This has been a great year for doublebills, but the hottest triplebill this blog has witnessed this year happened on the hottest day of the year so far, this past Saturday the 18th at St. Vitus. Blackout opened. They do one thing and one thing very well: slow, doomy, pounding anthems. The Melvins seem to be an obvious influence, but where that band goes for sneering humor, Blackout go into the abyss. Bassist Justin Sherrell ripped crushing, stygian chords from his downtuned J-bass while frontman/guitarist Christian Gordy launched steady, precise, chromatic mortarbomb hits from his Gibson, with an appreciative nod to Tony Iommi, but not in a blatantly derivative way. For such a heavy band, drummer Taryn Waldman is a refreshing change, staying low to the ground, coloring the slow, stalking dirges with smoky cymbal washes instead of the expected brontosaurus thud. And just when it seemed that this band is all about relentless gloom, they’d pick up the pace, doublespeed or triplespeed toward hardcore territory, both Gordy and Sherrell bellowing over the maelstrom. As with the next two bands on the bill, it would have been fun to hear them play twice as long as the barely thirty-five minutes they got onstage.
Slow Season‘s rhythm also went in an unexpected direction, 180 degrees from Blackout. Their unhinged stoner attack looks back to 70s proto-metal, which usually doesn’t have the crushing olympic impact that drummer Cody Tarbell brought to their blistering set. As searing as the guitars of frontman Daniel Rice and David Kent were, it was Tarbell who stole the show with his nimble yet bunkerbuster-scale assault, closing the set with a flurry that matched brute force to completely unexpected elegance. Meanwhile, Hayden Doyel’s blue-smoke, nimbly bluesy basslines and eye-popping octaves enhanced the purist NoCal skunkweed vibe. They opened with a boogie groove that went unexpectedly halfspeed, driven by twin guitar riffage hellbent on setting cities on flame with rock & roll.
Boogies were a major part of the rest of their tantalizingly brief set, like a northern Molly Hatchet taken back in time ten years, and with a snakier rhythm section. Kent’s acidic wah riffs, hazily menacing fuzztone bluesmetal lines and the occasional haphazard Hendrix reference reinforced the 1969-73 ambience: the only difference was that this crowd was vaping rather than smoking up – for the most part, anyway. Kent hit one false ending with a nails-down-the-blackboard slide that was one of the night’s highest points, kicking off the next number by himself, taking his time as he built to an aching, screaming peak before a smirky ba-bump groove kicked in. They wound up with an epic that galloped and swayed through his best and most relentlessly searing solo.
Mondo Drag made a towering, epic, majestic headliner. It was like seeing Atomheart Mother-era Floyd and Nektar on the same bill – although it was Slow Season who blasted through the night’s lone wry quote from the David Gilmour riffbook. Mondo Drag’s signature sound loops a hypnotic, vamping groove, with endlessly shifting, richly dynamic segments from frontman John Gamino’s organ and keys along with the guitars of Nolan Girard and Jake Sheley. The band’s new rhythm section is killer and maybe even an improvement over the old one, who were pretty damn good: bassist Andrew O’Neil played meticulously circular, catchy hooks pretty much nonstop while drummer Ventura Garcia channeled a period-perfect, muted 1975 stoner gallop across a surreal, sometimes menacing landscape.
One dynamic that the group worked for a towering, dynamic intensity was Gamino’s smoky, gothic chords grounding the music a la Richard Wright while the guitars played aching, searing, angst-fueled sheets overhead, taking on the Gilmour role. Other songs were fueled by punchy, galloping Nektar-style triplets. That band’s influence – the hard-charging crescendos of Remember the Future, the distantly crushing elegaic quality of It’s All Over and the swaying steamroller attack of Journey to the Center of the Eye – made itself apparent everywhere. Creepily twinkling night-sky Fender Rhodes interludes, tersely biting Arabic-tinged guitar-and-organ passages and endless vamps punctuated by mournfully airy guitar atmospherics and some neat call-and-response between guitars and keys were just part of the picture. As the show went on, an atmosphere of slightly restrained panic and subdued horror underpinned everything. as tempos and metrics shifted, the bass circling like a vulture. At the end of the set, Gamino’s vocals finally took on a somber, resigned, apocalyptic quality. All this justified risking death by dehydration: just try powerwalking through the Greenpoint ghetto all the way back from Clay Street to the L at Bedford, weighted down with a heavy toolbag and workboots in 110 degree heat, and see how you hold up.