Friday Full-Length: Stone Axe, I

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 20th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Those who cite retro heavy rock as a European-only phenomenon have obviously never dug into Stone Axe‘s 2009 debut, Stone Axe I. The album, with its striking, vinyl-ready cover art and 10-track/38-minute run, was created with the express mission of paying homage to heavy ’70s rock and roll. And that’s precisely what it did, capturing the warmth of production and a live-in-the-studio feel that remains one of the best American executions of the style regardless of the band’s seemingly permanent dissolution. With the hooks of songs like “Black Widow,” opener “Riders of the Night,” “The Skylah Rae” and “There’d Be Days,” Stone Axe proffered memorable craft the whole time through, keeping a mellow groove beneath even its most active moments despite changes in instrumentation and mood. Live, the band included the rhythm section of bassist Mike DuPont and drummer Mykey Haslip, but in the studio it was just vocalist Dru Brinkerhoff and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Tony Reed.

If the latter name is familiar, it should be. Reed partnered with Brinkerhoff and launched Stone Axe after putting his prior outfit, Mos Generator, to rest in indefinite-hiatus style following 2007’s Songs for Future Gods, which, like Stone Axe I, was released through Roadburn Records. Mos Generator‘s own classic heavy rock influence was one thing, but Stone Axe brought it to another level entirely. Listening to the Led Zeppelin-style blast of “Sky is Falling” and the telltale Thin Lizzy bounce of the subsequent “There’d Be Days” — as well as that in closer “Taking Me Home” — Stone Axe did nothing to mask the direct lines they drew to titans of ’70s heavy, in the Mellotron finish of “My Darkest Days” and the infuriatingly catchy blues rocker “Black Widow,” the band evoked a sense of melancholy beneath a harder-driving atmosphere, but the album never lost its sense of class either in theme or delivery. “The Skylah Rae” told a tale of humans leaving Earth on a giant ship that shared its name with the title, and side B brought about some considerable turns in momentum, whether it was the boogie of “Rhinoceros” or the swagger of “Diamonds and Fools.” Penultimate groover “Return of the Worm” brought a perfectly-paced rhythmic nod to bear and topped it with Brinkerhoff‘s boozy vocals, which were no less classic than any other element put to use, be it instrument or production. The dude absolutely killed on vocals. Just nailed it.

And in many ways, it’s the Brinkerhoff/Reed partnership that’s essential to understand when it comes to Stone Axe. stone axe iConsider that, at that point, Reed was coming off playing guitar and handling vocals in Mos Generator, and that he was also prone to not only recording the band’s albums but releasing them as well. I don’t know who penned the lyrics for Stone Axe, but even if he did, for Reed to step out of the frontman position and relinquish that to anyone else must have been a significant sacrifice for a band that was still ostensibly his as he was writing the songs and playing guitar, bass, drums and whatever else. Stone Axe was a significant turn away from Mos Generator precisely because Reed brought Brinkerhoff on board as the vocalist in order to better capture that classic rock feel, which, again Brinkerhoff‘s voice seemed to be made to bring to life.

And speaking of life, how about those live-recorded tracks on Stone Axe I, huh? Well, no. It would’ve been impossible with just Reed handling all the instruments. Natural sounding cuts like “My Darkest Days” and “Diamonds and Fools,” that easy groove in “Black Widow” and “The Skylah Rae” would’ve had to have been tracked one instrument at a time — probably the drums first, then bass, guitar and whatever keys after. Then Brinkerhoff would be able to sing over the final tracks. Yet Stone Axe I in no way sounds pieced together in this way. It sounds like players in a room hashing it out. Stone Axe I did a better job capturing a live feel than a lot of albums that are recorded live, and it’s a credit to Reed as a producer that that was the case. The material lends itself to an organic vibe, to be sure, but it would’ve been easy for the songs to come out staid and lifeless, and they’re anything but.

Like its 2010 follow-up, Stone Axe II (review here), Stone Axe I was reissued via Ripple Music after Reed signed with the label in 2010. I got to write the liner notes for the second record. A slew of releases were hinted at in that announcement, including a third full-length — which at one point they even started writing — but the band’s last studio outing would be a split with Germany’s Wight on Fat & Holy Records in 2012, the same year Ripple put out both Stone Axe‘s Captured Live! Roadburn Festival 2011 and Mos Generator‘s return long-player, Nomads (review here), the success of which effectively relaunched that band, which would go on to revamp its lineup and become the full-time touring act they remain until now. In the meantime, Reed channeled his love of classic heavy into a solo covers release called The Lost Chronicles of Heavy Rock, Vol. 1 in 2015, which he’s newly pressed onto CD ahead of a quick run of Midwestern Mos Generator shows next month that will take them to the Stoned Meadow of Doom festival.

Though a third Stone Axe album would never manifest, it’s somehow all the more fitting that, like so much of the ’70s heavy rock movement that inspired them it would be somewhat cut short only to have the two albums go on to become cult classics as they have and no doubt will continue to do. Would I ever say never on a Stone Axe resurgence? Never. But with Mos Generator topping tour bills and playing gigs like the Main Stage at Hellfest in France, one could hardly argue Reed‘s time continues to be anything other than well spent. Stone Axe was what it was, and I’m glad there are the records to document that, because it’s worth preserving.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Goodness gracious. Was it enough week for you? It was definitely enough for me. I feel like my head’s still spinning from the Quarterly Review. I have a ritual I undertake every time I finish one of those where I clear the folders off my desktop — they go in my Albums folder — and delete the header because I’m not going to use it again, and I don’t even think I have the energy to do it. Maybe tomorrow, though probably not.

My plan for tonight is to go see Sasquatch at the Saint Vitus Bar in Brooklyn. I’m hemming and hawing and of course everything depends on the baby, so we’ll see. If I leave at seven I’ll get to Brooklyn by 9, blah blah blah. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I can get my ass out of the house. Tomorrow morning it’s a drive north to Connecticut and then seeing Backwoods Payback in New London. Then Sunday it’s back to New York for Bible of the Devil. As of right now I want to hit all three shows. Next weekend I want to do the same thing. Three shows, three nights in a row, and then that’s probably my quota for the rest of the year, surprise YOB gigs if there are any and Psycho Las Vegas notwithstanding.

Depending on what I actually get to — this is an ambitious plan, I recognize — is the schedule for next week, but here’s the notes as they stand now:

Mon.: Sasquatch live review/Arcadian Child premiere.
Tue.: Backwoods Payback live review; CB3 video premiere.
Wed.: Bible of the Devil live review; Lurk track premiere.
Thu.: Sergio Ch. video premiere.
Fri. Forming the Void premiere/review.

That’s a lot of live reviews for one week. Feels like even more coming off a Quarterly Review. But again, I’m going to try. If it doesn’t pan out, there are always plenty of albums to be written up.

Thanks for reading this week if you did, and either way, please have a great and safe weekend. Maybe I’ll see you at a show. I hope so.

All the best. Forum and Radio.

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The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tony Reed of Mos Generator

Posted in Questionnaire on April 1st, 2014 by JJ Koczan

You’d probably need a week to sit down and list all the bands and projects to which Tony Dallas Reed has contributed in one form or another over the better part of the last two decades. From playing drums in death metallers Woodrot to self-recording all-instrument Pentagram covers in his “spare time,” Reed‘s substantial body of work is the result of a genuinely restless creative spirit. Over the course of the last 10 years, he’s bounced between the heavy rocking Mos Generator and more specifically ’70s-minded Stone Axe while also embarking on the side-project HeavyPink and building his own HeavyHead Studio, where he’s done not only his own recording, but tracked Saint Vitus‘ comeback album, Lillie: F-65, among others, as well as mixed and mastered outings from Wight, Trippy WickedAlunah and many more from the US and Europe, often between or while on tours.

Reactivated following a run focused on Stone Axe, Mos Generator released the full-length Nomads (review here) on Ripple Music in 2012, two live albums in 2013, and will shortly issue a follow-up, Electric Mountain Majesty (review here), as their first outing on Listenable Records. Reed is also recently returned to his Port Orchard, Washington, home after a trip to Australia to record Seedy Jeezus and remixed/remastered Mos Generator‘s 2007 Songs for Future Gods album for reissue through Ripple, available now. Mos Generator also has splits with Copenhagen’s Doublestone and Washington’s Teepee Creeper coming soon.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Tony Reed

How did you come to do what you do?

As a musician I started when I was 12. After years of mimicking KISS and Rush in my bedroom I figured that I should actually learn how to play. I borrowed a guitar from a guy up the street and the first song I learned was “Iron Man.” I started playing drums around the same time. I just wanted to take it all in.

As a recording engineer I guess you could say it was around the same time. I started recording everything with a boom box from the get-go. I have a recording of the first time I played drums. Over time I collected a few mics and got a three-channel Radio Shack mixer and two cassette decks and I was into overdubbing. When I was 20 I got my hands on a four-track and the rest is history.

Describe your first musical memory.

I actually think it is “Papa was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations. I used to love that song. I also have recollections of the album cover for “Paranoid” being around the house and when I got that album in sixth grade I somehow already knew the songs on it, so I am assuming it was played frequently when I was a child. My mom also has a funny story of me stealing a “Nights in White Satin” 45 from K-Mart when I was two years old. She let me keep it.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

I would say that it would be 26-date Saint Vitus/Mos Generator European tour in 2013. It was a lot of hard work but we got to play for some rabid audiences and travel in style. Being on the road is all about making memories and of course later down the line you only remember the good bits.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I believe that there is really no ending point to a musician who is driven and passionate. Growth is constant and sometimes moves faster than other times. Sometimes it would appear to move backwards and hopefully something can be learned from that too.

How do you define success?

I define success by respect. Someday I would like to be well respect as a musician and songwriter and recognized for the passion and dedication that I put into the music I make.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

My grandmother’s eyes the day before she died. I think she had moved on already because I didn’t see her in there anymore.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I would like to create and album or song that moves people the way that certain songs move me. Sometimes I am so humbled by the songs I love that it makes me want to stop writing music because I believe I may never achieve these emotions in what I write. I also look at it as a goal and a challenge.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Even though this is musical in its subject, it doesn’t directly affect me musically. I am looking forward to watching the musical journey my son is going on. He has the passion in his blood and it’s great to see him doing things to make music his life.

Mos Generator, “Breaker” from Electric Mountain Majesty (2014)

Mos Generator on Thee Facebooks

HeavyHead Superstore

Listenable Records

Ripple Music

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HeavyHead Superstore Opens for Business

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 25th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Talk to Tony Reed for about 30 seconds and you’re going to know he’s a pretty self sufficient guy, so it’s not much of a surprise he’d start selling his own wares sooner or later. The guitarist/vocalist of Mos Generator, Stone Axe and HeavyPink has opened a webshop for HeavyHead, his own imprint, where he’s selling items from his bands (I still have some HeavyPink 7″s left as well), including what looks like an exclusive in the form of a Mos Generator bootleg CDR recorded in 2006.

Mos Generator also have a new live album coming recorded on their most recent European tour. Details follow courtesy of the PR wire:

Tony Reed (Mos Generator / Stone Axe / HeavyPink) Opens HeavyHead SuperStore

Renowned heavy rock musician and engineer Tony Reed (Mos Generator, Stone Axe, HeavyPink) has launched HeavyHead SuperStore, the official merch site for Mos Generator, Stone Axe, HeavyPink and other Reed-related bands.

The store offers CD, vinyl, t-shirts and other assorted items from Reed’s many projects, many of which can only be found at HeavyHead. Items exclusive to HeavyHead SuperStore include rare live recordings from the vaults of Mos Generator and more. To check out the selection, visit heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com.

In other news, Mos Generator will be releasing a live album recorded in Germany on the band’s last European tour. The album is expected to see the light of day later this summer through Holland’s Lay Bare Recordings. More details to come.

heavyheadsuperstore.storenvy.com
www.facebook.com/MosGenerator
www.facebook.com/pages/STONE-AXE/186663969482

Tony Reed, “Forever My Queen” (Pentagram Cover)

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Tony Reed Gets Bored, Kicks Ass on a Pentagram Cover

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 3rd, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Next time I’m sitting around being bored, feeling like there’s nothing to do but park my ass somewhere and wait for a baseball game to start, someone please remind me there are people out there like Tony Reed who manage to use downtime for the purposes of kicking ass instead of being a whiny jerk. Kudos to the Mos Generator/Stone Axe multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer for giving us all a lesson in DIY ethics with his take on the Pentagram classic “Forever My Queen,” which he recorded — as he intimates in the video info — more or less just for the hell of it:

I had a couple of hours to kill one day so i recorded this Pentagram song. I filmed as i did the takes so these are the actual takes from the song.

Blamo. I will not tell you some of the BS lines I’ve drawn on to-do lists just to be able to cross them out and tell myself I had a productive day, but suffice it to say, none of them have ever resulted in a cover as solid and professional sounding as this one, let alone a pro-quality edited video of me recording said cover, cut together perfectly with the finished audio. Were I wearing a hat, rest assured, it would be duly doffed.

Enjoy Tony Reed‘s “Forever My Queen,” and then go check out his bands and buy his albums, because they rule and because he obviously deserves the money more than the rest of us. Well done, Mr. Reed.

Tony Reed, “Forever My Queen” (Pentagram cover)

Mos Generator on Thee Facebooks

Stone Axe on Thee Facebooks

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Ripple Music Auctions Stone Axe and Mos Generator Test Pressing LPs for Hurricane Sandy Relief

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 19th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

…And they don’t mean, “Help me get that tree out of my yard” Sandy relief either. They mean like for people who don’t have a house anymore. Good for Ripple Music who continue to couple their love of all things classic, heavy and rockin’ with a desire to do some good in the world. Rare test pressings of Mos Generator and Stone Axe LPs will be going out this week on their eBay store, so make sure you follow the link to check it out. Yes, I’ve already added it to my “Watch List.”

Dig it:

Charity Auction for Superstorm Sandy Relief, Package Deal for Both STONE AXE and MOS GENERATOR LP Test Pressings

Continuing with the company tradition of giving back to the community, Ripple Music will auction a pair of extremely Rare Original Test Pressings in one package. Stone Axe: Captured Live! and Mos Generator Nomads vinyl are being made available with proceeds going to Superstorm Sandy Relief.

Only 5 copies of each test pressings exist, and these are the only one’s being made available to the public!  You can jump into the auction, win a cool heavy rock collectible and benefit the agencies that commit money and manpower to lend a helping hand. To do so, just visit us at the Ripple Music Ebay Store! The auction will start on Monday, November 19th and end on Monday, November 26th.

The Stone Axe and Mos Generator test press auction is the latest in a growing line of charity auctions that Ripple Music has created.  Previously, rare JPT Scare Band, Mos Generator, Stone Axe, and the Heavy Ripples test pressings were auctioned with proceeds going to Gulf Disaster, The Wounded Warrior Fund, Japan Tsunami and the Joplin Tornado disaster relief agencies.  With the sacrifices made by the men and women to assist their fellow Americans in need, Ripple founders John Rancik and Todd Severin thought the time was right to release another rare test pressing from their vault and raise money for a worthwhile effort.

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Stone Axe Start Writing for Next Album

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 4th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

You know what’s awesome? Stone Axe songs. It’s a fact. When these dudes get together, they churn out memorable classic rock of a quality level to embarrass even some of the people who made it classic the first time around.

They may have taken a break from writing to let Tony Reed focus on Mon Generator‘s Nomads album (review here) — a worthy cause indeed — but you just knew it wasn’t going to be long before Stone Axe picked up right where they left off.

And so they have, according to the PR wire:

STONE AXE Back In the Writing Process, Aiming at New Full Length in 2013

After dispelling break up rumors earlier in the year, Port Orchard rock n’ roll preservationists, STONE AXE, have announced that writing and recording has resumed for the bands next album. Multi-instrumentalist Tony Reed and singer Dru Brinkerhoff have reconvened in recent weeks to put the final touches on a handful of tunes, as well as sketching out ideas for a new STONE AXE record, the first new material since 2010’s Stone Axe II.

“It’s early in the process,” states Tony Reed on the writing process for the new album, “Dru and I have met a few times to plot out a musical direction for the new full length album. And, in the meantime, we’ve been working  on some songs that have been lying around for awhile that may be released as an EP in the near future.”

Though we’re going to have to wait until 2013 before we see a new release from the band, work is progressing at a steady pace. Some of the working titles in the mix include “Fell On Deaf Ears” for the new full length, and for the possible EP, “Lady Switchblade” and “Deep Blue”, a song reminiscent of the epic sci-fi thriller, “The Skylah Rae” from the STONE AXE self-titled album.

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Live Review: Stone Axe, Stubb and Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight in Eindhoven, 04.10.12 (2012 Adventure, Pt. 13)

Posted in Features, Reviews on April 11th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

First, you have to understand that The Rambler, shady though the name might be, was awesome. The kind of awesome that has Westmalle at 3.50 Euro. I thought I was playing it safe — hell, I had the dubbel and not the tripel — but the fact that I’d eaten nothing up to that point in the day but a protein bar came back to haunt me. By the time I sauntered out of The Rambler, I was sloshed.

The good news is that tragedy — and by that I mean vomit — was avoided. And between arrival at and departure from The Rambler, massively good times ensued watching Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, Stubb and Stone Axe play to an enthusiastic room that included several faces I recognized from Desertfest this weekend. I’d gotten into Eindhoven just a few hours prior, and was ready to have a little beery fun.

Chatted it up with the bands for a while, all of whom I saw last Friday (Stone Axe twice) and already had a few in me by the time Trippy Wicked took the stage. They’d soundchecked prior and the room — Xmas lights, wood floor, racks of CDs in the corner, full-size coffins to mark the men’s and women’s restrooms and Queens of the Stone Age‘s Lullabies to Paralyze on the P.A. — had pretty good acoustics. For rock. The stage area was wider than it was long, and I guess The Rambler was kind of a dive, but classier than that, even with the coffins. It was toying with country, is another way to put it. Again, it turned out to be a cool spot.

Unfortunately, riding around in a tour van all weekend had left Trippy Wicked guitarist/vocalist (and Stubb bassist/vocalist) Peter Holland with a cold. He looked and reportedly felt like hell, but wasn’t about to cancel the set; the show, going on, so forth. He rested up and before they played and when they got going, he played most of the set with his distortion off and changed the setlist to accommodate. I’ve seen Holland and drummer Christopher West do Trippy Wicked acoustic, so hearing the songs not as loud as they might otherwise be wasn’t really anything new, and in the semi-country surroundings, with the slight twang Holland puts on his singing voice, it actually sounded pretty good when they did “Southern” and “The Water.”

Later into their time, Stone Axe frontman Dru Brinkerhoff brought Holland some whiskey and, his voice already pretty blown out, I guess he figured there was no more harm he could do. The distortion was kicked on and he was full-on dry-throating it through the end. Admirable, and again, it didn’t sound that bad. Heavy rock works with a gravely voice, so while it wasn’t necessarily the most representative outing for the band, though Holland, West and bassist Dicky King all played really well and the songs got their point across. I’m looking forward to checking out their new album, not just because Holland has grown so much as a vocalist, but also because both times I’ve seen the band now, their chemistry has been top notch. It was a casual night — at one point, Holland remarked on how he knew everyone in the crowd — but even so, Trippy Wicked rocked like pros and only got better as they kept going.

Holland still had to get through Stubb‘s set, so he wasn’t yet off duty. After a bit of a break, West went back to the drums, Holland moved over to bass, opting out of a microphone, which left guitarist/vocalist Jack Dickinson in charge of covering all the vocals. He did it, and did it well, and since most of the audience, myself included had already seen the band in the last week, everyone knew what was up and it was fine. Stone Axe drummer Mykey Haslip got up and shared Dickinson‘s mic for the chorus of “Mountain,” and “Hard Hearted Woman” and “Road” were great to hear again, even with the single vocals. Straight-backed and keeping perfect time while also executing a barrage of fills, West showed his versatility as a drummer and was a pleasure to watch, and by the end, even Holland was singing along. It was more of a party than a show, almost.

“Galloping Horses,” which closes their new, Superhot Records self-titled debut (review here) was especially killer, Dickinson shifting his inflection and timing just a bit to make a full verse out of the repeated line, “The skies are crimson red” and taking a long solo in the semi-psychedelic midsection before coming back for one last chorus. They’re pretty straightforward in terms of style, but more even than the record showed potential, the live show confirmed it. I’d say I’m excited for what Stubb do next — and I am — but don’t let that imply that I’m at all finished with the self-titled, because it’s got way more than two months of staying power. Classic fuzz is timeless.

And speaking of classic, Stone Axe are a band I could very easily get used to seeing on a regular basis. This was the third set in five days (granted, one was the Free covers set, but still), and I was only more stoked for having some idea of what was in store. They got going as I was wrapping what would not turn out to be my last beer, and seemed more relaxed than at Desertfest. Brinkerhoff looked to be pretty well in the bag, but his voice was spot on, and the hooch only added to the swagger of his stage presence, which along with Tony Reed‘s guitar, is an essential element of the band. The aforementioned Haslip on drums and bassist Mike DuPont showed their prowess as a rhythm section behind, and though standing on the left side of the stage, it was almost like watching two acts at once, they were undeniably on the same page with the same mission in mind.

Their set ran long, which, you know, was awesome, and they threw in “The Skylah Rae” and “Taking Me Home” along with “Black Widow” and “Riders of the Night” from the first album and “Chasing Dragons,” “Just a Little Bit” and the excellent “Ain’t Gonna Miss It” from the second. “The Skylah Rae” in particular was something special, but Stone Axe‘s AC/DC stomp was in top form the whole time, and everyone was smiles and laughs and drinks and seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves through each catchy as hell chorus, Brinkerhoff driving home the memorability of Reed‘s songwriting every chance he got. And for his part, Reed demonstrated once again his clear mastery of the classic heavy rock form, backing Brinkerhoff on vocals every now and again and tearing through worship-worthy solos with what he made look like ease.

When it was over, I was more or less finished with the day. Several nights of less than stellar sleep had left me tired enough, and Westalle, though delicious, makes a lousy energy drink, so I said goodbyes and thanks and split out for the two block walk back to my hotel room, stopping along the way for pommes frites and more beer which I ended up crashing out before I could drink. It seems funny to say it, since all I’m going to be doing starting tomorrow for four days straight is seeing bands at Roadburn, but it was awesome to see a show over here that was just a gig, not a fest. Just another stop on a tour. Eindhoven’s a beautiful town and this was a really good night I won’t soon forget. I’m just glad I remember it.

More pics after the jump.

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2012 Adventure, Pt. 4: I Can Only Let You Know I’m Not Dead (Desertfest Day 1)

Posted in Features on April 6th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

04/06/12 — 22:47 GMT — Friday — Hotel

Beyond the blister lurking underneath the callous of my foot, it’s hard to remember where today even began, though I’ll say that having failed yet again to attain a cellophone for the Eurozone — I mention it only because my lack of competency at this point I find comical — I made my way around the High Street intersection, trying to follow the weirdos this way and that in search of the Black Heart. It was, as a young man named Isaac guided me, behind the Underworld, back down an alley called Greenland Place. I guess it was a street. Hard to know, really.

I was early, having failed gloriously to acquire a phone, and after getting my wristband (it’s gold, you can see some red ones above), I sat at the bar and had a few Camden Town Lagers. Amazing how similar their font looks to the Brooklyn Brewery. Even the taps looked alike. Anyway, the lager was decent, and I was waiting — viciously awkward soul that I am sitting at a bar by myself — for Stone Axe to go on and do their set of Free covers. I ran into Pete Holland from Trippy Wicked/Stubb and then Tony Reed from Stone Axe, and following a few more drinks and some pleasant conversation, Desertfest was underway. That’s probably as good a place to start as any.

Stone Axe made a set of Free songs so much their own that, half the time, I wouldn’t have even questioned whether or not they were covers. Helps a bit that Free is probably the single act from which the Washington four-piece — whose Live at Roadburn 2011 CD I somehow ended up buying twice — most draw stylistically, but either way, they killed it. Highlights included “Fire and Water” from the 1970 album of the same name and they closed with “All Right Now,” which was somewhat expected, it being Free‘s most enduring “hit,” but nonetheless one of the many tracks Stone Axe sounded natural embodying, vocalist Dru Brinkerhoff making the lyrics sound like something he just came up with. A killer way to start the fest and it made me look forward to their set of originals at The Purple Turtle still to come.

From there, I was fortunate enough to have some kind soul willing to lead my semi-drunk ass down the block to the Purple Turtle in time to catch Stubb. I’m not going to lie, for me, this was the meat of the fest. It’s why I came to London; to see bands I wouldn’t be able to catch otherwise. Stubb, which boasts in its lineup two-thirds of Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight, did not disappoint. From “Mountain” — on which guitarist Jack Dickinson and bassist Pete Holland shared vocals excellently during the chorus — to the closer “Soul Mover,” they were an absolute thrill to watch, and as the room at The Purple Turtle was totally packed, it seemed I wasn’t the only one who thought so. It felt like I was transplanting myself on another locale’s scene, and you know, I was glad to do it. These dudes, aside from being a kickass band, I consider friends, and the chance to see them live, as well as to see Trippy Wicked immediately following, was something really special. In short, it’s why I’m here.

Holland moved over to guitar for the Trippy Wicked set, and drummer Christopher West stayed put as bassist Dicky King came on stage to make up the difference for Dickinson departing. He didn’t go far, though, as Trippy Wicked got going, backing up Stubb‘s power trio ethic with one of their own. They have a new album out, and I bought it back at the Black Heart, just to have the chance to support the band directly, and after hearing them play, I’m looking forward even more to checking it out. Holland‘s vocals have come a long way since they started out, and King and West make a formidable rhythm section behind the guitar melody. Like Stubb, they were a native band I felt lucky to be able to catch. As I’ve grown increasingly envious of the UK scene over the last few months, it was awesome to see Trippy Wicked in front of their own crowd. I think I’ll probably skip out on Berlin next week and try to catch these dudes with Stone Axe (and Stubb, naturally) in Eindhoven on Tuesday. We’ll see how it goes, but either way, killer set from a killer bunch of guys. Seriously. Made me glad I came.

Ditto that for Stone Axe, whom, though we hail from the same continent, I’ve only ever seen in Europe. Last year, their set at Roadburn made me not regret missing Ufomammut in the slightest — which should say something about the rock quotient; most of that set is available on that live CD I decided to make a double — and as afternoon transitioned into evening, I wanted to make sure I caught their originals to follow up on the killer start their set of Free covers made to the fest as a whole. Brinkerhoff and Reed showed no wear for pulling double-duty — maybe the fact that they’re touring with Trippy Wicked and Stubb had them keeping up with Holland and West on the two-set front — and the whole set was a party, the highlights of which were “Chasing Dragons” and “We Know it’s Still Rock and Roll,” which had one of the night’s best sing-alongs. I was right up front while they played, and I had no regrets for it. I missed Ancestors while Stone Axe was playing (and maybe a bit during the changeover to Greenleaf), but I’ll make the effort to see them next weekend at Roadburn. Stone Axe was a necessity.

Greenleaf, as the band who sealed the deal in my mind for coming here in the first place, all the more so. I didn’t anticipate much in their set older than 2007’s Agents of Ahriman, if only for the lineup involved, and that was pretty much how it went. They threw in a couple older songs, but by and large it was Agents material and songs from the new album, Nest of Vipers (review here), including the opener “Jack Staff,” “Case of Fidelity” and “Lilith,” which was missing its organ a bit, but still left me with no complaints overall. They started off with “Alishan Mountain” from Agents of Ahriman, in what I can only assume was a personal favor to me, and commenced from there to what I can say with no exaggeration I will consider a landmark experience for me as regards show-going. No bullshit. Greenleaf was a band I never thought I’d see. They were just too far away, and with guitarist Tommi Holappa in Dozer and vocalist Oskar Cedermalm in Truckfighters, I just didn’t think it would happen. No matter what else happens to me on this trip, I saw Greenleaf. Fuckin’ a. If I’m 100 percent honest, that’s enough. I could’ve caught a plane home after their set and still felt like I won out. Also cool to see Cedermalm‘s fellow Truckfighters, Niklas “Dango” Källgren and Oscar “Pezo” Johansson in the crowd. Gave the whole thing a family atmosphere, not that one was lacking after the sets that had already gone down at The Purple Turtle.

I wanted to stay and see Sigiriya, but I also didn’t want to miss Asteroid back at the Black Heart, so I decided to compromise. I stayed for the first couple Sigiriya songs before heading out to the other venue. Worth noting that along with Ancestors, Sons of Alpha Centauri, Karma to Burn and Rotor were on the main stage at the Underworld tonight, but I didn’t make it there at all. Tomorrow I will to catch Roadsaw, Sungrazer, etc., but not tonight. Anyway, Sigiriya‘s Return to Earth wasn’t exactly fresh on my mind — that is, it’s been a minute since I last put it on — but the songs came right back, whether it was “The Mountain Goat” or “Whiskey Song,” and the grooves were mighty. They were killing it, hands down, but I had to head out to catch Asteroid, so I departed a few songs into their set and made back for the Black Heart, my own black heart heavy in my hands at having split out on what I knew was some righteous rock.

There was, however, no debating it. I had to see Asteroid. Not seeing Asteroid simply would not do. It brought the day full-circle to be back at the Black Heart, and I topped off what was already a several-hours-long buzz with one last Camden Town Lager and waited for the Swedish trio to take the stage. Outside, the dudes from Black Pyramid were getting ready to head across the street to catch Karma to Burn, and I knew that would be awesome, but hell, I’d come too far to miss it now. Asteroid took the stage promptly and kicked into what seemed like an hour-long jam. It’s interesting now that I’ve seen both bands to realize how much they have in common tonally with Graveyard, but they’re on their own trip. “Time” knocked me out, and “Disappear” was more than a treat. They wound up doing about half of “Dr. Smoke” from the first album as a semi-encore, the crowd singing along to the riff with hands held high. I was in the back by then, my feet beginning to feel those new-sneaker blisters taking hold, but I stayed until they were finished, and — I can’t think of another way to put it — they were awesome, guitarist Robin Hirse and barefoot bassist Johannes Nilsson splitting vocal duties with ease and capturing the organic sounds of their albums (the second one is reviewed here) with what seemed like no trouble at all.

I made my way back to the hotel as quickly as I could when they were done, hoping perhaps to catch an open coffee/sandwich shop along the Parkway here in Camden Town, alas, to no avail. Some spicy ramen noodles, a bag of salt and pepper chips and, finally, another protein bar served as dinner to cap a long day of music and drink. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and likely do it all again, though hopefully having some time in the morning to go CD shopping before Desertfest kicks up its sands again. I’ve got my wristband. My earplugs. My Advil. I’m ready for whatever comes.

Bonus-type pics after the jump.

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