Review by Sean Palmerston, Concert photos by Tim Bugbee
I like free things. I especially like them when they give me the chance to see a bunch of bands I dig for, well, nothing. So, after passing on going to the initial Scion Rock Festival with Kevin Stewart-Panko last year when it happened in Atlanta, I made up my mind I wouldn’t miss this year’s edition. When it was announced in early February that this year’s edition would be happening in a much closer location – Columbus, Ohio to be exact – we made plans to go, hooking up with longtime pal (and Profound Lore label owner) Chris Bruni and made the six hour drive down.
Having a festival in March can be a crap-shoot at best no matter where you are, and while it didn’t snow on this particular day in March, the weather was a bit less than accommodating for the nearly 3500 fans that were lucky enough to get a fest ticket. In fact, it either rained or drizzled for our entire stay in Columbus. Apparently it had been very nice the day before, but on Saturday, March 13th it was drab, wet and a little cold – not exactly what we were hoping for.
A good majority of the day was spent inside instead – shopping at local indie store Magnolia Thunderpussy (great selection but surprisingly more expensive than similar Canadian stores), meeting up with old friends at one of the local hotels, and going out for some great food at one of the local bars/restaurants with still more old friends.
The weather might have been shit, but it wasn’t going to impact our fun, with the best still not underway until about 5 PM in the afternoon when the music finally started.
Black Tusk kicked off the live music portion of the events over at the super-cool mid-sized Skully’s. The Georgia based trio recently signed to Relapse and will have their label debut out this spring. I was already aware of the band, after having been given a copy of a previous CD that was released by Baroness’ John Baizley, but was still surprised at what I heard – and saw – on stage. BT’s bassist has a huge ass ZZ Top style beard and a gigantic tattoo of a gun on his neck, pointing up at his ear. I imagine this dude’s gonna have all kinds of trouble trying to get through immigration when these guys eventually head into Canada for some touring.
Musically they were tight and to the point, kinda like a mixture of Cursed and Judas Priest played by a bunch of scuzzy stoners. They’ve definitely advanced over the CD that I have and based on their Scion performance a lot of people are gonna be digging them when their Relapse album drops later this year.
Kevin wanted to go over and check out Saviours at Circus and I decided to join him, having especially liked the three seven-inch singles they put out last summer. The Oakland CA quartet were doing a fine job playing a sloppy, yet inspired set of NWOBHM-influenced retro metal – like what High On Fire would sound like if Maiden was their biggest influence instead of Motorhead – but I found that after four or five songs I’d already had enough.
I would have been happy to take off then, but then Kevin’s fellow Decibel scribe J. Bennett informed him that Wino would be joining Saviours onstage for a Blue Oyster Cult cover. When I heard that I couldn’t leave.
I don’t even remember what the fuck they played for the rest of their set until Wino arrived, but as someone who’s never had a chance to see the man onstage I was happier than a pig in shit to witness them blaze through BOC’s “Hot Rails To Hell”. Although Wino was having guitar problems, eventually ditching his axe and just singing the latter half of the song as impromptu front man, it was the first real highlight of the day for me, making my wait in the confined sweatbox that Circus was well worth it.
We moved across town (by bus!) to the much bigger and roomier Newport Music Hall to find Vancouver’s Three Inches of Blood having just hit the stage. It wasn’t that long ago that I saw their excellent set here in Hamilton at the Casbah, but seeing the quintet on a huge stage in front of an equally large crowd made all the difference. The band played the best set I have ever seen them do, relying heavily on their newest album Here Waits Thy Doom. “Battles and Brotherhood” was like a rallying cry for the few thousand there to see them and their set was the second best one I saw that evening.
A quick trip a bit further north to Bernie’s found NYC’s Black Anvil laying waste to everyone that managed to cram into the basement bar. And when I say crammed, I really mean crammed. The place was full and with the stage being mere inches off the ground, I couldn’t actually see the former-punks-turned-black-metallers hammer out their decidedly old school sounding mixture of Celtic Frost and Destruction riffs, but what I heard sounded absolutely awesome. I’m looking forward to whenever their second album drops on Relapse. It should be a doozy.
Ludicra was up next in the small bar, but since they are playing Toronto in April with Krallice, we decided instead to go see a few songs by D.R.I. over at Newport. We went in, watched exactly three songs and split. They were great, but I wanted just a little taste of their frantic, venomous crossover punk so I got my mouthful and left. We’ll be seeing them again in a few months down at the Maryland Death Fest and will write more then.
Kevin and I hopped on a shuttle and made the mile or so journey back south to Skully’s, where I decided to make myself comfortable for the rest of the night. Pelican was on stage doing what they do best and I have to say that they surprised me on this night. I’ve seen them a few times now and enjoyed them but never really felt they were clicking.
On this night, the Chicago instrumentalists brought their A game. The band was spot on, led by Laurent Lebec’s frantic headbanging and thrash-derived riffs. The band went over incredibly well too – the club was absolutely packed for them and stayed that way for the rest of the show, with people perhaps wanting to find a good spot for Shrinebuilder’s night-closing set. Not that the show was over yet. In fact, arguably the best band of the night was about to knock everyone’s socks off.
YOB is a band that I’ve always enjoyed on album, but nothing had prepared me for what I was about to see. After sauntering onstage somewhat nonchalantly, guitarist Mike S. told the crowd they had 50 minutes to play, so they’d only be able to do three-and-a-half songs.
It still hadn’t hit me as to what was about to start, but the next hour was one of the best sets of live music I have seen by any band in a long time. YOB don’t tour a lot. Their last tour of the Eastern US was five years ago in 2005, so there were a lot of people that marked off that part of the night to make sure they saw the heavy-laden trio bring the doom. They did that in spades.
Playing though borrowed equipment, the band still managed to be heavy, droning and mesmerizing all at once. Playing two songs off The Great Cessation and a few older nuggets, they blew the fucking crowd away – yours truly included. Not only that, but when their merch person left to go check out some of Voivod, I promised to watch over their merch until his return. So not only were they blowing my mind, I was also having to deal with droves of merch-hungry fans that wanted to buy up whatever they had on sale, telling them they had to wait till the regular dude came back.
Even that couldn’t put a bummer in my mood, they were that fucking good. The real deal. I even became one of those merch hungry fans myself, picking up the few albums in their collection that I didn’t already have.
The night wasn’t done yet, however. Shinebuilder, the stoner/doom “ultra group” (as guitarist Scott Kelly refers to them) featuring members of the Melvins, Neurosis, Sleep and Saint Vitus was the last band of the night at Skully’s which was now absolutely packed to the brim with people.
After an extended wait for them to hit the stage the quartet came out and ripped through a solid set that encompassed most of their self-titled Neurot debut. For those that haven’t heard Shrinebuilder, it sounds pretty much exactly what you would think it would sound like. A bit of Sleep here, some Neurosis feeling there – it’s a good record and they could become an amazing live band, but seeing as how they really haven’t toured very much on this night they were merely very good.
It might have been the fact that I had just had my face completely fucking ripped off by YOB’s brilliance, but Shrinebulder never turned that proverbial corner from great to amazing. At least not for me.
My main problem lay in the fact that I like seeing Scott Kelly play in Neurosis and I think that I would have preferred my first Wino live experience to have been him playing on material that was more his and not just his sometimes supergroup. Like I said, they were good but I unfortunately wasn’t feeling it the way I had hoped to.