(April 30,2015; FIREBIRD, Saint Louis MO)
The intimate, unassuming Firebird is nestled in an office building, with a law firm and other concerns on either side, and… HOLY CRAP! Is the place hard to find! I mean, there’s a sign and everything but, it’s sort of obscured by a couple of trees plus, once you get there, the place really isn’t the place… it’s the back door; the front door is around back, where everybody else’s back door is found. So, anyway, enough complaining about location and entrances and such… once I figured out where I was going, manager Ryan Sears and the entire staff made me feel right at home. The club’s layout puts me in mind of such Saint Louis venues as Cicero’s and the Demo, as well as long-gone places like the Galaxy and the original Creepy Crawl; the sound is top notch, though there tends to be a certain amount of bleed and distortion, especially on the vocals, when you’re standing right in front of the stage and are hearing more monitor than house speakers. A minor complaint (I’ll get into one more a bit later in this review) that in no measurable way detracted from the show. And, what a show it was!
The opening band, Fumer, are Saint Louis originals. They’re kind of a hybrid beast – a classic rock mentality with a thrash metal stoner sheen; sorta like Led Zeppelin hooking up with Nirvana for a dust-up with Exciter. Guitarist and vocalist Joan Cusack sort of sneaks up on you, keeping the lead work tight, then shredding an ear-piercing solo that would make that one guy from that one band hang up his Gibson and retire; Rosie Perez (wait… is it just me, or do these names look vaguely familiar?) lays down an impossibly heavy groove, considering the size of his kit; Rosie’s partner in crime, Jennifer Tilly (hmmm… guess I was wrong about the names, huh? I mean, Jennifer Tilly isn’t a real thing, is it?), approaches his bass work in a suitably subtle fashion… akin to the subtle ax work utilized by Lizzy Borden on her parents. Tilly’s use of distortion to further enhance his already deep, rafter-shaking notes is, indeed, a thing of beauty. Unfortunately, Joan’s vocals were all but lost in the mix but, there was enough angst and emotion in his delivery to carry the set. The band’s latest release is called WE ALONE ARE DEATH ENOUGH and, the couple of songs I’ve been able to identify – “Water Song” and “Salesman” – come from there; it is available as a “name your own price” download on the trio’s Bandcamp page, as are their other two releases. Fumer were quite a surprise and a great way to kick off the evening. This just in: That one guy from that one band has announced his official retirement after listening to Fumer’s new record, issuing a prepared statement that said, “Though Joan Cusack doesn’t appear to have aged particularly well, he can still shred a ring around me. I quit!”
Eventually locating the entrance to the venue, the first people I ran into were the direct support (that’s the one that goes on right before the headliner), the Portland group Battleme. In one of my patented bonehead moves, I approached the guy who looked very much like Local H’s Scott Lucas (especially wearing sunglasses, as he was) and told him it was great to see him again after too long a time; in an odd coincidence that could only happen to me, the confusion was exacerbated when he said, “Hey… I’m Scott. But, I’ve never met you before.” Once I realized my mistake and they (hopefully) figured out that I was relatively harmless, I learned a bit about the guys and was even more psyched about this show. Battleme did not disappoint!
The Not-Local-H Scott (Noben) lays down an impressive beat, matched by his brother-in-rhythm, bassist Chad Savage, a Philthy Animal Taylor look-alike and possessor of the biggest hair in rock since the Melvins’ King Buzzo or the early (pre-Steve Perry) Journey version of Neil Schon; the duo is powerful – occasionally brutal – without ever losing their groove. About midway through the set, Noben did the unthinkable for a band like Battleme: He did a drum solo; even more unthinkable, the crowd went nuts as he pounded away. Guitarists JJ Eliot and Matt Dee (Drenik) slip some very tasty lead work and soloing in amidst the feedback and general noisy effects that permeates the band’s live sound. Matt’s frenetic stage machinations, understated modified folky vocal delivery and scraggly Pete-Townshend-on-a-bender looks is worth the price of admission alone. At one point, Drenik experienced some type of malfunction with his guitar (something other than a string breaking); in true “the show must go on” fashion, rather than stopping mid-song, he unplugged and simply danced (looking kinda like a spastic bull in a very small china shop) to the side of the stage during an Eliot solo before returning – guitarless – to the mic to finish the song. As the boys blasted through their set of supercharged tunes, highlighting the freshly-minted HABITUAL EP, it became quite obvious that they are the perfect lead in to the volatile Local H. Battleme aren’t interested in projecting an image; this is a band that is all about the show and the music. When you can catch the people on stage laughing at (and with) each other during a song, you cannot help but be drawn to them and feel a connection – a closeness – that you usually don’t sense from a band. Even though many in the audience were unfamiliar with Battleme’s music, by the end of their set, we all felt that kinship… a kinship that virtually guarantees a packed house the next time the quartet rolls into town.
If Fumer were the arsonists, setting a blaze from the stage, and Battleme came along, pouring fuel onto the slow smoldering embers, stoking the flames to the point they became out of control, then Local H were the resultant explosion that takes out an entire city block. The Not-Battleme-Scott would have seemed to be in a surly mood to anyone not familiar with his odd sense of humor (of which, more later); his feigned impatience at the sound guy and newish drummer, Ryan Harding, was more a product of nervous energy, as this was the first night of the duo’s HEY KILLER tour. The new album is well-represented in the new set, with eight of the eleven tunes being featured, including the record’s first track and the opening song of the live show, “The Last Picture Show In Zion,” a sprawling slab of guitar pyrotechnics and squall, forced to the edge of endurance by the manic drumming from Harding. From there, Lucas and Harding tore through a ninety-minute set that included such fan favorites as “All the Kids Are Right,” “Fritz’s Corner,” “Hand On the Bible” and “California Songs,” alongside “Gig Bag Road,” “Leon and the Game of Skin,” “John the Baptist Blues,” the self-depricating humor of “Mansplainer” and more new stuff from HEY KILLER. Of course, as generally happens at a Local H show, there were more than a few shouted requests for “High-Fiving Motherfucker” and “Eddie Vedder.” One particularly vociferous gentleman actually managed to get Scott’s attention, as he responded by telling him, “Well, now you’re never going to hear it. You’ve blown it for everybody… we’re not going to play it!” And, when they left the stage, the song remained unplayed. Here, too, is where I would like to mention another complaint… this one directed at the two louts – it’s this type of Neandethals that “High-Fiving… ” is written about – who decided they wanted to start a little pit action. That’s okay… no problem with that; what I do have a problem with is the fact that they decided that EVERYONE else should be involved in their frivolity. As I was at the front of the stage, shooting photos, my back was to the action; I was punched in the back of the head and pushed hard in the back, as were others – including a couple of young ladies – who just wanted to enjoy the show (I’m used to the general errant jostling that goes on in a pit, but for someone to directly target people who obviously wish to remain on the periphery is definitely not cool).
As things began to cool down on the floor, the band returned for an encore, though Scott spent more than 15 minutes proclaiming that the show was over, due in part to a lady near the front of the stage who was more interested in texting her friends than watching the show (before you get upset, the woman in question is an acquaintance of the band and Scott’s diatribe merely a send-up), as well as telling the crowd how great it felt to be back on the road, opening the tour at one of his favorite venues. Eventually, he did pick up his guitar and the duo ripped into the final HEY KILLER offering, “The Misanthrope.” With “Bound For the Floor,” the pit once again roiled behind us, but… we front row minions were hardly touched, as a group of very large gentlemen had formed a protective barrier, taking the brunt of the abuse. After a wicked “That’s What They All Say,” Lucas called a “troublemaker” up from the floor and told him to put his phone down and stand at the back of the stage until he was called upon (though the guy could hardly contain himself and tended to wander); with that, Scott and Ryan broke into a raging “High-Fiving Motherfucker.” I have a feeling that if he hadn’t been completely sick of hearing requests for “Eddie Vedder,” both songs would have remained unplayed. After Scott sang the first verse and chorus, he turned the microphone over to Mike (for that was his name) to finish the song; obviously nervous, Mike nevertheless acquitted himself quite well, actually and, now, has a story to tell his grandkids, when Scott Lucas and whatever drummer he’s playing with in thirty years show up for yet another gig at the Firebird.
It had been probably ten years since I last saw Local H (with the mighty Brian Saint Clair on drums… our thoughts and prayers are with you, buddy) and Scott and the new guy definitely held up their end of things. The show (even with the overly aggressive clowns in the pit – and, let me reiterate, it wasn’t the entire group… just two mooks who seriously need a crash course in pit etiquette) was a cut above; one might even say, “Epic.” The newer batch of songs nestled in nicely with fan favorites and radio hits and, while Scott’s voice sometimes sounds a bit hoarse, there are – thankfully – no apparent ill-effects from the injuries suffered in the 2013 mugging. If you haven’t seen them on this tour yet (or if you haven’t seen them in a while), make plans and get your tickets now; with Battleme along for the ride and Local H rejuvinated and tearing up the stage every night, you owe it to yourself.