Live Review: Olde Growth, Balam and Keefshovel in Somerville, 08.22.13

The woman tending the bar at P.A.’s Lounge in Somerville when I — accompanied by The Patient Mrs. in her second rare public appearance in a week (she had also come to Truckfighters in Brooklyn) — was quick to call it “thirsty Thursday” upon our arrival. I’m fairly certain that’s code for “buy a drink,” but I tip my hat to the marketing nonetheless. It was my first time at the bar, essentially a townie kind of place, but with a more than decent beer selection and a dimly lit stage on the open side of the room in what I suspect was at one point an adjacent business before they took the wall down. It was early yet. Shrew, about whom I won’t pretend to know the first thing, were slated to open the show, but had dropped off, leaving Keefshovel, Balam and Olde Growth on the bill, which was obviously plenty enough to get me out to it.

I was particularly interested to see Keefshovel after the Elder show last week, as the two bands share drummer Matt Couto‘s ear-ringing crash, though they set it to different contexts between them. A double-guitar four-piece, Keefshovel dug into straightforward, sludgy grooves. Guitars ran through Sovtek and Sunn to come out in thick, bowel-troubling tones that only gained mass when taken in kind with the bass, and though the riffs they played were steadily familiar, they were delivered with conviction enough to be the band’s own; screams and shouts from either side of the stage arising periodically, though they seemed to have plenty of longer instrumental stretches as well. I don’t know how long Keefshovel have been playing together, but they reportedly have a tape release in the works and they’ve playing out a few more times over the next month or so, so I doubt this first time seeing them will be the last they’re heard from, and that suits me. They seemed to be still feeling out where they wanted to be musically, but were on their way.

Imported from Rhode Island, Balam had no scruples about their doomly aesthetic. With a standalone singer in Alexander Carellas who seemed to be following the what-would-BobbyLiebling-do model of frontmanship (hopefully in everything other than his choices of narcotics), Balam started off in rocking form and at one point sounded enough like early-Soundgarden-via-Roadsaw as to make me wonder if Boston’s long-established rock scene was beginning to influence a subsequent generation of acts, but the five-piece turned gradually to more trad-doom material, to which Carellas‘ voice was perfectly suited in a classic metal kind of way, nodding at Pagan Altar and Witchfinder General and however many other NWOBHM obscurities while guitarists Zack Wilding and Jonathan Janis led a riffy charge that at times seemed to be culling a Cathedral influence into its churn of varying tempo downerisms. They were an easy band to dig.

One new song that went unnamed seemed particularly promising, but “Soul Scour” from their 2012 demo — which they had for sale on CD and tape at the merch table; I figured better to buy both to be safe and explained same to the sweet, ever-rolling eyes of The Patient Mrs. — provided a grim ending through an effective blend of stoner riffs and doomed plod, the groove anchored by bassist Nick Arruda and drummer Zigmond Coffey, culminating in a change to a faster progression for an amply energetic finish. The room hadn’t been packed by any means, but by the time Balam were about halfway through, there was a good crowd that had rolled in, and Olde Growth took stage after a break to play a set also comprised in good proportion of new material. Well, sort of.

When bassist/vocalist Stephen LoVerme announced onstage a song or two in that he and drummer Ryan Berry‘s next project would be an album of Neil Young covers, he got a chuckle from the audience. Then they played three in a row, including a thickened punk-noise take on “Heart of Gold.” Berry confirmed afterwards as well that yes, that’s really their plan. In the time since their 2010 self-titled got picked up for issue via MeteorCity in 2011 (review here), the two have clearly grown melodically, which the subsequent Owl EP (radio add here) — initially released on tape as the Tour EP 2012 — as well as LoVerme‘s increased comfort in singing clean live demonstrates, but to take on Neil Young for what will reportedly be a mix of deep cuts and hits is a bold move for them. No word on what the timing or plan for the release is, but it’s a fascinating prospect that will no doubt turn the head of anyone who heard the self-titled and thought all there was to them was low-end crush, High on Fire influence and songs about Lord of the Rings. Maybe that’s the idea.

That’s not to say that even the rawest moments of that self-titled don’t have an enduring appeal. They certainly do. But there’s a creative progression underway with Olde Growth that was palpable even in the darkness at P.A.’s Lounge and as interesting as a record of Neil Young covers is in terms of seeing the band as being willing to take risks in the name of doing what they want to do as artists, I’ll be even more interested to hear how doing that affects their next batch of original material, whenever that might surface — what kinds of atmospheres they might discover and how the already-dynamic chemistry between LoVerme and Berry might continue to develop. At this point, they’re already a better band than people know. Closing out with “Tears of Blood,” Olde Growth gave a last-minute reminder of their ability to craft a potent hook as well as bludgeon with noisy bass riffs and drum crash — Berry‘s fills seeming especially cathartic — and while they still clearly feel they have growing to do, I take their lack of compromise as a sign of an overarching awareness of where they want to be and how they want to get there. It had been a rough couple days. They were encouraging to watch.

People seemed to be hanging out afterwards to take fuller advantage of the opportunity to quench their Thursday thirst. All the better for them. I had to work in the morning, so The Patient Mrs. and I headed out after a few quick goodnights to make the drive back to the South Shore for some high grade crashing out. No regrets on any front.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.



Olde Growth

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