Doubleheader Show Review: This Time It’s War, Thumbscrew, In Loving Memory, and Titan,Then: Most Potent Potions, Brainworms, Black Cash, fashion show.

Two shows in one night always tires me out. It’s one of those things that I could say I’m feeling my age about, but the truth is that I never had much stomach for it. Nonetheless, sometimes the thought of standing up for 8 hours and 7 bands in two different clubs seems far more palatable than sitting at home all night alone. This was one of those nights, so instead of going to the early show and heading home, or waiting for several hours to go to the late show, I decided to work a double, so to speak. I got out of work at 4, made a pitstop at home, and headed down to Shockoe Bottom (where both these venues are located) a little before 5. Due to shitty after-work rush hour traffic, I didn’t make it to Alleykatz until around 5:20. It was perfect timing, though, because Titan were just about to start when I walked in.
This was Titan’s first show, and I was excited to see them. They feature Tim Harris, the former vocalist for This Present Darkness. I never liked that band too much, but Tim’s vocals and intense stage presence were always a positive aspect of that band even when nothing else was, so I was glad to see him playing in a band again. Also in Titan is Kenny Bean, former guitarist for Forefront and With Death Comes Despair, a couple of bands I really liked back when they were around. I was expecting brutal metal from any band either of these guys were in, and Titan did not let me down. They only played about 5 songs, but all of them were decently long, so the set was still a good length. The songs mostly relied on chugging mosh breakdowns, which was somewhat surprising as I’d expected a bit more of a technical feel. The guitar riffs wer pretty complex, though, featuring a lot of melodic arpeggios and fast note sweeps. Tim’s stage presence was every bit as awesome as I remembered it; at one point he was on his knees punching the stage as he screamed. The drumming was pretty rudimentary, and actually didn’t live up to the complex musicianship displayed by the rest of the members, and this along with the fact that the stage mix didn’t allow the musicians to hear each other very well kept things from rising quite to the level I felt they could achieve. Tim later explained to me that their current drummer is filling in while their regular drummer recuperates from a case of inflamed wrists. The current drummer did well enough to keep the songs going, but based on what Tim said about their regular drummer, I’m sure they’ll sound better once he’s able to play with them again.
In Loving Memory played next. They’re a young metalcore band from the suburbs, and their appearance was kind of disconcerting to me, because they all looked exactly like I remember young youthcrew revival bands looking ten years ago—straight edge hoodies, gym shorts, and baseball caps all around. But instead of ripping off Youth of Today, these kids were playing metalcore. Most of their riffs were pretty standard for that style; lots of moshy chugga-chugga-squeal stuff. However, at least once in every song, they’d have a part or a change that left me totally confused. It sounded to me like they were heavily influenced by the first As The Sun Sets full-length, back before that band became spastic tech-grind. A bunch of their changes featured full-stops where the singer would speak a random phrase into the mic that I was pretty sure were supposed to be samples, but that they didn’t have the ability to play such things through the PA during a live performance. Other disconcerting changes were structured around one or both of the guitarists clicking off distortion and playing some weird 5-second figure that made no sense but would without fail lead into a drumroll that triggered another mosh part. It was obvious that all the members of In Loving Memory were good at their instruments; the guitarists pulled off some complicated riffs at times, and the singer’s high pitched screams were particularly good—though I wish so many metalcore singers these days didn’t feel the need to switch into death-metal growls half the time. One vocal tone is fine as far as I’m concerned. In Loving Memory have natural talent, but they’ll need to work on creating smooth song structures and injecting more creativity into their riffs before they can reach their full potential.
Thumbscrew, from Austin Texas, were next. I have these guys’ album “All Is Quiet” and really like it, and they have the reputation for being good live, but nothing could have prepared me for their set. As soon as their singer introduced them, they started blasting through songs like they were shot out of a cannon. I’d been a little bit afraid that there’d be annoying metalcore kickboxing going on that would make it hard for me to be up front, but I hadn’t factored on the chaotic structuring and constant tempo changes of Thumbscrew’s music, which frustrated and confused the kids who tried to kickbox. I, on the other hand, found them invigorating, especially after In Loving Memory’s generally predictable music. I recognized a few songs from the album I have, but generally as soon as I did they were over, and Thumbscrew plowed into yet another song without stopping. The drummer hit his drumset so hard that he kept knocking cymbal stands over, which wouldn’t get fixed til the end of the song, while the singer and one of the guitarists jumped and ran all over the stage constantly. Anytime they had to pause between songs, the drummer would keep a rhythm going by tapping on his ride cymbal while the guitarists fed back, and before more than a few seconds had gone by, someone in the band would lead into the next song and they’d be off again. It was amazing; I banged my head so hard I actually pulled a muscle in my back (which made me feel like such an old man). Before I knew it, the whole thing was over. Usually, by the time a band is done, I am ready for them to be, but I wouldn’t have minded if Thumbscrew played for twice as long. I hope they come back through the area soon.
This Time It’s War was the last band. They’re a local band of suburban teenagers that I’ve been hearing about for a while; word of long hair and virtuosic metal soloing made me curious and excited to see them. Turns out everything I heard was true. While This Time It’s War’s song structuring owes a lot more to modern metalcore than the classic thrash metal of the 80s, there were definitely elements of that style within their sound as well. For one thing, after a couple verses of chugging mosh, the two guitarists would often place one foot each on Alleykatz’s front barrier and rip off some incredible solos that could stand with prime era Slayer or Megadeth. A lot of times both guitarists would solo in harmony or in unison, but on occasion they traded solos back and forth in the style of Exodus’s Gary Holt and Rick Hunolt, which was truly awesome. This Time It’s War have a lot more to offer than solos, though; unlike a lot of bands who play the moshy metalcore style they work with, they have interesting riffs and creative song structures that keep the listener’s attention. The rhythm section was talented as well. I was especially impressed with their tiny emo-looking bassist, who could toss off flurries of notes just as fast as his guitar playing compatriots, and while playing with his fingers instead of a pick. The only weak spot in their sound, I felt, was the singer, who in fairness seemed less than 100% while warming up before the set. Maybe he was sick, but his performance was definitely lackluster, and it often seemed to me like the songs were allowed to be instrumental for too much of their length. If nothing else, This Time It’s War are an excellent band instrumentally speaking, and I’d go see them again even if the vocal performance I caught was a typical one. If it was typical, though, there’s room for improvement in that area.
The Alleykatz show let out around 8:30, and I walked right around the corner to McCormick’s. Unfortunately the show there wasn’t due to start for about an hour. I ended up spending most of that hour sitting at a table by myself writing the first part of this review in a notebook. Eventually, the members of Brainworms arrived and I hung out with them, at least until the show started. The first hour or so of the show consisted of a bellydancing performance by the duo Ramka (guessing on the spelling of that) and a fashion show. I can’t really make much comment on either of these things, as I don’t know much about fashion or bellydancing. I will say that the bellydancing routines where the girls had huge swords balanced on their heads were cool, and that the commentary over the PA during the fashion show was absolutely PAINFUL to listen to. That’s about all I can say about those things though.
Black Cash were the first of the bands to play after the fashion show. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about a Johnny Cash cover band, but I ended up really liking them. Black Cash’s lineup is that of a standard rock n’ roll band, with two guitars, bass and drums; the only distinguishing characteristic is that their rhythm guitarist plays an acoustic guitar instead of an electric. The singer is vocally a dead ringer for Johnny Cash, and the way the band arranges the songs and rocks them up a bit through their performance shows creativity and talent. They played a lot of the classics, starting with “Folsom Prison Blues” and going on to play “I Walk the Line”, “Long Black Veil”, and “Ring of Fire,”. When they really impressed me, though, was when they dipped into Cash’s later American Recordings period, playing not only “Delia’s Gone” but an arrangement of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage” that fell somewhere between the Cash version and the original. Apparently these guys sometimes play all night bar gigs where they play for three hours, and I don’t know if I’d get tired of hearing them after that long, but I know I wasn’t bored after their 45 minute set at McCormick’s.
Next up were Brainworms, the band I’d come to see. They hadn’t played a show in months, but they didn’t show any signs of being rusty. On the first line of the first song, Greg crashed into Joe’s drums and almost knocked them completely over, then managed to fall into them twice more by the end of the song. He spent the rest of the set on the floor in order to avoid doing such a thing again. They played almost everything from the demo, including a new arrangement of “Biggy Shorty” with a longer intro, and one finished new song. Then, when a circuit breaker blew in the middle of the set, killing the power to the PA and the stage lights but mysteriously leaving all of the amps still on, they played another song that they’d apparently just written and that Greg didn’t have words for yet. During this song, Greg set the microphone down, and a guy I’d just met that night through Paul from Landmines (I think his name was Adam, but I can’t honestly remember for sure) picked up the mic and started jumping around and striking exaggerated poses. This was already funny, but it got even funnier when the PA came back on in the middle of the song and he started screaming into the mic and holding it out for people to sing along. Everyone screamed nonsense along with a song that no one had heard before and had a great time. Brainworms finished their set in a more conventional fashion after that, and by the last song, Greg was curled up on the edge of the stage. As someone else who writes a million words for every song my band has, I understood his pain.
Most Potent Potions finished out the evening. These guys play the sort of psychedelic proto-metal that is best exemplified by bands from the late 60s like Blue Cheer or early Grand Funk Railroad. The songs they played were good instrumentally, but unfortunately the PA was turned up way too loud, and their singer, Justin, drowned out the music a lot of the time, which really hurt the overall sound. Also, he tended to get offbeat a lot, especially during the covers they did, but this may just have been because he was having as much trouble hearing the instruments as I was. I wish someone had just turned the PA down, but even with it being way too loud, Most Potent Potions were still pretty good. Their playing style was incredibly loose, to the point where sometimes the songs would almost completely collapse, but it worked well for their style of music. I don’t know whether this happened on purpose, but their apparently drug-addled stage presence mixed with the fact that the entire front row was girls in colorful clothes shaking tambourines and maracas made me feel like I was at some late 60s LSD party. They could have filmed the whole thing for a period movie and it would have worked perfectly. Most Potent Potions ended their set with a long version of “Parchment Farm” (actually written by blues singer Mose Allison, but their version was most like Blue Cheer’s), during which the drummer picked up his snare and carried it around the room, banging on it to keep a beat. After a few minutes he made it back to the front of the room and led the entire band into a loud, climactic jam, but by this point I was tired and had been at shows for 8 hours, so I headed home before the song was over. By the time I made it back to my house, my back and legs were sore and I had to take aspirin before I went to bed. I’m not as young as I used to be.


Naked Raygun is dead... long live Naked Raygun.

Though most of the musicians who were making hardcore records in the 80s are long since forgotten, there are a few still on the scene. Bob Mould is one, Ian MacKaye is another. It's debatable how relevant Henry Rollins is at this point, or in what areas said relevance exists, but he's a third to add to the list. With The Bomb's new album, "Indecision", Jeff Pezzati makes a strong bid for his own inclusion. Pezzati is the former frontman of Naked Raygun, who released six albums between 1985 and 1991. After Naked Raygun's breakup, guitarist John Haggerty continued making records throughout the 90s with Pegboy, but the other members disappeared for the most part. The Bomb is Pezzati's first musical effort since those days. When they started, Pezzati was both singing and playing bass (as he did in an early incarnation of Big Black), but with "Indecision" he has reclaimed his position as frontman, with backing music being provided by a bunch of guys who are a good bit younger than he is.

One would imagine that said younger guys are as excited about backing up Pezzati as he himself is about singing for a band again, and this excitement comes through in a big way on "Indecision". From the evidence presented here, The Bomb are Pezzati's Sugar to Naked Raygun's Husker Du--the production is slightly more polished and the songwriting a bit more rock-oriented, but in no way diluting the hard-hitting punk attack he made his name on. The Bomb's music is just as loaded down with scorching, uptempo punk riffs as prime-era Naked Raygun was, and those excited younger musicians bang them out with all the energy they can muster. This is obvious from the start--"Up From The Floor" kicks off "Indecision" with a bang, all the instruments coming it at once on a fast melody that the frantic drumming from Mike Soucy underscores with an undeniable passion. The guitars are distorted and cranking, and Pezzati is in top vocal form, especially as he harmonizes with himself on the chorus. The Bomb do uptempo punk rock better and more consistently than many of the bands doing so today, some of which are half Pezzati's age. Even when they step things down, as on the reggae-tinged opening minute of "Burn It All" or the entirety of "Won't Apologize", they never drift into ballad territory, always keeping things exciting and interesting. The "whoa-hey-ho" vocal choruses that were Pezzati's trademark in his Naked Raygun days are here as well, and are sometimes even more distinctive than they were then. "Nothing To Say" and "Further From The Truth" are great examples of this, but such choruses appear on almost every song on "Indecision"--not that anyone's complaining.

I'm not sure how serious these guys are taking this band--after all, "Indecision" is their first record since 2000--but hopefully it's serious enough that their record release schedule will be much more regular in the future than it has been in the past. A national tour would be even better, as these songs would no doubt be even more exciting live than they are on record, but the older one gets, the harder it is to make time for that sort of thing. Regardless, I'm happy enough just to know that Jeff Pezzati still has more great music left in him after a 20 year career, and that he has seen fit to present it to the public. Hopefully there's plenty more where this came from.



Most bands just play their instruments. There are a few bands out there, though, who when placed in a room cannot be said to be playing their instruments so much as they are playing that entire room, and everything in it. Every molecule of air, every flat surface or stationary object that can vibrate to the frequency of the music that their conventional instruments are producing, even any people in the room that happen to be listening; all are incorporated and absorbed into a larger whole that becomes the new, expanded definition of what is being played. Even at their quietest moments, they're not so much doing less musically as they are working more with space than with their instruments.

Sigur Ros are a great example of this type of band. They've always had the ability to take over an entire room and sublimate it to their will, and they demonstrate this ability with unprecedented skill on their newest album, "Takk". On previous Sigur Ros albums, although they had their loud, climactic moments, they tended to explore the quieter end of the spectrum. "Takk" indicates a desire to take things in a different direction, to spend longer on the swells and crescendoes and see what can be achieved by focusing on them more than on the buildup to them. After the title track's ambient instrumental hum, which serves as an introduction to the album (if not a theme), "Glosoli" begins quietly. However, pushed into action by martial drums and a throbbing, insistent bassline, Jonsi Birgisson's guitar grows louder and louder and finally kicks on the distortion. By now, the rhythm section is pounding furiously, and the entire band continues to escalate, reaching volume levels that Sigur Ros have never before attained. The song dissolves in an explosion of distortion, and the quiet keyboards that slide in underneath the fallout lead into "Hoppipolla". This song begins quietly as well, only instead of turning into a wall of distortion, it features a classical string section whose escalation into melodic grandeur is a whole different kind of loud.

The best example of the sort of sound domination Sigur Ros are working with here is the album's centerpiece, "Seaglopur". This song expands on the escalation into distortion that "Glosoli" was based on, but instead of merely building tension until it finally explodes, "Seaglopur" is based around a melodic chord progression that is rooted by the keyboards and offset harmonically by Birgisson's falsetto vocals. This chord progression is occasionally offset by a similar one, which might even be called a chorus, were we dealing with a more conventional pop-based musical group. After a short run through this chord progression at a very low volume, with almost no participation from the rhythm section, guitar distortion is brought into the mix and the rhythm section joins in. Immediately, the volume has been raised significantly, but rather than just run through things at this pitch once and drop back into a more quiet pattern, as has been Sigur Ros's standard operating procedure in the past, they just get louder and louder, running through the main progressions of the song several times. It seems like it should be a crescendo, but it arrives too early and lasts too long, instead becoming more like a continuous plateau. Birgisson's guitar is usually played with a bow, and close listening detects what seem to be multiple tracks of bowed and extremely distorted guitar, creating an almost symphonic effect that most resembles the paradoxically choral sound My Bloody Valentine famously created out of layer upon layer of distortion on their album "Loveless". The ethereal keyboards of the earlier, quieter portions of the song are still floating around as well, but the keyboard player is also now playing the root chords of the song in a low octave, harmonizing nicely with the pounding bass. The real melody of the song, by the time it's been going for a while, are carried entirely by the vocals. The rest of the band is rocking out so hard that you can imagine them jumping around on stage like they're in Superchunk or something. Of course, it is still a Sigur Ros song, and we're reminded of this when, at the height of the distorted pounding, everything drops out except for the piano, the vocals, and the choral-sounding guitars, which are joined by an actual string section for the last minute of the song. Nonetheless, unlike detours into louder sections on previous albums, such as "Agaetis Byrjun"'s "NY Batteri" or "Svefn-G-Englar", on which the loud sections were short and isolated from the rest of the song, "Seaglopur" has plunged fully into the possibilities of loudness. In doing so, it takes Sigur Ros in a direction they've never been before, and locates new and exciting possibilities for their sound.