Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller
Metalliance Tour :: 04.03.11 :: Mezzanine :: San Francisco, CA
Simply put, the inaugural Metalliance Tour was about as perfect an evening of heavy rock as anyone could assemble. Some may quibble about lineup, performance order, etc. but taken as a whole, it’d be tough to come up with harder bang for one’s buck. For about $25 bucks in most markets, this metallic traveling caravan delivered seven well-muscled acts ranging from young upstarts to deeply seasoned veterans that drew a diverse range of fans, at least in San Francisco, where hoodied underground lurkers mingled with 30-something cuties looking to relive fond, raucous college memories with headliner Helmet and consciously scruffy longhairs there to throw the horns for the justifiably legendary Saint Vitus.
|Helmet by Josh Miller|
A sense of strange, ragged community prevailed, and if you sluffed off your preconceptions and just experienced the thoughtfully brutal buffet on offer, you were bound to walk away with a couple new faves on top of whichever powerhouse(s) had drawn you through the door in the first place. While the largest roar occurred for the two headliners, there were pockets of rowdy cheering for every act on the bill, which ran over five hours with the earliest bands getting 20 minute sets, the middleweights getting slightly longer and Saint Vitus and Helmet both pushing in close to an hour.
Atlas Moth kicked off evening around 7 pm with a sound that skewed slow and heavy with outbursts of screaming and frenetic activity, a hyper present sludge full of spiky dynamics and pleasantly flecked with bits of melody. Young and still forming into a fully identifiable shape, Atlas Moth nonetheless caught one’s attention swiftly.
Next up were Howl, whose 2010 debut Full of Hell is a bonafide bong hit classic, thick and forceful in all the right ways. Live, they’re even more fun. It’s great to see a lead singer in this realm smile as he growls lyrics in a voice from the abyss. In fact, vocalist-guitarist Vincent Hausman had a dark twinkle in his eye throughout their too–brief set, sparring playfully with his bandmates, all of whom seemed utterly smitten with playing loud, heavy rock as they flipped their hair with abandon and beat the hell out of their instruments. With thrash-esque shifts, dead solid material and a dynamite stage presence, Howl looks to just be getting started.
The main lure on this tour for me, personally, hit next. Portland’s Red Fang is rapidly shaping up to be a major force in hard rock, following in the footsteps of innovators like Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age and The Mars Volta, i.e. bands with a potential reach far beyond the metal world. While early Red Fang material hewed closer to Black Sabbath and other certified metal acts, albeit with a decidedly punk edge, their brand new album, Murder The Mountains (released April 12 on Relapse Records), shows greater density, stronger songwriting chops and is generally better & more original across the board. Something BIG is stirring in this band, and producer Chris Funk (The Decemberists) and engineer Vance Powell (Jack White) tap right into that thing and communicate it to tape on Murder The Mountains . Taken into the live arena, the new songs are equally ferocious if less polished, as they should be given the setting. Mixing up fan favorites like “Prehistoric Dog” with fresh single “Wires,” Red Fang laid waste to anyone tuned in at the Mezzanine, building up steam in the listener until one found themselves punching the air and howling quite uncontrollably. Their shifts in mood and style recall the brave direction of Ride The Lightning era Metallica without borrowing any of their moves directly; it’s a kindred openness to see how heavy music can be stretched and explored that one picked up on in SF and on their albums. This is just undeniable music that seizes you with or without your approval. And added bonus to this set: Saint Vitus luminary Wino joined them for a battering, perfect cover of Dust’s “Suicide.”
|Red Fang by Josh Miller|
Georgia-based Kylesa followed and continued to pry the top of my skull open with a brutal rumble saturated with interesting textures, keyboard splashes and a gutsy psychedelic thread that set them apart from the rest of lineup. While they were plenty rough enough to go shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the bill, they weaved in something more liquid, melodic and atmospheric that really rewarded you if you just dove in and let the current take you. Towards the end of their set, they slowed things down but the groove was no less insistent than the more driving earlier numbers. It showed off one of Kylesa’s main charms – honest, considered restraint. Heavy music is so often defined by its forcefulness and speed. What Kylesa showed is that taking a more considered approach can be just as dense and satisfying. Gonna have to dig in deeper to this band after this performance.
Almost entirely unfamiliar with Crowbar, I was pretty floored by their set. Led by guitarist-singer Kirk Windstein, an imposing, muscled barrel of a man, Crowbar hit a comfortable cruising speed and then just crunched through anything in their path. The New Orleans group is uncommonly tight and moves with a determined, irresistible power, never needing to crank up the pace or blast out wildly to deliver the listener to the metal promised land, where ears ring, the body feels bruised in a satisfying way and one thirsts for strong spirits to clear the dust from their eyes and throat. Since this show, I’ve dug into their new album, Sever The Wicked Hand (released February 8 on E1 Music), and it’s a corker, kids, real thick goodness that clearly translates to the stage very effectively based on their San Fran visit. Prior to this show, I only knew Windstein from his role in Down, and I’m starting to think I was missing out on the best he has to offer.
|Crowbar's Kirk Windstein by Josh Miller|
I’m going to be blunt about seeing Saint Vitus for the first time: Utterly amazing band. By the end of their blistering 45-minute display all I could think was, “Why aren’t these guys heralded as THE next step in the hard rock pantheon after Black Sabbath?”
Every aspect of the music is on point – fierce, intelligently structured, lyrical finesse and huge, swinging balls aplenty – and their live presence is felt in one’s meat and bones. Forget the whole stupid doom metal tag they’ve worn for decades, this music has a strange boogie to it, dark and definitely evil, but hips that much heavy rock doesn’t possess. Like man a punk obsessed teen in the early 80s, I discovered Saint Vitus through their early albums on SST Records, where they stood out but still carried an outsider edge and musical seriousness akin to labelmates Black Flag and the Minutemen. It’s a small wonder that they reformed in 2003, soldiering on even after the death of beloved drummer Armando Acosta last November. This is music that cries to be heard – loud and in your face as it gets – and we’re fortunate that Wino and the rest recognize and honor that. Time for every fan of this kind of music to rediscover Born Too Late and the rest of their back catalogue, crossing our collective fingers that there’s a new album in our futures.
|Saint Vitus by Josh Miller|
While some bitched and moaned about Helmet topping the lineup, based on purely musical terms, they were heavy as anything that preceded them, if operating in a different realm than the denim ‘n’ leather folks. The lure for Helmet fans this tour was an end-to-end performance of 1992’s Meantime album, arguably the band’s best outing and certainly its most influential. Meantime served as a blueprint – poorly followed and never equaled – by the budding nu-metal scene, which ended up diluting Helmet’s critical cred to a degree. Hearing the album in 2011, along with choice nugs from their more recent work, showed it to be an enduring song cycle that still lays solid blows to the head as it explores a fuller internal emotional landscape than most of the rest of the night touched on. Arguments that this incarnation of Helmet is only a puppet band for leader Page Hamilton seemed pretty limp when faced with the sharpness and togetherness of this performance.
The Metalliance Tour is now over but the good news is organizers are planning a Fall installment with a totally different lineup. If they show the same care and diversity in each new tour package, this is going to grow into one a must-see hard rock event.
Continue reading for more pics of the Metalliance Tour in San Francisco...