[Blackout's press photo, a/k/a the band photo that renders all previous and future band photos irrelevant.]
In all my years of excessive show-going, I don't think I'd ever attempted attending three different shows in one day, but with me having absolutely nothing else going on this lovely Saturday, I figured why the heck not. Right?
First stop was Union Pool for the second installment in their 2013 Summer Thunder weekly series. I've seen scores of shows at Union Pool, but this was the first time I'd ever seen one outdoors. Got there in time to catch the second half of opener Love As Laughter's set, which was highlighted by J Mascis joining in on guitar for the final song, a raunchy, slow two-chord monster that sounded an awful lot like Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane."
This foreshadowed what was *supposed* to come next - a performance by Mascis' Heavy Blanket side project. I thought that the Heavy Blanket album was too wanky, but I can totally get behind the psychedelic / bluesy / gratuitous guitar solo thing in the live setting. Unfortunately, with Mascis and his backing band right in the middle of their first song, they were told by what appeared to be venue management that the show was shut down because of noise complaints, and they complied after finishing that first song. This really sucks, and it doesn't bode well for the remainder of the Summer Thunder series, one would think, because it really wasn't all that loud.
[I talked with a few Union pool employees after the show who told me that the bar's elderly neighbors had complained about the noise, and Heavy Blanket posted on their Facebook today that, in fact, the cops had insisted on shutting it down. And simply moving the show inside wasn't an option. Sucks.]
Anyway, the show getting shut down was only the second worst thing that happened here, with the worst clearly being the dude wearing a Paramore tee shirt. Wtf? [Oh, yeah - don't bother watching the below video unless you really, really like looking at the backs of people's heads.]
So, tail between legs, I headed back to my apartment for a couple comfy hours before heading over to Vitus for White Widows with Blackout. Although I've heard both of these bands' studio work (the White Widows EP is pretty damn good), I'd never seen either of them live before. This was a free show, serving as a video shoot for a White Widows song. [Note: it looks like the band has officially changed its name to White Widows Pact, which makes sense, seeing as how "White Widows" was such a good name it had to have been used before. At this show, vocalist David Castillo introduced the band as "White Widows," so who knows.]
Blackout's set consisted largely of dirge-slow stoner / doom licks. Here's a small, unsatisfying tidbit:
White Widows was up next, and they brought the thunder, featuring heavy-as-fuck thrashy licks, dual lead vocals, and lightning quick drumming. These guys are tight as hell and I highly recommend their live show.
Needing to catch up on my pregame, I busted it out of Vitus a bit early and hurried back to my apartment to fuel up on cheap vodka. J train into Bowery, then walked over to Sullivan Hall... got inside at 11, just as Lawn Boys were finishing tuning up. This was my second time seeing these guys live, with the first being in late January, also at Sullivan Hall. I raved about the band's performance at that show, but they've somehow managed to further improve their jamming. The set was crammed to the gills with impressive type II improvisation.
Comparing any cover act to the band whose songs they're interpreting is rarely a flattering exercise, but Lawn Boys really stand out in that regard. For one, the song selection is spot-on, with nary a "Joy" or "Show of Life" or "Alaska" in sight, and these guys' attention to detail is really remarkable. What's more, they're unafraid to give big-time workouts to songs that Phish themselves rarely "jam out" these days - notably "AC / DC Bag," "Gumbo" and "Destiny" (the latter of which Phish has never really jammed out, to my knowledge) in the first set alone.
Highlights for me were the hilarious crowd participation during the "Secret Language" bits, said aforementioned "Bag," and "Gumbo," a "Gin" which seemingly channeled the legendary Great Went version, a jam on Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" jam in "2001," and, oh yeah, they nailed "Glide." Just a great show, with a rowdy, appreciative crowd, an extremely talented band, and holy shitballs what a setlist:
Set II: Ha Ha Ha$, Carini% > Twist&, Tweezer* > Ghost > 2001+, Gotta Jibboo, Harry Hood, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Character Zero, Loving Cup, Tweezer Reprise
*with all fall down, Simpsons, and random note secret language in intro
**with Sand jam
***with Mind Left Body jam
@with NICU tease and extended Theme from the Bottom jam
# with plinko jam
$ band announced this was the 100th Phish song they've covered live
% brief Mind Left Body jam
& Oye Como Va jam
* with brief Tweezer Reprise tease in intro and with random note secret language
+ with Get Lucky [Daft Punk] jam
Lawn Boys played for over three hours with about a 20 minute setbreak, and I wound up not leaving Sullivan Hall until after 2:30 AM, and not getting home until about 3:30 thanks to the total joke that is late night J service. A pretty great Saturday, as well as great primer for Summer Tour '13 which.... HOLY SHIT I JUST REALIZED SUMMER TOUR IS LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!! YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!
When I first heard news of this show, my first thought was that this was a cruel April Fool's joke, weeks in advance. Fortunately, this was a real live honest to goodness show, and this would be the most intimate Russican Circles show I've seen since I caught them opening for Dalek at Mercury Lounge in February '08. Having recently galivanted across the country as the undercard on a bill featuring Coheed and Cambria / Between the Buried and Me, these guys spent a couple months playing the big rooms; their NYC stop on that tour was at Radio City.
Still not sure how I feel about seeing shows at Saint Vitus. Yes, the sound is great, and, yes it's nice to have a legit metal bar reasonably close to my apartment. [deleted a couple sentences here. Changed my mind n' stuff.] Whatever, as long as St. Vitus keeps booking great acts, I'll keep coming back in spite of that.
Was glad to run into Justin from Austerity Program at the show - there hasn't been much news from his band lately, but he shared that they've recently completed writing an album's worth of material. With Hydra Head now out of the picture, they're looking to release music on their own going forward, and they've apparently gotten some major hurdles out of the way in getting the infrastructure set up for that. I was also told that Austerity Program would be opening for Zozobra at Saint Vitus in just a few days (check back on Thursday for my review of that show).
Day-of, St. Vitus still had "TBA" listed as the opening act for this show. I put two and two together, hoping that St. Vitus-affilited band White Widows would be added to the bill, and although this didn't happen, I enjoyed both opening acts plenty. The first band, Descender, had a sound (rock-solid riffy / hook laden post-hardcore with seamless tempo shifts) and presentation (intense) which reminded me quite a bit of Goes Cube. The second band, Primitive Weapons served their own brand of crushing post-hardcore downtuned and noisy, with their vocalist (who splits duty with White Widows) seemingly spending as much time agitating shit in the audience as he did onstage.
At setbreak, the house music noticeably switched over from Saint Vitus' usual soundtrack of classic thrash / stoner / sludge to a steady, slow drone, foreshadowing Russian Circles' set. For those who have never seen Russian Circles live, theirs is a blend of foreboding atmospherics and dazzling metal chops, similar to Pelican in some ways, but with much more of an emphasis on quiet vs LOUD dynamics and tension release.
Taking the eerily backlit stage around eleven, Russian Circles' set on this night reminded me of why these guys are such a formidable live act - for the songs flow seamlessly from one into the other for lengthy stretches, bound together by ethereal, ambient minor key tones. The playing blends together the chugging riffs and flash-fingered soloing of thrash with the glacial grandiosity of Mogwai, dramatically punctutated by calm-during-the-storm minimalist segments.
The first half of the set (or so) seemed to be performed as one lengthy, multipart suite with several familiar themes from throughout their career popping up during the 20+ minute slab of music. The evening's highlights (for me) began shortly after this, with the band lurching into the excellent "Carpe" from their debut album, Enter. This seemed to wake the crowd up a bit as well, as the pit opened up directly in front of where I was standing, sending me to the bar for some water. (Check here for a brief, crappy video I took at this point in the show for proof of why I went to the back of the room.)
The final two songs of the evening were met with the greatest cheers of the evening by the sweaty crowd. The epic "Mladek" is probably the band's compositional masterpiece, beginning with gorgeous, bordering-on-inspirational arpeggios, and somehow seamlessly winding its way to a crushing conclusion that includes the most brutal playing in the Russian Circles catalog. After that, perpetual set closer "Death Rides a Horse" (I've seen the band at least seven times, and they've closed every set I've ever seen with this standout) galloped along to its fiery conclusion, managing to cram everything that's great about this band into as satisfying a set closer as there is.
[I feel I should mention something incredibly odd which I THINK I saw at this show - two smaller guests were accompanied by a pair of massive, left-tackle sized dudes, and if I'm not mistaken (I was not the only crowd member to have come to this bizarre conclusion), the bigger dudes were serving as the smaller peoples' bodyguards, standing with them on the edge of the pit and protecting them from stray elbows. Good work if you can get it, I guess!]
I simply don't get the universal acclaim for this. And I certainly don't agree with the "well at least we're lucky Kevin Shields finally put something out" stance assumed by so many mbv apologists. This is an album nearly entirely devoid of any memorable melodies. Yes, there are a few interesting moments (the synth part in "In Another Way" in particular, and a few scattered guitar lines here and there), but I don't hear any good complete songs. The closest they come is on the thumpin' little "New You," which unfortunately comes across as little more than a homage to Loveless' awesomeness.
Atoms for Peace - Amok
At this point, Thom Yorke obviously is more interested in being a producer than a singer in a rock and roll band; he seems to be more intrigued by chopsticks-tapping-on-the-desk-sounding minimalist percussiony stuff than writing the next "Paranoid Android" or whatever. Sure, there are a couple decent tracks on here, but by the midpoint you start to feel that you've heard all this stuff before, and that you may actually hear it still yet again before the album's over.
Also, what's the point of shelling out the big bucks to have Flea and Joey Waronker as your rhythm section if you're going to neuter their contributions to the point where they sound like a synth bass and drum machine?
White Widows - White Widows EP
Just a solid, meat-n-taters, no bullshit metal record, seamlessly incorporating elements of hardcore, sludge, and thrash. Fuck with this album and you'll be shittin' teeth for a week. Also, always great to hear Goes Cube's Kenny get another outlet for his stellar drumming.