Live Review: Brant Bjork & Ecstatic Vision in New Jersey, 09.20.19

Posted in Reviews on September 21st, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Brant Bjork (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Good coffee at the Debonair Music Hall. Someone there clearly gives a crap about it. The menu advertises it as a custom blend, which can mean anything from they hand-pick the beans at the roaster to they pour two smaller cans of instant into one bigger can, but it came in a small French press and was served with a glass mug that perfectly contained the liquid when poured into it with nothing left to sit too long in its own grounds. Even the little bit of sludge that came through in the bottom of the mug tasted good. It was $3 a cup and worth every penny and then some.

I found this out while sitting upstairs and watching Added Color launch the three-band evening topped by Ecstatic Vision and Brant Bjork. They were more hard rock than heavy rock, and if you don’t think there’s a difference I’m going to guess you haven’t heard much hard rock lately. Just not my thing. They covered Rage Against the Machine‘s “Bulls on Parade” with the drummer and guitarist sharing vocal duties. They were tight, performed well, all the rest of it. Just not my thing. So I went up to the balcony, sat down, and ordered a coffee. No regrets on that.

It was release day for Ecstatic Vision‘s new album, For the Masses (review here), and they celebrated with a good amount of the new album live, including closer “Grasping the Void” and, reportedly for the first time, the especially-wild “Like a Freak.” Line of the night went to frontman Doug Sabolik — joined in the band by bassist Michael Field Connor, guitarist/saxophonist/flutist Kevin Nickles and drummer Ricky Kulp — who, before they ignited into one or the other of their riotous heavy space rock anthems of personal freedom, said, “I called Dave Wyndorf to try and get him to come to the show, but he never takes my calls.” That got a chuckle out of me, and it was backed by the kind of cosmic burst that called to mind Monster Magnet at their most Hawkwindian, as Sabolik switched back and forth between playing guitar and not, seeming to wind up and throw his buried-under-wash, semi-shouted lyrics at the crowd standing up front, who only increased in number while they played.

The new stuff? Killer. The tour had hit Brooklyn the night before with River Cult and It’s Not Night: It’s Space on the bill, and would head down to Ecstatic Vision‘s native Philly the following night, with Heavy Temple opening, but either way, this show was just about halfway through the 16-gig run, and Ecstatic Vision played like it. Smiling on stage, their energy was infectious, and with the flashing lights, Nickles swapping out his guitar for a sax or flute — and yes, he did kick his leg up Ian Anderson-style when the flute came out; how could he not? — and Sabolik‘s nigh-on-perfected Stooges-era-IggyPop-turned-acid-priest preach met by periodic megaphone harmonica or stepping down into the crowd to go over and stand on one of the chairs toward the back of the room, yeah, it was right on. Very much the kind of set an album like For the Masses deserved on the day it came out. It had been a while since I last saw them, but they were pure, righteous mania.

And though it’s a somewhat counterintuitive match on paper, Ecstatic Vision were also a great lead-in for their Heavy Psych Sounds labelmate Brant Bjork. Of course, the desert rock mainstay’s style is more laid back as it would almost have to be, but the vibe was nothing if not warm after Ecstatic Vision played — scorched, more like — so as Bjork and his Low Desert Punk Band came out and did a quick line check before hitting into “Swagger and Sway” and “Chocolatize” from last year’s Mankind Woman (review here), “Stokely up Now” from 2014’s Black Power Flower (review here) and the boogie-down “Humble Pie” from 2016’s Tao of the Devil (review here). With collaborator Bubba Dupree on guitar, secret-weapon Dave Dinsmore on bass and Ryan Güt on drums, it was the same lineup that featured on the Europe ’16 (review here) live record, and well, they had it nailed three years ago, so, what, they would have lost it? Hell no. Chemistry full-on, groove full-on, heavy full-on. If you ever needed a reason to visit Teaneck, New Jersey, on a surprisingly balmy Friday, watching Brant Bjork and his band jam out more than an hour of the finest in Low Dez-nod is about the best I could hope to come up with.

I can’t imagine Debonair Music Hall was as packed as either Brooklyn or Philly would’ve been, but shit. The chance to see Brant Bjork play at all is something special, let alone play in my beloved Garden State. And whether or not the building hit capacity, I don’t think anything was going to stop Brant Bjork from delivering his show. “Mankind Woman,” “The Greeheen,” “Controllers Destroyed” and the mellow jam “Somebody” that brought Dupree‘s vocals into the mix emphasized the crucial work Bjork has done over his last couple records, while a particularly dug-in take on “Let the Truth Be Known” from 2005’s Saved by Magic, and “Too Many Chiefs… Not Enough Indians,” “Low Desert Punk” and the set-finale “Automatic Fantastic” with its clarion riff prefaced by Dinsmore in the jammy “Lazy Bones” represented Bjork‘s recently-reissued ultra-essential 1999 solo debut, Jalamanta (review here; also discussed here), with due vitality. The classics, alive! By the time they were hitting into “Low Desert Punk,” they owned the room and did not relinquish that until Bjork gradually turned down his guitar feeding back as it rested in front of his cabinet on stage. I called it his Sunn O))) cover, because I’ve always been the clever sort, but the bit of residual noise was welcome either way. You take what you can get.

If you’re reading this — and thanks if you are — I’m going to assume you don’t need me to tell you to go see Brant Bjork when and if the opportunity should present itself. Aside from his legit-legendary pedigree as drummer for Kyuss and Fu Manchu, his founding and underrated work with Ché and the two decades he’s put into building a solo-ish catalog that’s made for more than a few highlights of desert rock as a whole, the set’s a party. There’s no substitute for a good time, and that’s a good time. So yes, go. And have a good time. Buy a shirt when it’s over and tell Bubba Dupree his lead tone is incredible, because it is.

Because it was Teaneck and that’s how North Jersey rolls, I was back at my ancestral homestead about half an hour after the show ended, give or take for a wrong turn or two on the way. Takes a while to get your bearings after something like that, I guess, which is a small price to pay for having “Automatic Fantastic” stuck in my head, I can only hope into perpetuity.

More pics after the jump. Thanks again for reading.

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Live Review: Crowbar, Lo-Pan and Dutchguts in New Jersey, 07.25.19

Posted in Reviews on July 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Crowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan)

Teaneck, huh? On a Thursday? Yeah, alright. I’ll waddle down and check that out. One night ahead of starting their tour with Corrosion of Conformity, New Orleans sludgemasters Crowbar and Ohio fuzzy soul-lifters Lo-Pan made a stop at Debonair Music Hall — the former Mexicali Blues — in the suburb of Teaneck, New Jersey, with local modern sludgers Dutchguts opening. It doesn’t feel like a stretch to me to say heavy shows don’t happen every day in North Jersey. And if you’re not up on geography, that’s because right on the other side of that bridge and/or tunnel is New York City, which is where shows do happen every day and are generally guaranteed to draw more people. Seeing a band like Crowbar — or even Lo-Pan, for whom this was their second Jersey show — without having to cross the Hudson River at rush hour? The very least I could do would be to show up. So I did that.

Incidentally and maybe less surprising given their 30-plus-year history, it wasn’t Crowbar‘s first North Jersey show. They played a place called Obsessions in Randolph circa ’93 that’s long since gone, which I remember not becauseDutchguts (Photo by JJ Koczan) I was there — I was 12 — but from graffiti on the wall in the tiny room that was their “backstage” area. Whether or not they returned to the area between the two gigs, I couldn’t say.

They’d headline the early night, with Lo-Pan playing the middle of the three slots and Dutchguts kicking off the proceedings at 7:45PM sharp. The Debonair Music Hall at that point could not be accused of being overly populated, but there were several in the crowd who very clearly knew the four-piece, likely from the DIY scene they’ve built up around the Meatlocker basement venue in Montclair — though as I recall, someone in the band was local enough to me to know the bar Hoover’s on Rt. 53 when the subject came up years ago. Their take on sludge is more brash and less metal than Crowbar‘s, and it had clearly been a while since I last saw them. Like the better part of a decade, since I seemed to remember them as kids. Their roots were the same — big Eyehategod influence, some Converge, some other dark hardcore punk, plenty of tonal heft, and so on — but their delivery was 10 years wiser, more experienced and vicious.

Dutchguts will open for Eyehategod in Jersey City in September and that feels about right in terms of fit. Though their most recent outing is a 2017 split with Chained to the Dead (discussed here), they’ve done a fair amount of touring, including last month, and have something of a reputation that precedes them. I thought they were cool. After 10 years though, it might be time to put out an album if you’re ever going to. I’ll admit a 7″-only attitude is pretty punk, but still. A compilation, maybe?

How I found out about this show in the first place was hearing it from the guys in Lo-Pan last month before their set at Maryland Doom Fest 2019 (review here), and frankly, even with Crowbar on top of the bill, I was thinking of it as “the Lo-Pan show” in my head. This site is presenting their upcoming Fall European tour with Steak and Elephant Tree (dates here), and I knew from their Maryland set that they’d be playing mostly if not entirely material from their new album, Subtle (review here), which came out through Aqualamb in May. That indeed Lo-Pan (Photo by JJ Koczan)was the case, and though there was no “Ten Days” this time, having “Everything Burns,” “Law & the Swarm” and “Khan!” in the setlist gave Subtle its due, along with the near-mandatory “Ascension Day,” “Savage Heart” and “Sage.” I’ll be curious to hear how the set changes when they come back through Jersey (further south) with Crowbar and C.O.C. in just about one month.

About that: this was pretty much a warm-up show for them, as well as for Crowbar. The tour with C.O.C. headlining starts in Poughkeepsie at The Chance, and I guess they had occasion to make the show happen — picking up a bus in the Meadowlands, perhaps? — and it was a way to give them a leg-up on getting into the groove of the next month to come. Hey, I’ll take it however it comes, but the first night of a tour is always a specious time to see a band. They’re getting their feet under them. They’re tired from a long day of travel. They’re looking ahead to the weeks to come. They’ve not yet developed every tour’s inevitable thousand-yard-stare, locked-in, almost-traumatized sense of I-live-23-hours-to-play-for-one that they will have, say, after five or so nights of gigs in a row. Lo-Pan held it down, and so did Crowbar, but mostly that means that when they circle back, they’ll be that much more on fire.

Nonetheless, one appreciates seeing bands like this the way one appreciates the breaking of a humid Jersey heatwave. Pro-shop, get-on-stage-and-go professionalism is a marker of who a band are as players and a unit and Crowbar are unmistakable even besides that. Guitarist/vocalist Kirk Windstein thanked the crowd, including specifically a kid up front who couldn’t have been more than 10 if he was that — thereby, one assumes, making a fan for life — and they tore into their set with all the lumbering ferocity one could expect. This was my second time seeing them after catching the earlier legCrowbar (Photo by JJ Koczan) of their tour with C.O.C. in Boston (review here), and whether it was that sold-out date or this Thursday night in Teaneck, Crowbar played their show regardless. It was great to see and of course they killed it, opening with “All I Had I Gave” and rolling “Lasting Dose” into “To Build a Mountain” early on.

It was mostly the same set from February, which is fair enough, but with “Conquering” included ahead of “Planets Collide” and “Like Broken Glass,” so I’ll go ahead and mark that a win if you don’t mind. A “pit” broke out of kids having fun during “To Build a Mountain” — that riff’ll do it — and the vibe on the whole was intimate, friendly and l-o-u-d. I wouldn’t have asked for anything more than that, if I’d felt entitled to ask in the first place.

The tour-proper will be a sight to see, with Quaker City Night Hawks and Corrosion of Conformity alongside Crowbar and Lo-Pan. This show, in addition to being my first-not-last time at Debonair Music Hall unless a piano falls on my head between now and the next one, gave me something to look forward to for August, served to remind of the strength of the local NJ underground, and took less than 35 minutes to drive home from when it was over, which was still on the relatively early end. I kind of felt like they were doing me a favor all the way around.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.

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Live Review: Adrian Belew in Jersey, 06.30.10

Posted in Reviews on July 2nd, 2010 by JJ Koczan

I wasn’t initially going to write a review of the Adrian Belew show I saw the other night at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, NJ (that’s right — a real live music venue I didn’t have to drive to Brooklyn to get to! I didn’t think they existed either), but after talking with The Patient Mrs. sharing some thoughts didn’t seem so out of line. Take it or leave it.

First and foremost, if you don’t know who Adrian Belew is, he’s been playing guitar in King Crimson since the band got back together in 1981, and before that he’d worked with David Bowie and Frank Zappa. He’s also has a more than considerable solo discography. Basically, he’s a genius with a guitar. The name of this tour was “Painting with Guitar,” and Belew was joined on stage by four of his own paintings, a new Yamaha Tenori-on, and a laptop. So yeah, you could call it a one-man show.

He played some Crimson material, “Three of a Perfect Pair” and “The Power to Believe” (unless I’m mistaken), as well as some new, mostly instrumental pieces and a song from his band The Bears, launching at one point into the sitar line from The Beatles‘ “Love You To,” much to the delight of the few who recognized it. In between he stopped to take questions from the nearly all-male audience — hippies and prog nerds of various shapes, sizes, ages and hairlines — which not only served as a welcome break from the overwhelming complexity of the music he was playing, but an education on his equipment, methods and history. He told a story about living with Frank Zappa that I’m sure has been recounted at least 700 times before, but it was entertaining nonetheless.

One of the chief complaints with technical prog (a category Belew might offset being included in by reminding as he did several times from the stage that he can’t read music) is that the music has no soul. Watching Adrian Belew play with an ear-to-ear grin on his face as though he was continually astonished by just how neat the noises he can make with his guitar are, I firmly believe that those crazy loops and mathematically impossible time signatures are just the sounds his soul makes. He displayed every ounce the passion I’ve ever seen anyone play with, and he did it while mopping the floor with damn near the whole planet’s technique. It was something to watch.

Alas, the early show, over by about 9:30PM. Belew wound up taking three Q&A breaks through the set, most of one being dedicated to explaining why his new signature Parker guitar was pretty much the best thing ever, and closed with a long instrumental piece originally written for The Adrian Belew Power Trio, with whom he regularly tours. All in the span of maybe an hour, maybe a little more. And even as he discussed a conversation he’d recently had with Robert Fripp about reforming King Crimson next year for the 30th anniversary of the 1981 lineup, his love of the music came through clearly and honestly, and it was incredible to see and understand that there is a being out there capable of not only achieving that love but of maintaining it across a career spanning more than four decades. I left Mexicali Live smiling and don’t think I could have otherwise even if I’d wanted to.

Note: The song in the video below is called “Europe by Rail,” and it was written using the Tenori-on as a drum machine.

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