moon and Corallo had plenty of room to rock out their parts in classic fashion.
And there was a twist! I’d anticipated they’d close with the Captain Beyond cover “Mesmerization Eclipse,” as they have the last couple times I’ve seen them, but no dice. Instead, they gave a take on Iron Maiden‘s “Phantom of the Opera” for their finishing move, and it only emphasized for me how tight their jams are at this point. Sehgal and O’Brien have been playing together going back to their days as Aytobach Kreisor, whose self-titled debut was issued on Rubric Records in 2002, but with Moon‘s swaggering solos and the sheer enjoyment for playing that Corallo brings to his work on bass, Mirror Queen seem all the more solid at the base of their sonic fluidity. I’ve yet to catch a set and be bummed out, and though I’d been looking forward to a little Captain Beyond, the Maiden worked just fine in its place.
Between reviews, video premieres, track premieres, interviews, news posts and whatever else I can’t think of at the moment (it’s all here), I’ve said an awful lot about Blaak Heat Shujaa the last couple years, and I was greatly anticipating seeing them play live. The three-piece of guitarist/vocalist Thomas Bellier, bassist Antoine Morel-Vulliez and drummer Mike Amster were surprisingly loud once they got going. Considerable volume. The effect was to make their sound even fuller than on the record, and give Bellier a task in letting his effects-laden vocals cut through the tones surrounding. Those tones, it’s worth emphasizing, were gorgeous. As much of a role as Morel-Vulliez‘s bass plays in setting the mood on The Edge of an Era, live it is all the more a foundational element, and Amster‘s drumming has a vitality behind it that a studio album would be hard-pressed to convey. Everything I’ve enjoyed about the band since I caught wind of their 2010 self-titled debut (review here) was only more prevalent in their stage presentation.
That’s especially true of some of their more subdued stretches. With Amster keeping a steady intensity to his tom runs even as Morel-Vulliez and Bellier set about the purposefully meandering jams of the “The Beast” two-parter which Bellier announced as “the first side of our new record,” smirking in full awareness of just how awesome that sounds to say, there was a sense of build that came across as hypnotic in its repetitions and still consciously focused on movement forward. This made the payoff in that progression all the more of one. It was gratifying to see, not just because I enjoyed the album, but because what the album seemed to be hinting that the band could do was right there on stage at full blast. Their jamming was jazz-tight and the surf rock in Bellier‘s guitar acknowledged the roots of the desert that Blaak Heat Shujaa has adopted as their home. Whether it was “Society of Barricades” or the closing sprawl of “Land of the Freaks, Home of the Brave,” I was really, really glad to have made the trip to see them play.
My new appreciation for their songs in tow, I split out of JJ’s Tavern when Blaak Heat Shujaa were done and made my way back east along the same route I’d taken west to get there. At around 1:40AM, still an hour out, I got pulled over doing 81 in a 65 and got a ticket. 16 miles over the limit at $10 a mile had me cursing the rest of the way, but traffic violations come and go, and nights like this one leave longer impressions than dents in a checking account.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.