Review of Baroness gig at Rock And Roll Hotel

On Wednesday the 18th of November 2009 I got off my ass and headed up to the Rock And Roll Hotel in the Atlas Theatre district of North East Washington, DC to go see Baroness play. I’d been to the Rock & Roll Hotel before, but not to see a band play. The venue wasn’t great, not very wide but deep, which must have been a bitch for the people in the back trying to see. The stage lighting was pretty poor and they don’t allow flash photography and since I can’t afford a $3k camera my pics aren’t the greatest. They did allow you to shoot video, but again since the lighting was so bad it all came out pretty dark (though the audio isn’t too bad) which you can see for yourself at the bottom of this post. It was $4.50 for a Miller Lite bottle which I guess is pretty standard for DC. The bar was crammed on one of the side walls to the back of the room, and the merch stand was crammed into the other side in front of the mixing console. Apparently they don’t allow moshing of any kind because a couple songs in when some guy started pushing people a bit the security came right up and put an end to that. The shift actually helped me get a little closer to the stage. Even though I’m usually holding a camera up front, I really don’t mind moshing at concerts (hate crowd surfers tho). If you don’t want people moshing at your venue, maybe you shouldn’t book metal bands at let them play somewhere more fun instead. Anyways, on to the band’s performance…

This was the first show of the tour supporting Baroness’ new album, Blue Record. I’m not certain but I’m betting this was the first time those songs were being played live. On the stage they had a cool looking fabric backdrop of the cover art from the new album. Their show started off a bit disorganized, they had some intro song playing, then it stopped, then after several minutes of silence they walked onto the stage and started playing. I noticed the lead guitarist had changed from a St. Vitus shirt to a Dark Castle shirt in this time, for some reason. I really like the energy of a lot of their songs on their new album. I’ve listened to their first one, Red Album, a few times but it has never gripped me as much as these newer songs do. The one thing I don’t like about the new album is all the intros and instrumentals, there’s a lot of them. Unfortunately for me, they play them live too. I guess that’s cool for people who enjoy them, but it’s really just a pause in the energy to me and honestly I don’t find theirs particularly interesting. Their show was pretty loud for a club this size, which is never a bad thing to me. The kick drum was really pounding, though the microphones didn’t seem to work well for the live show. They seemed to be very tight uni-directional microphones, which means if you’re not directly in front of them, you might as well be in the next room. This made the vocals just disappear completely from the mix a few times when the band members were particularly excited on stage. This was especially a problem for the lead guitarist and bass player, who were helping with backing vocals from time to time, since their mics were not as loud in the mix to begin with. The show was pretty good for the most part, they played most of the songs I really wanted to hear. The stage was pretty cramped but they still did a few theatrics to make things interesting. I thought it was kinda cool when the drummer poured water on his cymbals before a big entrance in a song, spraying the water everywhere in a cool visual effect. At the end of the show they did the typical encore thing where they walked off stage and waited a couple minutes to come back and play their final song of the night. I don’t understand why every headliner band seems to feel the need to do this, regardless of genre. It’s not an encore if it’s scripted! Anyways, they did play for almost an hour and a half, which might be a bit long for them. I mean I do enjoy their music, but since they’ve only got 2 full length albums out, they started running out of material to play that’s of the same caliber. This made the show start to drag on a bit for me. I really think these guys are a great up and coming band and I think with some better exposure they would be playing much larger venues. On the other hand, watching concerts at the 9:30 Club has become quite a drag, so I hope they don’t get too big too quick! It was a really fun show and for $12 it was well worth attending.

One more thing, if you’re planning on buying the Blue Record on vinyl at the concert, try to do it early. They ran out of copies to sell at this show. They said they were getting more the next day, but who knows how long those will last. I spoke to the bass player, Summer Welch, after the show, and the band seemed to think the vinyl was available on their record label’s website, Relapse.com. I had checked earlier that day and knew it wasn’t, so that means this vinyl is going to sell more than they’re expecting since people can’t buy it anywhere. They were selling all vinyl for $20, all t-shirts for $15 and CDs for $12, cash only of course.

Review of Sunn O))) gig at Sonar

On Wednesday the 23rd of September 2009 I got off of work and met up with a friend of mine to head up to Baltimore to catch Sunn O))) at Sonar. Sunn O)))They didn’t play the main stage, but the much smaller “club stage”, which was fine by me as it was much more up close and personal. Sunn O))) is a strange band, they rarely tour and when I heard they were coming to Baltimore, a city within driving distance, I had to get a ticket. People either love this band and think that what they are doing is really groundbreaking and genius, or they think it’s just boring ambient noise and a total waste of their time. I’m not a huge drone fan but these guys are one of the best at it, and when describing their music I often think of abstract art in music form. It’s hard to define “songs” of theirs, as it all sort of melts together and the songs don’t really have any structure, well not in the normal sense at least.

Sunn O))) At SonarBefore they even took the stage they ran a fog machine on high for about 20 minutes, with a low volume recording of some sort of chants. Then at about 10:30 pm Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley came out on stage in their monk/jedi robes and started playing what I think was the beginning to the song Aghartha. Usually I’m pretty good at knowing what songs are being played, but again, this band doesn’t make that easy. Then about 10 minutes later Attila Csihar came up on stage, wearing a similar robe. This is the same Attila of Mayhem fame, and I’d actually seen him play with them at this same venue back in May as part of Maryland Deathfest VII. His performance at this smaller show was pretty outstanding, though sometimes I got the feeling he was being a bit distracting from the music itself, it was a Sunn O))) show after all, not an Attila show. Overall it was a really excellent performance from him though and it really showcased his vocal talent quite well. I always liked him better in Mayhem than Maniac, but this Sunn O))) show really highlighted his vocal range, even if I don’t think he said one actual word the whole night.
 
The set seemed to be what I’d basically call “songs” from their latest album, Monoliths & Dimensions, but I could be mistaken I suppose. It was an unreal experience though, like no concert I’ve been to before. At times everything seemed to be in slow motion, the music, the band’s movements, almost as if time was stretching as you fell into the event horizon of a black hole. The fog and lighting added a sort of murky element, like trying to look at something through dirty water. It was a really overwhelming experience, and it was LOUD. I mean I just saw Motörhead a few weeks before and that was loud, but these guys really made you feel every slow plodding note vibrate through every bone in your body. Of course I was a lot closer to the stage for this show, right up front. Sunn O))) doesn’t have a drummer but they did have a guy doing some sort of programming in the back, and I know I saw a trombone poking out of the fog at some point. The bass was thick and heavy like the foggy air in the room throughout the performance, and the whole thing almost seemed like it was from outer space at times.

Attila Csihar Of Sunn O)))Attila added to the theatrics at about midway through the set when he put on some gloves that had laser pointers built into the fingers. The lasers really stood out in the fog and surprisingly the whole effect didn’t come off as a raver thing at all, maybe it was the oversized robe. At some point Attila wandered off the stage for a bit to put on his next costume, which I gotta say what a bit over the top. It was another robe, but this time it was covered in fragments of mirrors. Attila Csihar Of Sunn O)))It also had a head piece, something like a head band with big pointy mirror shards coming out of it, somewhat resembling the statue of liberty’s head piece. He kept the laser pointer gloves on with this and did some cool things with the lasers reflecting off the mirrors, especially off the ones on his head. It was certainly a bizarre costume, not sure I’d be caught dead in that, but then Attila has always had a thing for wearing costumes on stage. The two guitarists also had some interesting poses and lurched around on stage very slowly, giving the production a feeling of peeking in on a secret ritual of some Lovecraftian cult.

The music fit this all very well and with the slow build ups and pure raw sound had the audience hypnotized. The slow singular notes building up in intensity into something almost resembling a chord progression really worked well in this setting. There were no breaks between “songs”, it was just one big musical experience. In all the show ended around midnight to an ovation from a crowd that had just had their minds melted for about 90 minutes. As I walked to the car with my friend, we caught a glimpse of the Stratovarius show, which was on the main stage that night at the club, and I remember thinking how I’m so glad I got to see Sunn O))) instead of being into that power metal crap! Damn, they had the bigger audience but those people really had no idea what they just missed only a few feet away. I’ve always been a fan of some of the more strange, bizarre and out there metal bands, of which Sunn O))) definitely fits the category of, so maybe my views on the whole thing are a bit biased, but still I highly recommend checking Sunn O))) out at least once, they definitely put on a show unlike any other band, metal or otherwise.