Torche/ Big Business/ Helm’s Alee @ Mohawk Place, Buffalo, NY, July 22, 2011

Review by Renee Trotier

I was enamoured with Mohawk Place from the moment I stepped through the door. With tin ceilings overhead, old band paraphernalia adorning the walls and strings of Christmas lights providing an ambient glow, I felt like I had stepped into the beginning levels of a Guitar Hero game. Seemingly home to every rock band cliché from graffiti on the walls to bathroom stalls without locks, a lack of proper ventilation seemed standard. On the heels of a record breaking heat wave however, this meant that it was not only humid inside, it was HOT. Luckily, ice cold beer was only three bucks a can and water was handed out for free. Besides, complaining about the heat would seem trivial with High on Fire’s entire discography in rotation and an interesting roster of Hydra Head bands poised to take the stage. It was a night for exploration and discovery, and this tour seemed to promise just that.

To understand opener’s Helm’s Alee, I think, is to envision of them as artists – builders of sound sculptures rather than songs. This three-piece post rock outfit use each instrument as a tool for building tone and texture, weaving both male and female vocals through thundering bass and cascades of guitar. The riffs, thick and heavy, often seemed suspended in time, clinging to the venue’s stagnant air. They walk a delicate line between suffocating darkness and the ethereal light, often incorporating moments of silence as contrast to the sounds they create. If your mind is open, Helm’s Alee will alter it for the better.

Despite signs on the wall proclaiming them the evening’s headliners, Big Business were next to take the stage. Utilizing fuzzy riffs and repetitive verses for emphasis, they play the type of straight forward stoner rock that’s easy to sing along to. Stylistically, they were a perfect fit for the bill and it really seemed had a large draw. Nearly everyone in the audience was singing along, sweat soaking through their shirts and fists pumping frantically in the air. Lead singer Jared Warren injected a strange level of surrealism into their music when he choose to address the crowd, at one point insisting the beer spilt on him would cause hops to multiply and sprout from his pores. Weird to be sure, but in a place like this weird can also be wonderful.

Torche may be notoriously loud live but their infectious brand of stoner pop seeped quietly into the room, getting under everyone’s skin and inciting movement throughout. In no time flat Mohawk Place was transformed into a house party from hell. There was jovial dancing in the mosh pit and beer sloshing in celebration. Not one person remained static, including the band themselves who seemed happy just to be on stage. From 2007’s In Return to latest offering Songs for Singles, Torche played a career spanning setlist with humour and finesse. The one-two punch of Meanderthal’s “Healer” and “Across Shields” proved the real highlight however, setting fire to an already energetic set.

Although the venue was uncomfortably hot and sticky by the show’s end, there was nothing I could do to stop grinning. I liked Torche before but I absolutely adore them now, and like I said it’s hard to complain. The water was free, booze was cheap and the music was loud. Totally worth the last minute drive to Buffalo if you ask me.

Renee is the woman behind the words over at Throwing the Horns, as well as being a concert-going foodie and well-known adorer of cats.