Friday 26 September 2014

Live Review: "None Heavier". Crowbar, Gothic Theater Denver, CO. 23/9/2014

"NONE HEAVIER." Written across the back of one of the many Crowbar shirts for sale Wednesday night at the Gothic Theater in Denver, CO and this sentence sums up the sonic heft of the long-running NOLA doom legends rather nicely. It takes a certain level of confidence in your band's power to make that sort of claim at all, much less back it up. If anything, the phrase is an understatement of what Crowbar is.

I arrived at the venue just after 9:30 with every intention of showing up just in time for Crowbar. I mean no disrespect to their tourmates, but deathcore and technical thrash/death just aren't my bag -- if you're reading this piece at the Sludgelord, there's a decent chance the same is true for you. That said, I wound up seeing the entire set from Revocation, and the juxtaposition of their lightning-fast, highly-technical approach to metal with Crowbar's skull-crushing, melodic simplicity really highlighted how strange the entire tour package was. To be clear, I'm a huge fan of diverse line-ups, and I'm sure there were people there who were thrilled by all five bands. That said, something about it all struck me as strange (more on that later). Those thoughts were pushed from my mind the moment that Kirk and company fired up their rigs.

"This is Crowbahhh from fackin' New Orleans!" and with that, they launched into "Cemetery Angels," a powerful opener whose chug-heavy ending got the small-but-excitable crowd violently slamming into each other. I've seen lots of bands live, but the ones who have consistently had the rowdiest crowd reactions have been the NOLA vanguard: EHG, Crowbar, Soilent Green, and even Goatwhore. Their set list spanned their entire discography, including new tracks "Walk with Knowledge Wisely" and "Symmetry in White" alongside classics like "High Rate Extinction" and "Planets Collide." The two highlights for me were Tommy Buckley's rendition of the intro to "Hot for Teacher" while technical issues were being sorted out, and the ultra-slow rendition of my personal favorite "The Lasting Dose." Something about the reduced tempo made the song feel heavy in a way that no amount of palm-muting or vocal-chord-destroying hollering could accomplish on its own.

From the catchy-yet-punishing riffs, rather than any sort of guitar pyrotechnics, to Kirk's friendly banter with the crowd -- ragging on the Seattle Seahawks, got the crowd as fired up as the intro to "High Rate Extinction" -- to hanging out and taking pictures with fans rather than retreating backstage after the set, Crowbar oozes a workingman's ethos that is approachable and comforting while also capable of bringing out impressive violence in the pit area. When Kirk thanked the crowd between songs, it was impossible not to feel that it was genuine in a way that isn't true for all metal bands. There were no strobe lights, no synchronized stage moves, no calls to "fuck shit up in the pit," no ambient samples between songs. Crowbar is a doom metal band for the people.

It's that point that leaves me wondering, then, why Crowbar's crowd was so much smaller than one would expect in a venue the size of the Gothic (~1,100). By my estimation, there were no more than 2-300 people at the show. That's not a laughable number, but there was a noticeable amount of unfilled space in the venue. Maybe it was the tour package. Maybe it was the weekday show, though in my years living in Colorado, I've seen a ton of weekday shows with seemingly-less popular bands have a bigger draw. Maybe it was a combination of all of these factors and more. I do know that something feels wrong about a band with this sort of legacy, one that now includes being cited as a direct influence to metal/hardcore bands like Xibalba and Twitching Tongues, playing to anything shy of a packed house.

In a just world, Crowbar sells that all-ages venue out on a Wednesday, and all of the teenagers who dragged their parents along for a taste of something heavy would catch a glimpse of the bearded riff wizard Kirk Windstein as he offers a clinic on heaviness. All the same, I like to think that a few of those youngins woke up today, put on their brand new band shirt, and went to school announcing to the world that when it comes to sludge and doom, there are NONE HEAVIER than Crowbar from fuckin' New Orleans.

Words by: Ben Hutcherson