Well yesterday marked the first time in my life I went to two shows in one night as well as making it the first time I’ve seen a band more than three times, and as awesome as that might sound, the next day is rendered practically useless
Thankfully though the night lived up to its potential awesomeness, delivering at least one of the sickest shows I’ve ever been to.
At about 7 PM I rolled down to the local show to catch easily the best band of our local scene, De La Fuente
). This was my fourth time seeing them, but unfortunately also probably the worst I’ve seen them. On the plus side the vocals were finally audible in the mix, and the vocalist is sounding better than ever, so that was a positive. On the negative side however, they had some major technical difficulties especially with the drums and bass, plus it was still light out when they played which was kind of awkward (they usually are one of the last bands on the bill). The crowd wasn’t too reactionary either, very little pit action, nothing compared to the insanity of their last two shows in particular. Kind of a letdown, but the night was still young.....
Anyways, afterwards I drove to my friends house (Fallen Shadow as he is known here) and we headed up to downtown San Francisco to see the Red Sparowes
. For those who don’t know, they are easily the best instrumental post-rock/progressive band out there right now, stylistically similar to their contemporaries such as Explosions In The Sky
, and a plethora of others, but with enough originality to set them apart. Conceptually they are also unique in that all of their songs are basically sentences that as an album fit into paragraphs outlining the concept story. Last year’s Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun
, an album themed around Mao’s Great Leap Forward in China, nearly broke my top 10 for the year (I think it was like #12 or something), and their debut album At The Soundless Dawn
is another masterpiece. They are a completely different animal live than on record though, and I certainly found that out firsthand.
Unfortunately our evening seemed doomed from almost the moment we arrived at the Bottom Of The Hill nightclub in SF. After waiting in for a short while in line talking to some dudes who had driven 6 hours for the show, it was our turn to buy tickets at the door. And wouldn’t ya know it, the stereotypical fat bald club bouncer guy comes out declaring that the show is SOLD OUT. I almost puked. There was no way I wasn’t getting into this show, so we waited outside for close to another half hour until we found some guys selling extra tickets. We paid $20 for each (normally they were $12) and finally got inside. That was a major relief because otherwise our whole night would have been screwed. That aside, we strolled into the packed 250-person club and waited.......
And waited........and waited........and........WHAT THE FUCK. The show was supposed to start at 9, and its 10 and not even a sign of life. Finally at about 10:30 the first act goes on, a man with a banjo by the name of William Elliot Whitmore
. For you country fans out there, this guy is probably your cup of tea (or whiskey, more appropriately). In fact people were passing him up shots of whiskey from the bar throughout his set, pretty sweet
He had some fantastic commentary as well, very funny and gracious person overall. Musically, ehh, not really my sort of deal. This the kind of music you play outdoors in the middle of Iowa during summer getting drunk and shit like that. It seemed out of place in this setting, but it did add to the extreme diversity of the bill. I liked when he brought out this guy on drums and they jammed a few tunes, more interesting than just him alone on his acoustic guitar or banjo. The highlight was definitely Josh Graham from Red Sparowes
coming out with this weird magnet sort of thing (I think it might be called an E-bow) on one of the songs and doing that cool controlled feedback thing that you hear a lot in bands like Red Sparowes
, etc. Gave the song a nice added texture. I think this kind of deal would be a better fit for a Clutch
show or something, but the guy could play and had a great voice, I am sure many of you would dig his groove.
Finally the band that actually put me over the fence to come to this show in the first place, the fuckin Saviours
. These guys are the epitome of metal basically, long greasy-haired dudes, torn black jeans and shirts, thick ass beards, the kind of guys you see on the street and think “Wow, that is the scum of society.”
Anyways, they looked the part, and they certainly played the part. Saviours
play that brand of heavy metal that’s part NWOBHM-worship and part 90's stoner doom worship. Basically some of the most kickass style of music known to mankind. After moving up from the middle of the floor to right up against the stage on the right side (which was nice cuz the monitors made a nice support to lean on), Saviours
came out and basically destroyed my hearing. Between them and Red Sparowes
it was probably the loudest gig I’ve been to (go figure, but I am not exaggerating), or at least the only time when my eardrums felt like they were physically rattling inside of me, like someone took a Q-tip and shoved it inside my ear and began twisting it around. Totally massive skullfucking destruction. Saviours
just flat-out owned. The drummer hits the hardest of any motherfucker I’ve ever seen, it was total shit-faced metal bliss grin inducing seeing him and the whole band really just rocking out and going insane, all while playing some fairly complicated and balls-smashing metal mind you. Sometimes when the drummer would smash the cymbals he’d stand up as if thrust upwards by the sheer force of the pound, just totally incredibly watching him. I also had a perfect view of one of the guitarists directly in front of me, he was generally more reserved than the other guys but his fingers man, watching that literally like a foot away was incredible. Those riffs, gah, those riffs!!!! And the solos, lead melodies, fucking everything was just completely unmistakably metal, pure headbanging fist-pumping brutality. The vocals were hard to hear at times unfortunately, but the singing style is very good and the dude ripped it up shredding on the axe and wailing away at the same time. They just finished their first international tour supporting Mastodon
in the UK, and I really hope it went badly so that they can only hang around and play shows here in the Bay Area where they’re from
Nah, I wish them the best of luck because they really deserve it, there’s no masking that passion and honesty in a live setting. Such a killer set, damn.
Finally, the band all the hipsters and normal-looking people were waiting for, Red Sparowes
. On the subject of the crowd, it was clearly divided about 75%-25%, with the majority being people who wouldn’t look out of place at a Radiohead
concert (and who I’d bet my money on probably heard about Red Sparowes
after getting into Isis
from the notoriety they’ve gotten since doing that Tool
tour), and the disdainful hardcore/”elitist” people who at times even voiced their strong opinions on the Starbucks employee crowd
That 25% were the only ones really into Saviours
too unfortunately, so it was easy to tell who the posers were. After watching them set up their dizzying array of effects pedals on other weird maze of cable things on stage, the lights went down and at just about midnight they began their mesmerizing set.
In such a small venue setting it was remarkable how they were able to set up a projector that shone images behind the band onto a screen that were all direct source videos from Communist China under Mao. Conceived by master visualist and guitarist Josh Graham, this was really a good idea to help give the audience something else to focus on if watching the guys on stage got boring, which sometimes can happen when they don’t move around a lot as is the case with Red Sparowes
. They definitely get into it, but it was just nice not only as an artistic piece but also as an entertainment piece to have that in there. It was neat how the band members’ shadows went across the screen backdrop as well, although it generally obstructed the viewing of the actual video (especially since I was standing directly in front of the bassist and one of the guitarists the whole time).
In contrast with the more relaxing, subdued albums, live the Sparowes’ sound is magnified ten-fold, with even the quieter parts holding more of an urgent and engaging tone, not to mention a beautiful tone. Where Red Sparowes
excel is in their melodies, which are some of the best you can find from anyone. The textures and layers of having three guitars is wonderful as well, providing such a lush and rich sound. The drumming on the albums seemed underwhelming again compared to live the way that he changes things up with some expert cymbal work and use of different types of drums. I also liked how when everyone else was drinking beers during the set, he’d take a sip of his Frapuchino when he wasn’t playing
The sound again was impeccable, and it was especially cool to see how all those strange effects they have on the albums are done. I figured it was done by computer, but in fact these guys are doing it all themselves, sliding their palms across the strings, messing with knobs, and all sorts of other things that only expert musicians could really pull off and make them sound as cohesive and awesome as the Sparowes do. My favorite performance of the night was during "A Message of Avarice Rained Down Upon Us and Carried Us Away Into False Dreams of Endless Riches", with the bassist playing the steel guitar. Just an awe-inspiring sound, as the whole tune came alive with that same beautiful resonance as it does on the album. Sadly I did not get the setlist, but I am not posting the one from that other show I had up a couple weeks ago because this set was clearly different. I know the second to last song was definitely 'Alone and Unaware.....' and the last one I'm almost positive was 'The Sixth Extinction...', both off their debut album, otherwise I don't have any order but the rest of the songs were from Every Red Hearts Shines Toward The Red Sun
. The change in sound was readily identifiable from the last two songs compared to the rest of the set, truly a mark that despite being an instrumental band these guys never can be dismissed simply as “background music” or whatever crap that people with short attention spans like to call it. I was curious as to how they would come off live, and I was afraid it might not be engaging or even be a bit boring, but it was just an enormous swell of amazing music all throughout their one hour set. Watching their bassist was especially powerful, that sound he emanates is just so unique and wonderful. Unfortunately the guys from Isis
were not able to make it since they are currently on tour, but the fill-ins were perfect. The band chemistry was clearly present because the entire set flowed without really even a clear-cut pause or break, even when the songs changed there’d be some kind of feedback thing or light cymbal playing that would be the segue way into the next tune. Seeing the technical side of the show was also great, the mastery of the knobs and effects and pedals, all the little things that have to be just right for it to sound the way it does. These are guys who really know their craft inside and out and make the most of it.
Despite getting home at 2 AM dead tired, it was such a different and memorable experience for me that I will cherish it as one of my favorites shows I’ve been to. Definitely some of the most fun I’ve had at one, and really getting to see one of the best bands in the prog rock business matched with two totally opposite openers was quite a unique experience. Their popularity is only growing, so I am really glad I was able to see them at this stage in their careers. Excellent show all the way around.