By Adrien Begrand (Lazarus AD live in Toronto photos by Mark Coatsworth)
It might not be the first choice of venue for a touring metal band, but when a metal show does come to Amigos Cantina in Saskatoon, much more often than not, it’s a great show. Long established as the city’s go-to place for top flight indie rock, the cozy, 230-capacity Amigos is widely regarded as one of the finest live venues in Canada, and while its laid-back, friendly atmosphere isn’t exactly conducive to the more punishing aspect of more extreme sounds than, say, the Sadies, it has hosted a number of raucous shows, from 3 Inches of Blood to a memorable, highly surreal performance by Strapping Young Lad in which Devin Townsend, Gene Hoglan, and company proceeded to all but cave in the tiny club. Consequently, with West Coast upstarts Bison BC paying the city another visit alongside labelmates Lazarus AD and Montreal buds Barn Burner on a tour aptly dubbed the “Baptized in Beer” tour, the hundred or so punters had every reason to expect a similar outcome.
Yours truly arrived just as Barn Burner was winding down their opening set, but what was heard was definitely passable, a boogie-laden blend of Every Time I Die, Tricky Woo, and hardcore/stoner crossovers Saviours, leaning more toward hardcore than the boys in Bison. Lazarus AD, on the other hand, are pure metal through and through, their Metal Blade debut The Onslaught one of this year’s finer retro thrash efforts, and after an interminable changeover in which an unnecessarily huge drum kit was painstakingly obsessed over, the Kenosha, Wisconsin foursome hammered out a workmanlike set of tried-and-true Bay Area shtick, which for those of us who grew up with it in the 1980s, never gets too old. With bassist Jeff Paulick spitting out his caustic lyrics and guitarist Dan Gapen shredding away, it was an effective 40 minute set, featuring such album standouts as “Absolute Power”, “Thou Shalt Not Fear”, “Revolution”, “Rebirth”, and “Last Breath”.
Bison BC, or simply “Bison” as they’re known round these parts, has become a live institution in Western Canada over the last year and a half, and the nice turnout on this Tuesday night reflected the band’s steadily growing grassroots fan base. Theirs is an easy sound to like, and one that translates exceptionally well to live settings, especially smaller venues, James Gnarwell and Dan And delivering catchy, Matt Pike-inspired riffs that sound equal parts High on Fire and Sleep, the two trading harsh vocals like Mastodon used to do. However, when seeing this band live it soon becomes apparent just how valuable drummer Brad MacKinnon is, providing the kind of swing few metal bands are capable of, leaning heavily on his gigantic ride cymbal a la Brant Bjork. And the Vancouver band had the place jumping from the get-go with a set dominated by tracks from last year’s superb Quiet Earth, first with the punishing “Slow Hand of Death” and continuing with such faves as “Curse of the White Wizard”, “Dark Towers”, “Primal Emptiness of Outerspace”, and the epic “Wendigo Pt. 1” By the time the show climaxed with the gang vocals of “These Are My Dress Clothes”, audience and band were feeding off each other, beer flying, fists raised, heads banging, band leaving the crowd wanting more, but stuck having to wait for next time. Which knowing these East Van road warriors, will probably be sooner than later.