By Andrew Bansal
September 1st 2013, The Vex, Los Angeles CA: The month of September began last night with local promoters Metal Invictus putting on their second annual Labor Day BBQ show featuring an all-LA lineup of metal bands taking the stage at the Vex in East Los Angeles. The lineup was headed by death metal act Gravehill, with support from Crom, Anger As Art, Ritual, Witchaven, Exmortus, Dismantle, Madrost and Doomsayers. Aside from live music from these bands, the event promised a BBQ as its title suggested, and a tribute to the recently deceased Behold! The Monolith frontman Kevin McDade, which was to be hosted by veteran Los Angeles music journalist Jimmy Cabbs. I reached the venue at 6 o’ clock, looking forward to enjoy these local bands and hoping for a good event.
I thought I had already missed Doomsayers‘ set as they were scheduled to begin at 5:30, but they were just starting their set when I walked in. This death/thrash band actually played a decent set and for the handful of people that were in the venue at this time, the band did their best to entertain and succeeded to some extent. Their set was cut super-short due to the delayed start, and they got off the main stage at 6:15. According to the official set times, there was supposed to be only five minutes of changeover time between each band, and two stages were to be used. The second stage was set up alongside the main stage, unlike the setup at Thrasho De Mayo earlier this year when they had the second stage outdoors. But there was no sign of activity on this second stage for the time being, and the next band started getting ready on the main stage itself. And so, the wait began.
The next band was Madrost, a thrash band I highly enjoyed the last time I saw them at the Joint. They took an eternity to set up, and the clock ticked past 6:40 before they were ready to begin their set. But still, their performance made it largely worth the wait. Led by their diminutive high-octane vocalist/guitarist Tanner Poppitt, they tore into a set of ferocious thrash tunes and got the heads in the front couple of rows banging at full speed. Their six-song set included a brand new song called ‘Universal Energy’, which was a good taste of what to expect from their next album. They got their full allotted set time, but it seemed way too short and I could have easily done with another 30 minutes of Madrost. I could not believe they were so low on the bill, but eventually that was a good thing because had they been higher on the bill, I would be waiting several hours to see their set. Tanner said the band will be taking a break from shows at least for a couple of months, so I’m glad I was at the Vex early enough to catch this set.
1. Aggressive Nihilism
2. Universal Energy (New Song)
4. Under The Hammer
5. Drawn And Quartered
6. Zombie Grinder
I had a feeling the next band was going to take another 25 minutes to set up as the second stage was still not being used, so I decided to look around and observe the surroundings. Firstly, I noticed that the Vex was visually better than the last time I was here, so I’d give them credit for making an effort to improve the place even though the sound on the main stage still wasn’t great by any means. Secondly, the concert hall was a little too hot, and I guess the air-conditioning wasn’t effective enough although things did cool down later on. Then I stepped outside to find out what was going on there. I didn’t really see any ‘BBQ’ as was advertised on the flyers. Jimmy Cabbs, the supposed ‘host’ of the event, was very much in attendance but for reasons unknown to me, he was told not to host. I was surprised he even stayed for the show, because if I was in his situation, severely insulted in that manner, I would have definitely left. Aside from all of this, there was no ID check at the door despite the fact that beer was on sale, which by the way, at $5 for a can of domestic beer was a bit too pricy for this venue and this kind of underground show.
I tried my best to ignore these aspects as much as possible, but the ridiculous amounts of wait times between the bands’ sets didn’t help matters whatsoever. At the end of the day it’s all about the music, and as long as that part of the show is good, everything else, no matter how negative, can be tolerated. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case as the show dragged on and on. Anyway, finally the next band Dismantle took the stage and played some solid thrash metal. Honestly it didn’t match up to the intensity of Madrost, but it wasn’t bad at all. I had never seen them before this, so I’ll reserve judgement till I see them next time at a better-sounding venue. Thankfully the second stage was now ready for use but I was baffled to note that the next band still took at least 30 minutes to get ready. So far, the set times had been shorter than the wait times, and the trend continued for pretty much the whole show. Exmortus was the first band to make use of this elusive second stage, and I have to admit, I wasn’t really looking forward to their set too much because I’ve seen them so many times lately, but in all honesty they did put on a great show. It’s safe to say that 20 minutes of Exmortus is more enjoyable than 40. It was the perfect dose of neo-classical shred-fueled thrash, and the Exmortus boys certainly got the crowd moving. This stage actually sounded better than the main stage, and the way it was set up, it confined the crowd to a smaller area which created a better atmosphere than the always-scattered main stage crowd ever does.
Another 30 minutes passed by and Witchaven took the main stage next, as a three-piece band. It was highly bemusing and bewildering for me to see them in this form, with frontman Henry Montoya being the sole guitarist in the band. Last time I saw them at the Joint, they played without a bassist, and this time it was without one of the guitarists. I couldn’t believe it. Witchaven as a one-guitar band, really? Was this a joke? I’m not going to lie, I’ve always loved and supported this band but they are digging a deep hole for themselves the way they are approaching things nowadays. They had the potential to break out of the underground and build a great career for themselves, and it’s quite sad to see it going to waste like this. The very same tunes that made crowds go absolutely wild in past shows were sounding lame last night. The bass was too loud and the songs just sounded wrong without the second guitarist. The crowd looked incredibly bored, which I never thought I’d say about a Witchaven set. I don’t know whether they plan to continue as a three-piece band, but I seriously hope they don’t do so, and instead take a break from shows for a little while to sort out a solid four-piece lineup.
Time was moving at snail’s pace at this show, and even having two stages didn’t seem to make much of a difference. There was also no sign of the supposed tribute to Kevin McDade, and I have no idea what happened to that. The original schedule had officially become a joke by now. The clock was nearing 10 PM, and black metal band Ritual whose set time was 8:50 to 9:20 hadn’t even started yet. They began at around 10, and it was pleasantly surprising to see them put on quite a decent set. From what I remember, the last time they played here opening for Absu, they failed to impress, but they sounded much better this time and had each member had a greater stage presence. It was probably a combination of a better performance and the fact that they were on the second stage which resulted in an enjoyable set by Ritual. These guys have been around for 20 years now and I was glad to see them put on a show worthy of their seniority in the LA underground.
And that, unfortunately, turned out to be the final band I got to see at this show. As the wait for the next band Anger As Art’s set began, I wondered to myself whether or not it was wise to continue waiting there, to waste close to another two hours with nothing to do other than just standing and waiting to see the three remaining bands. As much as I was eager to see Anger As Art and Crom, two bands I had never seen before, and Gravehill, who always put on a great show and whom I’ve always given positive reviews to, I was simply too tired of waiting and I decided to leave. I was at the Vex from 6:00 to 10:30, and got to see only 6 bands who barely played 20 minutes each. It was beyond ridiculous, to say the least.
With that said, I’m looking forward to seeing Gravehill, Crom and Anger As Art and I hope that opportunity arrives soon enough. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing personal against anyone involved with this show, and through pointing out these negatives all I want to achieve is urge them to put on a better show next time. I would love to see promoters like Metal Invictus do a great job at these shows and I’d love to not have anything negative to write about.