By Andrew Bansal
Day 1, August 9th 2013, The Echo, Los Angeles CA: The fourth annual Power Of The Riff festival is a two-day event that kicked off last night with 5 of the 25 bands on the festival lineup taking the stage here at the Echo. The atmosphere at the 2010 and 2011 editions of Power Of The Riff was amazing to be part of, and having been forced to miss out on attending the 2012 edition, I was eagerly awaiting this year’s festival. This kickoff gig was headlined by Black Breath along with Early Graves, Obliterations, Nomads and Creative Adult as the support acts. It was a solid lineup of bands by all means. I reached the venue a good 30 minutes before the doors opened, and the turnout was already decent at the time, growing in number as the evening went by. A good portion of the Los Angeles underground metal community was in attendance. I had a feeling this was going to be a great gig, and it sure was.
San Francisco-based punk outfit Creative Adult began proceedings at 8:30 with a 20-minute set. They seemed like a near perfect fit for this venue, and it was quite appropriate for this year’s TPOTR festivities to begin with a band like this. Their music didn’t have the crust/crossover element that we were going to witness soon after, but they sure had some sweet jams and their stripped-down, organic sound was easy to connect with. Considering the kind of madness that ensued, it would be fair to call Creative Adult the calm before the storm.
Things truly kicked into top gear when Los Angeles’ very own punk/power-violence group Nomads took the stage in their attempt to decimate this crowd with their short 15-minute set. They succeeded to a large extent as they induced the first mosh pit of the evening. One of their guitarists dived into the crowd to signal the end of the set, and before anybody could grasp this band at all, they were already done playing. But a good set nonetheless, one that got the crowd nicely warmed up for the acts to follow.
Another LA-based band Obliterations came up next and impressed one and all with their relentless set. Saviours guitarist/vocalist Austin Barber handles bass duties for this band, which was interesting to witness. Led by vocalist Sam James Velde, the band had great energy and presence on stage. They left an impact on everyone, particularly on people who were seeing the band for the first time. Oblierations certainly put on a show that did justice to the meaning of their name and won over some new fans with this performance.
The ever-awesome Early Graves were next. For some reason I never get to catch them as a headline act and always end up seeing them when they’re the main support act. That’s a bit of a problem, not only due to the obviously shorter set length, but mainly because the sheer intensity of their live musicianship forces me to use every ounce of energy in my body to bang my head and scream along for the entirety of their set, leaving little to nothing for the actual headline act. The Early Graves guys looked completely in the zone and this set seemed to come very naturally to them. I was hit with a feeling of nostalgia when I thought back to Early Graves playing their first ever show with John Strachan on vocals at the Power Of The Riff 2011, and it was very fitting for John to acknowledge that fact. This was yet another fantastic performance by the band. Early Graves simply never disappoint!
After those four great bands were done, the mighty Black Breath finally took the stage at 11.45 and did what they do best. Just like Early Graves, they also looked completely at ease and in tune with whatever they needed to do to pull off a successful set here. The multiple years of hard work put into touring constantly has definitely developed them into excellent live musicians. Despite Early Graves draining out the energy of many people in the crowd, Black Breath’s set compelled them to find a second wind and indulge in some serious head banging and moshing. This particular Black Breath set wasn’t nearly as violent in terms of the crowd as the one they did for TPOTR 2011, but that probably stems from the fact that they were the last band to get on here as opposed to the early evening set time they had in 2011. But still, there was no shortage of energy in this room. The faster tunes pleased the majority of the crowd but the slower parts were at least equally enjoyable in their own right, if not more. Black Breath are known in our circle for their killer live shows, and this gig did their reputation no harm at all.
Day 2, August 10th 2013, The Echo & Echoplex, Los Angeles CA: Having barely recovered from the kickoff gig, I headed out to day 2 of the festival which was going to be an all-day event starting in the early afternoon and running all the way through to midnight. The very first band of the lineup Opposition Rising were absent for some reason, so the show started at around 1.15 with LA punk band Whip Hand becoming the first to take the upstairs stage at the Echo. Much like Creative Adult did on night 1, Whip Hand provided the perfect start for this 11-hour fest with a short set of straight-up punk rock. They didn’t have much of the hardcore/crossover element, but that was to be provided in plenty by some of the bands that followed, like New Jersey’s Old Wounds who played next. The number of people in the crowd even at this early point of the day was surprisingly good, and Old Wounds compelled a majority of those in attendance to step closer to the stage with their dynamic, high-energy set. They got a great response from the crowd, and deservingly so.
Next up was Orange County-based Children Of God, a band that managed to capture the attention of those who were looking for something more than just hardcore or crossover punk music at this fest. Their influx of doom and black metal, the singer/guitarist’s additional percussion and some slower tunes made for an interesting set and I only wish they could have played for a bit longer. But the band after them were a complete contrast in every way possible. Japanese power violence group Completed Exposition tore up the Echo stage with a ferocious set. These pocket-sized dynamos were bristling with fury and for fans of bands like Nails, Completed Exposition was right up their alley. They jumped around on that tiny stage and utilized their short set to the maximum, leaving the audience impressed and at the same time a little taken aback.
By this time, the doors for the Echoplex stage were open and I quickly hopped downstairs to catch the first band to play that stage, Territory from Tucson AZ. They provided a change of pace and style from the bands that had played upstairs so far, with more of a metal sound even though the crust/hardcore theme of the day was still kept intact by them. They appropriately set the tone for the Echoplex lineup of bands to follow. Back upstairs, Oakland hardcore punk outfit Replica were a good follow-up to the previous band on that stage Completed Exposition, and although musically they kept things simple and repetitive, looking at three crusty chicks and one dude try to pull of that kind of music on stage was somewhat of a different and unique experience. Vocalist Dharma was completely a 100 per cent into it and fronted the group very well with her vocals and demeanor. Quite a lot of people in the crowd were pleasantly surprised by this band’s set.
Till now, each and every single band came from a different place, and the festival continued to treat us with bands from all over the States and beyond. Next to play on the Echoplex stage were Centuries, all the way from West Palm, Florida. Their brand of hardcore punk with tastes of melody and d-beat sounded great. The so-called elitists might dismiss d-beat based music as too simple and non-imaginative, but I tend to disagree as there is a true sense of expression that comes through this type of music. It’s hard to understand or explain, it just has to be experienced first-hand when an excellent band like Centuries plays it on stage. After they were done, I went back upstairs just in time to catch Atlanta GA-based grindcore band Dead In The Dirt. For a three-piece band, they played quite a powerful set and hit the Echo crowd with a fierce wall of sound. Their extremely short but precisely to-the-point tunes certainly struck the right chord.
While I enjoyed every band so far, the one band that stood out was most definitely M.D.C, who took the Echoplex stage. The punk veterans from Portland, Oregon played 40-45 minutes of what turned out to be the most fun-filled performance of the day. I saw them headline the Vex a couple of months ago, but to be honest this early evening set at the Echoplex was several times better in every way. Singer Dave Victor came out shirtless and in beach shorts, setting the mood for the set with his appearance alone and subsequently putting forth a fantastic performance on vocals, well backed up by his band mates on their respective instruments. They played all or most of the classics in the set, including ‘Corporate Deathburger’, ‘Patriot Asshole’, ‘Quentin’, ‘No More Cops’ and ‘Multi Death Corporation’, and the fun quotient just kept rising further with each song. M.D.C. were in their true element. Real punk music was in its true element. The projection screen in the backdrop made the show all the more entertaining with images of Dave Victor making it look like an old-school music video running on the screen while the band played live in front of it. This was by all means an amazing set by M.D.C. as they brought 30-plus years of punk onto this stage, and in this reviewer they won themselves a new fan.
Back upstairs, LA’s very own Bastard Noise had already started playing. They’ve been around since 1991 and I’d heard a lot about them but they were another one of those bands that I never got a chance to see live. This was the day to change that and witness Bastard Noise doing what they do best. It was kind of fascinating to see a band play without a live guitarist and use samples instead, which is extremely rare and almost non-existent in heavy rock/metal/punk music. Bassist Eric Wood and drummer Jesse Appelhans held their own and delivered a great show while Aimee Artz was impressive with her vocals. The expression in her voice came through as very real and genuine, unlike most of the chicks that sing in those poser mainstream female-fronted bands nowadays. This band’s ventures into experimentation and ambient sounds might be a turnoff for the purists, but certainly catches the eyes and ears of those receptive enough to these unconventional aspects. All three members come from various other bands and projects, and Bastard Noise, fittingly appropriate to their name, is a combination of all those different backgrounds and influences.
I stayed back at the Echo for the next band Iron Lung, a two-piece outfit from Seattle, Washington consisting of guitarist Jon Kortland and drummer/vocalist Jensen Ward. I thought three-piece band Dead In The Dirt played a very powerful set earlier in the day, but Iron Lung sounded even heavier, dirtier and more violent with just two members. It was a little bit astonishing, to say the least and I was blown away to be honest. The talent of the two musicians was there for everyone to see and hear. This is one band I’ll surely try to check out in greater detail next time they are in town. In total contrast, when I went downstairs, the band playing was Wartorn, a six-piece band from Appleton, Wisconsin. Their mix of crust punk, twin guitar melodies, d-beat and even a bit of shred guitar soloing was the polar opposite to what Iron Lung just did upstairs. For that reason, their slot on this lineup turned out be just perfectly timed. Following them on this very stage were Vancouver, Canada’s Baptists. After some of the weird and out-of-the-box acts that played before them, it was actually a bit refreshing to see Baptists with their simple, stripped-down and high-speed style of music. In spite of the multitude of great acts so far, the crowd at the Echoplex was absolutely dead and devoid of any energy. Baptists vocalist tried his best to change that as he dived onto the floor and started a mosh pit himself even as he continued singing. This was a really good set by Baptists that should have received a better response, but you can’t fault the band for the effort they put in.
The final band on the Echo stage was Salt Lake City, Utah’s Iceburn. The sheer number of incredible bands being thrown at us by this Power Of The Riff lineup was astounding in itself, but Iceburn perhaps was the most one-of-a-kind band amongst the 24 bands that took the stage at this year’s festival. Their blend of progressive metal, punk, jazz and even some classical music all engulfed under the envelope of a slow, stoner doom rock sound was absolutely breathtaking and had the complete and undivided attention of every individual who was fortunate enough to be in attendance. I can’t really do any further justice to this band through my words here, so I’d simply suggest you to check them out.
And with that, all the focus shifted to the Echoplex with just four bands remaining. Austin TX based Mammoth Grinder impressed one and all with their extremely dynamic and intense set, ranging from low to high tempo passages and letting their set flow smooth and seamless. Austin is an artistic town in every sense of the word, and there’s always a constant plethora of great bands coming out of Austin and conquering places far beyond. Mammoth Grinder proved to be worthy representatives of their town at this show. But like a lot of the other bands on this lineup, they seemed hugely frustrated and disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm from the crowd. Despite that, they powered through and gave us a great set. One band that I was more familiar with than most others at this show was Portland Oregon-based ‘massive aggressive’ outfit From Ashes Rise. Their music and live performance had an incredible amount of depth to it, with the two guitarists and bassist switching between lead vocal parts and each one lending a different individual touch to the sound as a result. The guitar melodies complimented the harsh vocals perfectly, and all in all, their set justified their high position on this huge lineup. But once again, the silence of the crowd was baffling, and even though the band was quoting a lyric from one of their songs by saying ‘We are deaf from the silence’, it was ironically fitting for the atmosphere inside the Echoplex during the band’s set.
Long Beach CA hardcore punk veterans Final Conflict were the second last band to take the stage here at the Echoplex. This was the first time after a gap of 24 years that vocalist Ron Martinez, guitarist Jeff Harp and bassist Warren Renfrow, i.e. 3/4ths of the ‘Ashes To Ashes’ lineup, played together. This reunion was a special occasion for both the band and the longtime faithful hometown fans. They played the Ashes To Ashes LP in its entirety and followed it up with a couple of songs from the early demo. Fans in the front couple of rows were singing along to the chorus lyrics and having a blast, even though the circle pits surprisingly died down after the first few songs. For someone like me it was undoubtedly a treat to witness the revisiting of punk history the way it was done by Final Conflict at this show. It wasn’t a half-assed reunion by any means, as Ron Martinez and his band mates played it like they meant it.
And finally, our headliners The Obsessed appeared on stage amongst loud cheers from the people that still survived and stayed even after the long and tedious day this had been. Having formed this doom/psychedelic/stoner rock band way back in 1979 and going through multiple one-and-off periods, vocalist/guitarist/leader Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich recently resurrected this three-piece group, much to the delight of all fans. They are one of the most fitting embodiments to the phrase ‘Power Of The Riff’ I could ever imagine, and were the deserving headline act at this year’s edition. Right from the get-go, Wino along with bassist Reid Raley and drummer Greg Rogers hit a solid groove and just never faded away. For fans of Wino and of the genre, an instant connection was made, the heads started bobbing and the Echoplex was taken over by the doom vibe. Their hour-long set was absolutely pristine and flawless, with Wino presenting a notably thick tone through his guitars, a tone that simply sucked the listener in like a vacuum cleaner. A lot of musicians in our scene are regarded as ‘rockstars’, but I see no parallels to Wino when it comes to being a true rockstar in terms of musical prowess and personality. A fantastic set, indeed.
Overall, I throughly enjoyed myself throughout the day, and as you can tell from the review above, I found every single band to be interesting in their own different way. Hails and horns to the Power Of The Riff organizers for putting together such a diverse lineup and for bringing together bands from everywhere. It was a gathering of the underground in every sense. Admittedly, none of these acts are huge or popular enough on a broader level and that’s most probably why the attendance was poor. The $40 ticket price was a major hurdle that prevented LA folks from attending, but seeing the sheer volume of the lineup and the number of bands that participated, I do not blame the the high ticket price. I’m usually quick to point out the negative aspects of any show and a few of the local promoters hate me for it, but in this case I honestly have nothing bad to say about the TPOTR team this time.
Besides the great music, the fest was successful for various other aspects. The mighty Grill ‘Em All truck was there to provide epic food for all those who craved it, and free water was available at both venues throughout the day. The patio outside the Echoplex was renovated with a roof and mist showers for the comfort of the concert goers, and up until 7 PM, people were allowed to leave the premises and come back in. Sound-wise, I thought both venues were solid even though the general consensus was that the Echoplex sounded better. Perhaps the only negative I can point out is the poser crowd. Right from the start of the festival, there was constant live music but a lot of people were seen hanging out in the patio nearly the entire time and not even making the effort to check out any of the bands. This pretend bullshit is something the underground scene suffers from and I feel strongly about it, but may be I’ll address it in a separate article some day.
Anyhow, Power Of The Riff 2013 was a stellar exhibition of real alternative music that most certainly deserved a better response.