Monday, May 10, 2010

The Bay Bridge Series

Possibly not since the Giants vs. A's Bay Bridge World Series of 1989 has there been a Left Bay vs. Right Bay clash of this magnitude. In the East Bay we had the massive Missing Link show at the fabulous Fox Theater (3,000 capacity) and in San Franfuckincisco was Ludicra at the usually non-Metal Cafe du Nord. Both shows featured the triumphant homecomings of local heroes: In Oakland it was High On Fire and Black Cobra and the S.F. show was Ludicra's triumphant record release show. Prior to heading over to The East Bay, Photo Ray and I met up at 21st Amendment for food and to catch up on shit. Then it was across The Bay Bridge for...

The Missing Link featuring Mastodon / High On Fire / Black Cobra and more...
The Fox Theater, Oakland, CA

May 8, 2010

This bill was a veritable "Who's Who" of bands ripped from the pages of Decibel magazine. Unfortunately, there was Will Call drama as the guest list that I was on was late getting submitted, so I missed Bison B.C.'s set... which was a bummer. However, it was alright hanging out front passing the time by chatting with various Umlaut Nation friends and catching up with Jason of Black Cobra who came out his Rock Star dressing room to mingle with us civilians.

Band Vans

Black Cobra: Thankfully, the guest list finally arrived at Will Call and I got inside with minutes to spare before Jason and Rafa started their set; I also met up with The Drummer just as the houselights went down. Over the past 7 months since their latest album was released the local boyz have toured practically non-stop. Man, it was so cool to see my bruthas up on that big stage punching the crowd in the stomach with the song 'Negative Reversal' to start and for the next 30 minutes Black Cobra owned The Fox. Whenwedie later reported that in the photo pit he witnessed some of the people in the front row flinch the moment the set started because they weren't expecting that kind of volume from only 2 guys onstage.

It was awesome to watch the crowd get into the volume assault and I'm sure some new fans were made; I watched one kid as he started nodding his head to the music... then by the next song he was banging his head to the music... and not long after that he had his right arm extended giving Black Cobra the horns. Nicely done, lad... nicely done. Standing in the crowd, The Drummer and I agreed that we felt like proud parents watching our "kids" up there on the big Lock 'N Loll stage... and my pride for the boyz was magnified as Jason channeled The Nuge with his guitar moves (Note to the newbies: You CANNOT pull off those moves with short hair.. so grow your hair out, pussies!) and Rafa sported a SWEET Rainbow shirt. Trivia: Black Cobra brought in Billy Anderson to mix their sound for this show... and it was worth it.

After Black Cobra's set there was a nice little Umlaut Nation reunion of friends in the VIP bar... Drinks flowed.. and blood was spilled.. and if the boys wanna fight you better let 'em... and it won't be long 'til Summer comes now that boys are back here again.. or something like that.

Valient Thorr: Valient Thorr tries WAY too hard to be a good time party band; they even had “PARTY” flash on the screen behind them at one point. All I can say is that Valient Thorr tap into something that obviously isn't me and, like, I DON’T wanna party with them. Just being honest. The most entertaining thing about Valient Thorr was how we later kept seeing Valient wandering around the lobby and venue bar like he was looking for people to recognize him. Sorry, dude. Party.

Priestess: Holy shit... I have NO memory OR notes about Priestess. Where the hell was I when they were onstage?? Bizarre... Sorry, guys. If anyone can remind me what I was doing during this 40 minutes I’d appreciate it. Maybe I was abducted by aliens…

Baroness: There is so much hype around Baroness... There are so many people raving about Baroness. All I can say is that Baroness tap into something that obviously isn't me. I know using headwear generalizations is lazy, but during Baroness' set I glanced over to my right and there was a group of 4 young dudes standing together digging the set: 3 were wearing hipster beanies and the 4th had on a backwards baseball cap. Anyway... not that headwear means anything... but I'm just saying, in this case, maybe it does.

High On Fire: This was the final show of High On Fire's current U.S. Tour and in a nice random example of how The Rock Godz work in mysterious ways, as I made my way down front I found myself standing next to old Umlaut friend Radio Cuevas, who was back in town from SoCal. PERFECT! High On Fire swaggered onstage in their hometown and immediately punched their homies in the face with 'Frost Hammer' right out of the gate. Seeing High On Fire on their home turf of Oaktown is a rare event, but it was odd few locals seemed to know an older song like 'Devilution'. Unfortunately HOF weren’t playing a full set tonight as they had when I saw them at SXSW. Tonight they were allotted 45 minutes onstage and they made the most of it as most of Mastodon watched their set from stage left; I had a flashback to OzzFest 2005 at Shoreline when High On Fire watched Mastodon’s 2nd stage set from stage right and ‘Blood & Thunder’ was dedicated to them. The set-closing 'Snakes Of The Divine' seemed to get the most rabid reaction from the punters, but the highlight for me was the hypnotically heavy version of 'How Dark We Pray' that was like having a pillow pressed against your face and the volume sucking the air from your lungs. For the record, HOF were also the only band to say "motherfucker" onstage; keeping it real. Remember when High On Fire played their 1st show ever at the Covered Wagon (aka Annie’s) in S.F.? Me too.. "Frost Hammer!!! Frost Hammer!! Frost Hammer!!! Frost Hammer!!"

Between The Buried And Me: I can’t stand BTBAM. All I can say is that BTBAM tap into something that obviously isn't me. I just can't abide a "Metal" band whose singer runs back and forth between the front of the stage and keyboards... and, I've said this about BTBAM in this space before: The bassist holds his bass high up in that Jazz musician way which is simply NOT METAL. Note to The Kidz: If you play bass or guitar in a METAL band you should wear your weapons slung LOW like a gunslinger. Otherwise you look like you're dry humping your instrument onstage... which is fine if you're in a Jazz band... but dry humping is NOT Metal. During BTBAM's set we hung out in the bar where they had a video feed of the band onstage on one plasma screen behind the bar and on another screen they were showing the Sharks vs. Red Wings playoff game. Guess which screen had a crowd in front of it...


Umlaut doesn't follow hockey, but it was kind of cool to be *there* as the Sharks eliminated Detroit; dudes on ice skates were better than BTBAM that's for sure. As you've probably already figured out, this show brought out the worst of Umlaut's jaded Old Fart side... but I have to call shit like I see it. It was also amateur night with the alcohol consumption and mishaps… with a good number of “How did I end up on the floor??”-types and at least one casualty leaving the room on a stretcher. Party.

Mastodon: This was the 5th time I've seen Mastodon on this album / tour cycle and, as much as I've liked the Crack The Skye album, I can say that I'm officially burned out on it now. It's interesting that Mastodon are at a level of popularity where they can now be considered a gateway band who draws mainstream folks into Metal. I know alot of my peers have crossed Mastodon off their "cool band" list now, but Umlaut still digs them. However, due to our date with Ludicra back in S.F. we bailed after 3 songs, but I have to say those 3 songs were probably the best performances I experienced since the Mastodon show over a year ago at the Great American. When it comes to the Metal bands that kidz and hipsters are latching onto these days, I'd rather see Mastodon reap the benefits instead of, say, Between The Buried And Me.

Oh shit, I need to say THANKS to the 2 dudes who came up to me at different times during the show who said how much they liked this space. I sometimes forget that people read these rants. Cool Doomriders shirt as well, man.

If you bought one of every Black Cobra merch item you would have paid $95... and if you had bought one of every Mastodon merch item you would have paid $200. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Then it was back across The Bay Bridge for...

Ludicra / Kowloon Walled City
Cafe du Nord, San Francisco

May 8, 2010

The saga of Ludicra's U.S. Tour is one of THE Metal stories of 2010 and I originally ranted about it HERE... and Umlaut traveled to a foreign land to support the band a couple of weeks ago in Arizona. All of the drama they experienced from sea to shining sea finally led The Undisputed Headliners of The Bay Area Metal Scene back home for this triumphant homecoming show... which also served as the "official" record release party for their amazing album The Tenant. Of course, it was ironic that this celebration came at the end of the tour, but in light of everything that has happened to the band it was perfect. There is no place like HOME.

Welcome Home Art at The Merch Table

After spending 7 hours at The Big Rock Show, Ludicra were the light at the end of the dark, Mainstream Metal tunnel that I wandered through in Oakland. In a surgically precise maneuver (one that is sure to be studied at The Metal War Institute by future Metalheads as a textbook example of a Metal strike..), Photo Ray, Whenwedie, The Drummer, and Umlaut sped back to S.F. in The Prius... docked it at Photo Ray's secret lair... caught a cab within literally 2 minutes... and walked down the stairs into Du Nord within 30 minutes of leaving Oakland. SURGICAL! As we descended into the club, Kowloon Walled City were finishing up their set; I've been meaning to see them but have managed to miss all of their recent local shows. Sorry, guys... next time. Anyway, as I walked into the bar I saw the familiar faces of friends and local Metalheads and I immediately knew this was where I was supposed to be. The big show in Oakland had been fun, but this was the real deal event of the night; this was the event that counted.

I can't get over how brutally gorgeous Ludicra's new songs are when they're performed live... especially 'A Larger Silence'. It's an experience that I don't think human language can properly convey because the songs operate on such a higher level... and few songs in recent memory blow up like 'In Stable' does onstage.

During the set I had a profound sense of belonging; everyone in the room wanted to be there for the same reason: LUDICRA. No one was there simply to "be there" or to "be seen". This event counted. This was not a Scenester event like the show in Oakland; this was a gathering of kindred spirits. Ludicra have the ability to create Inner Peace via Mayhem and that vibe was so thick in the air you could have cut it with a knife. As much as I worship Ludicra's new songs, the song that has sucked me in at every show I've seen on this album / tour cycle has been the set closing 'Walk The Path Of Ash' from their 2006 EP. The title alone has stuck in my head as the perfect statement of how Ludicra have risen above all the bullshit and stress in the name of their art this year. I tend to gravitate towards epic things and Ludicra are an epic band both on and off the stage. As I'd witnessed in Arizona a couple of weeks ago, the new songs and old songs like 'Veils' created a vortex of fury that was completely engulfing and made me forget about time and space; Ludicra are the type of live band who make me live completely in the moment... and that's rare because giving up control over myself is not something I do very often.

For an encore, and the final song of the tour, the band plunged into the 15 minute epic 'Awake The Grey' from their 1st album and it was as if they were purging all of the bile and stress and bullshit from the tour into the ether via the song. It was 15 minutes that will rank as some of the best time I'll spend with a band this year... and with that mesmerizing finale Ludicra's U.S. Tour ended. As the song ended a curtain of feedback was lowered and the band exited stage left to return to The Real World.

The Tenant album is a watershed moment in Bay Area Metal and mark my words that in the years to come it will be one of those albums that future generations of Metalheads will hear about, seek out, and become obsessed with... Mark my words. It's not simply an album for just this year, it's an album for all time. Umlaut saw Ludicra 4x over the past 2 months in 3 cities and 3 states; it was an honor and a privilege. I'm looking forward to when Ludicra emerge from their slumber to rage amongst us again in (hopefully) the near future.

Ludicra onstage at DuNord
(Photo courtesy of Whenwedie)

After the feedback curtain fell upon the show we didn't want to leave. We hung out a bit longer, ordered another round of beers at the bar, and chatted a bit with the band and friends. THE SCENE. I didn't do a merch audit, but the nice screen printed gig poster (limited edition of 30) was only $10.. SOLD! On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. It was an epic way to end a long day. However, I have to say THE most METAL thing of the day has to go to Whenwedie's amazing King Diamond LEGO tattoo (King Diamond and LEGO: Both from Denmark... Brilliant!):

When I arrived back at Casa de Umlaut I found this postcard had been stuck in my front screen door by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka The Mormons… of course..):
Something tells me Jesus probably digs Between The Buried And Me... Just saying.