All Them Witches at Antone’s, Austin, TX 11/3/2018

It’s election day here in the States.  Hooray.  I have zero faith in my fellow Americans to do anything right.  Let’s just burn this fucker down and start again, shall we?

Anyway, I went to a rock show on Friday because nothing else in the world matters.  It was rocking.  It was grooving.  It was good.  All Them Witches hit the legendary Austin blues club Antone’s.  This was cool for a couple of reason.  First, I’m new to the All Them Witches bandwagon.  I just stumbled across them a couple of weeks ago when their new album, the unfortunately named ATW, came out.  I dug it quite a bit (there’s a review in the archives somewhere if you are so inclined) and I gathered up a group of friends to see them perform their songs live.  Second cool thing was seeing a show at Antone’s.  I’ve lived a good majority of my life in this town and you would have thought that I would have seen a show at a famous club like Antone’s before.  Well, if you did think that, you would have been wrong.  Now, it’s not like this was the original home of Antone’s.  This place has moved multiple times all over town.  Stevie Ray Vaughan never played at this location.  So, it’s not like this location has a great deal of history in it.  It is ultimately just another club in downtown Austin that caters to live music and just happens to have a famous name in the history of the Austin music scene attached to it.  I guess what I’m saying is “meh” on my overall impression of the club.  It’s a decent venue, but it just doesn’t really have anything special attached to it.  But, at any rate, I finally saw a show at a club with “Antone’s” on the marquee.  Yippee.

Anyway, enough rambling.  This show was great.  All Them Witches ditched their keyboard player somewhere between the recording of the new album and this current tour.  So, you’ve got a tight little power trio going.  I was really impressed with the guitar playing of Ben McLeod and the low-key sardonic vocals and in-between song banter of bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Park, Jr.  Not to overlook the great foundation laid down by drummer Robby Staebler.  These guys are a power live.  Go check them out if they roll through your town.

Diamond

Behemoth, At The Gates and Wolves In the Throne Room at The Aztec Theatre, San Antonio, TX 10/23/2018

I absolutely love packaged tours that don’t have any filler.  Give me a triple or quadruple stacked bill and I am just about as happy as I get.  This one was a great blend of European and American black metal with a chaser of Gothenburg death metal.

If you had approached me years ago and said that Behemoth would be a band that would start to gain a fairly substantial footprint in the mainstream metal world, I probably would have considered you a nutball.  Black metal is just extreme.  From its blasphemous subject matter to it’s scary visuals to the extremity of its abrasive sound, black metal isn’t something that is going to appeal to your average metal fan, let alone your mainstream consumer of music in general.  So, for Behemoth to ply their trade in black metal and not compromise in its presentation of such and to start to accumulate a very strong fan base within the metal community is still surprising to me.  Granted, Behemoth has enjoyed a healthy reputation in Europe, but I’m used to seeing them play small, dingy clubs.  The Aztec Theatre in San Antonio is one of these fancy old theaters that has been refurbished recently.  It’s a classy venue is what I’m trying to say.  I think the pull of this band and the reason for their upward ascent to becoming one of the first black metal bands to fully gain widespread fame/notoriety is due to the creativity and charismatic performances of their frontman Nergal.  He’s one of those guys who is hard to take your eyes off of.  He has crafted Behemoth in his image and has created this stage persona of Nergal into one of the more interesting stage characters in metal today.  Going beyond just corpse paint, Behemoth comes out in full costumes, masks and all sorts of headgear.  At one point, Nergal even channeled his inner Gene Simmons and coughed up blood during the beginning of one song.  Which.Was.Fucking.Awesome!  I couldn’t repress a goofy grin when this happened.  Its theatrics, dammit.  And the metal world is better for it.

Openers At The Gates and Wolves In The Throne Room both brought energetic sets prior to Behemoth taking the stage.  At The Gates is touring off of their second post-reunion album, To Drink From the Night Itself, and they hit the new album and their classic period albums in about equal force.  Seeing the energy these guys bring to the stage really makes me wonder why it took so long for them to get back together.  This was my first experience with Wolves In The Throne Room and was kind of surprised to see them come out as a five-piece rather than the trio that performs on their albums.  At any rate, they provided a wall of sound and really captured the sound of their albums in the live setting down to the ambient fires burning and dripping sounds of water interspersed between songs.  They definitely seem like the band who will be filling the void in the Northwestern U.S. black metal scene left by Agalloch.

Behemoth-Ov Fire and the Void

At The Gates-At War With Reality

Wolves In The Throne Room-Angrboda

FIDLAR at Emo’s, Austin, TX 10/22/2018

My first experience with FIDLAR was a fabulous trainwreck.  The punk rock fiancée had come across these guys and was very enthusiastic about their debut album.  She found a gig that these guys had during SXSW at the Historic Scoot Inn in Austin.  If you’ve never been to this venue, it’s a two-headed beast.  They have a nice outdoor stage surrounded by old oaks trees.  It’s a lovely spot for a show.  Then, there is the hole of an inside stage.  This is a dingy and cramped space on the best of days.  We managed to make our way into the venue as FIDLAR was already in the middle of their set on this inside stage.  By the time we worked our way over to the entrance, the room was at capacity with a “one out-one in” policy in effect.  We could hear the destruction going on inside and randomly some sweaty and pummeled punk youth would come staggering out of the door.  One we finally made it just inside the door we were sucked into downright punk anarchy.  The place was an absolutely sweat-house.  Kids were being hoisted in the air.  Kids were jumping on and off stage.  Kids were slamming everything and everyone in sight.  Sweat was pouring out of the walls.  The band, meanwhile, was crammed into the corner stage and was just pounding out their caustic punk tales of degradation while the chaos of the room just swirled around them.  It was truly one of the most unhinged moments I’ve been a part of over the course of many years of going to shows.  And it was fucking glorious.

The first FIDLAR album is a downright near perfect platter of punk.  It’s a bunch of fuckups celebrating being complete wastoids.  Beer, cheap pills, cocaine, skating, surfing, homelessness, jail time and just being an all-around directionless asshole hanging out with your shitty friends.  It’s all here is stark depiction.  It’s one of those albums that just feels wrong and right at the same time.  Shit, it makes you want to quit your job, cash in your 401k and go on a world-is-going-to-shit-fuck-it bender.  We were able to see these guys once more in a dingy little club here in Austin while they were still touring off of this debut album and it really felt as though they had tapped into something amazing…if they could only manage to not completely burn out in the process.

Now this is going to sound really shitty, but fuck it.  Sometimes a band getting cleaned up is the worst possible thing that can happen for the quality of the music they produce.  Call it the Mustaine Principle.  Now, it’s great personally that the dudes in FIDLAR are getting cleaned up.  I’m glad they aren’t going to die of an overdose.  But, damn, album number two just completely lacked the edge and danger of the debut.  It sounded more like a commercial pop-punk band trying to follow in the footsteps of a Blink 182 or Green Day than a genuine punk band coming up from the L.A. gutters.  And it was sad.  And this leads us into last night’s show.

FIDLAR has a new album in the can and it is supposed to come out right after the first of the upcoming new year.  They have dropped a couple of singles.  And, man, are they shitty.  It’s even more polished and more poppy sounding than the stuff on the second album and if they are any indication as to the remainder of the songs on the new album, it doesn’t bode well.  However, the punk rock fiancée and I were such big fans of the first album and have always had a rowdy good time at their shows, we decided to go check out how their live show is at this point and time.

So, the older songs:  perfect.  Just great and the band still brings the same amount of energy that was present in days past.  The new songs:  not so great.  Some just come across as sad emo pop punk anthems.  Some, however, did come across a little better live than the recorded versions did.  The majority of the crowd at the show was definitely there for the new material.  It feels like this new material is definitely aimed for the late teen and early 20s crowd (i.e. I felt old as fuck at this show).  The band would launch into an older song and the reaction was OK.  The band would launch into a newer song and the place just exploded with hipster 20-somethings just bouncing up and down.  It was weird.  And it just made me long for that sweaty hot box back during SXSW 6-7 years ago.  Punk should be dangerous.  This felt sanitized.  I guess that’s the price of progress and sobriety.

White On White

Cheap Beer

Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity, Moonspell and Omnium Gatherum at The Rock Box, San Antonio, October 2, 2018

This was one hell of a quadruple bill of melodic death metal that rolled into San Antonio this past Tuesday.

Kicking things off in proper fashion were one of my favorite underground bands.  Omnium Gatherum is one of those bands that I just can’t help but root for.  And judging from the crowd’s reaction to their opening slot, I don’t think I’m the only one.  Normally, the first band out of the gate gets a fairly lukewarm response from the folks that bothered to show up early.  But San Antonio did me proud.  Omnium came out swinging and hellbent on making sure the crowd was an Omnium Gatherum crowd by the end of their set.  Lead singer Jukka Pelkonen had the crowd chanting and headbanging while the rest of the band’s energetic stage presence seemed to grab everyone in attendance.  I keep saying that these guys deserve a bigger stage and if they keep putting on performances like this one, I can see it happening soon.

The second slot of the evening went to Portugal’s Moonspell.  These guys were kind of the outlier for the evening in that they were the only band not from Scandinavia and in the fact that they are really more of a goth-influenced band rather than a straight death metal band.  They definitely didn’t lack for stage props and atmosphere.  Singer Fernando Ribeiro came out looking like an old-time town crier holding a lantern which was in line with Moonspell’s latest album 1755.  He even broke out a plague mask for one song.

The last two bands were basically granted dual headlining sets.  Finland’s Amorphis came out first and, in my opinion, really deserved the top billing for this show.  Amorphis has really helped define the entire sub-genre of melodic death metal over the course of their career.  Blending death and clean vocals over grandiose guitar and keyboard driven songs that play heavily into the folklore of their homeland, Amorphis is just one of the standard-bearers for this kind of music.  It’s a moving experience in a live setting.

One of the progenitors of the Gothenburg sound, Dark Tranquillity finished out the evening.  It’s always a little weird when a band comes out of stage and your first thought is, “OK, who the hell are some of these guys?”  Present were mainstays vocalist Mikael Stanne, keyboardist/programmer Martin Brandstrom, drummer Anders Jivarp and new guy bassist Anders Iwers.  But who the hell are these guitarists?  Longtime guitarist Niklas Sundin was not on stage (it turns out that he is currently on hiatus).  In turns out that Dark Tranquility had to hire two touring guitarists to fill out their lineup for this recent tour.  Luckily, one of the replacements was none other the Christopher Amott, co-founder of Arch Enemy with his brother Michael and current guitarist of Armageddon.  The other guy (Johan Reinholdz) I had never heard of before, but he was downright awesome.  As such, the band really didn’t miss a beat live.  This was probably as sharp as I’ve seen these guys in a live setting.  I’m not sure of the liklihood of either of these guitarist joining Dark Tranquillity on a full-time basis, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea for the remainder of the band to consider it.

Omnium Gatherum-Over the Battlefield

Moonspell-1755

Amorphis-Bad Blood

Dark Tranquillity-Where Death Is Most Alive

River City Rockfest, parking lot of the AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX 9/22/2018

Well, if you were a 90s kid, this fest was a trip down nostalgia lane.  Nine Inch Nails! Primus! Bush!(Who knew they were still a thing???), Scott-less Stone Temple Pilots! Joan Fucking Jett!(OK, not really 90s)  Clutch! Living Colour!

So, this whole thing seemed doomed earlier in the week.  The weather forecast throughout the week said 100% of thunderstorms in the San Antonio area.  My luck with fests and rain of late is not good.  My little bunch of ruffians and myself had pretty much resigned ourselves to having a cancelled fest and were already coming up with contingency plans to pass the time in our AirBnB (i.e. drinking).  But, lo and behold, the storm front was accommodating to our plans and decided to blow through the area the night before.  The resulting day was perfect for festing.

Out of the gate was our local Austin metal heroes, The Sword.  We were all looking forward to this show in lieu of their recently announced hiatus.  No telling how long we’ll have to wait until out next Sword show or album.  Sadly, even though the band played a decent short 30 minute set, the dude running the sound board absolutely murdered their set.  The sound was absolute mud with the vocals and guitar leads buried under the bass and drums.  It was a damn shame.

Next up was a band that I had never had the opportunity to see perform live before, but had always heard really good things.  Living Colour just absolutely tore it up.  Vernon Reid showed everyone in the crowd why he has such a legendary reputation.  Corey Glover just worked the crowd as well as any frontman I’ve come across.  At one point, he jumped into the crowd and just took a stroll from one side of the pit to the other while his band crushed their biggest hit, Cult of Personality.

Next up for us was the inimitable Clutch from Maryland.  Beginning their touring cycle for new album, Book of Bad Decisions, the band hit the new material hard.  Luckily for the band and for the audience, the sound dude got his shit together (or replaced by someone competent) and the sound issues seemed much better.  The crowd was treated to one of those cool fest-only type things when Les Claypool joined the band for a rendition of Earth Rocker.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts was another one of the bands that I had never seen in person before.  The 60-year-old Jett prowled the stage like the touring pro that she is while rolling out all of her hits from The Runaways’ Cherry Bomb to I Love Rock n’ Roll.  Shit, I remember jamming out to these songs when I was in elementary school.  I can’t say that I’m the biggest Joan Jett fan, but dammit, this was a treat getting to see her tear up a stage at this point in her career.

I didn’t bother to make it over to the secondary stage at all during the fest.  It just seemed like they had a sad mixture of metalcore and 90s stalwarts trying to relive some of their past glories.  I saw a few of the performances on the video screen at the main stage and things just looked kind of sad over there.  Bush is still a thing apparently.  I think the only real positive thing that can be said about them is that Gavin is still apparently hunky.  So, there’s that.  Stone Temple Pilots are trying to keep things floating in the wake of the deaths of Scott Wieland and his replacement Chester Bennington.  They managed to pull some random dude off of The Voice and he seems to be trying to do some sort of Scott Weiland imitation.  It really came off as sad.  This is one of those bands that should probably just stop before and further damage can be done.

On the main stage, weirdo metalfunk outfit Primus delivered their trademark infectious thing.  They brought out a wide selection of songs throughout their career.  The musicianship of these guys just has to be seen to be believed.  I’ve seen these guys a ton of times over the years and they just never disappoint.

Headlining the evening was Trent Reznor (and his big beefy right arm, as Punk Rock Fiance likes to call it) and his merry band of black clad industrial mayhem makers.  NIN brought out around an hour and a half set headlined by the performance of The Perfect Drug for the first time.  I’m guessing that because this was a fest set and not a regular tour date, the stage set was extremely stripped down to the basics than your normal NIN stage setup.  Lots of smoke.  Lots of strobes.  Lots of angst.

All in all.  Not the best fest I’ve ever been to, but still a really enjoyable day

The Sword-Tres Brujas

Clutch-In Walks Barbarella

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts-Bad Reputation

Primus-Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers

Nine Inch Nails-Less Than

Neurosis and Converge at Emo’s, Austin, TX 7/21/2018

This bill was a contrast of both musical styles and performance, but for some reason it ended up blending really well.  On the one hand, you had the hyperkinetic in-you-face bashings of hard core Converge to get the evening off to a bang.  And on the other, you had the slow-building dirge of Neurosis’ sludge to send the evening off into a wash of despair.  The whole evening just reminded me of my dog Ruby getting a case of the zoomies and going apeshit for 20 or so minutes and then just passing out for the rest of the evening.  To fully illustrate the styles of the two bands:  Converge played a total of 20 songs over an hour long set.  Neurosis played a total of nine songs over an hour and a half long set.  Hardcore vs. Metal in a nutshell.

So, Converge started the evening off.  I have to admit that I’m kind of a lukewarm fan of Converge overall.  I understand the appeal, but their brand of hardcore isn’t firmly in my wheelhouse.  However, their live show is something to see.  It’s all frenetic energy and cathartic exorcising of demons.  Vocalist Jacob Bannon’s screaming style is just painful to watch.  It really hurts to hear the rage and disillusion coming through his incomprehensible shrieks.  At one point, he doubled-over near to the side of the drum kit and looked as if he was going to vomit.  To counter Bannon’s painful performance, you’ve got a near manic, almost Robin Williams-esque performance out of drummer, Ben Koller.  Dude has got some of the tightest drumming chops going today and he just couples it with some of the goofiest facial expressions.  I don’t think there is anyone in the metal world today having as much fun as Koller is.

After having Converge whip everyone into a frenzy, everyone was able to take a breath, grab a drink and exhale while waiting for Neurosis.  For many years, Neurosis was known for bringing an immersive visual stage show with them.  However, this has been dropped by the band in recent years and the band simply come out to a no-frills stage.  No backdrop.  No fancy light displays.  No stage props.  Just the band with minimal lighting.  It’s a live performance in its basic element.  Neurosis is not a band that is going to make you jump or dance.  It’s hypnotic.  They are one of those band in which you really have to leave all of your personal shit at the door and just allow yourself to get sucked in by the music.  Honestly, it’s not the most pleasant experience.  This isn’t Van Halen.  It’s dark and murky.  It’s pain and not much salvation.  But, it is powerful.  Not for the faint of heart these guys are.

Neurosis-The Last You’ll Know

Converge-Arkhipov Calm

Insomnium and Oceans of Slumber at The Scout Bar, Houston, TX 6/12/2018

insomnium

This show was a long time coming for me.  Insomnium is one of those little bands that I latched onto with the release of their debut album back in 2002.  I’ve been a big fan of their melodic and progressive style of death metal since my first listen.  For whatever reason, I had never had the chance to see them perform live.  There have been a couple of tours roll through Texas where they had an opening slot and I just wasn’t able to make it work.  However, it all worked out this past Tuesday when they came to Houston as a part of their first headlining tour of the U.S.  I’m really glad I waited to witness a full set rather than an abbreviated opening set.

The showcase of this tour is Insomium’s latest album, Winter’s Gate.  This album is composed of one song that last a little over 40 minutes.  So, obviously, they open the set by playing the whole damn thing all the way through.  And it was awesome.  The second half of the set was a good seven or eight additional songs from throughout their catalog.

So, I drove to Houston the afternoon of this show and then drove back to Austin immediately following the show.  So, I had a lot of time to reflect during the drive (and also lots of time to realize that I may be getting a little old to pull a three-hour drive from midnight to 3am).  Music is just amazing.  Let me explain why.  So, you have this group of hairy dudes (OK, one of them is bald) growing up in Finland.  They get into metal.  They learn how to play instruments.  They all run into each other at some point and realize they all like the same kind of music and they decide to start a band.  They start to gel and they get good enough to start composing their own songs.  They start playing gigs and eventually get noticed by a record company who signs them to a contract.  They release an album.  This album is featured is some random metal magazine that a dorky metalhead in Texas reads.  He thinks the album and band sound like something he would enjoy.  He goes out and buys the record and becomes an immediate fan.  16 years later, this group of Finnish dudes have the opportunity to tour the U.S. and on a random Tuesday night in Texas, the dorky metalhead sees this band of Finnish dudes play an awesome set of their music.  The lead guitarist for said band even fist bumps said dorky metalhead Texan while making his way on stage.  It is a cool moment in time between people who have never met and grew up on different sides of the planet that is made entirely possible by the music being played.  Metal brought us all together.  It almost makes me want to tear up a bit.

Like I said, it was a long drive home.

Also, opening this show was Houston’s own, Oceans of Slumber.  This is the third time I’ve seen these guys perform live.  They have been in the midst of doing a lot of touring in Europe in support of their latest album and the touring is paying off.  Their live set is getting more and more confident in its performance.  It’s really cool to see this band starting to come into their own as a live entity.  Definitely a band to keep an eye on.

Insomnium-The Primeval Dark

Insomnium-Winter’s Gate

Insomnium-While We Sleep

Oceans of Slumber-The Decay of Disregard