November 18th, 2009
The Binge was at the Rock n' Roll Hotel this week, which is a very small, cozy venue in my favorite neighborhood in DC...the "up and coming" (which really means, keep to the beaten path or you may not make it home) Atlas District. The place is a freaky, little, hole-in-the-wall dive that doesn't hold much more than a couple of hundred people at best. And when I say freaky, I'm talking mannequins with steer skulls for heads, hanging from the ceiling freaky. So with that said, let's get to the business at hand.
U.S. Christmas, hailing from a little town called Marion in my home state of North Carolina, was up first. The band literally crammed every square inch of the tiny R n' R Hotel stage as they consist of seven members! Lead by vocalist/guitarist Nate Hall, they played a psychedelic blend of stoner/sludge/doom rock. In addition to Hall, U.S. Christmas includes guitarists Matt Johnson and Chris Thomas, bassist Josh Holt, drummers B.J. Graves and Justin Whitlow and violinist Meghan Mulhearn. The dueling drummers, who quite literally blended together visually as if you were watching one drummer playing beside a mirror, provided a rhythm to the music that was heavier than all hell. And the subtle violin gave an eerie backdrop to the entire proceeding. Speaking of eerie, Hall had the skull of some mysterious, antlered animal hanging from his microphone stand, and to top it all off, he used it to hold his finger slide...weird! The band was nothing if not original, especially in a genre that has become oversaturated. Impressive.
San Diego's Earthless were second on the bill and although foreign to me, there appeared to be quite a contingent there to see these guys. Appearing to be the band's front man, Isaiah Mitchell, walked onstage, thanked the crowd for coming out and then pushed the microphone away from him and proceeded to create a wall of feedback that lasted for at least five minutes. I knew immediately that those would be the last words we would hear from Mitchell, and true to my inclination, Earthless turned out to be an instrumental act. The band also includes bassist Mike Eginton and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, whose kit had one of the biggest bass drums I've ever laid my eyes on.
Earthless basically played one 40-minute song with Mitchell soloing for what seemed like 95% of that time. Now listen, I get what these guys are about and I have nothing but respect for it. Talent-wise, they have it in spades. With that being said, their shtick got old. Kyuss used to do this type of thing back in the day, but they did it much better. The difference? They had a vocalist, John Garcia, who would exit the stage and allow the rest of the band to play for what seemed like forever, but his presence alone ensured that you never, ever got bored with the music. Earthless weren't able to keep my attention in the same way. Perhaps they should consider adding a vocalist to the mix, even if it's only to offer the occasional distraction from all that guitar wankery.
Baroness, from Savannah, Georgia, is the current torch bearer for stoner rock in my humble opinion. The band plays an amazing blend of slowed down, Clutch-like beard rock with a slight dose of Van Halen-esque guitar flare thrown in for good measure. Quite honestly, I could have listened to this shit all night long!
You would have been hard pressed to know the band was kicking off the tour in support of their latest opus "Blue Record" tonight, as they hit their stride immediately. Apparently these guys have ties to the DC area, having grown up in nearby Lexington, VA, which explains their decision to start the tour in DC (and explains vocalist/guitarist John Baizley’s tie to local bands Darkest Hour and Pig Destroyer, for whom he’s done album artwork in the past).
Baizley is quite the imposing figure, sporting a shaved head, a mighty beard and eyes that drill holes through the audience. When the vocalist screamed into the mic, the veins in his neck stood out so vividly, I thought they might explode…and those damn eyes, I tell you the man looked possessed! Baizley managed to command the stage, despite having nothing to say to the crowd throughout the first ¾ of the show. It wasn't until Baroness left for an encore that he addressed his audience, offering a sincere thanks and saying..."you allow us to do what we do".
Meanwhile, pig-tailed bassist Summer Welch was a maniac onstage, never losing the wicked smile that adorned his mug the entire night. And Peter Adams was equally as psychotic on the other side of the stage, handling lead guitar duty and playing off of Baizley’s rhythm guitar perfectly. Drummer Allen Blickle completed the picture, tying the whole thing up into a nice, neat package of southern-prog-swamp-metal bliss.
Speaking of pictures, behind the band was a backdrop with Baizley’s cover-art from “Blue Record”. This guy’s work really is worth a look, as he is an amazing artist. If you haven’t already done so, do yourself a favor and check out Baroness. Come for the music and stay for the art…just don’t get caught in the gaze of those eyes…