Monday, March 22, 2010

Deep In The Heart Of Metal - Part 2

The exciting continuation of Deep In The Heart Of Metal - Part 1

The stars at night are big and bright...

Sometimes the best laid plans don't pan out. Only 2 days earlier Umlaut had been in deepest, darkest Ohio and had an epic Metal Adventure that featured quality time with my favorite Arizonians, Landmine Marathon. The band's new album (Sovereign Descent) was released on the 16th and we were going to celebrate on the day of release in Austin. Unfortunately, their drive from Albuquerque to Austin didn't cooperate and they were too fried from the trek to hang out once they got into Austin late in the night... so we made plans to meet up the next day instead.

Withered / Landmine Marathon / Salome / Dark Castle
Emo's, Austin, Texas
March 17, 2010 (Day Show)

In a cruel and ironic twist, Music Geek icon Alex Chilton (The Box Tops, Big Star) passed away during the day. Evidently Big Star were scheduled to be one of the closing bands at SxSW... and Umlaut had been reintroduced to his 60's band The Box Tops while in London in January. Sad, man... cue 'The Letter'.

The tone of my time at SxSW was set as I drove down 5th Avenue and noticed Matt Pike of High On Fire waiting at a crosswalk wearing his leather on a warm Austin morning. METAL. Officially it was St. Patrick's Day and I made sure to note that the theme song for the day would be the Landmine Marathon song 'Bile Towers'. When was the last you helped a band carry their gear? It's been awhile for Umlaut, but I can now add Landmine to the list of bands whose gear I haven't dropped while pretending to be a roadie.

The tone of my SxSW experience with Landmine was set soon after load-in at Emo's was done. As we strolled around the streets of downtown Austin, Grace almost stepped on a dead bird and I almost punched a Hipster who was ironically wearing a Venom - Black Metal shirt. We also passed a block-long tent where they intended to charge people a $15 admission fee to drink Guinness later that day. What would Phil Lynott do!?

Back at Emo's I only caught the very end of Dark Castle's set because I held a business meeting in the "dressing room" of Emo's while they played. It wasn't the ideal location, but it did the job. I was very interested in seeing Salome and their brand of Doom Metal. Salome are a trio consisting of vocals, guitar, and drums... and the absence of bass might cause some concern, but Rob (guitar) and Aaron (drums) manage to create a trench of blackness that Kat (vocals) fills with some of the most soulful Doom vocals I've ever heard; I didn't expect such a mesmerizing set. It was like having a black canvas sack put over my head, but in a good way... Unfortunately, by the time I got to Salome's merch table after their set they had already packed up and left! Dudes! Oh well....

Before Salome's set a random guy came up to me and asked "Are you Umlaut??" Since I was in Texas, being recognized caught me COMPLETELY off guard. If that guy is reading this: THANKS, man!

It was an interesting contrast being with Landmine in Austin after having seen them at Scion Fest only days earlier. Despite the clusterfuck nature of SxSW, the band was obviously more in their element on the small stages of Texas. More often than not, Landmine are closer to a Hardcore band than a Metal band and that's especially true when they're confined liked caged beasts in a small space. I always picture Landmine as angry badgers (possibly rabid)... but you can imagine whatever animal you want for reference.

As an opening song, '25th Hour' feels like being caught in a firestorm and having the oxygen sucked from your lungs while you're being kicked in the chest and your head is shoved into a plastic bag... and a sledgehammer is slammed into the back of your skull... and you fall into a muddy trench.

Landmine Trench Warfare at Emo's
(Pic by Umlaut)

Today's modern warfare is distant and impersonal, with triggered drums and packaged guitar effects taking the human element out of the mayhem. Landmine are students of the ancient and, some would say, more honorable craft of hand-to-hand combat. They get into the face of their opponent in order to smell their sweat and fear as they plunge their volume dagger into the soft underbelly and rip the blade upwards. The final thing your mortal eyes will see is dressed in black...

Hand-To-Hand Combat: 'Crisscross Thoughts' at Emo's
(Vid by Umlaut)

The dichotomy of seeing Landmine in their element again after Scion Fest was profound. In Ohio they had played to The Eternal Void since the audience was far away from them on that big stage. At Emo's they were back to their beloved hand-to-hand combat that makes them such an explosive live band. You could almost see the red mist in the air from spilled blood that the band's volume was whipping up... and you could almost imagine the gore dripping from the mic as it was raised towards the sky in triumph. During the set-closing 'Rise With The Tide' Grace kicked a hipster in the front row in the chest who was wearing a V-Neck tee and sunglasses. Then she charged back into audience to exact a final body count.

After the set audience and band members alike stumbled out the front door into the sunshine and fresh air... and the first thing Grace said to me was "Did you see me kick that Hipster in the chest?!" Epic.

Emo's setlist written on the hand of Perry
(Pic by Umlaut)

Earlier, as Landmine were setting up their gear, a 9-year old girl was standing next to me with her mom; I overheard mom excitedly say "This is the first time you've been in the front row at a concert!" Then all HELL broke loose... Afterwards the little girl asked to have her picture taken with Grace. CUTE!

Withered took the stage after Landmine and while I like them, their smoke machine made it impossible for me to watch them as it filled Emo's with a thick white smoke that had no where to go. I finally stepped back outside and the smoke venting from the front door made it look like there was a Texas-style BBQ going on inside. Plus, after all of that, I completely forgot that Fucked Up were due to play the outside stage at Emo's not long after Landmine's set.... and I missed them. FAIL.

Landmine Marathon / Withered / Book Of Black Earth / The Funeral Pyre
Mohawk, Austin, Texas
March 17, 2010 (Night Show)

This was a long ass day, man..... After the Emo's show, the band's gear was carried several blocks to the next venue on their Austin Tour: Mohawk. Once we arrived at the venue we had to wait for the previous showcase to end and the place to be cleared out. As we were sitting around I observed Matt Pike of High On Fire (who were playing the outside stage that night) wearing his leather jacket in the afternoon heat; keeping it real, man. I also chatted with some record label contacts who were there and almost broke my ankle. ALMOST. After sitting around and waiting for the clusterfuck to catch up to us, we were finally able to load-in the gear (Wow, the room was SMALL)... and get FOOD. I don't think any of us had really eaten all day.

Sidebar Rant: There should be a version of Guitar Hero or Rock Band that accurately depicts the reality of being in a band. A gamer should have to sit around for 5-6 hours before they can play the first song in the game... because that's the reality of being in a band on tour.

Real Life Rock Band: No cheat codes or level skips..
(Pics by Umlaut)

Evidently there was a Hospitality Compound for SxSW bands not far from the venue... so off we went looking for it. Magically, the compound did exist and it was an oasis in the middle of the clusterfuck. Nestled in a fenced off grass field, tents were set up offering SxSW performers FREE food (including veggie options), FREE drinks (including alcohol), FREE massages, and FREE... haircuts (?!). Haircuts: NOT Metal.. It was pretty cool and awesome to sit down like civilized humans to eat and drink and swear loudly. The only buzz kill was the overbearing SxSW staffer who lectured us WHILE WE WERE EATING that we needed to clean up after ourselves. WTF... We weren't even done MAKING a mess, let alone ready to clean it up. I think she only lectured us because we were sweaty Metalheads; I didn't see her lecturing the cardigan sweater-wearing Indie Rock kidz. To quote Landmine Marathon: "Steadfast hate..."

Anyway, once we were back at Mohawk we discovered that it was actually a cool venue. On the roof was a patio bar where we got free shots of some spiced thing and drink tickets got us beer. Adjacent to the patio was a green room with another bar and couches. Nice. The patio offered a view of the outdoor stage and of the street below; it was the perfect place to hang out and shoot the shit. It was kind of funny to watch Matt Pike hold court at a table in the middle of the patio, cradling his 9-string axe and riffing on it every now and then. He chatted with friends as VIPs tried to discreetly take phone camera pics of him.

I completely spaced and didn't watch The Funeral Pyre (Sorry, guys..)... but some of this night was a blur. I'd been wanting to see Book Of Black Earth again since first seeing them in S.F. last August. The band had gone through a lineup change since then, but their live assault was even more blowtorch than it was 7 months ago. The Northwesterners played in complete darkness which ratcheted their power up that much more and the new songs were darkness personified. Watching them on that blackened stage reminded me of vintage Neurosis... and that's a huge thing in my book.

After Book Of Black Earth's set, 2/5 of Landmine Marathon and I hung out in the corner of the green room and chatted, killing time before their set. There was no place for me to sit except on a guitar case that had been put in the corner for safe keeping. I learned that Prosthetic Records (whose showcase this was) had all of of their bands autograph the guitar inside the case and it was going to be auctioned off for a Ronnie James Dio cancer benefit. Very cool, but weird that my ass rested on it for almost an hour on St. Patrick's Day 2010. After awhile I noticed smoke was seeping up from the stairwell that led to the downstairs concert room and it was obvious Withered and their unnecessary smoke machine had started their set. I wandered down to watch a song, but the smoke was simply ridiculous in that small space. Sorry, guys... Lose the smoke machine and I'll watch your entire set no problem.

It wasn't St. Patrick's Day anymore by the time Landmine Marathon went on at around 12:20am. As I said earlier, Landmine are in their element when playing in a small room on a small stage. As their set exploded off to its start on the dark Mohawk stage I felt like I was trapped inside a sealed metal garbage can with a live hand grenade as it detonated. KA-BOOM... SPLAT.

I recognized at least a couple of people who had been at the Emo's show earlier in the day, and while the crowd was small the hand-to-hand combat continued. Partly as an experiment to see if I could finish it before it got knocked over, I put my Lone Star tall in front of me on the knee-high stage in between sips. I'm happy to report that I finished it before any of the precious liquid was wasted on the floor. For better or worse, I was actually standing next to the PA so most of the volume (mainly the vocals) was blasting behind me...

'Exist' at Mohawk
(Vid by Umlaut)

Yeah, it's a shitty video but 'Exist' was the stand out performance of this set for me. Hand to hand combat at night always has a different aura about it... you don't really see the blood as much as you smell it. You have to stab and punch more by feel and instinct than by sight... The chaos is more horrific... and that's the vibe that Landmine's set had at Mohawk... Black fighting darkness with a heavy dose of brutality and the bar is still open for another hour.

High On Fire
Mohawk, Austin, Texas
March 17, 2010

It wasn't St. Patrick's Day anymore by the time High On Fire went on at around 12:15am. As soon as Landmine's set finished I walked back through the bar, past the merch stand (Hi Valerie!), and through a door to catch High On Fire's set on Mohawk's outdoor stage (which holds around 700)... and with perfect timing they had just started 'Frost Hammer'.

'Frost Hammer' hits Austin
(Pic by Umlaut)

I stood by the soundboard and most of the crowd around me seemed clueless; a young girl turned and asked me "WHO IS THIS??" However, just when I thought I was going to let the non-Metal element of the crowd get to me, I was saved by the appearance of a blond woman who I immediately recognized as artist Tara McPherson! She was about to pass me on her way towards the stage when I tapped her arm and said "I'm a big fan of your art!" (which I am... but it was still a total GEEK move..). She stopped and seemed surprised to have been recognized in the middle of a concert, but she asked my name and thanked me... shook my hand.. and then tipped her can of beer to mine. Pretty cool.

Snake Charmer by Tara McPherson

This was High On Fire's last one-off show before their U.S. Tour with Umlaut's bruthas Black Cobra kicks off at the end of the month. The new songs were SOLID live and only supported my opinion that the band is at the top of their game right now. 'Bastard Samurai' is already in the running for my favorite song of 2010.

The bizarre thing about the entire day and night was that I never really encountered any out of control projectile vomiting drunken St. Patrick's Day behavior. Seriously. I wonder if most of that was contained on the surrounding streets where the younger Indie Rock crowd was gathered. Not that I'm complaining, but it was bizarre being in Austin on St. Patrick's Day and not have to dodge projectile vomiting revelers.

If you bought one of every Landmine Marathon merch item you would have spent $60, but I didn't see any High On Fire merch for sale. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. It was considerably easier sneaking a band into my hotel room in Austin at 2:30am to crash for the night than it was getting service at a Denny's in Austin at 2:30am. Who woulda thunk?!

... deep in the heart of Texas.