Live Review: Eggnogg and Mountain God in Brooklyn, 12.05.13

Posted in Reviews on December 6th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

By the time I rolled into Williamsburg’s The Grand Victory after a more-than-long-enough work day, 100 and Zero were already well into their set of aggressive NY-style noise punk. They were first on a four band bill shared with grinders Scowl, atmospheric sludge metallers Mountain God and thick riff specialists Eggnogg, all local to Brooklyn. Fair enough. Scowl followed shortly thereafter, with drummer Chris Dialogue recognizable as the former vocalist of Alkahest. He handled backing vocals in Scowl as well on the small Grand Victory stage, and put his microphone to use — as did bassist Derek Stephan and vocalist Matt Viel who paced pack and forth in front of the stage, leaving only guitarist Zack Birmingham mic-less — as much, if not more, for banter between the songs, which were mostly short, grinding blasts with the occasional stoner groove thrown in for good measure.

Hell, I can get down with a little stoner extremity every now and again and nothing says charm like when band members spend entire minutes before the next cut calling each other assholes, so yeah, right on. They said they were playing a short set, and it might’ve been in just the material involved, but there was the back-and-forth as well to coincide with saying the next song was about football, or about “sucking on that glass dick, whatever that means,” and such. It was almost an overdose of snark, but all in good fun. When they were done, Mountain God loaded on and were immediately a completely different vibe, their sludge given texture through the keyboard work of Jonathan Powell. Both Powell and Mountain God bassist Nikhil Kamineni used to be in Alkahest as well, but as was evident on their Experimentation on the Unwillingdemo tape reviewed last month, the new band is working from its own amalgam of influences.

I recognized some of what they played from that tape, which I always take as a good sign, but the real highlight of their set was the new song “Forest of the Lost,” which worked in multiple movements and got more to the core of their blend of doom riffing and ambient depth. The vocals of guitarist Ben Ianuzzi come across in a wash of echo throughout most of the studio versions of songs, but live he was inevitably clearer and that gave the set a more tangible resonance. Riff-wise, “Forest of the Lost” tapped into a classic metal malevolence — maybe some Cathedral in there, but thoroughly doomed either way — and though the bulk of the long, unfolding progression was instrumental, what vocals there were came across in a blend of screams and cleaner singing, a noise rock vibe cutting through the tonal morass of Kamineni‘s bass and his own guitar as drummer Ian Murray turned an otherwise chaotic churn into cohesive forward motion.

They’ve reportedly got a new release in the works centered around some incarnation of “Forest of the Lost,” which was well past 10 minutes long on stage, so I took that as a good sign, and when Mountain God finished, Eggnogg took the stage quickly as the last act of the night. It had been more than a year since the last time I saw them — my loss — and in the interim, the prior trio of Bill O’Sullivan, guitarist Justin Karol and drummer Jason Prushko added bassist Corey Dozier to make a four-piece. This move put O’Sullivan from bass to rhythm guitar — as well as vocals — resulting in Karol taking on more of a lead-player role, in which he excelled. In the past, seeing Eggnogg live, I’ve regretted that some of the funk influence that shows up in their studio output, be it last year’s LouisEP (review here) or 2011’s Moments in Vacuumsophomore full-length (review here), is somewhat lost in favor of their pure, unabashedly stoner stomp, enjoyable as that is.

Sure enough, the songs they played at The Grand Victory — a new one to start from their forthcoming, “mostly done” third full-length, You’re all Invited, plus “The God’s Will Destroy the Hive” and “Northern Lights” from their 2009 debut The Three, and an eponymous encore — carried that much more of the funk for the simple fact that Karol was able to devote his attention completely to his solos when they arose. “Northern Lights,” which was the elephantine highlight of their set, soulful as he plucked notes and even threw in a little stoner-rock softshoe, which as far as I’m concerned is always welcome. Together with O’Sullivan‘s low vocal register and the rumble of Dozier‘s six-string bass, Eggnogg were indeed another notch above the already heavy watermark that past shows I’ve seen from them had set. More importantly, Dozier — although he spent a decent amount of time off the stage, playing in front of it or to the side — blended well with the trio tonally and in terms of presence, and provided a thickened match for both guitars and the marching snare of Prushko, which impressed all the more with some subtle ghost notes and increasing character of play.

Of Eggnogg, you could say they seem to be getting to where they want to be in terms of their sound. I frickin’ loved Moments in Vacuumand put on Louis regularly as well, so the chance to see and hear new songs from them was thoroughly appreciated. I don’t know when You’re all Invitedwill see release, but as far as I’m concerned the sooner the better. I’d hoped to be able to pick up a CD copy of their Apocryphacompilation — the only physical pressing of Louis, which couples it with their 2010 NoggEP — but to no avail, and by that I mean there were none available. Still, well worth the trip to the city to catch them with Mountain God, also in a process of coming into their own, albeit in a much different fashion.

I thought maybe there was a late show happening afterwards, as for a time there were a few extra people walking around with instruments, but maybe they were playing across the street at Trash Bar or something and decided to walk over. When Eggnogg finished, the sound guy put on Songs for the Deaf to let the place clear out. I shuffled back to my car and made the trek back to Jersey to crash — a trip that seems even more arduous now than when I lived there — the dark and quiet roads of my former river valley rendered largely invisible by a dense, rolling fog.

Some more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Mighty High, Black Thai, Infernal Overdrive and Tarpit Boogie in Brooklyn, 05.31.13

Posted in Reviews on June 3rd, 2013 by JJ Koczan

It was going to start early and I knew that, so I split out of the office a couple minutes after 5:30PM to get to The Grand Victory in time to catch openers Tarpit Boogie kick off the evening’s lineup, which also featured Infernal Overdrive, Black Thai and Mighty High. Even so, I was late. I rolled in around 8:15 for an 8PM start and managed to catch most of the NJ-based instrumental trio’s set for what I later confirmed was their first show.

Their tones and general ethic was pretty familiar to me, seeing as how bassist John Eager and guitarist George Pierro and I used to be in a band together, and though I thought it might be strange to watch them on stage playing different songs as Tarpit Boogie, actually, it was a reminder of what a fan I always was of their playing in the first place. Rounded out by drummer Chris Hawkins and reportedly in the process of hammering out material with a new vocalist, Tarpit Boogie set right to skirting the line between funkified stoner riffing and sludged-out slowdowns.

Of course, it being their first show, they were obviously getting a feel for their approach, but songs like “AmanaplanacanalpanamA” and “Hackman Caine Theory” showed the two sides at work in their sound, and the unpretentious heavy riffing went over well with those early assembled at The Grand Victory, myself included. All the bands on this bill were acts I’m pretty friendly with on a personal level, but getting to see the first Tarpit Boogie gig made the night even more special, and I was glad I made it in time to catch them. To hear them tell it later, it was a close call on their making it for the start of their set as well.

The whole night was slated to end early — I think The Grand Victory had a DJ coming in or something like that (which I don’t begrudge a club that puts on good shows; gotta make your money) — but as I had a drive to Massachusetts to make the next day, that was only a convenience from my angle. Infernal Overdrive, who’d also trekked in from Jersey, or Black Thai, come down from Boston, might have felt otherwise, but if they did, they didn’t show it. The two bands with very different takes on heavy rock were doing a weekender together, playing in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, the next night with Wasted Theory, and they both featured new material from forthcoming releases.

In the case of Infernal Overdrive, most of what they played was new, and while I recognized “Viking” for the several times I’ve seen it live now and “Duel” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sun debut (review here), a lot of the set was unfamiliar and moodier, taking some of the brazenness of the first record and making it more melodically complex and pulling back on some of the tempo. A four-piece on a small stage, they were tight in more than just how solid they sounded, but still made good use of their time in belting out tunes that they’ve obviously been busting their collective ass writing, and even though their set seemed short, they showed that the time since their first batch of songs made their way to the public hasn’t been misspent. Before they were through two songs, I was reminded of how much I’m looking forward to their next album.

Like their touring partners, Black Thai have only grown more stylistically diverse. The double-guitar foursome made their debut in 2010 with the Blood from on High EP (review here), a potential-loaded five-songer from which only two of the total five songs played came, and while elsewhere the band — guitarist/vocalist Jim Healey (known for both his solo work and formerly of We’re all Gonna Die), guitarist Scott O’Dowd (also of Cortez), bassist Cory Cocomazzi and drummer Jeremy Hemond (also of Cortez and Roadsaw) — dug deep into riffy grooves and bluesy solos, it was the ultra-dark centerpiece of their setlist that stood out. Centered around what might easily have been a black metal progression if not for Healey‘s delivery, which, even at his shoutiest, retains a sense of melody, it was an immediate shift from everything I’ve heard to date from Black Thai and a genuine surprise.

The good news? It worked. They not only were able to execute the more extreme feel crisply and emphatically, but they tied it together with the rest of their material as well, which might have been even more impressive. Returning to the EP, they finished with “333,” which also closed Blood from on High, and went from a brooding tension to maddening swirl with an efficiency that betrayed the song’s actual tempo. For the unexpected elements at work, Black Thai were a thrill, but what made it even more enjoyable was to see how well they’ve come to work together in the last few years. Save for Hemond — who brought his Vistalites for the occasion, where both Tarpit Boogie and Infernal Overdrive had used the house kit — their stage persona is pretty subdued, nobody thrashing around not that there’s much room for it at The Grand Victory anyway, but they’ve only gotten tighter in the now handful of times I’ve seen them and this was no exception.

It was left to Brooklyn’s own Mighty High to round out the evening, and the stonerly punkers did not at all disappoint. Fronted by Chris “Woody” MacDermott, who contributes the Spine of Overkill column to this site, Mighty High released their Legalize Tre Bags (review here) full-length through Ripple Music last year, and they continue to blaze out short, speedy blasts of Motörhead riffs in a public service reminder to the world that it takes itself way too seriously and should probably just get over it. “Chemical Warpigs” showed up early in the set, shouted out to the recently departed Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, and familiar cuts like “Breakin’ Shit,” “Cable TV Eye” and “High on the Cross” were delivered on time and in style, guitarist Kevin Overdose taking the lead vocal for the beginning of the latter, which Woody shouted out to “any Blackfoot fans out there.”

By then, people had started to make their way into The Grand Victory, but Woody, Overdose, bassist Labatts Santoro and drummer Jesse D’Stills didn’t come on quietly and they wouldn’t go that way either. “I Don’t Wanna Listen to Yes” continues to be high on my list of favorites, and the brand new “Two-Hour Lunchbreak” hit pretty close to home, in overall attitude if not chemical consumption. “Kick out the Jams” ended the set, as ever for Mighty High, and with their painted leather jackets hung up behind them, they treated the MC5 classic like the manifesto it has become, throwing it in the face of, well, everything and everyone there. I didn’t see it to be sure, but it’s almost certain that, whoever the DJ was coming in, he promptly went home to rethink his life and meditate on Stooges albums. One would have to expect, anyway.

Between a new band, two acts working the kinks out of new songs ahead of recording and Mighty frickin’ High topping it off with some recent creations of their own — not to mention the chance to see good friends kicking ass — I left The Grand Victory feeling refreshed and reminded of just why it is I continue to go to shows in the first place. It wasn’t about being seen, or about some buzz act who’ll disappear in six months or a year, it was about unbridled, unfettered enjoyment of the process and about four different takes on the single idea of “heavy.” Even after four bands one into the next into the next into the next, I got in my car and put on a CD for the ride home.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Bezoar and The Badeda Ladies in Brooklyn, 12.12.12

Posted in Reviews on December 13th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

I guess if your last name wasn’t McCartney, it was kind of a crappy night to put on a show in New York. While the “12-12-12” benefit for those in the region affected by Hurricane Sandy at the end of October went on at Madison Square Garden with a wide swath of “Where the fuck were you when Katrina hit New Orleans?”-type celebrities (also Kanye West), across the river in Brooklyn a somewhat humbler extravaganza was held at The Grand Victory, benefiting perhaps local audiologists through its sheer assault of volume. Gotta build a customer base.

First time I was at The Grand Victory was Oct. 25 to catch Elder rolling through town with Reign of Zaius and Thinning the Herd (review here), and last night only confirmed the impression I had of the venue: I like it. Its long layout, nice bar and good beer selection continued to remind me of places these kinds of shows used to be held in Manhattan, and though I wasn’t drinking, I was glad to pay the cover to get in and at least give some support where I could.

There weren’t a lot of people there apart from the bands and some dude who decided that out of the whole room he was going to bump into my camera bag no fewer than four times — presumably he has some stance against people with bags at shows, and really, why should a day pass when you can’t needlessly be an asshole to someone else entirely without provocation? — and I was late in my arrival, entirely missing both opening acts, Vultus and Furnace Head. Felt kind of like a prick walking in just as NJ-based upstarts The Badeda Ladies were getting ready to go on, but I’d worked late and was lucky to get out when I did. It was a Wednesday night. I did my best.

The Badeda Ladies were not unknown to me. I’d first heard a couple demo tracks from the young Jersey troupe when they were a bass/drum instrumental duo. This was, however, my first time seeing them live. It was also their first New York show, having haunted Jersey house gigs and basement whathaveyous along with the few stalwart venues like the Stanhope House with a commitment to fostering new and growing bands, and the addition of guitarist Chris Eustaquio alongside drummer Ryan Smith and bassist Jonny Cohn went a long way to adding to the already established dynamic in the rhythm section.

Most of what they played — the first three songs of the set, anyhow — came from an upcoming split they’ll reportedly have out next year, and that wasn’t the extent of the new material. There was another song that Cohn referred to as “Bilbo Baggins” from the stage — Eustaquio‘s laughter seemed to indicate it wasn’t actually the title — and a few off their prior Liv Di demo as well, including the step-down-to-nothing finale of “Vulture,” punctuated by a loud snare hit from Smith, who had also provided the only vocals in a song earlier. They were pretty obviously still getting their feet wet in terms of playing out, and the style was post-metal so banter was minimal, but they had their own way of engaging the room nonetheless.

What they had working greatly in their favor was the inimitable intensity of the young. Smith‘s vocals on whichever song it was were harsh post-hardcore barks, throaty but interesting and enough to speak to some potential there should that be something they want to pursue down the line, and their instrumental material, ranging from Pelican-type pastorals to post-Isis constructions, showed burgeoning personality. As they move forward with the Furnace Head split, it should be interesting to hear how Eustaquio becomes further integrated into the band and also to see how their presence develops playing these songs live more often.

Last up for the night on my abbreviated version of the bill were artsy Brooklyn natives Bezoar, for whom slow metal is just one weapon in their apparently growing arsenal. The trio killed when I caught them at Public Assembly in October (review here), so I was stoked on the prospect of another encounter, and despite a room-consuming stench of body odor up front — not saying it was one of them, just saying it was there — they didn’t disappoint. Guitarist Tyler Villard, bassist/vocalist Sara Villard and insano-drummer Justin Sherrell (also of local merchants Wizardry) played a set that seemed to be mostly new material presumably from the album they’ll set to recording in the spring, showing off the expanse of their creative range while deftly pulling off abrupt changes in timing and tempo.

Shredding one measure and plodding the next, Bezoar are a band that challenges you to keep up as you listen. Their 2012 debut full-length, Wyt Deth, made its triumph in complexities both melodic and dissonant, Sara topping either a torrent of extreme metal or open-spaced doom excess with a consistent, drawn-out, echoing clean vocal that in another context might prove almost comforting. Their live show is more intense and their newer songs likewise. Tyler, decked out in a Gorgoroth shirt, seemed gleeful as he squibbled out that influence, and with his feet at a constant double-kick pulse, Justin met his extremity with no small measure of his own.

Sherrell is nothing if not a harsh lesson in the difference a great drummer can make in a band. He has a difficult task in tying Bezoar‘s material together and making their on-a-dime transitions sound natural if not flowing (they’re not always supposed to flow), but he does that while still managing to hold down the rhythm with Sara‘s bass and sounding creative in the process. Once again, the high point of the set came in a new song I don’t know the name of — it may have been the one Sara introduced as being yet untitled but about Jim Jones — as all three members of the band locked into a massive and immediately recognizable grooving riff. It was one of those, “Oh yeah, this” moments, but still just one of several reasons they gave throughout their time on stage to anticipate their next LP.

They’re also still establishing what they can do on stage, but already since the first time I saw Bezoar opening for Witch Mountain in June (review here), they’ve come far in their presentation and last night, even playing to those from the other bands who’d actually stuck around, me and a handful of others, they showed potential to excite both conceptually — that is, in terms of appreciation for what they do — and in the sheer appeal of watching someone kick ass at a gig. I don’t know whether or not I’ll see them again before they go in to record, but even if not, the impression they’ve left at this point is of an act on the cusp of really coming into their own. I look forward to hearing what they can do with these songs in a studio setting.

When I left, the radio had it that the grand shenanigans up at MSG were going on and had raised an estimated $50 million. Way more than I’ve done for anyone lately, but still a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to the $64 billion tab the president requested for storm relief and rebuilding. Nice to make famous people feel good about themselves, I suppose. Me, I’ll take the music every time and if that means leaving the rest of the world to its hoedown-for-a-cause, that seems a small price to pay.

Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Elder, Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder in Brooklyn, 10.25.12

Posted in Reviews on October 26th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

Another shitty day in another shitty week had me in full-on Fuck Everything Mode. Riffy redemption? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it wasn’t going to be easy going, and the traffic en route to The Grand Victory in Brooklyn to catch Boston’s Elder, with NYC natives Thinning the Herd, Reign of Zaius and Pants Exploder wasn’t helping. You ever yell at someone in your car with the windows up? I do it. All. The. Time. I honestly don’t know how I’ve made it this long.

So obviously I was drinking, right? I mean what’s better than the existential boner pill alcohol provides? What’s that? Depressant? Fuck that, let’s rock and roll.

I was (born too) late getting there, and so Pants Exploder — who immediately won moniker of the night — were already on. It was my first time at The Grand Victory, which is right across Grand St. (fancy that) from the Trash Bar, but I could tell right away when I walked in that I liked the place. Small, longer than it was wide, the bar was on the left side walking in, loaded with decent micro taps — I had a Brooklyn Somethingorother to start and switched after one to Kelso’s Pilsner, which I found wanted for crispness but went down smoothly nonetheless — and the small stage was in the back of the room. It was unrepentantly a rock and roll bar, but dark in the back and intimate enough that even if there wasn’t a show, I’d drink there. Maybe that’s not saying much these days.

Upon hearing that there was a band called Pants Exploder on the bill, I knew I wanted to see them. I mean, some names just dare the act to live up to them. It’s like naming your band We Will Blow Your Fucking Mind, right? You wanna be like, “Okay, so go ahead, make my pants explode, I brought an extra pair and they’re in the car so I’m ready to go.” They gave it their best shot. A noisy trio, there were elements on hand of High on Fire thrash offset by Torche-type melodies, and they showed they could rage when they wanted to, and they were metal-tight and punk-energetic, which is what you want on a hoppy Thursday night. Good fun. One more band to make me regret living in the suburbs.

There wasn’t much of a changeover, but I had another couple beers and before long, Reign of Zaius started up. It was my second time seeing the Brooklyn newcomers — the first was at Public Assembly in August with The Midnight Ghost Train (review here) — and I don’t know whether it was the beverages, the sound at The Grand Victory or just my already vastly-improved mood, but I got way more of a sense of where they were coming from this time around. Their sound has its classic ’70s elements in the riffs, but with charismatic vocalist David “Viking” Damiecki up front, they seemed way more in line with a post-grunge heavy ’90s rock this time out. One of their songs started out so much like “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” that I thought they were doing a Primus cover. They weren’t, but they put that riff to good use anyway.

Elsewhere, Kyuss flourished as an influence, but there was a garage-type feel to their sound as well, guitarist Brady keeping a subdued presence while drummer Brian and bassist Davis added groovy push to the varying tempos. They’re pretty straightforward, and still feeling out where they want to be, but they seemed to have a much better idea last night than even two months ago, so I take that as an encouraging sign. It’ll be interesting to hear where they go sound-wise next time they hit the studio, and ditto that for Thinning the Herd, who followed and once again found guitarist/vocalist Gavin Spielman surrounded by a different band.

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve seen them, but even since last year’s Oceans Rise (review here), Spielman has revamped the three-piece, bringing in mustachioed bassist Wes Edmonds and drummer Rick Cimato to underscore his should-be-heard riffs and solos and bluesy vocal delivery. I dug the band before — I’m pretty sure they’ve had a different bassist every time I’ve run into them, but none of them have been bad — but the latest incarnation seemed to be the most professional-minded. I don’t know what their plans are, if they’re looking to tour or whatever, but they were apparently recording with Steve Albini in August, so they’ve got something in the works.

They closed out by covering Fu Manchu‘s “Hell on Wheels” like it was no big deal, and that was an awesome surprise, since I don’t generally think of them as being aligned to that kind of sunshiny fuzz — their sound is dirtier, rougher around the edges — but they pulled it off well, and even in the back of the room, I was singing along. With just Elder to go, the night had already proven solid. All three of bands who’d played were going for something different under the umbrella of capital-‘h’ Heavy, and the varying senses of identity on stage made it an interesting show as well as just being good sets. Right about when I got to thinking about how many different ways there are to spin your red sun blues, Elder got on stage and moiderlized the joint.

Elder were on their way south to this weekend’s inaugural Autumn Screams Doom fest at the Sidebar in Baltimore, and well, I was really glad they made a stop in town. This was my second time being fortunate enough to see them without a piano falling on my head or some such other hindrance (the first was at SHoD in Sept.), and the trio just flat out destroyed. It was the kind of good that makes you stand back and go, “Holy fuck this is good,” backing it up with all kinds of ridiculous hyperbole about how they’re the best band you’ve seen since this one time 17 years ago when you saw someone else who were really killer. Point is, they’re something special to watch on a stage.

It should say something to that effect that when we did that informal Top 10 Stoner Rock Albums poll last month, their last full-length, Dead Roots Stirring, was right on the cusp of making the list — Brant Bjork and High on Fire aren’t bad company, if you have to tie with somebody. They started their set with the title-track from that record, and played material off the Spires Burn/Release 12″ as well (streaming here), guitarist/vocalist Nick DiSalvo, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto missing no steps in the songs and seeming to outmatch even Pants Exploder‘s volume level. Donovan had his mullet in a ponytail — I guess you can’t unleash a beast like that every single night, lest the back of your neck overheat — but they made the most nonetheless of the small stage and proved it was no fluke when after last time I said they’re some of the best American heavy psych I’ve ever seen. If you’re in Baltimore tonight, count yourself lucky.

I’d lost the cap to one of my lenses, and by the time I got back to my humble river valley, I was back to being impotently furious at everything, but it was probably good to get out of my own head for a couple minutes, you know, like a real human being might. Nonetheless, I stomped my feet like a spoiled child taking out the garbage and debated further beerings, but eventually crashed out, gritting my teeth in my sleep to the point of waking up with a sore jaw this morning. Went well with my half-hungover headache.

Music still sounds good.

Extra pics after the jump.

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