The forecast was ominous, and I don’t mean a little. Listening to the news on the radio on my way southbound on the Turnpike to see The Company Band, Lionize and Black Cowgirl in Philly, it sounded like that movie The Day After Tomorrow when all the storms come together in a rousing bout of disaster porn. Sure, the sun was out, but whatever the hell a “derecho” storm was, it was headed our way. I guess people in this region have gotten used to the threats of your standard El Ninos and Noreasters, so corporate media has to come up with something else to scare my mom with. Fuckers.
It did storm, but by the time it started I was well secure within the walls of Underground Arts, a new venue in a mostly empty but highway-convenient section of Philadelphia that I wouldn’t be surprised to see gentrify within the next couple years — I immediately started looking at spaces to open a bar, and there were several (have I mentioned how much I fucking love Philly?). The place was cool enough, kind of reminded me of Santos Party House in NYC with two large columns on either side of the stage and a professional setup, P.A. and lighting rig. The lights were LCDs or some such like that, which was fascinating. Turns out it’s the future after all.
Underground Arts had good beer on tap — the Stoudts Pils and Yards were the local contingent — and it was decently cheap as well, but with the weather and work Friday still to go, I wasn’t drinking. More the fool I. I’d been asked to come down early and take some promo shots of The Company Band, who were headlining as one show on a three-night tour that would subsequently hit Brooklyn and Washington D.C. That’s not something I’ve ever done before, but I figured if there’s going to be a first time, a band that has members of Clutch, Fireball Ministry and Fu Manchu can’t be a bad place to start. It went alright and I got some decent shots out of it. The guys — vocalist Neil Fallon, guitarists Jim Rota and Dave Bone, bassist Brad Davis and drummer Jess Margera — were all cordial, and as inexperienced as I was, it wasn’t the first time any of them had had their picture taken.
There was a while between the end of that process and the start of the actual show, which was opened by Lancaster, PA’s Black Cowgirl — no strangers to Margera, having played with his main outfit, CKY, in Philly last year — so I went in search of some Advil to help quiet down a headache I’d acquired on the drive down. All the sunshine. Ironic enough, considering the armageddon I was hearing about on the radio. I stumbled on and then into a Shell station and bought two of the little travel packs of two pills each. A short while later, Black Cowgirl hit the stage to play songs from the two EPs that they’ll release as one self-titled full-length collection on Bilocation Records this week. They had the CDs with them; vinyl is due in August.
A two-guitar four-piece, they were a band I’ve wanted to see for a while. Guitarist/vocalist Ben McGuire set up on stage right, his fellow six-stringer/singer Nate Rosenzweig way on the other side with drummer Mark Hanna and bassist Chris Casse in between. They were almost in a line — McGuire, Hanna, Casse and Rosenzweig — but the drummer was a little further back on stage and Casse out in front, and they looked ready to tour, excited to be there on the bill with the other two acts. Casse was more in the pocket than fronting the band, and McGuire was partially obscured by the giant column on his side, but the songs were tight and the band gave a solid impression to people in the crowd who, like me, hadn’t seen them play before.
To put a point on it, they looked ready to tour. You know how sometimes you see a local band play in their home territory and it just seems like they’re ready to get out? If Black Cowgirl isn’t there, they’re close. I don’t know the life circumstances of the members of the band, if they would permit larger-scale touring, but they seem to have learned what they need to know about opening shows like this one and they’re ready. Someone get Lo-Pan on the phone and tell them to book four or five weeks. I bet Black Cowgirl would come back absolutely lethal, and that their resulting confidence — McGuire seemed to hesitate to “front” the band, where his beard alone would’ve given him the ground to do so — would let them lay waste to any room they played. Still, good band, and well on their way. They threw in a couple moments of three-part vocals — Hanna joining McGuire and Rosenzweig — and it’s something I hope they continue to develop.
It was to be an early night. The Company Band were slated to be done by 10:40PM, which, yeah, might not feed into that whole “rock and roll all night” thing, but whatever, I’m not 17 years old anymore, I drove two hours to get to this show and I had to work in the morning, so I’ll take it anytime I can get it and let KISS‘ “Official Banking Partners” or whatever they have now worry about the all-nighters. Lionize went on shortly after Black Cowgirl finished up. They brought out the organ and soon got underway with their blend of whiteboy reggae and semi-heavy jamming rock.
Stylistically, they remain unaffiliated, and in terms of having seen them three or four times now as they’ve been for a while in Clutch‘s regular stable of openers and their having collaborated with Clutch guitarist Tim Sult, I remain ambivalent. The crowd at Underground Arts dug them, and I know a lot of people who do as well, but there were several instances during their time where I stood and asked myself, “Okay, what part of this doesn’t sound like Sublime?” They threw a few Clutch-esque riffs in, but ultimately left me cold and were standoffish on stage, like they wanted to bust out into hardcore punk but didn’t want to upset anyone by doing so. Come on, gentlemen. I know it’s an early night, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t disturb the peace a little. Some you win, some you lose.
As regards The Company Band, it was a win. They marked the show as being their first in four years. I didn’t doubt it, but you’d never know it to watch them play. Each of the five members of the band have a distinct personality, but they gelled remarkably well. Fallon was out front, as you’d expect, and Bone — the only member of The Company Band whose name is not immediately followed by a parenthetical, à la Rota (Fireball Ministry) or Davis (Fu Manchu) — had stage left to himself. Responsible for all the band’s songwriting and taller by a head than everyone else up there except perhaps Margera, who was sitting behind the drums anyway, it just made sense.
“House of Capricorn,” the first cut off their new Pros and Cons EP (review here), made for an appropriate set opener, with its lyrics welcoming everyone and thanking them for their cooperation, etc. Like the venue itself, the band was thoroughly professional. It was clear in watching them that although Fallon is an undeniable presence at the front of the stage, it’s the songwriting driving the material. In the past, I’ve attributed this to Rota, who’s long showcased powerful pop structures in Fireball Ministry — whose last album was overproduced but not lacking in excellent choruses — there are elements culled from classic rock’s methods without aping what those bands actually did. Pros and Cons draws on earlier metal — Fallon called the quieter “El Dorado” a heavy metal ballad — but songs like “Hot Topic Woman” and “Who Else but Us?” from The Company Band‘s 2009 self-titled full-length sounded well within the sphere of what Fireball Ministry does musically at their best, despite the fact that they were penned by Bone.
With that album, the new EP and the 2007 Sign Here, Here, and Here EP that launched the project, The Company Band had no trouble filling an hour. All four tracks from that initial release made their way into the set and were highlights, particularly “Heartache and Misery.” As the lead guitar lines that make up the first part of the verse transitioned into the slower nodding riff, one could practically feel the air push from Rota and Bones‘ guitars and Davis‘ bass. Davis, however, made the newer “Loc Nar” a standout, and though obscured to many standing directly in front of the stage by the column on the side, he nonetheless made his presence felt by riding out in-pocket grooves on top of Margera‘s straightforward drumming.
That song and “Hot Topic Woman” were fun, as had been the earlier and absurdly catchy “Fortune’s a Mistress,” but the regular set rounded out with “El Dorado” and full-length opener “Zombie Barricades,” and the band left stage. There was no way they weren’t going to round out with “Company Man,” the first track off the first EP, but they started the encore after joking that bands do nothing but stare at each other when they wait to come back out with “Spellbinder,” and here several days later, that’s still the song I have stuck in my head. Rota joined Fallon on vocals (more of that please; their voices complement each other absurdly well) and left a sting that in no way felt like “side-project.” They hit “Company Man” quick after that, playing it so fast it was practically a punk song, and then the house lights came up. Show over.
Perhaps it had been the awesome power of heavy rock and roll that had thwarted the climate change apocalypse that had almost certainly assured the destruction of America’s northeastern quadrant, but it was raining and lightning-ing when I left Underground Arts. I’d told The Patient Mrs. on the phone earlier that if it was the end of the world, I’d come north in snow shoes like Dennis Quaid, but it didn’t come to that. I got in the car and got back on the Turnpike, soberly weaving around the cars who’d either given into the Thirsty Thursday impulse or bought into the Weather Channel’s propaganda machine and believed rain to be the new snow of roadway hazards. I’m not gonna tell you the world is or isn’t ending, just that even if it is, it’s not gonna go out like the people who fill time between the “Kars for Kids” commercials say it is.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.