Monday, December 30, 2013
2013: The Year in Shows
Every year I do this post, and every year it seems to start the same way:
I sure didn't go to very many shows this year.
And why on Earth should I break with that humble little tradition? This was yet another year when I couldn't get my act together, constantly hearing that Clutch or High on Fire or Mudhoney was playing, only when it was already too late (or, more likely, I was too worn out) to make the run downtown to see them.
Anyway, I'd like to think that I made up in quality what I gave up in volume. So, here are my top three shows of 2013:
3. Pig Destroyer at the Black Cat
Pig Destroyer is a weird band, and so I'm happy that they've amassed the following that they have. God knows, there probably isn't a huge market for 2-minute long songs consisting largely of distorted screaming backed by feedback and spastic drums.
And yet, even with all of their grindcore trappings, it's kind of fun to look at these guys as avant garde. True, there was a shitload of something happening at this show that might be most easily called noise. And yet, 40 minutes into the set, I was exhausted for them and the incredible stamina it must have taken to pull off that tour.
2. Graveyard at the Black Cat
People have been calling Graveyard a metal band for at least three years now, and I still don't quite know why. They sound a good deal more like Led Zeppelin or even the Allmans than any "metal" band I can think of, yet the label persists. Perhaps it's because they're Swedes....
Nonetheless, this bill was a remarkable reminder of what rock and roll can sound like when it's done with effort.
In recent years, it's become fashionable for many bands to cast off blues-based rock and roll as a simplistic, paint-by-numbers relic. What's lost in that opinion is the fact that rock and roll is only easy or simple when it is played by average bands -- which it all too often is.
However, when played by inspired individuals - with real songwriting talent and a proper rhythm section - a great rock show can become something of a clinic for the audience. And that's exactly how Graveyard did things on this evening.
It wasn't terribly fashionable, but at a time when bands like Awolnation and Imagine Dragons are occupying that space with little more than synthed-up soccer chants, it was good to be reminded that hip is so often the enemy of cool, and that rock and roll never goes away for long.
1. The Melvins at Maryland Deathfest
I gave this one some love already this year, but it's worth repeating:
The older I get, the more I need bands like the Melvins. Much like my beloved Motorhead, their existence is proof that you don't have to be young or good looking to find success as a professional musician. You simply have to be talented, focused and very disciplined.
In fact, the Melvins stepped into Maryland Deathfest directly following a several-months-long European tour, and directly before embarking on an even longer U.S. tour. They didn't look tired or grumpy. In fact, they were at the absolute top of their game, despite playing in the middle of the afternoon on a summer day.
Why? Because - quite simply - it's their job.
As I had written before, the mood at Deathfest was relatively blah for much of Saturday afternoon. Fans largely wondered around, chatted with one another and checked out merch as bands like Weedeater and the Obsessed played their meandering sets. Such is the nature of a festival.
When the Melvins took the stage, something altogether different happened. The foot traffic stopped. Vendor sales plummeted. Fans planted themselves in place for the length of the set and took it in almost reverently. All for a band that isn't easily pigeonholed into any metal sub-genre.
In fact, if there were one single theme of this set, it would be that of respect. Festival attendees paid attention. Fellow bands crammed to the sides and back of the stage to take it all in (and perhaps take notes).
Moreover, the band showed an uncommon respect for the crowd. The mood of the set was communal and familiar, without Buzz Osborne ever having to deliver the types of pandering rock and roll speeches that Phil Anselmo would make a signature of his performance later on in the evening.
And the set itself was thoroughly rehearsed without sounding the least bit stale...no small feat within the context of a year on the road.
I realize that some of this sounds a little righteous, so I'll offer you a less serious memory from the afternoon:
The Melvins did a fairly long warm-up. This is a fact of life when you're sharing a festival stage (and when you have two drummers to sound check). As Buzzo was trying to get his levels right, he riffed along in that second-nature kind of way that all guitar players do when they're trying to fill time.
In the middle of a bunch of noisy riffs, he began to slowly pluck an eerily familiar solo...a majestic 70's-style walk-down lick that caught me by surprise. I knew that I knew it -- in fact, it was a lick that I knew intimately -- but in this context, I couldn't place it at all. For a frustrating five or six seconds, I unsuccessfully raked my mind, to no success.
I looked around at the people around me. A kid in a black hoodie was standing next to me with a grin on his face. He glanced at me and made the first move.
"Detroit Rock City. He does that a lot."
I thanked him and laughed at myself. Of course it was Kiss. Of course...