Disclaimer: I wrote this to serve as a memento to a great concert primarily for my own purposes, so that I might read it in the future and remember it in more vivid detail than I otherwise would be able to (a 45-minute metal show as brutal as The Chariot's tends to turn to a blur in your mind rather quickly). There's a great deal of detail that, if you're unfamiliar with the band's music, may be totally lost on you.
- Back to Back
- They Faced Each Other
- They Drew Their Swords
- Die Interviewer (I'm only speaking in German)
- Yanni Depp
- Before There Was Atlanta, There Was Douglasville
- And Shot Each Other
- The Deaf Policemen
I hardly know where to begin. I was filled with such excitement and anticipation leading up to my second experience with The Chariot that I was like a kid on Christmas when the day finally arrived. Their third album, Wars and Rumors of Wars, had just a week or two prior begun to really sink in, having finally spun itself around various CD and Mp3 players the obligatory 10-15 times necessary to properly understand a Chariot record. Now knowing that it's just as stupendous as their previous two releases, I couldn't get the upcoming show off my mind. I even had a couple of rather humorous dreams involving brief, mildly awkward encounters with the band, one in which I kept running into front man Josh Scogin in the bathroom before the show, another where the band was playing a charity ice hockey tournament the day of the show, and I was their coach... I know nothing about hockey.
I picked up my friend Walter at 5 and we set off on the straight shot down Broadway to Cervantes. He doesn't know The Chariot's music as well as I do and hadn't heard the new album, so I broke my practice of never listening to the band I'm going to see before I go see them and played it for him. I did my best to point out all my favorite moments - "Please step away from the ocean, you'll never understand," "Victory is such a lonely word" and the ensuing hits, the Evolve outro, the "Bullet Never Lies"-esque Impress outro, pretty much all of Giveth, and of course "War is only skin deep" of Daggers. As we turned the corner to look for the venue, I heard "Nick Hobs!" and turned to my left to see several more friends I was hoping to meet up with at the show. Walter and I parked, took a quick gulp of rum each, and went inside.
We got in with enough time to hear the last few songs of the band before Oh, Sleeper, the only other band I knew and who I was really trying to see. As they took the stage, we made our way toward the front.
Oh, Sleeper got things started off right with "We Are the Archers" and the energy in the crowd picked up fast. Midway through their set, vocalist Micah Kinard talked about their upcoming album Son of the Morning and how they were going to play some of the new songs, but Salt Lake had stolen a guitar necessary for their performance. This was met with cries of disappointment and sympathy from the fans, but we were cheering again soon enough when he said they'd play "The Siren's Song" instead. I was extremely impressed with them throughout, in terms of energy and emotional involvement, as well as clarity of sound. Shane Blay's melodic vocals were balanced perfectly and his pitch was spot on. They closed their set with "Vices Like Vipers," and as they held out its final chord, Micah said we had one last chance to show what were made of. The band broke into the outro of "To Flagship." It was too good to be true, the very outro that got me into them in the first place. I made sure to enjoy every drop of it.
After Oh, Sleeper was done, we figured there were two more bands before The Chariot, so we went to grab a bite to eat. As we walked down the sidewalk, I noticed three figures walking toward us, one in a plaid shirt and glasses, and two with gnarly beards on either side of him. In the back of my mind I thought "Ha, what if it was Josh Scogin." As we got closer, I realized that in fact it was Josh, with KC Wolf to his left. I was in my favorite gray "We are the leopard" Chariot shirt, and as I realized I was quickly running out of time to acknowledge them I managed to get out "I'll be damned.... we'll be back for you guys." Josh gave a chuckle and replied "Sounds good man" and that was that. Ah, how life's ironies make me grin sometimes.
We got some food and a bit more rum in our bellies and I was feeling great. We found our other friends and went inside to catch most of Sleeping Giant. I was unimpressed. I'll leave it at that and move right along to The Chariot.
We found our spots at the front again and watched the guys set up and do a quick sound check. Josh set up what looked like a small bass drum with a metal head decorated with their skull emblem. I could only imagine what he'd do with it. After nonchalantly setting his glasses on an amp and grabbing microphone, Scogin explained that David Kennedy, their drummer (who signed my copy of the album - good man) had been sick the night before, and though he was recovering, was still "half nasty." Several fists shot into the air accompanied by several cries of "Half nasty!" He went on to say that one of their guitarists, Dan Vokey, had also been sick and that he too was "half nasty." Several more "Half nasty!"s, including an enthusiastic one from Josh echoing the crowd. "But," he continued, "the good thing is, that doesn't affect a Chariot show whatsoever! This is called Back to Back." And we were plunged headlong into the hurricane.
Right from his first lyrics he was right in the crowd's face, literally, leaning into the many outstretched hands screaming "This is the last chance you'll get!" and even aiming the mic at some lucky punk to reply "Open wide!!" And I don't think I've ever screamed so loud as "Be grace, oh, my God." Naturally, the boys went straight into They Faced Each Other. They blazed through it with fury as we down in the pit did everything we could to keep up. The instrumental break at "I hope you all rest in peace, I hope you find what you're lookin for, and if it's all that you got, there's got to be more" was stark silence for a moment, stunning and effective. The one part of this one that could have been a bit better was "They lay carpet.../We are scattered on God's grace." I just couldn't quite make out Josh's lyrics at this point, and it's a really important huge moment both times it comes in. This perhaps relates to my biggest issue with The Chariot's live sound in general, which is that as loud as it all is, I wish the vocals were louder in the mix.
It was no surprise at all to hear They Faced Each Other go straight into probably my favorite from The Fiancee, They Drew Their Swords. It was clear they'd been playing around with the breakdown on this tour, as it was quite different from the album and from when they played it last time I saw them. As Josh finished screaming "But it's fine," he tossed the mic aimlessly toward the drum set where it hung precariously on a cymbal before David Kennedy pushed it off with a look of mixed annoyance and amusement. Where the atmosphere usually tapers down into murky bass and driving low toms, it instead emptied into an abyss of frenzied guitar feedback, totally absent of bass and drums. When Scogin grabbed the mic again, he uttered something to the tune of "We've created a monster... What have we done?" He then walked over and picked up Wolf's bass which had found its way to the floor. He ripped a thick two-note power chord from it and they began to tear through the latter part of the breakdown, much faster and more intense than usual.
Then, just as the dramatic conclusion was approaching, I watched in horror as Josh hurled the bass all the way across the stage toward KC Wolf. In the ocean of moments that bass was airborne for, two thoughts managed to cross my mind: What if he doesn't catch it? and What if he catches it too late to jump back in? But this was evidently a well-rehearsed move, as he caught the instrument with just enough time to play the hits. "The wrath of God's grace is but an ocean to a child" thundered across the ballroom, and when I said earlier I'd never screamed louder, well... this trumped it.
I knew the next one immediately and grinned wide as I began to clap and stomp my feet to the classic banjo intro to Die Interviewer. They tore through it with incredible ferocity and before I knew it they came to the break - and held the crowd in suspenseful silence. Wolf made his way in front of a microphone and after several long moments said simply "All we are are crocodiles." Before I even realized what was happening, they were slogging through the lurking, exaggerated-rubato hits of Yanni Depp. It was as stylishly heavy and brilliant as ever. A huge man with a badass beard who I later learned was Andy from A Plea for Purging came out and joined Josh for an energetic, all-around epic delivery of "You're drowning in ankle-deep water." Incredible.
After the subsequent "blank stare"s, they went right into Before There Was Atlanta, There Was Douglasville. My heart skipped a beat - finally, a song I hadn't heard last time I saw them! And what a song. At one point I looked to my right and saw Walter grin and give me a hard shove. The energy overtook me and I charged right back at him - soon a small pit had broken out all around us. Nice. There was a bit of a break and I began to think "Isn't there one more section to this song?" Then all of a sudden - "UNSUUUUUUUUNNNNGGG!!!" It was a slower and more massively heavy version of the outro than I even thought possible, with Scogin bent over in front of the drum set counting the irregular patterns on his fingers for the audience to see.
From here came another favorite as the soft strings and rapid snare rim shots introduced And Shot Each Other. I can't fathom where Josh finds the air to hold a scream like the final "Reach the plague" for as long as he does, night after night. I honestly don't think I'm exaggerating when I say it must have lasted a solid 20-30 seconds, at full volume. It was much longer than on the album, that's for sure. Ahh, and that titanic outro of outros. As the voices of the Sacred Harp singers began to come in, I raised my hands in exultation, grateful for the glorious whirlwind of sound and emotion I was in the midst of.
When I looked at the stage again, the lights in the venue had all gone down and Josh was swinging some sort of utility light (basically a bright white light bulb surrounded by a metal casing). He had it by its orange extension cord and was swinging it in a slow, wide circle parallel to the stage. I marveled at how the stark, garish light within its simple casing of cold steel was such a beautiful accompaniment to their music, and even a metaphoric representation of it, and their message. At some point he put the light inside the small drum so that the only light illuminating the stage was coming from their emblematic skull image. He, David, and Bryan gradually made their way off stage, leaving their instruments screaming feedback from somewhere on the ground. Wolf kept the bass line going as the Sacred Harp took its place in the front of the mix, kneeling at the front of the stage with the neck of his bass jutting out into the sea of reaching hands. Eventually he stopped too, leaving only the singers and "His glorious presence here, Our earthen vessels filled."
After letting the dust settle for a minute, guitarist Dan Vokey tore a few labored, grungy chords from his guitar and let them ring. A serious scowl on his sweat-covered face, I thought I caught a look of "half nasty" discomfort, but mostly it came across as stone cold determination. At this point I realized the chords he was playing were the steely opening lines of Abandon. The other band members returned to the stage, and Josh grabbed the light once again. Holding it right next to his face, he got down in the faces of the audience and cried "Is this the blessing or the curse?" The way the light shone over him and us combined with the minimal instrumental backing at this part created a real feeling of intimacy.
They kept the new material coming with Teach. I was happy I'd spent some time with the new album, this one really hit home for me. During the instrumental breakdown after "refuse to breath the breath of the failure," I just lost it. I've never so completely given all my thoughts, energy, muscles, and nerves to the music. I moved like a puppet pulled by The Chariot's strings, or perhaps tossed about by their tornado.
Josh announced the next one - "This one's called Daggers." One of the great things about a Chariot show is that he could say the name of just about any of their songs when he says "This one's called _____," and you'd feel the same adrenaline rush of excitement. I was pretty sure they'd play this one, and it didn't disappoint. For the outro, Josh beat on the mini bass drum, Wolf grabbed a tom, and some other unknown figure played even another drum behind the set. We clapped along as the booming war drums marched.
Finally, they came to their last song in the set. To my immense excitement, Josh said "This is called The Deaf Policemen." At some point during the song, I remember looking over and seeing guitarist Bryan Taylor doing a hand stand. As it came time for the outro, the band had a nice moment of chaotic noise and feedback. Bryan found a good spot to leave his guitar, hanging awkwardly by its neck from one of the stacks of loudspeakers suspended from the ceiling. Then, as Scogin began to say "Cuz if there's...." he took several confident steps out onto the hands of the crowd. He lost his balance and fell on his back, still held up by the fans as he began "blood on the roots, then there's blood on the branches." Soon it seemed he had lost his mic too, but it didn't matter, as the collective voice was louder anyway. He somehow made it back to the stage with the mic for the final "blood on the branches," dropped it on the floor, and stumbled off stage, exhausted. The lights came up.
My one disappointment is that there were no rafters or scaffolding for him to hang from.