By Avinash Mittur
August 10th 2012, The Red House, Walnut Creek CA: During my time in the bay area I’ve had the opportunity of seeing many small shows featuring local acts. For the most part, these shows have been fun events. However, these kinds of shows can be prone to mismatched lineups, terrible turnouts, and short sets by the bands. Sadly, this seemed to be the case at this concert last Friday night at the Red House in Walnut Creek. This show saw a truly random lineup, nearly no fans in attendance, extremely short sets, some performances that left a bit to be desired and a set that might have caused me permanent brain damage. Not every show can be a great one, and unfortunately my luck seemed to have finally run its course with this one.
I unfortunately missed Gemanon, the first act on the bill. Normally I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to opening acts that I missed, but given the sheer randomness of the bill on this night, I just couldn’t honestly assume that I would have enjoyed this band. The first group I did arrive in time to see though was Steel Witch. Despite a name that might make one think of a traditional or power metal band, I was instead greeted with one man on a keyboard mounted on a floor tom, a guitarist, one dedicated backing vocalist in corpse paint, and an amplifier operator. This was easily the most bizarre band set up I had ever seen. This band mainly played covers of classic songs like “Jump” by Van Halen and “War” by Edwin Starr, but these new versions were far removed from their original incarnations. Very far removed. A drum loop would be played in the background, the keyboard player would jokingly speak the lyrics William Shatner-style while playing bastardized versions of the original riffs, the guitar player would play random off-key lines, the backing vocalist would just growl the choruses black-metal style, and I truly do not know what the boy sitting on the amp did. He would twists knobs frequently, but whatever he might have done just got lost in a wash of noise. I’m assuming Steel Witch wasn’t taking this set seriously, but even as a gag this was the weirdest and most random live performance I have ever witnessed. It wasn’t funny, and it wasn’t particularly entertaining- it was simply the most demented fifteen minutes I have ever seen on a live stage (this is coming from someone who attended Tim and Eric’s Chrimbus Spectacular Tour in 2010). I don’t know in what kind of context or show Steel Witch’s performance could ever possibly fit, but it certainly didn’t work at this concert, and probably cost me a few brain cells. The fact that I can hardly find a trace of this band on the internet beyond the show flyer is leading me to believe that I fell asleep and had a horrible nightmare instead of actually seeing a live set.
Nightmare or not, the next band up was Septicaemia, a technical death metal act from Livermore, a city not too far off from the venue. The band that came to mind when witnessing these guys’ set was Origin, and as far as I’m concerned that’s about as positive a comparison as I can give. Their riffs were definitely very complex and extremely tightly executed, but their songs seemed a bit goofier in nature, more akin to the silliness of grindcore bands (their track “Anal Eyeball Bead” comes to mind). Much like Origin, Septicaemia has a dedicated vocalist in Kendric DiStefano, whose growls were extremely buried in the mix. Whether this was due to the house sound, or the fact that his growls existed within the same range as the guitar, his vocals were very hard to hear and completely inaudible with ear plugs in. I honestly couldn’t say that I was too pleased with his stage banter either, the one quote coming to mind being “if you guys [the audience] want to be boring, we’ll be boring too.” I understand that they want the crowd to have fun, but when you’re a young band trying to win over new fans with every show you play, threatening to be boring is absolutely out of the question. True to his word, Kendric responded to the sparse crowd by occasionally laying down onstage at a couple points, and even sitting down for a period of time. This isn’t a deal breaker for this band- their songs are solid, the playing is tight and a better mix could really let them shine, but I really expect a better onstage attitude and energy from a young group desperate to gain fans.
The band that followed Septicaemia was Concord’s Necrosin, another band out of the East Bay area. Unlike the previous bands though, Necrosin’s sound was firmly rooted in old school thrash metal. Some of you out there know how much I love this particular style of heavy metal, and I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to be a bit more accepting and lenient than I should be when it comes to the newer thrash metal groups out there today. However, I couldn’t help but feel that I wasn’t witnessing anything original or noteworthy during Necrosin’s set. The riffs weren’t bad, the band’s energy was solid and their set didn’t detract from the show at all, but I felt as if I had seen it all before from bands with more experience and catchier songs. Even singer Josh Caulder’s stage presence came off as just a little too close to that of Warbringer’s John Kevill. His long curly hair, spending much of his time onstage with his leg on a monitor, keeping the microphone tilted at an angle towards the ceiling and even his voice was just way too similar to Kevill- it came off as strange and awkward rather than what I’m guessing was an intended homage. When there are young, musically talented thrash metal bands all over the place, it isn’t enough to be playing that style of music with a good level of vigor; there needs to something that makes the band stand out, and makes the audience want to see them again and again. The potential is there for Necrosin, they’re talented kids who are willing to play shows wherever they can, but they need to find and cultivate what sets them apart from everyone else before they can ascend to the level of an act that I would pay to see, like Vektor, Hysteria or Fog of War.
The last of the thrash groups tonight was Speed from the South Bay city of San Jose. One thing that immediately stood out to me about the band before they even played a note was that they were a power trio. Barring the obvious exceptions of Destruction and Sodom, trios in thrash are a rare sight, and I was eager to see how Speed would handle themselves onstage. First off, I was surprised by the band’s songs- they were technical and complex, but not in a progressive way like Voivod or Vektor. Instead I heard riffing reminiscent of tech-death bands like Dying Fetus or “Symbolic”-era Death. The songs featured repeated starts and stops that seemed random at the time, but couldn’t have been since the band were in sync throughout the set. When it came to the power trio format, it mostly worked well thanks to bassist and vocalist Joseph Dewey’s driving bass lines. During guitarist Lenny Gray’s solos they would work in a very rhythm guitar-like manner, thus helping eliminate the problem of a thin sounding rhythm section that many thrash bands with only one guitarist suffer from. The trio format also helped showcase Lenny and Joseph’s occasional dual riffing- there were times when the two would play the same lick or riff on their respective instruments, which turned out to be a pretty neat thing to hear live. There’s still some room for improvement though- I truly couldn’t understand a word that Joseph sang, and the band hasn’t completely worked out every kink in their set yet. Drummer Mario Diaz himself admitted that they haven’t perfected their closing numbers in the set, and noted a poorly executed stop in the last song. However, I really see a lot of promise with Speed, and I think that just a little more rehearsal and assessing recordings of their own performances will help them create a truly standout live set.
The final band at this show was San Ramon’s Malicious, and I was excited to see the kind of music they would offer, especially since their name could identify with any sort of metal group. The sound that these guys offered was also rather unique- I heard modern day metalcore, but with occasional power thrash riffs. I was surprised to hear a band like this coming out of the East Bay, especially since the metalcore scene is so active in other ends of the bay area like San Jose. Singer Josh Peterson would alternate between a Randy Blythe-style scream and cleanly sung choruses, while guitarist Grant Sherrod would be the main member to work the stage and tackle solos. Grant was easily the centerpiece of the live performance- he had nearly half the stage to work with while everyone else huddled in one area and the guy even jumped from the stage to a couch on the floor and played while sitting with some members of the audiences. I loved that I was seeing a young musician confident and active onstage, but the way I saw it, it only served to point out how stoic everyone else was. Josh, bassist Kameron and second guitarist Corey hardly moved an inch compared to Grant. The fact that they made sure to set up a special additional lighting rack didn’t really impress me too much on the visual end either. As for the music, the band performed well, and I’ll be happy to admit that Grant can shred and that his tone is pretty killer. The fact is that I’m just not a metalcore fan, regardless of the occasional neat riff that I hear from bands in that genre. To be able to genuinely and honestly critique their music is something I’m really not in a position to do, but I can see how young kids into that style of metal would like the songs that Malicious played this night, so I think they would really succeed on a bill featuring other metalcore acts. As for the stage presence issue, I think that the band could solve this by either having Grant tone down his movement and showmanship or having the other members take a more active and equal role live. Both options would result in a more cohesive visual presence from Malicious, with or without that extra lighting rack.
All in all, this wasn’t what I could call a successful show from a heavy metal fan’s perspective. Objectively speaking, I just can’t imagine an audience member leaving this show satisfied with how they spent their time and money. Despite saying this though, I personally don’t regret seeing this show one bit. I genuinely look forward to seeing these bands improve their craft and become better performers, and I don’t regret seeing them at such an early stage in their careers. I know that each of these bands would be better suited, and definitely more successful, on bills that featured others artists similar to their respective styles- as such I’m sorry that they all had to perform alongside bands that they had little in common with.
I absolutely regret seeing Steel Witch though. I don’t know if that was the most unfunny joke I’ve ever seen or if I’m just not “hip” to what’s currently happening in music these days, but that was a performance I will never be able to remove from my memory. In this regard, I suppose that those guys can be satisfied with themselves- congratulations young ones.
Overall Gig Rating: 6/10