An Evening with Alison Sudol

Alison Sudol and her band performing at Cafe du Nord.

There is still no substitute for live music in our streaming dominated world. To put it as cheesily as possible, good live music is like a shot of euphoria straight to the heart. It’s a hyper unique feeling that no one has managed to replicate elsewhere. And given the world we live, we can use a lot more of that feeling.

The show I went to last Saturday was pretty far outside of my heavy metal wheelhouse: it was indie rocker (I think) Alison Sudol, playing to what was maybe a hundred people at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco. If you know Sudol at all, it’s because she plays Queenie Goldstein in the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I don’t quite remember how her West Coast tour came to my attention – I think I heard through an episode of PotterCast – but I looked it up and tickets were like 20 bucks. Seeing her looked like a cool and rare opportunity and I also liked what I heard from her on Spotify.

Cafe du Nord is a square U-shaped room in the basement of the Swedish American Hall. It used to be a speakeasy and it absolutely looks the part. There was no visible security guards and I don’t think the stage had a barrier. The crowd was an eclectic mix of old (the bearded boomers wearing fedoras were out in force that night) and young. I ended up deep in conversation with a dude wearing a jacket decked out in Harry Potter pins and patches. He was also wearing an Episode IX beanie, which is how I found out he also attended Celebration (Motherfucker actually got into the Episode IX panel! Agghhhh!). He was a fascinating individual; I could have talked to him all night. I even apologized to the lady that was either his girlfriend or just a friend for hogging him.

The opening act was a local: Oakland’s Billie Gale. Per the about section of their Facebook page, they are a “atmospheric dream pop quartet,” though they were missing the fourth member that night. I don’t really have any opinions or knowledge to offer about dream pop. Billie Gale was certainly…dreamy? I wasn’t floored by them but they didn’t bother me either. The stand out of their set for me was when they finished a not particularly high tempo song and their singer said they were gonna “slow things down a bit,” which made me raise an eyebrow and whisper “Damn.”

After Billie Gale and the intermission/soundcheck, it was time for Alison Sudol. Her guitarist, drummer and keyboardist/pianist came out onstage first. Sudol herself stepped out after them, holding some incense matches and wearing some glitter on her face. She had a cup of tea with her, completing the appropriately witchy vibe she gave off. In addition to singing, Sudol also plays bass and percussion; there was a cymbal set up next to her, which she would occasionally beat the shit out of. Her mic stand had two microphones on it, one of which made her voice sound fuzzy and echoey. The only other artist I’ve seen with that set up was Les Claypool, of all people.

Sudol was a smiling, bubbly presence. I’m not familiar with her back catalog; she released three albums from 2007 to 2012 under the name A Fine Frenzy, so she’s been at this for awhile. Her set consisted mostly of material from her two recent EPs, which she released under her own name. I think it had been awhile since she toured, since she commented several times how glad she was to be playing in front of people again. Fantastic Beasts came up when some guy (I suspect it’s the same guy I spoke with) in the crowd shouted “Grindelwald is evil!” Sudol gamely replied “I know,” which led me to believe this wasn’t an isolated incident on the tour. If this brief, minor disruption bothered her, she didn’t show it.

My last show was at the Masonic in June, where I watched Mastodon (in between headliners Coheed and Cambria and openers Every Time I Die) play through Crack the Skye in its entirety. A quiet band in a small room with zero mosh pits was a lovely change of pace. Cafe du Nord’s sound system isn’t spectacular – the bartender shaking cocktails could clearly be heard through the music – but it didn’t bother me. If anything, it added to the intimacy.

I swear I’m not getting soft on you guys with all this dream pop and indie rock. I’ll be back on my metal bullshit in September when I see Kataklysm, Exhorder, Krisiun and Hatchet at the Oakland Metro Operahouse.

Deftones, Round Two


Vocalist Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter of Deftones. Photo by me.

I’m extremely blessed to have gotten a chance to see my favorite band a second time – on a Friday in a nearby city, no less. I’m very much aware how unusual it is to get consistently excellent metal shows to come through or near your hometown, and after Deftones, I get to see Killswitch Engage this week and Opeth and Gojira (Both on Fridays!) in October. I am one lucky metalhead. Deftones dropped a new album in April – that would be Gore – and of course, that means lots of touring. I spent a great deal of late spring and early summer excessively checking their tour dates for any Northern California shows, until they finally announced one: Aug. 26 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.

I had previously seen Florence and the Machine at the Greek and I got to see Alabama Shakes there in early August. At this point, it’s easily my favorite outdoor venue (sorry, Shoreline). This time around, I showed up nice and early and scoped out a spot reasonably close to the stage at about 7 pm. I had previously eaten dinner and done some pregaming at Townie, so I had no intention of waiting in the booze or merch lines, which can sometimes take up to half an hour. Around 20 or so minutes of sitting and socializing with my neighbors followed before the first act came on.

The opening act was an electronic duo formerly known as Sister Crayon but who are now going by the moniker Rituals of Mine. With extremely rare exceptions, electronic music really isn’t my thing; I would never be caught dead at a place like EDC and Dubstep didn’t die off nearly fast enough for my liking. That being said, Rituals of Mine wasn’t half bad. Vocalist Terra Lopez has a lovely voice that doesn’t get drown out by all of the electronics and she’s an engaging performer. They were an interesting, if unconventional, opener for Deftones.

The second act was the one I was really worried about. Not that I was concerned I’d have a bad time that night; Deftones rocked when I saw them with Incubus last summer and I fully expected that to be the case here. It was just the prospect of having to endure some truly awful music before getting to the main course that made me feel queasy. Rapper Yelawolf was every bit as dreadful as I feared. I don’t know nearly enough about rap to make a quality judgment on this dude’s flow, but every single thing about him was excruciating. His clothes, his tattoos, his lyrics, his impromptu cover of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and the stuff he said in between songs was all cringe-inducing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical act in a live setting as terrible as Yelawolf. I tried so damn hard to give him a chance and enjoy myself but I just couldn’t. The kindest thing I could say about Yelawolf was that he gave me a chance to take a bathroom break and drink some much needed water.

Once that ordeal was mercifully over, it was time for Deftones. Obviously, I’m already super excited to watch my favorite artist perform again, but the prospect of them washing the taste of Yelawolf’s bullshit out was a nice bonus. After a sound check that was almost too long, the lights dimmed and the fog machines came on and out stepped Deftones. They carved right into the set with “Rocket Skates,” which always induces violent head banging; it didn’t take long for the mosh pit to commence. I haven’t been in a pit since I saw Amon Amarth back in May and it felt so damn good to slam into some people again.

Deftones’ setlist was diverse; from Gore, they played “Geometric Headdress,” the title track and “(L)MIRL,” but not not any of the big singles (“Prayers/Triangles,” “Doomed User,” and “Hearts/Wires”). They played material from every album except for their self-titled record and they peppered in some rarer tracks like “Rickets,” “Kimdracula,” and “Prince,” which Chino appropriately dedicated to the memory of Prince Rogers Nelson. I was absolutely stunned and delighted when they pulled out “Rosemary,” the near seven minute long, proggy masterpiece featured on Koi No Yokan that ends with one of Stephen Carpenter’s crunchiest guitar riffs.

Chino was in excellent form all evening. While his vocals were a bit low in the mix at first he was coming through loud and clear towards the end of their set. His singing, screams, wails and even those “Dr Alan Grant tries to impersonate a velociraptor” noises he’s sometimes known for all sounded great. Everyone else in the band killed it too: Stef was making pure magic, bassist Sergio Vega (clad in a Venom t-shirt and cornrows, of all combinations) held down the low end in style and drummer Abe Cunningham was crushing his kit all night. The standout of the show, however, was Frank Delgado. Easily the most overlooked Deftones member (what kid interested in music says “I want to play the keyboards one day!?”), Delgado’s keys and samples really pop out in a live setting. That dude knows how to create atmosphere.

Granted, at every concert I’ve been to – without exception – there comes I time when I just start to feel over it and I hope it ends soon so I don’t have to go home early and feel like a loser. I figure this is due to fact that I’m getting older. That Yelawolf’s horrendous set induced a “Got off my lawn!” reaction from me certainly didn’t help matters. Plus, an hour of continuous moshing takes a lot out of you. Deftones wound down their set with “Knife Prty,” “Change (In the House of Flies),” and “Passenger,” before launching into an extended encore consisting of fan favorite cuts “My Own Summer (Shove It),” “Headup,” “Bored,” and “Engine No. 9.” The timing was perfect; I was absolutely ready to begin the long trek back to my hotel. “Purple Rain” was pumped through the speakers as the crowd at the Greek began to file out. It was quite lovely.

Thanks, Deftones, for yet another incredible show. And for God’s sake, if you absolutely have to get a rapper to open for you, get Run the Jewels.






At The Chapel with Chelsea Wolfe


Chelsea Wolfe and her eponymous band performing at The Chapel. Photo by me.

A former mortuary may seem like an odd place for a music venue, but for gothy, dark folk rocker Chelsea Wolfe it was weirdly appropriate. Situated on the hipster haven that is Valencia Street, The Chapel’s interior was bathed in blood red light right before the show started; combined with the high, arched ceiling, the dusty chandelier and black curtains at the back of the stage, it made for a pretty striking visual. Wolfe was playing the second of two shows in the City. As you may have gathered from the last time I talked about her, I’m kind of a big fan. I was mildly devastated when I couldn’t make it to her last San Francisco show, so when I saw that she was not only coming back but playing two nights in a row, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket.

The Chapel is a small venue and it filled up at an alarmingly fast rate. My fellow concert attendees were mostly young. Almost everyone was wearing black, or some other dark hue and tattoos were every where. In that sense, it wasn’t very different from the several metal shows I’ve been to over the last few months. Wolfe is, strictly speaking, not a metal artist, although she has many songs (her last album in particular) that are metallic as hell. I was wearing my particularly ludicrous Mastodon t-shirt to this show mostly because I didn’t know what else to put on, but to my pleasant surprise a few people were into it. Other metal shirts I spotted at this not metal show included The Ocean, Behemoth and Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats.

The opening act was a duo from New Zealand called A Dead Forest Index, comprised of brothers Adam Sherry (guitar and vocals) and Sam Sherry (drums and backing vocals). I won’t even try to describe what sort of music they play; their Facebook page describes their genre as “Other,” which is really helpful. I had checked these guys out awhile back and I did enjoy them and they sound just as good live as they do on record. They did little talking between songs; Adam has the tiniest of speaking voices and he’s barely audible even with a microphone directly in front of his face. It makes for a profound contrast with his vibrant singing voice, which filled up the whole venue with ease. A Dead Forest Index is a fascinating live act, though I did find myself getting restless near the end of their set.

After a sound check that went on just long enough for a bathroom break and another $8 beer, it was Wolfe’s turn to come on. The pre-set music pumped into The Chapel was downright eerie, setting up a doomy, melancholic atmosphere and getting the crowd worked up. The band, clad in all black, came out first followed by Wolfe in a white dress. They opened up with “Demons” and segued right into the crushing “Carrion Flowers,” which is a favorite of mine. Drummer Jess Cowrie was annihilating her kit on those songs. Three of the first four tracks of her set where all from Abyss, the most metal friendly of Wolfe’s work, so I was a happy camper. Fan favorite “Feral Love” (that Game of Thrones song) came somewhere in the middle of the set. Wolfe didn’t speak once during the entire set; not even when she and the band came back onstage for an encore in the form of “Hypno” and “Halfsleeper.”

The last two concerts I’ve been to (Behemoth and Amon Amarth) were metal as fuck, so a more low key yet equally engaging show was exactly what I needed. Wolfe is a captivating performer; her haunting yet beautiful voice and excellent guitar playing is all she needs to hold your attention and her band gives her excellent backup. I came out of that show as a fan of Cowrie and bassist/keyboard player Ben Chisholm, who is positively electrifying to watch. Even if you are unfamiliar with her music, I heartily recommend checking out Wolfe if the opportunity arises. She really is something else.

I’m really glad I got a second chance to see Ms Wolfe perform and I thought The Chapel was cool venue; I wouldn’t mind going back there, provided they book someone I’m interested in seeing.

5 New Metal Bands You Need to be Listening to Right the Hell Now

I love metal. There’s pretty much no such thing as too much metal and I’m never not it the mood for it. It’s the one genre – or rather, group of genres; metal is pretty fragmented these days – that never lets me down. Since I have a job that allows me to listen to music at my desk, I’m consuming almost 40 hours of metal a week. I am a happy camper.

Of course, metal isn’t perfect. A lot of metalheads tend to be stuck in the past and are generally uninterested or outright hostile to anything that is new (something that they share with more than a few superhero comics readers). Since most of the greatest of all-time legacy acts have all but cemented their places in the pantheon and not-super-old-but-still-kind-of-old bands like Mastodon, Gojira, Lamb of God and Deftones continue to produce solid work, it can be hard to find quality new stuff. Thankfully, I’ve got five new bands that the adventurous metalhead needs to check out.

These bands are described as “new” in my headline and the only criteria for that is they have all been around for less than 10 years and are still active. All five of them have gotten a fair share of press coverage from outfits such as Metal Injection and MetalSucks, so they aren’t exactly hurting for exposure. But seeing as they are still obscure enough to escape the notice of the casual and/or novice metalhead or someone who doesn’t spend any time reading industry press articles, I feel like they should still be brought to your attention.

And the best part? All five of these bands are from the good old USA. ‘Murica!

Rivers of Nihil

Based out of: Reading, Pennsylvania

Formed in: 2009

Genre: Technical death metal

Label: Metal Blade Records

Discography: Two EPs and two albums

Technical death metal can be tough to get into at first, but holy crap, it is so damn worth it once you’ve learned to appreciate it. You sort have to already be onboard the tech death train in order to listen to Rivers of Nihil, so they aren’t a band I’d recommend to a beginner. But if you are into the “br00tal” stuff? Look no further than RoN. If you aren’t a metal person at all, I still recommend you sit through the above music video, because the ending is so worth it.

Black Crown Initiate

Based out of: Reading, Pennsylvania

Formed in: 2013

Genre: Progressive death metal

Label: eOne Music

Discography: One EP and one album

Clearly there is something in the water in Reading. Black Crown Initiate is similar to their peers in RoN, though slightly less technical and more atmospheric. Hell, they even have clean vocals in some of their songs. Anyone who’s listened to stuff like Killswitch Engage is probably used to the scream-sing-scream approach, but it becomes cool and novel again when done with death growls. Granted, not every BCI song uses that formula, but their slightly less heavy approach could presumably get more people into death metal. To answer your not-yet-asked question, yes, these guys have toured with RoN, and this piece of perfection was used as the tour poster.


Based out of: Asbury Park, New Jersey

Formed in: 2010

Genre: Progressive metal

Label: Spinefarm Records

Discography: Three EPs and one album

Good things come out of New Jersey after all (that’s mean; my dad is from there). Toothgrinder bring a bit of hardcore flair to their brand of progressive metal, as if to reassure listeners that you can still mosh to prog. These guys just put out their first full-length back in January, Nocturnal Masquerade, and it’s easily their most accessible work. The whole thing just screams “workout playlist.” Masquerade reminds me of Deftones’ self-titled album, which was their heaviest record. Clearly, Toothgrinder knows the way to my heart.


Based out of: San Francisco

Formed in: 2007

Genre: Technical death metal, progressive death metal

Label: Nuclear Blast America

Discography: Two demos, two EPs and two albums

I’m kind of mad at myself for not getting into these guys earlier, seeing as they are right in my backyard. They’re mostly a tech death band, but 2014’s The Flesh Prevails (their breakout album) was delightfully weird and sometimes defied categorization. Listening-wise, I’d say Fallujah is the most challenging of these five bands to get into, so start getting some tech death under your belt before firing up Flesh, The Harvest Wombs or Nomadic. They are one the hottest young bands in metal right now, so don’t miss out on Fallujah. I’ll be keeping my eye out for local dates; it’s about time I see them live.

The Contortionist

Based out of: Indianapolis, Indiana

Formed in: 2007

Genre: Progressive metal

Label: Good Fight Music

Discography: Three EPs and three albums

These guys are, without a doubt, my favorite of the five, and they are only band on here that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live – twice. Their sound has evolved quite a bit over their three full-length records; they’ve gone from being a tech death/deathcore hybrid to being this monstrously trippy prog metal outfit. Their most recent effort, Language, earned The Contortionist heaps of praise and all of it was well deserved. It’s significantly mellower than their previous albums while still recognizably metal, and it’s an excellent jump on point for newcomers. These dudes make awesome prog and I can’t wait to see what The Contortionist does next.


Religious Christmas Songs, Ranked

I have become increasingly less religious as I age so therefore it might be odd for some to hear that I still enjoy a good religious Christmas song. Maybe it’s a recurring side effect of being locked in the Catholic education system for something like 14 years, but I can still appreciate religious Christmas music and I look forward to it every December. Since I’d rather not wait until next December, here are my rankings of 10 religious Christmas songs from worst to best. I came to these conclusions while sitting on a toilet, which should satisfactorily indicate how much thought I put into this.

10. O Holy Night: Putting this joyless hymn in dead last was the easiest part of compiling this list. “O Holy Night” is essentially a more boring version of the spectacularly overrated “Silent Night,” which might qualify it as the most boring song ever written. Were it not for that South Park Christmas special where Cartman has to sing this song while being zapped with a cattle prod, most people my age probably wouldn’t even know it exists.

9. Away in a Manger: Ninth place goes to the song that is most likely to be mumbled by some out of tune seven-year-olds in a Christmas Pageant. This by itself knocks it down a few pegs. It was a staple of the St Isabella School Christmas plays, in which I got to be one of the angles way back when I was in the first grade. I can say with reasonable confidence that my performance was above average, which sadly could not be said for the rest of the heavenly choir I was a part of. Moving on…

8. Silent Night: As I mentioned before, this one is spectacularly overrated and is probably tied with “Sleigh Ride” for the Christmas song I actively avoid trying to listen to every December. There have been good and sometimes even great renditions of it but people really need to stop trying to make the next amazing “Silent Night” performance. The above video is the worst possible version I can find, which I chose because this song richly deserves to be taken down a few pegs.

7. The Little Drummer Boy: That “pa rum pum pum pum” loses me every time. It is the dumbest thing ever put into any Christmas song. Also, unless you’re Chris Adler, playing drums for someone should not be considered a gift. I mostly remember this song for the Rankin/Bass Christmas special it inspired. Here is an exert from the Wikipedia plot summary:

“In the special, the narrator (Greer Garson) tells of a young boy named Aaron, who’s a misanthropic orphan who only finds enjoyment from playing his drum for his friends Samson (a donkey), Babba (a sheep, also known as BaaBaa), and Joshua (a camel); originally, Aaron was a happy child who lived with his parents who gave him his very own drum as a gift. One night, bandits (in an attempt to take the family’s sheep) killed Aaron’s parents and razed his house down, thus making him hate all humanity.”

The moral of the story is to never be good at drums. Or anything at all.

Joy to the World: “Joy to the World” gets lumped in the middle because while there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s nothing really right about it either. That and you really need some harmonized vocals to make this song special, which is simply beyond the ability of most carolers. Fun fact: the people in the above video were in Pitch Perfect 2.

Hark the Herald Angles Sing: I won’t lie to you; pretty much all of the good will I have towards this song is solely because it was the recipient of one of the greatest musical numbers in Peanuts’ history. Enjoy.

The First Noel: This is where shit starts to get real good. I’m about 90 percent positive “The First Noel” was the first religious Christmas song I heard as a lad, so its impact was quite huge on me. In a decently sized church with good acoustics and a choir that knows what they’re doing, this one is something else.

O come, O come, Emmanuel: Another epic, cathedral-worthy Yuletide hymn, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” can raise some goosebumps (in a good way) if performed well.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen: The number two spot goes to the song that you probably think is called “Comfort and Joy.” It’s grossly underrated and always a delight to hear. The lyrics even directly mention Satan! How metal is that?

Do You Hear What I Hear: Nothing about this song should work. I mean, it not only asks you to believe that lambs can talk but that the night wind can also talk and that said lamb can have a coherent conversion with said wind and a human child. Who the hell writes that? But work it does. It’s infectiously joyous and builds to a wonderful crescendo. It’s pretty much the perfect Christmas song, at least in my book. There’s about 6 billion versions of it, but I always prefer a female vocalist, so I embedded the Carrie Underwood rendition.

I Went to Three Concerts in Five Days and They Were All Amazing

On your kitchen counter sits a cookie, a doughnut and a brownie. Do you grab just one, or take a plate from the cabinet and serve yourself all three? That was the decision I faced this week when I had three different concerts on the horizon (two were back-to-back), all of which were for artists that I like an awful lot. Since the stars aligned in my favor this week, I checked out all three. Here’s what I have to report.

Delta Rae performing at the Great American Music Hall. The guy I know is on the far left, playing piano. Photo by me.

Delta Rae performing at the Great American Music Hall. The guy I know is on the far left, playing piano. Photo by me.

Delta Rae

Venue: Great American Music Hall, San Francisco

Opening act: Jillette Johnson

In a few words: Crazy genre mashup of folk, blues, gospel, country and operatic rock

I feel like I should disclose that I kind of know at least one of the members of Delta Rae. I mean, he’s more my older brother’s pal than mine but we are Facebook friends, so, yeah…disclosure. With that out of the way, I’ll say that DR embodies the solution to the conundrum I opened with better than most. I am not even the slightest bit comfortable trying to describe these guys and gals with one word. They’re part bluesy, part folksy, kind of gospely and maybe even countryish. But they play with an infectious energy that isn’t found in any of those genres.

DR is loud, bold and intensely theatrical. If you aren’t a gospel or folk sort of person, toss aside your misgivings and check them out anyways. Hell, I wouldn’t even know they existed if not for my brother knowing some of them and that worked out just fine. I sometimes try to broaden my musical horizons beyond the aggressive, heavy stuff (see the band below) that dominates my playlists and DR is just what I needed. That being said, “Bethlehem Steel” is a banger of a track. Crank that shit up.


Mastodon laying it down at Ace. From left to right: Brent Hinds (lead guitar/vocals), Troy Sanders (bass/vocals) and Bill Kelliher (rhythm guitar/backing vocals). Brann Dailor (drums/vocals) is hidden behind Troy. Photo by me.


Venue: Ace of Spades, Sacramento (Yes, ground zero of this tumultuous life event.)

Opening act: Intronaut

In a few words: Bombastic and moshtastic rocking’n’rolling heavy metal mayhem

After seeing them a second time on Sunday, I’m pretty sure that it’s impossible to not have fun at a Mastodon show. I mean, sure, maybe in theory it’s possible. Like if some guy in the mosh pit pulled a machete out of his ass halfway through “Bladecatcher” and hacked your arm off with it. But even then, your reaction would be less “AAAGGGHHH! MY ARM!” and more “DUDE, HOW THE HELL DID YOU FIT THAT MACHETE UP YOUR ASS!? THAT IS SO METAL!” In which case you would buy a shirt from the merch stand to use as a tourniquet, grab another drink at the bar and throw yourself back in the mosh pit to give your assailant an affectionate headbutt, because grievous bodily harm aside, that’s a hell of a party trick.

So, I’m not actually sure where I was going with the above hypothetical anecdote. But I’m pretty sure it was along the lines of “Mastodon live is an awesome experience and only the most extreme of circumstances would make it suck.” Atlanta’s finest sludge/progressive metal rockers are currently out on tour supporting Judas muthafuckin’ Priest but are squeezing in a few headlining sets here and there. They are definitely worth checking out; with or without Priest. But let’s be real: you should see them with Priest.

I swear this is a photo of Florence Welch, flanked by her impressive Machine. Photo by me.

I swear this is a photo of Florence Welch, flanked by her impressive Machine. Photo by me.

Florence + The Machine

Venue: Greek Theatre, Berkeley

Opening act: The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger

In a few words: Magical and full of fairy dust

Here’s an act you’ve probably heard of. I was super proud of myself for attending this one. I mean, I like Florence Welch and her accompanying Machine very much. I’m just as surprised as you are that I think they’re awesome. And once again, an opportunity presented itself and I took advantage of it. There’s not much I can say about Florence’s music; you either like it or you don’t. Her shows are something else entirely.

Florence Welch reminds me of those little fairies that follow Link around in the Zelda games. Except that she is a person and she also isn’t annoying, but most certainly magical. She is constantly in motion and spinning around and trying her best to be this bouncing ball of joy that it’s impossible for her positive vibes to not rub off on you. No shit: her’s was the first show where I didn’t mind sitting way up in the grass. She really does bring the show to you. I neither know nor care where she ranks on the pop mega star scale in terms of big flashy concerts. In fact, I don’t even know if she’s considered a pop artist. But go see Florence and the Machine. It’ll cost you a tad bit more than these other too acts, but totally worth it.

Also, for some reason people take off articles of clothing and throw them onstage to her. Nothing exciting though’ just sweatshirts and jackets. She also played the Greek two nights in a row, presumably so the half of Berkeley that wasn’t at the show I went to could attend.

A Night at the Masonic with Rise Against, Killswitch Engage and letlive.

As evidenced by this headline, that tour with Rise Against, Killswitch Engage and letlive. was not a hoax. It happened Tuesday night at the Masonic Center in San Francisco and I know for a fact that it did, because I saw it with mine own two eyes. I went to the second Tuesday night concert of my life with a couple friends and here’s what I got to report.

The stained glass window of the Masonic foyer. Photo by me.

The stained glass window of the Masonic foyer. Photo by me.

The Masonic Center is an absolutely breathtaking work of architecture, and before you ask; yes, it has everything to do with those Masons. It’s awfully cool of them to let people use it for concerts, which are managed via Live Nation. The foyer is massive and the theater itself is reasonably spacious. The dance floor by the stage has plenty of room and is relatively easy to get in and out of even when it fills up. Towards the back, there are rails (with flat surfaces to set food and beverages on) to lean on and chairs to sit in. These spots are prime real estate, so be sure to hang onto them if you ever attend a show here. Being a general admission ticket holder, I didn’t get to see the balcony, but it looked comfortable.

Not that this venue isn’t without flaws. Getting yourself out of the parking garage kind of sucks and getting a wristband for floor level and alcohol requires three or four different ticket/ID checks. Nice venue also means unreasonably expensive drinks; my vodka soda (I’m dieting) cost nine bucks and that’s just the well version. Getting some Ketel One in there bumps it up to 12. I suppose that’s pretty normal for a city establishment, but it still sucks.

Two wristbands, because you can never have enough wrist hair irritation. Photo by me.

Two wristbands, because you can never have enough wrist hair irritation. Photo by me.

There was a variety of people here, but spotting the metalheads was easy as hell. They, like me, had come to see Killswitch Engage. They probably neither knew nor cared at all about Rise Against. These folks were easy enough to spot; if someone was wearing a band shirt (I saw Korn, As I Lay Dying, Lamb of God and, weirdly enough, Dream Theater) then they were probably going to head home as soon as KSE stepped off stage and sure enough, a bunch of these guys and gals disappeared once that happened.

Letlive., doing letlive. things. Photo by me.

Letlive., doing letlive. things. Photo by me.

My friends and I established our spot right behind the main floor when the first act came on. Letlive. is probably the closest you will ever come to seeing a band fronted by the Joker (the “Why so serious?” variety). The LA-based post-hardcore five piece is worth watching just to see the antics of their shaggy, lanky vocalist, Jason Butler. This dude is constantly on the move, splashing the crowd with water bottles, standing on top of things he probably shouldn’t be standing on (like speakers), tossing his mic into the air and moon walking. And holy shit, Butler can moon walk; that was probably the highlight of letlive.’s set. That and his panicking roadies, all with that “Oh my God, what’s he doing now?” expression etched into their faces, trying to contain Butler’s chaos. I went down into the crowd once to participate in a circle pit, which is always dangerously fun and letlive. finished up with “27 Club.” Butler launched himself offstage and into the crowd on that last song.

Killswitch Engage doing their thing. Photo by me.

Killswitch Engage doing their thing. Photo by me.

That was fun and lively, but I couldn’t wait for the guys I had paid quite a bit of money to see take the stage. After some the sound check, the house lights dimmed and I readied myself. Five minutes of build-up later, “Turn Down for What” started piping through the speakers, much to my surprise and amusement. After this kind of hilarious false start, KSE took the stage and launched into their set with “My Curse.” It rocked, but the crowd remained static throughout the song. Thankfully, lead guitarist/backing vocalist/producer/madman Adam Dutkiewicz (known as Adam D) had some choice words to get the Masonic fired up

“What is this, National Menstruation Day?!” he demanded. “Clean your pussies up and open up this fucking mosh pit!”

We did not require further encouragement; as KSE launched into “Rose of Sharyn,” I made my way to the center of the floor for some good old fashioned Tuesday night moshing. These guys are a top five favorite of mine, so I wanted to be as close to the action as possible. I remained here for the entirety of the set, dodging some huge dude who had to be a decade older than me, avoiding the guy with the dreadlocks and the Lamb of God shirt (he looked dangerous), taking little breaks on the edge to catch my breath and generally having the greatest Tuesday night ever. I even got to hear that new KSE song that they’ve been playing live lately, “Strength of the Mind.”

“This song is about dealing with anxiety and depression,” announced frontman Jesse Leach, before it came on.

I know how that feels, I thought.

“And about dealing with wicked huge boners!” added Adam D.

That, too.

KSE rounded out their set list with songs from their most recent record, 2013’s Disarm the Descent, mixed in with old favorites such as “Life to Lifeless,” “My Last Serenade,” “A Bid Farewell,” and “This is Absolution.” At one point Adam D even got off stage and ran around the theater, still strapped into his guitar. They ended on the classic “The End of Heartache.” According to Adam D:

“This song is about eating Pussy! Always and forever! Amen!”

That fucking guy…

Rise Against at the Masonic. Photo by me.

Rise Against at the Masonic. Photo by me.

For a second there, I thought that was pretty much it. I didn’t see how Rise Against was going to top KSE. Under normal circumstances, I might have just left the show there, but I was determined to stick the night out At any rate, it would give me more to write about, which would actually make sense if I got paid per page (or at all, for that matter). It took a long time for RA to come on; long enough for me to endure the considerable merch line to pick up a sweet KSE t-shirt. I swear RA’s sound check took longer than letlive.’s entire set.

My bitching new Killswitch Engage t-shirt. Photo by me.

My bitching new Killswitch Engage t-shirt. Photo by me.

I want to say it was nine o’clock by the time those Chicago hippies hit the stage. The floor was packed at this time. As I mentioned earlier, the metalheads has gone home, leaving everyone else. I went back to my spot with my friends, completely moshed out. I was quite sweaty by then, and the unpleasant aroma coming off me practically ensured we didn’t lose our standing space. RA opened up with “Satellite,” and I was shocked at how into it everyone was. I mentioned before that I’m not overly fond of these guys, but the crowd went wild and the mosh continued unabated. If anything, it was even more frenzied that it had been for the much heavier KSE. It was understandable, in retrospect. RA was the headliner and is a much more popular band, with a sound that can cross over into radio rock that is more palatable to the masses. These guys also are rooted in punk, which did invent the mosh pit (metal co-opted it a long way back). While they’re far from my favorite, frontman Tim McIlrath and lead guitarist Zach Blair know how to shred, and really, what more can you ask of guitar-driven music?

Halfway through RA’s set it dawned on me that they were okay and while I didn’t have to love them, they at least had my respect. They were on stage for well over an hour before they did that thing were a band pretends to close up shop only to be called back for the encore by the crowd. The encore comprised four songs, which is one more than is acceptable for an encore, but I let it slide. Curiously, the first two songs were acoustic, which is something I’ve never seen in an encore. Thankfully, McIlrath realized it would be super lame to end the show on “Swing Life Away,” so RA put forth two more heavy tracks, the last of which is the mega popular “Savior.” Then it was curtains for good.

            My friends and I booked it out of the theater back to the parking garage and made it out in a timely manner. It was 11:20 by the time I made it home to San Rafael and work the next day was more taxing than it usually is. By I didn’t care; I got to go in a mosh pit on a Tuesday. Letlive. was electrifying. Killswitch Engage killed it. And you know what? You’re okay Rise Against.

An Ode to Chelsea Wolfe

You are presumably a person who likes good music, so I’m going to do you a favor and point some out for you: meet Chelsea Wolfe.

You’ve probably never heard of her (*cracks open PBR can*). She’s originally from Sacramento and has been making music for just about all of her life. Despite not having any real qualifications to critiquing or categorizing music, I’m going to try to do precisely that. Think of her stuff as dark, ambient, electronic-flavored folk music. Yeah, I know that doesn’t exactly blow the pants off most people, but just watch the above music video.

Holy crap, what the hell did I just watch?! I don’t usually mean that in a positive sense, but this is a day for treading new ground. I mean, “Carrion Flowers” is just sick. Every time I throw that shit on, I feel like I’m about to step into a monstrously difficult boss battle, which is a feeling I typically don’t associate with folk music, electronic or otherwise. This song in particular has caused me to coin a new subgenre to describe Wolfe’s sound. I’m going to call it “Zerg folk.”

Statistics say that you are probably a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones, where you have definitely heard one of her previous singles, “Feral Love.” It graced your ears in that spectacular trailer for season four. On that note, I’ve pretty much accepted it as set-in-stone fact that many future dark fantasy and/or sci-fi series will be raiding her discography to add some nightmarish edge to trailers, promo materials and motion picture soundtracks. It’s just too good to pass up.

Check out Wolfe’s latest release, Abyss, which is out now on Sargent House. I sure as hell will. Since the Niners took yet another bold step towards going 5-11 this season, I could use a pleasant distraction.

How I Ended Up in a Juggalo’s YouTube Video

You can go ahead and file this under “I did not see that coming.”

My Friday night was pretty spectacular. I went to Sacramento to see Between the Buried and Me on their Coma Ecliptic Tour at Ace of Spades. I’m not really a huge fan of these guys (I couldn’t tell you what song is playing in that video, or what that Russian dance circle thing is about), but The Contortionist and Animals as Leaders were providing support and I didn’t want to miss them. All three bands crushed their sets, though I didn’t actually venture out into the mosh pit until BTBAM came up. They put on a pretty amazing show and I’ll probably be revisiting their catalog to see if it does anything for me this time.

Anyhow, among the people I attended the show with was a J-School friend of mine who manged to unearth the above video, which shows the crowd during said circle dance before it breaks into a no holds barred, every man for himself mosh. You can kind of see me at the 32 and 41 second marks; I’m the guy in the gray shirt and navy shorts. Feeling curious, I decided to look up the YouTube user who shot this. His username is NinjaBlaze1025.

And he is a goddamned Juggalo.

If the name NinjaBlaze1025 wasn’t enough, the user profile picture erodes all doubt. He’s got the face paint going on and he’s wearing a black baseball jersey that says “Juggalo” on it. He’s got four videos of the show, including the one above. I mean, I guess Juggalo’s occasionally have good taste in music, given how well liked and respected BTBAM and Animals as Leaders are. NinjaBlaze1025 appears to be a frequent concert-goer; among his other videos you’ll find sets for something called Kung Fu Vampire, as well as Juggalo staples Twiztid and Blaze Ya Dead Homie. He also has a couple videos of Coal Chamber, in case that playlist wasn’t terrifying enough.

Presumably, this is him.

So, there you have it. My friend and I ended up in a Juggalo’s YouTube video. This is one of those situations I’ve never thought possible for me to be in, but there we have it. Of course, this doesn’t make that night any less fun, but it still gives me pause. I guess this is one of those stories I can tell those kids and grandkids that I probably won’t have. On second thought, that would also require me to explain to the tykes what a Juggalo is, so maybe grandpa will keep that one to himself.

On an unrelated note, the best French toast in Sac can be bought here.

Here’s that New Lamb of God Song Featuring Chino Moreno

I’ve never been a Lamb of God fan. I don’t think they are bad by any stretch; they’ve just never done anything for me. However, I got a feeling I’ll be eating my words when “VII: Sturm und Drang” gets released and I will be happy to do so. LoG have so far released five singles from this upcoming record and they have all delivered. I guess there’s something about being on trial for manslaughter in the Czech Republic that ignites your creativity.

This latest single, “Embers,” features Chino Moreno of Deftones as a guest vocalist and since Deftones are my favorite band, I’m compelled to give it a listen. It’s just about as good as I was hoping; it’s your standard brutal LoG song with organs from Deftones grafted onto to it near the end. If I’m making it sound like “Embers” is forced, I don’t mean to. Chino’s haunting, soaring cleans blend quite well with Randy Blythe guttural screams and yells. It’s a helluva lot better than that collaboration Chino did with Whitechapel, that’s for damned sure.

“VII: Sturm und Drang” drops on July 24 via Epic Records and Nuclear Blast. In addition to Chino Moreno, it will also feature a guest appearance from Greg Puciato of The Dillinger Escape Plan.