Archive for October, 2012

24 Hours DOWN in Manchester

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , , , on October 28, 2012 by Noise Road

There are no Zeppelins left.  The odd Sabbath and Who reunion is a faint echo of the real thing.  The nineties killed off the last of the great rock bands, like alternative favourites Faith No More and Alice in Chains.

Sh!tty pop and slick commercial rock now occupies theatres like the Manchester Academy.   DOWN may not be innovators like Black Sabbath, but what other band today is fit to play the big stages?

Gone is the DOWN of 1995 who’s junk-filled desperation produced the brilliant NOLA album.  However, gone too is the erratic, junk-filled performances.  In its place are decades’ honed road-warriors.  Graduates of the nineties’ greatest sludge, doom and metal bands board the Manchester Academy stage in the form of the DOWN beast.

DOWN are a great rock band.  However there are contenders to their throne – like Machine Head in the metal world… but none of the contenders have Phil Anselmo.

Phil Anselmo is the last great rock star.

Not all of Anselmo’s notes hit as deep as they did in 1995, but the charisma of the man is incomparable.  Video footage fails to capture his presence in a room.  He is a cult leader whipping the crowd into a frenzy.  A domineering parent chastising his children.  You are quiet when Anselmo demands it.  You move when he says move.

As the UK slips into the oncoming winter, DOWN lands into England’s North.  This weekend, the clock’s changed in the UK.  This is the switch that announces the Scottish winter, or as Douglas Adams might call it, the long dark tea-time of the soul.

When living in the UK, you have to occasionally escape winter’s grey, wet blanket that settles over your town.  If you stand still too long, you risk the grimness setting in.  As October deepens, Noise Road trades the encroaching grey of Glasgow, north of the North, for the slightly less greying Manchester.

After a foggy start, Manchester turned on a sunny, remarkably un-grey day…  but the northern sun may well be dying.  Although it is always nice to see it, this star has lost most of its warmth.

I’ve enjoyed my previous passing visits to North England.  People seem more immediately welcoming in the North in comparison to the South.  I am also amused by the variety of the accents in this densely populated band of towns.  Every few miles the accent seems to change in the North.  How can one tiny little island have so many distinct accents?

I am told that the upward inflection of my Australian accent makes it sound like I am often asking questions.  The Irish accent often sounds like its telling the punchline to a joke.  Some of the accents in the north sound like they are setting up a punchline.  I often wonder if they have finished talking or if they are just setting up a dramatic pause.

Like most British cities, Manchester’s skyline is a mix of the very old, the very modern and ugly mid-twentieth century necessity.  The old stuns me every time.  This is the old world.  We’re just passing through.

The walk to the Academy is long.  Manchester is a big city – much bigger than its neighbours, Sheffield and Leeds.  Pub after pub passes.  Pubs under arches, rock pubs, old man pubs, trendy kid clubs.  A cheeky Friday pint beckoned…  but we’re already late.

Warbeast are already thrashing and stomping on stage as Noise Road enters and orders a pint.

When you spend your time in the basement venues of the UK, you forget the quality of sound at these larger venues.  Every band tonight sounded like a million damn dollars.  There are no missing guitars or vocals for the first song or two.  The Academy has a mix clear where its supposed to be, and  warm and fuzzy where its not.

Warbeast’s guitarist muscles up like a pro wrestler in victory as Warbeast close their set.  Noise Road heads to the bar for another pint.  The crowd at the bar is deep as Orange Goblin are due to hit the stage.

Doom metal is England’s gift to the world.  Orange Goblin’s music begs, much like frontman Ward, “Its Friday night.  Lets get hammered.”  Luckily Orange Goblin’s alcohol fuelling was enough to carry us through the rest of the night.  Movement to the bar ceased as the crowd filled the venue for DOWN.

Anselmo twice stops and starts the opener, Eyes of the South.  Who knows why?  The mix was good.  You can’t expect a bum note from Pepper or Kirk.  Maybe it was just to set up a bit of tension with the crowd.  Maybe Phil’s just playing with you.

Witchtripper and Open Coffins show that the quality of songwriting is still there.  Whilst still a commanding presence, the anger in Anselmo is tempered.  The lyrics of the new material do not reek of the junk sick lyrics of their debut NOLA, nor even the Hurricane Katrina turmoil of the last album.  Anselmo and DOWN are having fun – and not in a nihilistic kind of way.

Only Pepper’s COROSION OF CONFORMITY seemed to be able to force a smile in the nineties.  DOWN have emerged from the druggy nihilism of Jimmy Bower’s EYEHATEGOD and  the depression of Kirk Windstein’s CROWBAR.  The reigning kings of New Orleans are now a happier, road-hardened outfit.  Today, they dominate a big stage with colossal southern riffs.   Doomy Sabbath-isms lock in tight but with a groove back of the beat.

Tonight is a sweaty, beery mix of a big rock show with the substance and depth of troubled pasts.  The set relies heavily on the classic NOLA album.  It may be ironic that the band are not in a place where they could ever produce the angry depression of NOLA again, but their more stabile lives mean that they can perform it better.  Losing All, Pillars of Eternity, Temptation’s Wings and Lifer crush.

Tracks from the previous Over the Under record are absent from the set.  However the eclectic DOWN II album adds variety with the downbeat rocking of Lysergik Funeral Procession, the anthemic Ghosts Along the Mississippi and the stomp of New Orleans is a Dying Whore.

The doomy epic closer of the set, Misfortune Teller, from the new EP is so strong that you could almost believe that it was the end of the night…  but we all know how a DOWN gig ends.

DOWN return for the encore with Phil’s defeatist opening to the heavy as feck, Hail the Leaf.   Stone the Crow’s lighter southern tones bring out the strongest vocal performance from Phil.  He sings, rasps and screams, while we all join in…  And of course the night closes with Bury Me In Smoke’s gigantic riff.  DOWN are gigantic.  They are a match-fit, title-threatening team.  With 3 EPs in this cycle to come, lets hope we see them rocking UK big stages 3 more times.

Between the Buried and Me @ Garage, Glasgow – 3/10/12

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , , , on October 12, 2012 by Noise Road

How do you judge a man?…  By his accomplishments? By the way he treats others?  No.  These superficial means are no measuring stick.  The true measure of a man is by his record collection.

It follows then that Between the Buried and Me are the best humans on the planet.  Tonight’s set displayed a deep knowledge of every genre of music that you can think of…  and even some genres you’ve never heard of.  Their record collection sh!ts all over your IPod playlist.

BTBAM did not invent genre-hopping.  Mr Bungle bounced between funk metal, circus music, jazz, techno, avant-garde and pop.  Bungle, however, did not base their structure in 20-minute prog freak outs.

I’m not sure I have 20-minute freak outs in me anymore.  Consequently, even though I love The Great Misdirect album, I am no BTBAM expert.  When I got into BTBAM I was travelling the world for 6 months.  I had room in my life for intricate music.  BTBAM are the definition of busy music.  As I’ve moved into ever increasingly stressful and challenging work, my appetite for busy music has diminished…  My brain now craves Sunn 0))) holding one note for 70 minutes.

The only room I have for busy music is in 30 second doses of grind.  A blast of Pig Destroyer means that unlike John Dolan Vincent**, I don’t require 6 cups of coffee and a rail coke to haul myself out of the house in the morning.  Although having said that, I ain’t really kicking any goals before my 3rd coffee at around 10am.

Periphery

I haven’t paid any attention to Periphery previously.  I guess the kids would call them djent.  Between the Meshuggah riffs, there were techy melodic breaks and soaring vocals to give a bit of colour.  I don’t think that I would buy a record, but it was enjoyable enough to watch while I sank a couple of beers in Glasgow’s Garage venue.

Between the Buried and Me

With such intricate, genre-hopping music, there is always a danger that the virtuoso musicians could disappear up their own @rse.  With the vocalist often locked behind his keyboard and guitarists focused on their frets, I feared that I might find it necessary to visit the bar more and more frequently.  This was not the case.

A couple of minutes after BTBAM walked off the stage, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody eased onto the speakers.  BTBAM relieved Freddy Mercury and the Queeners of their duties in almightily rocking performance.  The crowd had been filing out the door because they thought the show was over.  Smiles abounded the returning flock as we all sung along “Ohhhhhhh baby! Can’t do this to me baby! Just got to get out, just got to get right out of here!”

BTBAM followed Bohemian Rhapsody with the death stomping opening of Mordecai.  There was plenty of this triumphant fist-pumping, death metal throughout the night to keep the neanderthal in you headbanging.

BTBAM live take you on a vision quest.  The peyote kicks in and the prog metal path may lead you to death metal stomps on one trip.  On other trips it leads to clean jazzy breaks.

The start of Fossil Genera recalled the circus metal of Mr Bungle’s first album.  The soft melodic vocals of Disease, Injury, Madness crescendo into a noodling climax.

The show made me question my recent abandonment of Between the Buried and Me.  I’d write longer but I got to go check out their new album which has a title longer than this review.

**  The Contortionist’s Handbook, Craig Clevenger

Lazarus… OM @ Stereo, Glasgow – 28/09/12

Posted in Gigs with tags , , , on October 1, 2012 by Noise Road

Which is your favourite OM?  The two-man droning fuzz-out of yesteryear, lulling you in a meditative trance?  Or the middle-eastern-themed stoner metal of tonight, forcing your head to nod and your body to groove?  Or similar to your love of Michael Bolton’s work, do you celebrate the band’s entire catalogue?

Personally, I celebrate the man’s entire catalog. To me, it doesn’t get any better than when he sings ‘When a Man Loves a Woman.’

– Office Space

OM in the flesh has always been a different experience to the recordings.  Before seeing them live, I considered OM quiet music.  A chilled-out soundtrack to ease into the day, to lick my self-inflicted Sunday morning wounds, or to zone out the rest of the office.  However OM live, dude, is not quiet music.  I remember in a small Somerset town, the overdriven bass so loud that it vibrated my chest.  The repetitious volume was hypnotic.  Like a Sunn 0))) show, or an UFO abduction, time was lost.

Tonight, Al still sparsely chants a collage of widely sourced spiritual phrases over the droning riffs.  Late in the night, it brings a smile to my face when the word “Lazarus” is repeatedly plucked out of the wet air.  Thanks to Al, I’ll be in a tense conversation with my boss at work and all I can think of is “Damascus Road Traveller”.  UK passport control ask me where have I travelled from today and “Lebanon” pops into my head.

As ever main man Al Cisneros bops his head like a stoner Gamera.  His headstock near perpendicular to the sky as he plucks, strums, taps out repetitive fuzz-laden riffs that drive the night.

On the previous album, God is Good, additional instrumentation added colour to the bass and drum loops.  On Advaitic Songs, flute, cello and key sounds not only add colour but they frequently lead with strong melodies.  Tonight’s set is heavily dominated by those last two records, and as such OM third man, Robert A A Lowe, takes a central role.

Unusually, the band is not hidden in the usual lack of stage lighting.  For the first time, we do not just see Al bopping in the shadows.  We see the energy with which Emil Amos attacks the kit.  We see Al gazing into the aether as the riffs flow from his fingers…  and we see Lowe.  Al carries a laid-back stoner vibe.  On stage he is softly spoken anti-frontman.  Amos is the straight man behind the kit.  However Lowe is a charismatic showman who visually engages.

Al ducks his bass down, evading the structural pillar on downstage right to allow Lowe to take the musical and visual lead.  Lowe is never stationary.  When he is not switching between drums, tambourine, guitars, keys and a mic, he is throwing a drum to himself.  He is hugging that drum tight to his chest like a child’s favourite teddy bear.

Al’s bass is noticeably lower in the mix to allow the other instruments to feature.  I miss physically feeling the music – Al’s low end vibrating on your skin.  In its place you are engaged by the new dimension of melody.  At one point, Al insisted that the bass be turned down in the mix.  Down?  At an OM show?  The mixing desk seemed as confused as the rest of the crowd.  Al kept insisting to the supportive drunken Glaswegian bellow of “Get him, Big Al!”

The Scottish crowd are as enthusiastic and boisterous as ever.  A mystical local climate at Stereo creates an inverse relationship between the temperature outside on the Glasgow streets and inside the basement venue.  By the end of the set, everyone is feeling a little sweaty.  Most are a few lagers heavier when the Bhima’s Theme chant of “Lazarus” announces a familiar fuzzed-out climax.

Whilst I love the OM of old, dropping me out of the world for a fuzzed-out hour, OM 2012 provides a more dynamic set.

Lazarus.