The Obelisk Questionnaire: Ben Smith of The Brought Low

Posted in Questionnaire on February 10th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

If The Brought Low are on stage, you can safely bet that you’re going to have a good time. With thickened blues-via-punk grooves from bassist Bob Russell and drummer Nick Heller and a touch of twang in the vocal delivery of guitarist Ben Smith, the NYC trio’s songs present a character to heavy rock that no one else captures in quite the same way. At this point, experience is a factor. 2014 marks 15 years of The Brought Low, which formed in 1999 after the dissolution of Smith and Heller‘s prior outfit, the hardcore band Sweet Diesel. Their first, self-titled album was released on Tee Pee in 2001, and it would be half a decade before the follow-up, Right on Time, surfaced through Small Stone. Their aptly-titled 2010 Third Record (review here) was very much that, literally as well as figuratively in terms of expanding their range of influence and solidifying the progression of their first two outings. It delved further into blues and sad country, but still held firm to its rock and roll roots, ultra-memorable songs like “The Kelly Rose” and “Old Century” positioning The Brought Low as a band out of time even as they were utterly in their element being so.

Northeast regional shows have always been The Brought Low‘s trade, but they get out from time to time if the occasion suits, as SXSW has a couple times. Their latest release, an EP through Coextinction Recordings (stream here), arrived in 2011 and the band continues to work on their next full-length, while Smith and Heller step aside as well for periodic reunion gigs with Sweet Diesel.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Benjamin Howard Smith

How did you come to do what you do?

I was very lucky to have been born into a big, artistic, musical family. My father wrote plays, my mother wrote novels, my sister sang in the church choir and my brothers played in rock bands. Playing music and being creative wasn’t an act of rebellion for me. It was something I was expected to do, like, “When are you going to learn how to play an instrument?” My brother taking me to see The Who movie The Kids Are Alright is what made me want to play guitar though it took a couple stops and starts before I really made the effort to learn how to play. A friend once said to me, “You love music so much you should really learn how to play,” which made a lot sense.

Describe your first musical memory.

When I was two years old my family did a house exchange and spent the summer in North London. Upstairs there was a record player and a stack of 45s including “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones, or as I called it, “GET NO!,” which I made my siblings play over and over and over and over and over and over…

Describe your best musical memory to date.

As a musician? As a music fan? As a human being? So many. You know, the first thing that comes to mind is Christmas morning, 1980, coming down and seeing a row of records propped up on one corner, like diamonds, across the living room couch. It was The Clash, London Calling, and Ramones, Rocket To Russia, and probably something by Led Zeppelin and Rush as well. The smell of new records and getting a paper cut under your thumbnail opening them and looking at the packaging and reading the lyrics and discovering all this new music. It’s still one of the greatest joys in life and still happens to this day. Well, you know, the discovering new music part, not the diamond LP display. Though that would be awesome too.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Nothing comes immediately to mind though I think all your beliefs should be tested and examined and questioned. Otherwise it’s not a belief; it’s just something you were taught and arbitrarily decided you agreed with. Or maybe that is belief. I’ve had lots of beliefs since I was born. Some of these beliefs I still follow to this day. Others I have examined and decided I no longer agreed with. I don’t know. What’s with the serious questions, man?!?! Shouldn’t we be talking about Les Pauls and Black Sabbath already?

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

Death. No, just kidding. For argument’s sake you could say AC/DC and Motörhead and plenty of folk and blues artists have had little use for it and it hasn’t seemed to hurt them any. By the same token, other musicians constantly evolve and change and push themselves. Both instincts can lead to great music. Also, if you play music for any amount of time you will, generally speaking, evolve and progress as a player. For myself, I am certainly a different person and musician than I was when I started out in bands.

How do you define success?

I’ve always felt as long as I could find someone who wants to put out my records, I have succeeded. I actually see some money now thanks to some of our songs being licensed to TV shows but in the end it’s a nominal amount and not enough to live on let alone support a family. I feel extremely blessed though for all the good fortune I’ve had as a musician. I have many talented friends who have not had the opportunities I have. Music has helped me see the country and even some other countries. Music is how I met my wife. Music is how I’ve made the majority of my friends over the last 20 years including some people whose records I used to buy. How cool is that? I have friends who are in more successful bands, some who actually make a living as a musician. Some of them are in bands with people they hate and are watching their children grow up on their iPads. I have always played in bands with my best friends and have had the joy of watching my daughter grow up first hand. Success is relative. Ultimately the success I’m most concerned with is the artistic achievement. Greatness is always the goal.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Nothing. I’m glad I have seen everything I have, good and bad, beautiful and ugly. All of it is part of me and is something I have learned from or lived through, even if it was disturbing or upsetting. That said, I’m not a homicide detective or a combat soldier and the things I have seen in my life don’t compare to what people see who live in worlds where death and violence are a constant presence.

I will say, I lived in Manhattan on September 11th and stepped onto 5thAve., which looked down at the World Trade Center, moments after Tower One fell and I am glad I didn’t see that with my own two eyes. Also, I truly detest the sight of another human’s feces. So anytime I stepped into a bathroom and saw another person’s shit, I wish I hadn’t seen that.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

A soul album. Like Stax, Muscle Shoals-style Southern soul. With horns and ballads and backup singers, the whole nine. And guitar solos. If I had infinite time and resources I’d be in about 10 different bands playing 10 different styles of music.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

All of it. The seasons, life, watching my daughter grow up, taking on new challenges. I am pretty cynical by nature and generally pessimistic about humanity but let’s be real, we all, all of us here in America and in the world where we can read stoner rock music blogs on our computers live lives of tremendous ease and good fortune. Life is good. Yes, we sometimes have personal struggles, financial, physical or otherwise, but really, compared to so many in the world, we have so much. I am very thankful for all the good fortune I have had in my life; having a great family, growing up in the greatest city in the world, having the best friends a guy could ever want. Whatever happens next, I’m down.

The Brought Low, Third Record (2011)

The Brought Low on Thee Facebooks

Small Stone Records

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Visual Evidence: Freedom Hawk, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Luder & The Brought Low Headed to Detroit Oct. 19

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Well established that I’m a sucker for a cool rock show and a cool rock poster, so when greeted by both, I’ve little choice in the matter of posting it. Enfectious Erf out of Memphis concocted the classy design below for what was previously announced taking place a week earlier as Small Stone‘s Detroit fall showcase and now seems to be less that than just another killer show with bands on the label, though it will also serve as the release party for Detroit-native progressive heavy rockers Luder‘s new album, Adelphophagia. In town for the night will be Freedom Hawk, Gozu, The Brought Low and Lo-Pan, so whether or not it’s an official showcase is immediately secondary to how much ass the night is going to kick. The Brought Low rarely get out that far, so Midwesterners take note, and any time Lo-Pan and Gozu get together, trouble is made. Very loud trouble.

Here’s the poster for the show, which you can click to enlarge if its current size isn’t big enough:

Small Stone Records Presents:
Freedom Hawk, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Luder, The Brought Low

7pm – All Ages – Tickets $10

Advance Tickets: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=3722674

https://www.facebook.com/events/643001622377153/

Luder, Adelphophagia (2013)

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Live Review: The Brought Low, The Scimitar and Hey Zeus in Boston, 07.19.13

Posted in Reviews on July 22nd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

True, I probably should’ve been looking over housing rentals and formulating a plan for what apartments to see the next day — since that’s why I was in Boston a week and a half ahead of moving to Massachusetts anyway — but on the other, far less responsible hand, The Brought Low. The NYC trio were coming up to play Radio in Somerville with local-types Planetoid, The Scimitar and Hey Zeus also on the bill, and well, if I’m going to be living somewhere, there’s no time like the present to start getting my ass out to shows. What at its most convenient is a four-hour drive had taken more than six, my car’s air conditioner cutting out on the way. I’d been up since five in the morning. It was time to rock and roll.

I’ve been to Radio a few times now — I think every time I’ve been there a band on Small Stone has played, usually Gozu — and it’s a cool room. I had to remind myself that Boston’s a rocker town with a rocker crowd, so the place would probably be packed, and by the time Hey Zeus were finished, indeed it was. Last time I saw the native outfit was their first show, in January. It was one of the coldest nights of the winter. Go figure that I should run into them again as the heat index pushed its way past 110. A band for all seasons, they apparently are.

Opening up, I thought it was a pretty ballsy move for them to throw in a “Space Truckin'” cover halfway through, but they absolutely nailed it, vocalist Bice Nathan channeling his inner Ian Gillan to hit the screaming pre-chorus “Yeah!” high notes on the ultra-catchy Deep Purple classic. Ballsy as it was, they’d double-down by closing out a set otherwise comprised of driving original material with a take on “Speed King” from In Rock. It was almost like the set had a side A and side B and each closed out with a Deep Purple song. Not a bad way to go out, come to think of it.

Between Nathan‘s expert fronting the band, guitarist Pete Knipfing‘s red-hot Southern-style classic rock leads and the groove held down by the rhythm section of bassist Ken Cmar and drummer Todd Bowman, Hey Zeus were as tight as you could possibly ask them to be, varying their pacing somewhere between mid-moving stonerly lumber and the grown-up punk that has fueled so much of Boston’s heavy rock over the years. I dug it last time, I dug it this time, but more importantly, I’ll look forward to digging it next time. Feeling more metallic from their very start, The Scimitar followed in plundering fashion.

Guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard (see also Blackwolfgoat, Hackman, Roadsaw, and the League of Excellent Human Beings) announced from the stage that it was just The Scimitar‘s second Boston show. The trio, made up of Shepard, his Black Pyramid bandmate Dave Gein and drummer Brian Banfield, more or less functioned as an extension of that band’s marauding musical ideology, walking a line between thrashing metal and doom that Shepard‘s riffs navigated with ease. Some parts reminded me of Black Pyramid‘s 2013 outing, Adversarial (review here), but in cuts like “World Unreal” and “Forever and Ever and Ever” — based on The Shining and being played for the first time — there began to shine an individual personality for The Scimitar that will inevitably win out.

Gein and Shepard, recently back from a European tour in support of Adversarial with Black Pyramid, were dead on from the start, which gave Banfield a task in locking in with the two of them, but the drummer handled it well, the trio sounding solid if formative in their chemistry and like they were only going to get filthier sounding as time went on. I wondered if crusty battle doom was a thing, or if it could be, and as if either to answer or to shake me out of my bout of overthinking, they ran through “Void Traveler” on their way to closing out with the Motörhead cover “Metropolis,” giving a suitably grooving treatment to the mid-paced swagger of the original, which appeared on the 1979 landmark, Overkill. Needless to say, beer was spilled.

Dressed up in elaborate and professional-looking alien costumes — one guy actually looked so much like Nightcrawler from the X-Men that I thought that’s what he was going for at first — as they walked around Radio loading in and hanging out, Planetoid were playing last, which meant The Brought Low went on third after The Scimitar. There was a moment right before they took the stage that I could feel myself hit the wall. I stifled yawns and kept myself standing upright, but wow, I was ready to be done. The Brought Low, who were viewing this show as something of a makeup from having to cancel on the Small Stone Boston showcase last fall owing to the post-Hurricane Sandy gas shortage, hadn’t even started yet. I’d only seen two bands!

Proud to report that I didn’t split before The Brought Low‘s set was finished. The trio — Ben Smith (guitar/vocals), Bob Russell (bass/vocals) and Nick Heller (drums) — were on my hypothetical list of stuff to see before no longer living in the New York area, so even though it wound up being in Boston rather than their hometown I caught them in, I wasn’t about to complain. Their on the cusp of 15 years together and lived up to the high standard the sets I’ve seen them play have set, Smith and Heller both having grown out their hair some since I last encountered the band in Fall 2011. In that time, they haven’t put out anything new — their last offering was a three-song EP on Coextinction Recordings (stream and track-by-track here) — but even “What I Found” from their 2001 self-titled debut sounded fresh among newer songs like “Army of Soldiers” and “Black River” from the aforementioned three-tracker.

“Black River” in particular made for an exciting shift just past the halfway mark in the set as Russell took the fore vocally with Smith backing, where the band’s usual process works the other way around, their chemistry and unique blend of country twang and rocking city grit underscored by the swing in Heller‘s drums, perhaps most prevalent of all in the slower “My Favorite Waste of Time” from 2010’s Third Record (review here), which was also a highlight. I don’t know how many times I’ve called The Brought Low the best rock band in New York, but I’m still right. Whether it was “Old Century” or “The Kelly Rose,” the only thing they left me wanting was more The Brought Low. Beat to hell though I was, I’d have stayed if they went on twice as long.

As it was, they didn’t go much further than 40 minutes. An encore after “Blues for Cubby” rounded out and I said a few quick goodnights and made my way back to the hotel, feeling guilty for not catching Planetoid but assuming this wouldn’t be my last opportunity to do so. The next day I got up and went and found a place to live.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Notes and Pics: Small Stone Records Showcase in Somerville, MA, 11.03.12

Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

It was the night of a thousand riffs. At very least 100-150 very well purposed. A Small Stone Records showcase is always an occasion and this year’s Boston to-do was no exception. The scene was the Radio bar in Somerville, and though The Brought Low dropped off at the last minute owing to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lineup boasted nine bands — Boston natives Mellow Bravo stepped in to fill the hole, playing earlier than the NYC trio would have — and it was front to back quality between them, Blackwolfgoat, who opened and also played in between sets, Supermachine, Infernal Overdrive, Lord Fowl, Freedom Hawk, Roadsaw, Lo-Pan and Gozu.

What do you do with a night like that? Well, you drink. And I did. Hard. I have a tradition — someone choosing their words less carefully might call it a “habit” — going back nearly a decade at this point of showing up to Small Stone events and promptly getting obliterated. At last year’s Philly showcase (review here and here), I played it cool for the most part. Less so this weekend. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I knew I had Sunday to recover, maybe it was the fact that I still didn’t know if the power was on back home yet. Whatever it was, I opened a tab and didn’t look back. My storm-refugee ass needed a night of reckless abandon.

After being dropped off in front of Radio by The Patient Mrs. as though I was on my way to my first day of kindergarten — schooled indeed — I walked in to find Darryl Shepard of Blackwolfgoat early into his set. Downstairs in the basement, a matinee of three sets of Beatles covers would soon give way to a sweaty, smelly night of punk rock. Seems as good a jump-off point as any, so here goes:

Blackwolfgoat


With a cocktail straw in his mouth and a bounce in his step (minus the bounce), Blackwolfgoat‘s lone resident, Darryl Shepard — also of currently of Black Pyramid and Milligram and formerly of Hackman, Roadsaw and no shortage of others — showed off some of the latest wares from his one-man act. Shepard would soon adjourn to Radio’s semi-balcony off to the left of the stage, where he’d sit at the ready and wait to drone out a tune or two between other acts, but before he got there, he played some material from last year’s Dronolith and some newer stuff. The newer songs find him using more dynamic loops, setting a droning bed for himself and then launching into — in at least one instance — a grandiose classic rock solo over it. It was awesome to see, and the melody in that solo and around it proved just one more way the project is expanding sonically. He’ll reportedly be recording soon, and of course that’s something to look forward to. Pretty much any day you get to see this dude play guitar is a good day. If you get to see him do a full set to start a show and a bunch of mini-sets between seven or eight other acts, well then, all the better.

Mellow Bravo

There was an interesting mix of stage presences when it came to Boston’s own Mellow Bravo. The first full band on the bill was also the newest to Small Stone‘s roster save for Supermachine, who followed, and they released their self-titled debut album (review here) on the label via a Mad Oak Recordings imprint earlier this year. In the case of charismatic vocalist Keith Pierce and guitarist Andrew Doherty, they seemed birthed of Boston’s formidable hardcore/metalcore scene, whatever soul records they may have dug into since those days, keyboardist/vocalist Jess Collins came off more on the heavy metal end, while guitarist Jeff Fultz (ex-Seemless) had the lead licks and enviable hair of a modern classic rocker. Mix all that with the rhythm section of sunglasses-clad bassist Seager Tennis and drummer Dave Jarvis, and it’s a strange six-piece stew resulting from Mellow Bravo‘s recipe. Nonetheless, they were resoundingly cohesive, putting on a professional show — staged in parts, like when Collins came out from behind the keyboard to front “Ridin'” — and looking like a band who should and expected to be paid for their work. “Love Hammer” was a highlight, but really just one of the memorable songs on their debut that the band did well bringing to life.

Supermachine

There are few phrases that will earn respect in my book as quickly as “ex-Scissorfight.” In the case of label newcomers Supermachine, bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin were founding members of that most excellent New Hampshire outfit — both also played in Mess with the Bull – and so interest in what they might be doing musically was automatic, especially as this was my first time seeing them or hearing any of their songs. Joined in the four-piece by drummer Mike McNeill and vocalist David Nebbia, there was a moment where I stood in front of the stage at Radio and was reminded of hazy afternoons and evenings at Room 710 on Red River in Austin, Texas, at many a Small Stone showcase years back there, when I was still relatively just getting my feet wet in terms of appreciating and being exposed to this kind of music. If that’s a long way around to saying Supermachine sounded fresh, so be it. Their performance was organic and unpretentious — though there was no question which of them was the lead singer, even before they got on stage — and while they seemed to still be feeling out their identity as a band, they gave a good first impression.

Infernal Overdrive

True enough, I’d had some beers by the time Infernal Overdrive started playing, maybe visited the basement Beatles show downstairs to weird everyone in the room out by singing along to “Can’t Buy Me Love” way louder than was called for. I nonetheless recall being entirely of sound mind when I scribbled my first note about Infernal Overdrive‘s performance. It was as follows: “New shit is right on.” I stand by that 100 percent. They might need to hit the road for a while to really step into what and where they want to be as a band, but short of that, they’ve got their aesthetic down. No less so at Radio than at Stoner Hands of Doom XII in September. Part of me wants them to just go ahead and get the next record out so they can start closing with “Viking” already, but as the room was beginning to fill up, the Jersey/Massachusetts-native double-guitar foursome treated an eager and thirsty crowd to “Motor” and “The Edge” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sun 2011 debut full-length (review here) and those songs rested well alongside newer cuts like “Quints Revenge” and “Ride to the Sun.” As ever, they tore through their set, capping with the cowbell/fuzz swiftness of “I-95,” which set the stage well for Connecticut’s Lord Fowl, who followed.

Lord Fowl


Continue to impress. Despite an apparently ongoing throat problem for guitarist/vocalist Vechel Jaynes — I actually take it as a sign of someone giving a shit both about what they do and what I think about what they do when artists tell me about their various injuries, illnesses, aches and pains; that kind of thing can be good to know sometimes, though Jaynes‘ trouble did little to hold back Lord Fowl at Radio — the New Haven, Connecticut, four-piece dove headfirst into material from their Moon Queen label debut (review here), rising to the occasion of directly following Infernal Overdrive and making me remember why I like this kind of shit so much in the first place. They also gave a fitting sequel to when I saw them at SHoD XII, guitarist/vocalist Mike Pellegrino comfortable as he always seems to be fronting the band alongside Jaynes while bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman locked in grooves thick and slick in equal measure. “Streets of Nevermore” was a highlight, and the one-two punch of “Quicksand” and the insistent swirl of “SOS” was no less engaging on stage than it was late into Moon Queen. I wondered a bit what their next album might bring, if they’d keep to a thematic, semi-psych heavy rock approach or branch out elsewhere as they move forward, and then The Patient Mrs. showed up looking all fine and I got distracted. Ha.

Freedom Hawk

Quietly, more than a year had passed since I last caught Virginia’s fuzz buzzards live, but Freedom Hawk were the most in their element at Radio that I’ve ever seen them. The songs from their Holding On 2011 label debut (review here) have cooled and tightened into a fine, viscous ooze, and the set had more than a few killers to it, including the recent video track “Indian Summer.” They’re a good band, and fresh on my mind as I’d just that very afternoon acquired their first demo in a haul of old promo material (more on that tomorrow), so I was glad to have our  paths cross again at last. A less raucous delivery than either Lord Fowl or Infernal Overdrive – both of whom put on a hell of a show — Freedom Hawk were nonetheless in the right place at the right time. The crowd was boozed and well warmed up, and Freedom Hawk‘s “all fuzz, no bullshit” was right at home, guitarists TR Morton (also vocals) and Matt Cave leading with ’90s-style stoner rock riffing while bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines provided weight and pulse to the rolling groove. I don’t know if someone thought they were being clever by playing Ozzy before they went on (Morton‘s vocals being geared in that direction), but Freedom Hawk showed they’re moving more toward becoming their own outfit and incorporating whatever influence it might be — Ozzy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, etc. — into a sound more fully theirs. Worth noting that at this point there hadn’t yet been a band whose next album I wasn’t stoked at the thought of hearing.

Roadsaw


In true showcase fashion, Roadsaw delivered a set that not only showed why they’re the godfathers of Boston’s heavy rock scene, but ran a gamut through their own catalog — opening with “Look Pretty Lonely” from 2008’s See You in Hell!, and also including “Keep on Sailing” and “Thanks for Nothing” from 1997’s Nationwide — on which Shepard joined on lead guitar from his spot on the balcony — “Buried Alive” and “Disconnected” from 2007’s Rawk ‘n’ Roll, “Monkey Skull” from 2012’s Roadsaw EP, and “Weight in Gold” and “Long in the Tooth” from their 2010 self-titled full-length. I said earlier this year at London Desertfest that I wanted to see them on their home turf, and I was glad to have the opportunity at last. If it’s any indicator of how it all went down, they delayed the start of their set to get another round of drinks. Yes, it was that kind of party. The stage at Radio wasn’t as small as that at the Small Stone showcase in Philly last year — it was somewhere between that and the more spacious at the El ‘n’ Gee in Connecticut, where SHoD was held, and which Roadsaw also played — so I didn’t think vocalist Craig Riggs was about to bean bassist Tim Catz or guitarist Ian Ross with his spinning microphone (ever-shirtless drummer Jeremy Hemond being well out of range), but they made short work of it nonetheless, and even went so far as to bring up Infernal Overdrive guitarist/vocalist Marc Schleicher for an encore of “The Gentle Butcher,” from Nothing that a Bullet Couldn’t Cure by the band Antler, of which he, Ross, Catz and Riggs were a part. As ever, they were in classic form.

Lo-Pan

A scant two weeks before leaving for a tour with High on Fire and Goatwhore that will have them playing in the biggest venues of their career to date, Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan looked ready. I think they’ve already discovered that the reward for the hard work they’ve been putting in over the last couple years is actually just a bunch of even harder work, but they seemed hungry nonetheless. It had been more than a year since I’d seen them as well, and along with a new shorter haircut for guitarist Brian Fristoe, they had two new songs in the set alongside cuts from 2011’s brilliant-and-yes-I-fucking-mean-brilliant Salvador (review here). Both “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” had Fristoe‘s steady progressive-edged fuzz, made thicker by Skot Thompson‘s basslines, but seemed to push vocalist Jeff Martin farther into his range as well as Jessie Bartz — front and center as always — tied it all together on drums. As I told Bartz when they were done, I’d like to hear them 85 or 87 more times before I make final judgment, but they sounded pretty dead on, and fit well with “Kurtz” from 2009’s Sasquanaut (which Small Stone reissued) and “Chichen Itza,” “Deciduous,” “Bird of Prey” and set closer “El Dorado” from Salvador, all of which remain as powerful in a live setting as they were the first time I saw them. Lo-Pan was my only real headbang of the show. When they were done, I stumbled my drunk self around the side of the building and threw up barely a fraction of the beer I’d drank, taking care to keep it out of my hair and beard, then went back inside, washed up downstairs while trying to ignore the stench of punker sweat, lest I retch again, and headed back into civilization in time for the start of Gozu, who rounded out the night. I’d been a wreck despite having my last beer sometime during Roadsaw, but with just one band still to go, there was no turning back now.

Gozu


Much to his credit, it was Gozu guitarist Doug Sherman – he of the perilously short guitar strap — who put the whole gig together. From the second I was walking into the venue, way back before anyone played other than Blackwolfgoat, before all the beer, the barbecue, the more beer, the rock and roll and the more beer, Sherman was outside greeting people, there the whole time, and he and his band very quickly showed by they were just right to close out. Guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (above, left) has a subdued presence on stage, quiet and reserved — a good balance for Sherman‘s energy — and his performance has been spot on every time I’ve seen him, making vocal up and down vocal dexterity look easy while also joining Sherman on guitar and driving the songs forward with driving riffage. Bassist Joe Grotto was a new addition to the band since I saw them in March — also at Radio, as it happens — but he fit right in the rhythm section with drummer Barry Spillberg, and being revived following my ritualistic purge, I was in decent enough shape to appreciate their even-thicker take on “Meat Charger” and “Meth Cowboy” from their 2010 Locust Season debut (review here), on which they were joined by Ian Ross of Roadsaw (above, on right guitar). Their sound is too thick to really be a boogie, but that forward motion is there, and Gaffney brings a sense of drama to their choruses that stood them out from everyone else on the bill at Radio. They had a couple new songs as well, and whatever they do next, it’ll be a welcome arrival.

I know I post a lot of shit about Small Stone bands. I go see them play when I can, I review the records, I do interviews, post tour news, posters, and so forth, but the fact of the matter is this: That’s not coincidence. It’s a short list of American labels contributing anything of merit to the genre of heavy rock — by my estimation there are maybe five, with a few others who’ve glommed onto this or that trend within the sphere of Riff — and Small Stone are right there at the top. From the label’s days providing a haven to bands like Acid King and Sons of Otis in the wake of Man’s Ruin‘s demise, to fostering its own upstart acts like Sasquatch (not that they’re upstarts now, but they were when their debut was released), Infernal Overdrive, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Sun Gods in Exile, and Lord Fowl, while still keeping a commitment to what he does best, label head Scott Hamilton has patronized some of the best American heavy rock out there today, to the point where “the Small Stone sound” is an influence unto itself for bands around the world to pick up on. To be perfectly honest about it, it’s a cause I feel is worth supporting.

Small Stone’s next showcase is in Detroit at the Magic Stick on Dec. 1. More info here.

When the show was done, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep walking to catch a cab back to the hotel. There were goodbyes to be said, tales of hurricane survival to regale with and be regaled by, and a bar tab to close out, but I was quick about it, and before too long, The Patient Mrs. generously corralled me into a taxi. I was more lucid than I had been at several points in the evening by then, but still, sleep came as quick and as heavy as the riffs still stuck in my head. We had to drive back to Jersey on Sunday and figure out if the lights were back on yet after the storm (they were as of that afternoon), but if that was to be the finale of “refugee living,” I didn’t make out so bad.

Many more pics after the jump.

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Small Stone’s Boston Showcase is on Saturday; Warm-up Show Tomorrow with Infernal Overdrive & Elder

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’ve never been to a Small Stone showcase in Boston before. Sure, I was at both nights of the Philly one last year (review here and here) and I caught Gozu and Infernal Overdrive together at Radio this past March (review here), and looking at the list, the only band on it I’ve never seen is Supermachine — and I saw Scissorfight, from whence they come — but still, Boston’s a different beast. To tell you the truth, every time I hit the town, I feel a little bit like I’m going to get my ass kicked.

Perhaps then, it would be wise for me to hit the warm-up show slated to happen one day before the showcase proper. Elder (who so far as I know are not on Small Stone) and Infernal Overdrive will play at the taqueria No Problemo in New Bedford at 10PM. If you’re north of there, Gozu and Freedom Hawk will be on a bill at Asylum in Portland, ME. Drummer Mike Bennett of Infernal Overdrive posted the following notice and flyer:

Tomorrow night there will be a few warm up gigs starring some of your favorite Small Stone bands….

Asylum -Portland, ME w/ GOZU, Freedom Hawk, Murcilago and Whitcomb
No Problemo – New Bedford, MA w/ Infernal Overdrive and Elder….. All leading up to the big event Sat. !!!

And then of course there’s the showcase itself on Saturday at Radio in Somerville. As awesome an assemblage of Small Stone acts as I’ve had the privilege to see. Here are the details, courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:

Nov. 3rd-Radio, Boston Small Stone Showcase 10 dollars!!! Dudes- BEER-PETTING ZOO!!
Purchase Tickets HERE:

http://www.ticketfly.com/event/161333

Gozu – 12 mid
Lo-Pan – 11pm
The Brought Low – 10pm
Roadsaw – 9pm
Freedom Hawk – 8pm
Lord Fowl – 7pm
Infernal Overdrive – 6pm
Supermachine – 5pm
Blackwolfgoat 4pm and all night

Set times are a rough estimate!

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Visual Evidence: Brian Mercer’s Poster for the Boston Small Stone Showcase Unveiled

Posted in Visual Evidence on August 23rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Brian Mercer (interview here) killed it this time. He really, really did. Check it out. Small Stone‘s Boston showcase is Nov. 3 at Radio, with Gozu, Lo-Pan, The Brought Low, Roadsaw, Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl, Infernal Overdrive, Supermachine and Blackwolfgoat.

You might also note whose logo is on the bottom left. Bad ass. Can’t wait to get me one framed and then not have a house to put it up in (zing! Oh wait, I just zinged myself, damnit).

Showcase is Nov. 3 at Radio in Somerville. For more info on it and on the upcoming Detroit showcase, which I’m just waiting to get up the courage to ask Halfway to Gone for a ride out to, hit up Small Stone on Thee Facebooks.

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Frydee The Brought Low

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 20th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I fuckin’ love The Brought Low. There’s a lot of bands I dig — more every day, it seems — but The Brought Low are local, I’ve seen them a bunch of times, I know them, and they’ve yet to disappoint musically. “Army of Soldiers” was included on their Coextinction Recordings EP last year, and I don’t know who made this video, but it sets the song to nostalgic looking video scenes, and that’s more than enough for me. Zack Kurland of Purple Knights, who will hopefully have a vast series of limited edition cassettes coming soon, sent me this clip, and I’m glad to share it with y’all.

It’s been a longer week than you’d know by looking at the course of posts on The Obelisk, but I thank you for checking in if you have (if you haven’t, blow it out your ass), and I hope you’ve enjoyed the course of the last couple weeks. Next week to come I’ll have a live review of Halfway to Gone at the Brighton Bar, as well as an interview with bassist/vocalist Lou Gorra, and a host of other reviews, including Dust Storm Warning, Scott Kelly and another one or two I can’t remember. It kind of sucks that I haven’t been able to post as much as I want the last month or so, but — frankly speaking — The Obelisk is pretty much the longest-running occupation I’ve had since I worked at KB Toys however many years back, and I’m not about to deprioritize it just because some jerks are paying me money to do something else.

I’ve had a hell of a week, and I’m working tomorrow putting together emailers and whatever else, but fuck it, I’ve got a liberal portion of wine and before I crash out, I most of all want to thank everyone who checked in over the last couple days. If you saw the Elder stream, I hope you enjoyed it. That’s exactly the kind of thing I want to be doing with this site, hosting tracks I genuinely think are killer for people to check out from a band I believe deserve more exposure. Hopefully you dig those tunes and get to pick up that vinyl if you’re so interested. Tony Reed dropped a line earlier today about some Mos Generator unreleased tracks, so we’ll see what comes of that, but the bottom line is anytime I can bring you music I’m stoked on, it reinforces the whole reasoning behind why I do this in the first place.

Alright, I’ve had enough wine that it’s time for watching the ball game and going to bed, but thank you again one last time for reading this week. I have a lot going on lately on a personal level — my professional jobs are eating up a lot of time, plus I’m trying to find a place to move to — but as the one dude who stands behind everything that gets posted on this site, I thank you for reading the work, whether I’ve written it or whether it’s come from a columnist, interviewee, or whatever. Expect more to come in that regard, but I’m going to try my best to get a few more opinion pieces up as well, if only because I’ve got the opinions and they’re building up on this end.

That’s enough of that. If you’re still reading, thanks. If not, well, okay. I hope you’ll check in on the forum or I’ll see you back here Monday for more whoopdeedo and good-fun-type wholesomeness.

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The Brought Low: Live Dates, New Album and Reissue in the Works

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 27th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

The Brought Low. I took this picture. Me. It's not great, but fuck it, it's mine. (Photo by JJ Koczan)In answer to your next question: “Ain’t nothin’ better than The Brought Low live, fool.” I guess that was assuming your next question was, “What’s better than The Brought Low live?” A band The Obelisk rightly calls “the best rock band in New York City” (nice quote, gents), the burg’s most powerful power trio have booked a couple not-to-be-missed Brooklyn shows for July, including a date this coming Sunday with The Sights, who are currently on tour with Tenacious D (I interviewed Jack Black and Kyle Gass for this week’s The Aquarian), and Cropduster and recently reviewed labelmates Mellow Bravo. Sounds like good fun to me, but then again, I’m about as big a sucker for The Brought Low as they come. Maybe there’s a size up. I don’t know.

Also, so you don’t miss out, the band sends along word that they’ve got a new album in the works that’ll be out on the all-around respectable-type Small Stone Records come 2013 and a vinyl reissue slated for this fall for their 2006 label debut, Right on Time. Bad. Ass.

Here there be details on those shows:

07/0 1 Union Hall, Brooklyn w/ The Sights
07/14 The Gutter, Brooklyn w/ Mellow Bravo, Cropduster, Year of Dragon

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