Review of Priestess gig at the Red Palace

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve gotten out to a good metal show, so I was glad I could make it out to see Priestess, Naam and King Giant at the newly opened Red Palace in Washington DC on Tuesday the 9th of November 2010. This was a concert that almost didn’t happen because it had originally been booked at DC9. After the recent incident there, and subsequent cancellation of their entire upcoming concert schedule, many of those concerts were moved to the Rock & Roll Hotel, but this one wasn’t. Luckily the Red Palace had just passed all their code inspections and such and were opening the new upstairs stage area just in time to host this gig. And I’m glad they did because it was a lot of fun! Plus, being one of the first to check out a new venue is always fun.

The Red Palace is on H Street NE in the Atlas District and was formerly the venues The Red And The Black and the Palace Of Wonders. They have now combined to become the Red Palace, and by combined I mean they were knocking down walls. The entrance to the Palace Of Wonders has been completely shut off, and now the only way to enter is on the side of The Red And The Black. A bouncer outside was checking IDs and gave me a wristband. Once inside, it didn’t look too different, the bar on the right, the booths on the left. Once you make it past the booths though, there is a hole in the wall with a couple steps down that leads to the Palace Of Wonders side. There’s a small stage right in front of you, though I spoke with one of the bartenders and he said they’d be getting rid of that and the dressing rooms next to it at some point and the space would become the kitchen. Anyways, you have to go left once you step into that side, and there’s another bar on you left and a stairwell that leads to the upstairs on your right. They took the cover charge at the base of the stairs and stamped my hand and let me upstairs into the show space. Now, I’d never been inside the Palace Of Wonders before, but I had seen a few shows at The Red And The Black, and it was tiny, along the lines of the Velvet Lounge in floor space. The new set up greatly improves not only the space for the audience but also the stage is at least three times the size. A sign over the upstairs bar said the maximum occupancy was 106. Previously the stage had been set up so the band was facing away from the street, towards the back of the building, but now it’s been rotated 90 degrees so that the band performing will be facing the Palace Of Wonders side with the street to their left. There is a big seam on the floor that lets you know right where the wall had been knocked down, and a large I beam runs parallel above it. There’s a third bar at the top of the staircase, and the mixing board is set up above the lowest part of the stairwell. Aside from the space being much larger, the sound quality was great. An interesting little thing I noticed is that they placed a pair of subwoofers under the stage itself that face towards the crowd, which sounded really good. Well, enough about the new set up, lets get on to the bands…

The first band of the night was one of my favorite local bands, King Giant. The kings of southern darkness played a short but fun set. Their staples Solace and 13 To 1 kicked off the set and really got the show started with a bang. Their southern rock/stoner/sludge sound with it’s well thought out song structures and just downright catchy riffs really got people into the concert from the start. The biggest problem I had was that the set was short, but then, this was the first time I’d seen them open for a show and that just comes with the territory. Also of note, their bass player, Floyd Walters III, had an eye patch on his right eye, though it wasn’t too noticeable under his sunglasses. Hopefully he heals up quick, eye injuries suck.

The next band up was Naam from Brooklyn, New York. They’re a three piece doom metal/stoner rock band that I was pretty unfamiliar with going into the show. They were pretty entertaining, a bit on the atmospheric side at times but they had some really fun parts where they’d build up and just jam out some metal for a bit. Their heavily reverbed vocals, from both the guitarist and the bass player, was a rather haunting touch to their sound. After the first song they had the board op bathe the stage in red lighting for the rest of their set. They didn’t play a whole lot of songs, though some were rather long such as their closing song which was over 10 minutes. They weren’t bad and a good choice to be in the middle slot for this show.

Finally it was time for the headliner, Priestess, from Montreal. Sadly, as they started there weren’t many people still there for the show and the lead singer, Mikey Heppner, started off by saying jokingly thank you to “the five of you who stayed.” Once they began playing people started appearing from the stair case though. I can see that being an issue with this venue, as the upstairs bar is the smallest and also in the most cramped space, so when a band ends and there’s a rush to the bar, I’m sure many people head to the bigger downstairs bars and probably stayed there for a while. Anyways, it seemed most of them did return to the stage area upstairs, and it’s a good thing they did! Priestess slayed with their thrashy version of sludge metal and the entire show was exciting. At the beginning of the song Lady Killer one of the strings broke on Mikey’s guitar, but he didn’t miss a beat and even managed to adjust for the missing string rather well even getting through the solo decently. I had missed Priestess last time they came around, when they played at the Black Cat back in April, even though I caught the headliner High On Fire (my review of that show is here). I’m glad I finally got a chance to see them, it was great! The songs were fast paced and catchy and their drummer was insanely good. He really was the star of the show and he was punching it all night. He even did lead vocals on the song Lunar. I’m not familiar enough with them to know if he does that on the album or not, but it was still impressive to see him throw those tight drum fills in between verses. The show was a lot of fun and I’m glad I stuck around for the headliner as they really entertained with an action packed setlist that totally made me forget how late it was on a Tuesday night (though the beer helped with that a bit too). Overall it was a great show with one of the best local acts to open, a new band to check out, and a killer headliner. You can check out the videos I shot there below, some might be a bit dark but as usual the audio quality is good if nothing else.

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