Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet is one of Umlaut's favorite Clint Eastwood movies and also Umlaut's favorite movie set in Phoenix.

The plot is completely ridiculous but the finale is oh so METAL! Yes, Umlaut owns The Gauntlet on DVD and as we boarded Southwest Flight 686 I imagined myself as Ben Shockley returning to Phoenix.

Ludicra / Black Hell / Landmine Marathon / Nightgaun
The Underground, Mesa, Arizona
April 28, 2010

The saga of Ludicra's U.S. Tour is one of THE Metal stories of 2010 and I ranted about it HERE. However, even before the drama unfolded, Photo Ray and Umlaut had already plotted to be in Arizona for this bill featuring not only the undisputed headliners of The Bay Area Metal Scene (LUDICRA!) but also the mighty LANDMINE MARATHON! The fact that 2 of my favorite bands were sharing a bill made this road trip a no-brainer. However, after Ludicra's misfortune, the trip became even more important for Umlaut to be there simply to show support for bands who mean alot to me. Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Christians trek to wherever the image of Jesus appears in the bark of a tree or on a piece of toast. Umlaut goes where his bands are... because Metal (and Music in general) is as close to religion as I've ever experienced.

To quote *that* band: "Let the music be your Master... will you heed the Master's call?"

Our hotel was right out of No Country For Old Men and I hoped I wouldn't be pulling a bullet out of my leg in bloody bath water later that night. From what I was told, The Underground was a legendary Phoenix-area venue back in The Day and the fact that it recently reopened is a big deal. Very cool. Tonight's show was being held in the venue's basement gig space (appropriately called "The Basement"). The only buzz kill (literally) was that the venue doesn't have a liquor license, so Umlaut had to figure out something else to do during the show with his right hand instead of holding a beer.....

When we showed up at the venue the bands were shocked (or freaked out) that we'd made the trek, but I guess they still don't know who they're dealing with... Umlaut comes from the generation of Metalheads who had to WORK for their Metal. I was the nerdy Metal kid in the pre-Internet days who took a bus to a BART station and spent 90 minutes traveling each way just to visit a record store that MIGHT have a new import only 7" single or album by one of my favorite bands. No... I never called record stores to ask them if they had something in stock... The trek was part of the adventure... and now that Umlaut lives in a retarded version of adulthood here in the 21st Century that same mindset translates into how I follow bands. In my Inner Teenage Metalhead mind, it's perfectly reasonable to travel 800 miles to see two of my favorite bands in a basement club in bumfuck Mesa, Arizona. However, I guess I probably should have called first... My bad.

Best Quotes:
  • "What's San Francisco doing here??" - Christy of Ludicra
  • "You guys are insane..." - Ryan of Landmine Marathon
Nightgaun: Nightgaun belongs in that fraternity of Hardcore bands who have been playing basement venues like The Underground since time began. To be honest I lost interest after a song or two... but I think I would have dug them more if I could have had a fucking beer in my right hand. Sorry dudes... I know I was on your turf.. but Umlaut was thirsty... but not miserable.

Landmine Marathon: It felt like it had been years since Umlaut's Big Adventure with Landmine in Ohio and Texas, but it had only been just over a month. Time is weird, man. Also, this was my 7th time seeing Landmine and I've had to take a plane to 6 of those shows. WTF... Dude, they FINALLY played 'Steadfast Hate' with Umlaut in the room! It was the best 7 minutes I've spent in Arizona to date. EPIC. The vibe of their set was different than the recent Landmine shows I've witnessed, which had been out of town showcase deals in foreign lands. The vibe at those was different simply because Landmine was on the road as their self-contained combat unit out to fuck with any and all comers. Tonight it was about them detonating in front of a hometown crowd of friends. The energy was different in that there wasn't that nervous violence I'd witnessed a month earlier; Grace didn't kick any dudes in the nuts tonight. Since this was the middle of the week and a school night, instead of being fueled by on tour combat rage this set seemed more about Landmine using their time onstage as a catharsis for the bullshit of their real world week; like 40 minutes of volume therapy. Everybody's workin' for the weekend! I've said it before in this space: It's been cool watching Landmine perform under so many different circumstances and witnessing them be consistent in channeling their demons (or whatever) into mayhem that feels comfortable to me. They're like a noose of barbed wire around my neck that's about to give me that blast of enlightening silence. Landmine will be marching out on a U.S. Tour in June / July and they are the type of band who are more dangerous when they're away from home... So get in the ring, motherfuckers!

Black Hell: It was funny that I recognized the drummer as also being in the Phoenix band Sorrower; I think Umlaut has been around too many Arizonians recently. I wasn't familiar with Black Hell prior to the show, but unfortunately this was their final show. It was obvious they meant alot to the locals and I liked their retro Rock sound, which featured some excellent dual leads (LIZZY!) and strong vocals. For lack of a better comparison, they were like a more sober version of Saviours. It's a bummer this was their final curtain call, but it was cool I got to witness it... but a bummer they didn't have any merch (CDs / vinyl) for sale.

Ludicra: This was the final show outside of California for Ludicra on their arduous 2010 U.S. Tour; only 36 days previously Umlaut had witnessed what was basically the first show of the tour when the band supported and wiped the stage with Pentagram. Whereas Landmine Marathon were in their hometown comfort zone tonight, Ludicra were deep in their on tour combat zone. I was interested to see how The Undisputed Headliners of The Bay Area Metal Scene were channeling the drama and daily grind of touring (27 shows in 27 days!!) into their performance; I got my answer as the first notes of 'Stagnant Pond' kicked the set off. Having seen Ludicra at least a dozen times at home, it was an epiphany of sorts watching them destroy a crowd in a foreign land. The Arizona crowd was in the palm of their hand from the start and many seemed to know the new songs. When they launched into an old song like 'Veils' it was as if a landmine (pun intended) had gone off in the small room as the new Ludicra did the Wonder Twin Powers thing with the old Ludicra. Fucking mind blowing... and the Arizona crowd got some really nice pit action going; I can't remember the last time there was a pit like the one in this basement at a Ludicra show in S.F.. The crowd also pressed down front and it was cute to see a pair of young Metal girls with their arms around each others shoulders raging in unison in front of Laurie. Man, after weeks on the road Ludicra are performing at a terrifying level of precision now. Even via a basement venue's PA Ludicra's music transcended the average and approached something larger. Ludicra are the type of band who could change your life; their music is that cerebral and that violent and that beautiful... and that terrifying. Listen to their albums... see them live... DONE.

Then it was over... Two of Umlaut's favorite bands... on the same bill... in the desert. All that had been missing was a fucking beer in my right hand. Cheers to Photo Ray and to Lilia for the shuttle service. Cheers to Ludicra for being such a terrifying force on and off stage. Cheers to Landmine Marathon for including me in their desert violence and for being Umlaut Nation friends. Oh, and cheers to Metal Val for keeping a secret.

Landmine Marathon ... 1/5 of Ludicra... Umlaut..

If you bought one of every Landmine merch item you would have paid around $80. On the way back to San Francisco, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags... which makes sense I guess. On the local news the next morning they announced that Shakira was arriving in Phoenix to protest Arizona's new immigration law. In the rental car the next morning, Phoenix Rock Radio 93.3 played 'Arizona' by the Scorpions and Klaus & Co. said it all: "Arizona really was a gas!" ... but not in the same way that Belsen was a gas for the Sex Pistols.. I hope.

Maybe The Gauntlet wasn't so far fetched after all! I need to watch it again...