Even before it started, Sept. 25 was more than one occasion. Principally, my eighth wedding anniversary. It was also the day Saint Fucking Vitus hit the bar that bears their name in Brooklyn, with Weedeater and Sourvein supporting. Saint Vitus at the Saint Vitus. And in the intertwining of these two events, I’ll say it will serve for years as an example of the long list of reasons I’m glad I’m married to The Patient Mrs. that the one did not preclude experiencing the other. Three bands — any one of whom on a given night I’d be happy to see as a headliner — in probably the smallest space at least Weedeater and Vitus will play this year. It was something special.
This week is also the U.N. General Assembly in Manhattan, and as I was anxiously waiting to depart and head to Brooklyn for the show, it was this foremost in my mind. All it takes is one diplomat deciding to go for a stroll down 34th St. and the Queens-Midtown Tunnel is pretty much inaccessible by car, so I made sure I had plenty of time to get to the Saint Vitus bar. Turned out I was early arriving, and at that point, things started to seem a little too easy. I’d made it there, made it there early, and I was about to watch Sourvein, Weedeater and Saint Vitus do a gig together about as far away from me as the keyboard on which I’m currently typing. I couldn’t help but look up to see if any pianos were about to fall on my head.
None did. And The Patient Mrs. was like, “you should go to this show,” and traffic was like, “you should go to this show,” and my brain was like, “dude I can’t fucking believe you’re going to this show,” and then I was at the show and then the show was happening and all threat of pianos was gone and everything that sucked was somewhere else and all the was was volume, riffs and fists in the air. Sourvein made a raucous opener, and the fact that since the last time I saw them vocalist T-Roy Medlin has surrounded himself with a new band — including former The Gates of Slumber drummer J. Clyde Paradis – only added to the sense of adventure.
Guitarist Joshua “JC” Fari – the band’s original bassist — donned a t-shirt with the logo for famed Manhattan venue the Limelight (the “rock ‘n’ roll church” as it once was) I guess to mark the evening, and bassist Todd Kiessling (Phobia/Dystopia) was of course locked in with Paradis on the band’s signature grooves. Hard to believe Sourvein will have existed in one form or another for 20 years in 2013, but if Medlin is the lone constant for all that time, he gave a good showing of why in Brooklyn. They weren’t through the opener for their set — the title-track to 2008′s Imperial Bastard EP — before Medlin had jumped off the stage. Granted it was crowded up there, with Paradis’ drums set up in front of the kit Henry Vasquez would later use for Saint Vitus‘ set, but still, for having been the driving force in Sourvein for nigh on two full decades, Medlin‘s energy was commendable.
More to the point, their sludge was fucking vicious. It was fascinating to see Sourvein and Weedeater back to back because of how closely the bands are related. Not just by blood either — Medlin and Weedeater‘s “Dixie” Dave Collins are cousins — but in general ethic and punk rock fuckall, there’s a definite link. I can’t imagine either band is particularly fond of playing New York, but Sourvein hit hard with a closing duo of “Fangs” from last year’s Black Fangs (review here) and “Dirty South” — their anthem — and split out in noisy fashion to a resounding reception from the growing crowd. It was early yet, just getting on 10PM, but the room was beginning to fill up.
I spent the vast majority of the night up front. Right up front, where someone of my size and stature really has no right to be. I didn’t want to miss taking pictures, yeah, but I didn’t want to miss the show, either, and I had memories of standing in the back bar as Pallbearer – the last too-big-for-the-room gig I saw at the Saint Vitus — doomed the living crap out of those in more immediate vicinity. So I stayed put in front of the stage, and as Weedeater got going by kicking into tracks from 2011′s Jason… the Dragon (review here) like “Hammerhandle,” “Mancoon” and “Turkey Warlock,” I was easily convinced I’d made the right choice.
Collins had a bottle of Evan Williams, drummer Keith “Keko” Kirkum and guitarist Dave Shepherd had PBR tallboys, so it was a party from the start. “Make noise,” was the bassist/vocalist’s urging to his bandmates before they started, and apparently they were listening. They kept the set mostly skewed to Jason… the Dragon and 2007′s God Luck and Good Speed, the volume giving no quarter behind him as Collins let loose his nastier-than-all rasp. Kicking his leg behind him, contorting to a wide array of faces, leaning on the wall and sitting on his amp case before getting up for another round, kneeling to play, drinking both from his bourbon and a bottle of what I could only assume was cough medicine taped to the side of his speaker cabinet — before they went on, he tried out two straws and clearly favored the longer — Collins was, as ever, a more entertaining frontman than the unfriendliness of Weedeater‘s music might initially have you believe. “I hope you fucking hate this song so much you cry from it,” he said at one point. To the best of my knowledge, nobody cried.
They wrapped with a full-lung toke off of “Weed Monkey” from God Luck and Good Speed, which was preceded by the Lynyrd Skynyrd cover, “Gimme back My Bullets” that appeared on the same album. Someone clever soul in the crowd shouted “Play some Skynyrd!” when they finished, to which Collins — fully absorbed in a stage process I don’t think anyone but him really understands — replied with a quick “we already did,” as though the words were bullets bouncing off him. There are very few bands who could follow Weedeater and hope to stand a chance of not having been blown off the stage. For this too, it was lucky that Saint Vitus were up next.
If one can say such a thing about a doom legend, Vitus guitarist and principle songwriter Dave Chandler seemed positively tickled to be playing a venue with the same name as his band. Both he and vocalist Scott “Wino” Weinrich thanked the bar several times, Wino noting that it was a dream come true for the owners and the band both. After setting up their gear — subdued bassist Mark Adams drinking a Budweiser while his rig was assembled — they very quickly hit some feedback and launched into “Blessed Night” from this year’s Lillie: F-65 (review here), the first song they wrote since embarking on this reunion in 2009.
Since then, I’ve seen Vitus four times that I can think of off the top of my head — Roadburn ’09, Brooklyn, Metalliance and last night; I might be missing one — and I may just have run out of appropriate hyperbole to convey the experience. I’ll argue tooth and nail that Saint Vitus are the single most important doom act America has ever produced, but more than that, they’re stripped down in a way no one else can quite manage to be. Seeing them live, it’s way less of a mystery to see why Black Flag‘s Greg Ginn recruited them for SST Records all those years ago in their initial run: they were basically doing the same thing Black Flag were doing, only they ran their brand of punk through a heady filter of Sabbath.
The government unfortunately doesn’t have a medal to give Chandler‘s guitar tone — though it should — but the guitarist roughed it out anyway, and I held my position up front for the first half of the Saint Vitus @ Saint Vitus set, Vasquez crashing out blood and thunder under the classic heft of the riffs while Wino seethed out the proto-drone of “I Bleed Black” and belted the more raging “War is Our Destiny.” They played all of Lillie: F-65 save for the acoustic interlude “Vertigo” and the feedbacker finale track “Withdrawal” — not that the set was at all lacking feedback — stacking them into the earlier portion of the show to finish up with the likes of “The Troll,” “Mystic Lady,” “Clear Windowpane,” “Saint Vitus,” and the inevitable closer, “Born too Late,” which Chandler – representing the old school even down to his EC F’N W t-shirt — shouted out to the crowd after Wino jokingly asked when the audience was born. “What? ’86?” he laughed, no doubt remembering that was the year the album Born too Late was released.
By then, I had moved to the back, and I feel like it’s worth mentioning why I did so. There had been some moshing during Weedeater, and I stuck that out well enough — took a couple shots to the back that have me sore today, etc., but ultimately survived and found it well worth the effort to do so — but when Saint Vitus got started, and as they really dug into the meat of their set, it was almost overwhelming. Not the crowd, or the push toward the stage, but just the whole thing. I mean, they were. Right. There. Even in the photo pit at Irving Plaza, I hadn’t been that close. After being up there all night, I probably could’ve stuck it out — and when they played “Saint Vitus,” I kicked myself for not — but I guess the bottom line of it was I felt like I wasn’t worthy of what I was witnessing, and after snapping off a quick 850 photos (yes, that’s a lot), I took a couple steps back, eventually winding up over by the soundboard in the back on the lefthand side of the room. I’ve seen a lot of shows in that spot at this point, and as Vitus said their last thanks and jammed out a noisy end — Chandler taking a page out of Medlin‘s book and jumping off the stage to solo in the crowd for a while — I felt lucky to be there at all, lucky to be alive, and where I was standing became at best a tertiary concern.
In the review he posted last night on the forum, SabbathJeff began with the line “Whoa, what just happened?” I was pretty sure of my surroundings when the show was over, but I’ll be damned if everything — up to and including the traffic on the other side of the Lincoln Tunnel — didn’t look just a little extra awesome for what I’d just seen. I got back to the humble Rockaway River valley a little bit before 2AM, inhaled some late-night pasta, said goodnight to my wife and crashed in anticipation of a rough alarm this morning. And today hasn’t exactly been the most productive day I’ve ever had, but if you think I’m about to start bitching the day after seeing Saint Vitus so close up I thought Wino was going to punch me in the face, there’s a good chance you’ve missed the point.
An amazing night the likes of which are rare. Thanks to The Patient Mrs. for eight years of wedded understanding and acceptance, and to you for reading.
Many more pics after the jump.