WHO? Kyuss Lives!, The Sword, Black Cobra, Bible Of The Devil
WHEN? December 2, 2011
WHERE? The Vic Theatre 3145 North Sheffield
I did not get the notice in the mail when Kyuss broke up in 1995. Nor could I claim to have attended one of their legendary Generator Parties in the southern California desert. I turned on to Kyuss around 1992 when I saw the video for Green Machine on MTV's Headbanger's Ball. I bought their recently released album No Blues For The Red Sun and I played that cassette until it was garbled and muffled and would not play anymore.
Kyuss may have broken up right on the verge of greatness. In the decade-and-a-half following their split the music that they helped define became loosely known as Stoner Rock. A generation of rock bands and fans came to age citing Kyuss as one of their primary influences. Many of these bands included former Kyuss members, the most commercially successful of which was Queens of The Stone Age featuring original Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme and bassist Nick Oliveri. But for me, no Stoner Rock or Doom Metal band has fully recaptured the unique magic of Kyuss. I have been waiting roughly half of my life for Kyuss to reform and tour so that I could see them live. Finally, in 2011, they got back together. Well...sort of.
In 2010 Kyuss vocalist John Garcia was touring Europe under the moniker Garcia plays Kyuss and played at that years Hellfest festival in France. Co-incidentally Nick Oliveri's band Mondo Generator and Kyuss drummer Brant Bjork were also playing the festival as well. Garcia invited the two to sit-in on a few songs which were enthusiastically received by the crowd and the press. The buzz amongst the stoner rock and doom metal press became highly contagious. By the end of the year the three Kyuss co-founders had agreed to tour Europe together, with Garcia Plays Kyuss and Arsenal guitarist Bruno Fevery, under the name Kyuss Lives!
The band were painfully long in announcing a Chicago stop as part of their tour. Eventually they booked a show at Chicago's Vic Theatre, one of Chicago's numerous old neighborhood vaudeville
houses. Build by John E.O. Pridmore, The Vic opened as Victoria Theatre in 1912. It is five stories tall and has a great balcony with abundant seats and excellent sightlines to the stage throughout. It is narrower than some of the other theatres used as music venues these days in Chicago, such as The Congress Theatre
and The Metro
. As such, The Vic has only a modest standing-room-only space on the first floor. I find the Vic to be a pleasantly intimate venue and could have enjoyed the show from the balcony. Instead, I planted my feet right up at the front of the stage behind the railing and refused to be moved for the entire show.
Bible of The Devil hit the stage first at 6:30 sharp to a fairly empty house. They are local boys who play straight-up pre-thrash style power metal. Old school metal with lots of twin-guitar flying-V leads and driving rhythms. These guys are not kids yet not geezers either, but a seasoned, veteran bar band. I like 'em! This was only the second time that I have seen them but I am sold on them, they are infectiously easy to enjoy and to throw the devil-horns up to. They put out 7" records, too. Bonus!
Next up were Black Cobra who describe themselves as a "ravenous, upbeat and ultimately unique style of punk/hardcore-fueled sludge metal." I have heard this guitar/vocal and drums duo on Sirius XM's Liquid Metal channel and I was enthusiastically anticipating their set. Unfortunately their performance was completely sabotaged by their stage setup. Jason Landrian's guitar rig, a Hiwatt Custom 100 turned all the way up through a full stack of speakers, was a case of too-much-is-NOT-a-good-thing. Sonically it was a mess. The vocals and drums were completely drowned out. Performance wise, the two played balls out mix of hardcore and metal, devoid of finesse, or subtlety. Sounds great on the car stereo but on stage it was a waste and I wasn't having it that night.
The Sword played next. What a cool band! Their songs are like epic soundtracks for a Robert E. Howard novel. I tried to explain to a co-worker, that if Kyuss was a girl that you really wanted to bang in high school, and then you went on a hot date with her 15 years later, and she brought her hot sister along with her, that was what seeing The Sword opening up for Kyuss would be like. I have seen them before as headliners but, unfortunately, I found this performance to be underwhelming. Traditional metal guitar rhythms, rocking solos, at once heavy and dark without being overly sludgy or ponderous. Yet something seemed off with these guys tonight. They just did not seem to get comfortable somehow, especially singer/vocalist J.D. Cronise. He is not a particularly powerful vocalist and I would not doubt that he had trouble hearing himself sing, as again, the front-of-house vocals were nearly non-existent. Also, I think that The Sword are suffering from Trivett Wingo leaving the band. His drumming had this huge, whomping, crashing swing to it and I believe that The Sword has yet to recapture what Wingo brought to their performance. I had fun though, they played "How Heavy This Axe" "Barael's Blade", "Freya", "Tres Brujas" and even "Night City" from their new sci-fi themed Warp Riders album. Very cool! J.D. seemed to lighten up on that one as well. But all too quickly their set was over and I was left wanting to hear "Iron Swan" and "Winter's Wolves." I think that The Sword are meant to headline and I hope to see them again soon as a main act.
Finally the moment had come and The Sword's set was carried off stage to leave Bruno Fevery's three Marshall half-stacks to my right and Brant Bjork's drums in front of me. To my left was the very quintessence
of the Kyuss sound: Nick Oliveri's amplifiers. Oliveri seems to be a musician in some conflict and cannot seem to choose between playing his Fender Precision bass
through an Ampeg SVT
, a Mesa Boogie
400+ or an Orange
amplifier. So he plays through all of them!
The SVT and the 400+ driving 8x10" speaker cabinets and the Orange, of which I am not sure of the model, driving a 6x10" cabinet. When the roadie
hit a few notes, I heard The Tone
: the wooly, rumbling, grumbling punch of power Pentode
s driven into warmly, not brashly, into saturation. I felt like a kid about to meet Santa Claus
When the lights went down and the band came out to a recording of "Caterpillar Run" (which opens side B of "No Blues..."), I was in heaven. I think that they played "Gardenia" first but I was so ecstatic that I cannot positively testify to that fact. The highlights for me were "Thumb," "50 Million Year Trip", "Apothecaries’ Weight" ,"Allen's Wrench", "Freedom Run" ,"Hurricane", "Asteroid", "Supa Scoopa", "Odyssey" "One Inch Man", "El Rodeo" They took a break and then played an encore with "Demon Cleaner" and "Green Machine".
Fortunately, the guys running the sound at The Vic rectified the problem with the front-of-house vocals. Good thing too. Man, John Garcia can sing, he has got pipes to spare. His grimmace suggested that maybe he had to work a bit harder to hit some of those higher notes that came easier in his youth, but that guy belted them out like a heavy-weight. He displayed a powerful vocal presence , straight and clear as a bell. He also does this kind of "mashed potato" dance-thingy with the microphone stand in between his verses.
I don't know the circumstances concerning how Garcia found Bruno Fevery, but the guy must have done a master's thesis in the style of Josh Homme. He knew all the parts, he knew how to play them. He had the tone and the sound down to a tee. But that was only half of the challenge, for a very large part of Kyuss's music is improvisational. Many songs have long instrumental passages in which the guitar and bass play refrains, counter-refrains and soloing melodies around each other with fluidity, both parts still holding down the bottom end and maintaining a heavy-as-hell wall of sound. Fevery and Oliveri played those parts just as well as they played the powerful driving verses. At times they were complimentary and harmonious others unified in an wash of massive rumbling volume.
In the middle of it all, driving the train, was Brant Bjork. His playing drove the music forward or held it back. Awash with shimmering tone, he swung on his large Paiste thin crash and ride cymbals as much as he did with the deep thump of his bass drum. He played deep in the pocket with a huge breathing groove. On a few songs, such as on "El Rodeo", Brant had Fevery and Oliveri (and the crowd) hanging on ridiculously drawn out and delayed crash hits. The whole effect was that it just made me want to move my feet and dance. If banging one's head back and forth is infectious when watching a good metal band play, Kyuss made me want to roll my head about on my shoulders and then my shoulders and hips about on my spine. These guys were all extremely talented musicians obviously having the time of their lives and I was just ecstatically lost in the moment for the duration of their performance. It was in all, a life-affirming, quasi-spiritual experience.
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