2012 Adventure, Pt. 8: Along the Coast of Eternity (Desertfest Day Three)

Posted in Features on April 8th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/08/12 — 22.31 GMT — Sunday — Hotel

I’m gonna be perfectly honest with you. I have no idea from what part of the chicken that doner kebab I just ate was made, nor what constituted the white sauce that topped it, but man, it was delicious. A greasy jolt being oddly enough just what I needed at this point. I picked up a plus-sized bottle of Zywiec (and toasted Elvis Deluxe when I opened it, as is my habit — sorry to not see those dudes in Berlin) and some cheddar cheese and crackers, and I could ask nothing more from the end to the first London Desertfest than what I’ve gotten.

Right now, Viking Skull should be on the stage at The Purple Turtle, and C.O.C. will be shortly wrapping their set at The Underworld, and then the streets of Camden Town will once more flood with weirdos and leather/denim heathens, doubtless to the horror of what seems otherwise like a pretty straightforward section of the city, full of painted ladies and bar-going dudes. I’m glad I got to see it during mating season, or maybe that’s later. Ecosystem studies I don’t do.

Balls-out heavy rock and roll, on the other  hand… Well, that has been done. It’s been an amazingly long weekend. I’ve met a lot of great people, seen a lot of awesome bands. I know it seems like every post is full of, “Wow, these dudes were excellent! Party time alright!” but no shit, that’s pretty much how it’s been — though I’ve limited my partying to be even on all four sides (read: “square”), and even the Zywiec I’m now enjoying was purchased as much because it’s something different than tap water than because I felt like having a beer. I used to drink all night. Now I do this.

And on that note, let’s get started. As you can see below, my intent of making today lower key than yesterday was at least partially successful, though still with a bit of back and forth near the end.

Once more into the fuzz:

Leeds instrumentalists Wiht looked like they hated each other. I don’t know if it was just a contemplative post-metal thing or if each member of the trio is convinced that the other two dudes are bastards, but they hardly looked at each other or at the crowd, and guitarist Chris Wayper made only a cursory mention of it being their last show. Musically, they were right on. They did “The Harrowing of the North” and nailed it part for part, and it was a lot of fun to follow along with that story in my mind as they went along (see the review for more info), but yeah, there wasn’t much question that when the set was over, they wouldn’t be a band anymore. Still, Wiht were a quality act and quality players, both in general and on stage opening up at The Underworld, and I hope they end up in other bands. Though if I could bring the kind of crowd they did being the first act on the bill at 14.00 after a raging Saturday night, I wouldn’t break up.

My plan was to stay put at The Underworld through Gentleman’s Pistols, and though I knew nothing of either Throne nor Crystal Head, who were the two acts between Wiht and Leaf Hound, I’d hit the point where I was willing to trust Desertfest enough to not throw in anything shitty. It had already been two days of nothing but solid heavy bands, I saw no reason to doubt the capacity of the DesertScene crew to come through in the end, and sure enough, they did precisely that. Throne reminded me a bit of a less psychedelic Naam. Their riffs were in several cases lifted directly from Sleep’s Holy Mountain, though reworked — not that I fucking care; play that Sleep riff note for note and I’ll groove out almost every time — and they had a laid back stonerly attitude that went well with the music. The London trio didn’t look like they gave a damn, but it worked for them.

Also native to the city that’s hosting the fest, Crystal Head apparently used to be known as Penny Black. The new name suits them better. Especially immediately following Throne, they had a professional edge to their presentation that only enhanced the music. Floor lights, fog machine, a Gretsch guitar thicker in body than the guy playing it — Crystal Head struck an immediate chord with me for what I perceived to be a Queens of the Stone Age influence coming out. There was some of that Josh Homme-style start-stop jerky riffing, and the vocals (which came from both the bassist and the guitarist) veered occasionally into some characteristic falsetto. Still, they were thicker tonally than QOTSA, and they took the elements from that band to someplace heavier musically. They were a pleasant surprise, though I’m sad to say I failed to buy a CD from them, even later on in the night asking some other dude with a shaved head who I thought was the bass player if he had any merch. Obviously, he did not.

Fucking Leaf Hound. I don’t know where they stood numerically on the list of bands I never thought I’d be able to catch live, but I’d probably give them an ‘X’ either way, just because the idea seemed so ridiculous I wouldn’t have even thought to include them on any such list (one does not exist, surprisingly). And yeah, I know it’s Peter French and a bunch of guys who weren’t in the band when they recorded their classic material — they even had a new bassist, whose name I sadly did not catch — but whatever. I got to see Peter French sing “Growers of Mushroom,” and the jam that the players behind him embarked on in the song’s middle gave me a whole new appreciation for the track. “Sad Road to the Sea” was one of the day’s best performances from any band, and though I  wasn’t on board all the way with guitarist Luke Rayner‘s guitar-face and “I’m gonna stare at the ceiling like I’m having an orgasm because this solo is so good” stage moves, I can’t take away from the fact that they were fucking great.

Shortly before they went on, a guy in the crowd Tony Reed introduced me to the other day told me that Gentlemans Pistols were the best band in Britain. Britain’s got some righteous rock and roll on its  curriculum vitae at this point — to wit, everything I’ve seen this weekend — so I was on my way to intrigued by the time the double-guitar foursome took the stage. That in itself was a cause for celebration, as the band includes axe-man Bill Steer of the always-be-boogieing Firebird, and indeed Gentlemans Pistols were even more upbeat than Firebird on stage, changing places and mics, hoisting guitars aloft for the crowd to see and, in the case of drummer Stuart Dobbins, playing in his skivvies which he made a point to show off before sitting behind his kit. I can understand the impulse, as it was pretty hot and only getting hotter in that room — 20 minutes before Gentlemans Pistols came on, The Underworld was packed out — and while I don’t know if I’d say they were the best band on these Isles, I understood the appeal enough to pick up their 2011 album, At Her Majesty’s Pleasure, and I look forward to getting to know it better. Maybe not “in its underwear” better, but better, anyway.

By the time Gentlemans Pistols were halfway through their set, I was ready for the day’s first bit of traveling and made my way down the block with a mind toward seeing Cultura Tres, winding up at The Purple Turtle in time to catch Widows beforehand. UK natives as well, they thanked the crowd present for not going to see Gentlemans Pistols and delivered a set of that peculiar brand of stoner-type rock that’s not actually so different from post-hardcore in that everyone who plays it looks like they were in a hardcore band seven years ago. Not really my thing sonically, but fun to watch and they clearly had the style down. I bought their albums — they were selling handmade copies of their apparently-soon-to-be-pressed new one, and I got one of those — and enjoyed them for what they were. The Purple Turtle being the “heaviest” of the three Desertfest stages throughout the weekend, Widows were a decent balance between the some of the more aggressive sounds and the more laid back approach that was still to come from Samsara Blues Experiment later.

Cultura Tres are, among other things, well managed. They came all the way from Venezuela to tour Europe and the UK and their promotional team (there were several guys the band brought with them, to roadie, sell merch, street-team, film their set, etc.) has been handing out free DVDs the entire weekend. I have at least three at this point. Clearly a case of a band making the proverbial effort to be noticed, and I can’t hold it against them. They have a viable product. Their style is not quite sludge in the American or even the British sense — thinking Eyehategod and Iron Monkey as respective examples — but more of a slowed-down, malevolent metal. Tonally, it’s pretty clean, and there’s an edge of drama to their presentation on stage that adds to whatever the vague threat their material is making might be. I didn’t know them too well, though I’d checked out the video that I think was also contained on those DVDs (I’ll have to look to confirm that) and thought it was cool enough to post. If nothing else, it was encouraging to see that Cultura Tres were able to stand themselves out atmospherically from the rest of the Desertscene fare. I didn’t see anyone else this weekend who sounded quite like they did.

Back at The Underworld, Zoroaster were just finishing up their signature noisy wash as I walked in and made my way up front for Black Cobra, who, at this point, are a sentimental favorite. Aside from the fact that they kick unholy ass and just released the album of their career so far in Invernal (review here), I remember them from their days around New York, and they were killer even then. This morning as I sat outside whichever cafe it was down the block from the venue, I saw guitarist/vocalist Jason Landrian and got to say hey and see how the tour with C.O.C. and Zoroaster was going, and as unassuming as he always is to talk to — real quiet, down to earth guy — is as monstrous has he’s become on stage. He and drummer Rafa Martinez make for one of the tightest live heavy bands on the planet. Reportedly, before they loaded in, the duo also went and had their picture taken in front of a statue of British explorer Ernest Shackleton, on whose writings Invernal is partially based. Perhaps some of Sir Ernest‘s brashness was absorbed into the band, although to say that might give the impression that Black Cobra aren’t always as devastating as they were tonight, so stow that. These dudes just rip. If thrash had become Black Cobra, I’d listen to thrash, and whether it was seeing them destroy this crowd or seeing them with Kyuss Lives! back in December in Jersey (review here), they deserve and they earn every single success they have.

I was worn out. I was down. I didn’t know if I had the hike back to The Purple Turtle in me. Certainly C.O.C. headlining at The Underworld was an enticing offer. But man, there was Samsara Blues Experiment, just waiting with their heavy psych grooves and jams that were just too perfect a close-out to this Desertfest experience. What was I supposed to do? True, Corrosion of Conformity were probably the first heavy band I listened to and one to which I’ve never really lost attachment (we’re talking since I was 10), but I saw them on New Year’s with Clutch, and they’re almost certain to come through NYC again before the Berlin-based Samsara Blues Experiment make it over. So it was back to The Purple Turtle I went. I’d watch Samsara Blues Experiment — who, much to my delight, were selling copies of their original demo — for as long as I could stand up without feeling like my legs were going to give out, and then I’d split. It wasn’t long. I stood right in front of guitarist/vocalist Christian Peters as he had some technical problem with his stage monitor that sent out a rather unpleasant crackle through the P.A. He seemed bummed about it, but once they got going, the band played really well. They are a strong voice in the post-Colour Haze wave of European heavy psych, but like with Sungrazer yesterday, one of the best parts of watching Samsara Blues Experiment was seeing how they’ve come more into their own even in the year’s time since I caught them at Roadburn. I felt like I made the right choice to be where I was, and I can’t think of a better way to cap Desertfest than that, since it’s how I’ve felt this whole time. Coming here was the right choice.

At some point tomorrow, though I don’t know when, really, I will have some concluding-type thoughts on the weekend, so I’ll save the thanks and all that stuff for then, but yeah, that’s definitely on the way. For now, I’ll just say I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts, if not as much as I’ve enjoyed seeing these bands (did I mention fucking Leaf Hound played today?), then enough to make it this far.

Checkout’s at 11.00 and I’ve got pics to sort, more of which you’ll find after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Iron Claw, A Different Game: Sometimes They Come Back

Posted in Reviews on September 26th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

In 2009, the respectable historians at Rockadrome Records unearthed recordings by Scottish rockers Iron Claw that had been lost for roughly 35 years. The resulting self-titled compilation was met with a welcome response, and it fueled Iron Claw – who broke up in 1974, but played one or two reunion gigs in the meantime – to reform for new studio material. Recorded by bassist Alex Wilson, mixed and mastered by Stone Axe guitarist T. Dallas Reed and released by reliable purveyors Ripple Music, A Different Game is essentially Iron Claw’s first album, 40 years after the fact. It’s a fascinating proposition, and probably some rockers’ dream, that some day, they’ll finally get the appreciation they’ve long deserved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean doing a new record is a good idea. You’d be crazy to expect that because the three founding members of a band that rocked pretty hard four decades ago got back together and gave it a go with a new singer that they’d automatically pick up right where they left off. Life just doesn’t work that way. It’s like blaming someone for growing up. 40 years is a long time, and I’ve no doubt that Wilson, guitarist Jimmy Ronnie and drummer Ian McDougall – who are joined in Iron Claw by newcomer Gordon Brown – are much different people than they were when they recorded the songs that were later released as Iron Claw.

So foremost for anyone who heard the older Iron Claw material, A Different Game is going to live up to its title. Because it’s true: it’s a completely different game than it was when the band started out, and likewise, they’ve changed too. Most of the 13 tracks on the record are a kind of semi-heavy rock that occasionally drives home a killer blues riff but mostly sticks to a classic rock format. It might seem derogatory to call it “old-man rock,” but that’s what it is. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, it just means it rocks like you might expect it to for being the product of guys whose sphere of influence and means of interpreting that influence are based on what it meant to be heavy decades ago. It’s like when Blue Cheer put out What Doesn’t Kill You. It wasn’t cool because it was so relevant or innovative in its style. It was cool because they were still doing it, because they still had it. That’s what’s working for Iron Claw here. If you’re thinking they’re going to plug back into their old amps and rip through material with the same intensity they did when they were 20 years old, well, I’m sorry, but you’re going to be disappointed both in listening to A Different Game and in life in general. There are a few heavier moments on the record – “See Them Fall” reminds of Iron Maiden, and opener “What Love Left” starts off swaggering and shuffling with Brown perhaps nodding at younger listeners with the line, “Sit down, son, there is much for you to learn” – and Ronnie has several choice solos throughout, but mostly it’s a straightforward traditional rock record that makes a lot of the moves you’d expect.

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New Iron Claw Due in October; Band Goes to Jail

Posted in Whathaveyou on August 1st, 2011 by JJ Koczan

So the headline’s a bit misleading. They’re going to jail more in the Johnny Cash sense than the Nick Oliveri sense. Either way, it’s a fascinating story. The classic Scottish heavy rockers will also release their soon-to-be-reviewed new album, A Different Game, through Ripple Music on Oct. 4. Obviously, more on that to come, but in the meantime, it seems playing to prisoners isn’t the extent of Iron Claw‘s charitable nature.

The PR wire has details:

Scottish proto-metal pioneers Iron Claw return with a long-awaited album of gritty, blues-based melodic heavy rock that is already garnering album-of-the-year accolades from the press. The 13-track album, A Different Game, is scheduled for UK release on Oct. 3 and worldwide release on Oct. 4, just in time for the band’s CD release event to be held at the Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, Scotland on Oct. 5.

“The release of this album marks the realization of a lifelong dream for each of us in the band,” says guitarist Jimmy Ronnie. “To be honest, it’s something that I had thought had passed me by. But it’s not just any album. It’s the record that Iron Claw always needed to make — hard, heavy, guitar-based rock with its roots in the blues. I’m delighted to say that we’ve succeeded in capturing the live spirit of the band on this record.”

The Barlinnie Prison gig is more than just a CD release event. The performance is sponsored by Governor Derek McGill to help show the prisoners that there are healthier alternatives to crime, such as playing and creating emotionally stimulating music.

“I am confident the prisoners in Barlinnie will love this gig,” McGill states, “This is not about entertainment for prisoners; it is to let them see alternative recreational pursuits that can lead them away from crime, introduce them to hobbies such as music that can give them a fresh start.”

The benevolent beings of Iron Claw have also announced that they will be headlining a charity event on Sep. 25 at Comlongon Rocks, which will assist Cash for Kids and Cancer Research. 22 bands and six DJs, and all for a mere £10! For more information, please follow the link: http://www.comlongonrocks.com

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Ripple Music Issues Free Anniversary Compilation

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 28th, 2011 by JJ Koczan

Congratulations to Ripple Music on their one-year anniversary. The label is home to the likes of Mighty High, Poobah and Stone Axe, and in celebration of their solar revolution (hopefully the first of many), they’ve made an exclusive digital compilation available for free download from their Bandcamp page. That’s cool enough, but the compilation also features new music from Iron Claw and Grifter, who’ll both have new albums out before the end of the year.

Here’s the news from the label, followed by the audio stream of the comp:

Now, as Ripple Music moves into its second year, founders John Rancik and Todd Severin want to celebrate the enthusiasm of their music lovers with some anniversary specials. As a thank you to their fans and supporters who’ve allowed Ripple to strike out and bring independent music to the world, Ripple is releasing it’s first ever free digital compilation album.

Featuring every band that has made the first year of Ripple Music such a success, Ripple‘s anniversary album kicks off with Stone Axe, before heading down the Ripple highway of Poobah, JPT Scare Band, Fen, and more. And as a special bonus, The anniversary album features the world’s first sneak peeks at two new Ripple releases; Grifter‘s self-titled debut album, and the eagerly anticipated A Different Game, from underground legends, Scotland’s Iron Claw. But the free compilation album may be available for only a limited time, so get over there quickly to get yours!

But wait, there’s more. Over at the Ripple Store, everything is still 15% off until July 4, and every waverider who places an order will get their name placed into a drawing for a very special, last-one-of-a-kind surprise test pressing!

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Frydee Iron Claw

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 8th, 2010 by JJ Koczan

Hey YouTube, thanks for taking the frame out of your embedding options this week. Not like that was a major reinforcement of my site’s color scheme or anything. Jerks.

We end this long Friday with “Pavement Artist” by Iron Claw, just because it rules. It’s not topical, they’re not coming to the city this week for a show, there’s nothing relevant about it other than it’s good, and I can’t even begin to tell you the satisfaction that posting it for that reason alone gives me. Long week? Shit.

But it’s over now, and as I stare both into a bowl of microwave risotto and down the barrel of a long weekend spent doing homework, all I have left to say is thanks for checking in the last few days. I know posts have been few and far between, but I’ve been working hard, and though I may have mentioned it once or twice, it means a lot to me that you come back more than once.

My best to you for a safe and enjoyable weekend.

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In the City of Brotherly Treasure

Posted in Buried Treasure on December 23rd, 2009 by JJ Koczan

If it hasn’t been said before in this space, I love Philadelphia. I’ll admit it doesn’t have the same sense of cosmopolitanism as New York — its history designates it a purely American city — but the people are so much nicer. It’s as though the city wasn’t constantly acting in a commercial for the city. It’s like someone turned down the asshole factor. If I could ever afford to live anywhere (which I don’t expect to be able to), I’d live there in a second. Even the hippest Philly record store I’ve been to yet, AKA Music, made NYC‘s Other Music look like a parody of itself.

Along with an extensive (if somewhat disheveled) used section from which I grabbed someone’s promo of the new Alice in Chains (meh), and a dollar bargain bin that yielded a copy of Pharaoh Overlord‘s II, they also had both prog and psychedelic sections. The prog section even had a krautrock subheading. Awesome. And for vinyl heads, there’s a whole other store’s worth of it in the back.

I nabbed a compilation of early Peruvian psychedelic music called The Roots of Chicha, which proved to be awesome, and the self-titled release from Iron Claw on Rockadrome‘s Vintage division. Yes, the name comes from King Crimson. The record is a collection of tracks recorded from 1970-1974 from the Scottish band, most of which I’m fairly certain were unreleased before, and on the plastic wrapping of the disc there were five magic words that assured the purchase: “For Fans of Black Sabbath.”

And that more or less sums up what Iron Claw had going on nearly 35-40 years ago. According to the label, they started out by playing Black Sabbath‘s Black Sabbath in its entirety during their sets along with their originals, formed in ’69 in Dumfries, were done in ’74, and until this exhumation, were buried by time and obscurity. The extensive liner notes detail their years together with notable shows and lineup changes and how different players affected the band, and the music is blown to hell, but a track like “Skullcrusher” still lives up to its name.

For serious devotees of the heavy ’70s new and old, Iron Claw‘s a can’t miss. They can’t all be Leaf Hound‘s Growers of Mushroom, but I think I prefer Iron Claw to the self-titled Jerusalem record Rockadrome put out a while back. You’ve got 16 tracks of classic hard riffing with the occasional prog freakout (“Pavement Artist”). Put that together with a city like Philly and mark it a win.

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