By Andrew Bansal
(Photos by Samuel Ware)
May 1st 2017, The Echo, Los Angeles CA: Stoner desert rock veteran and legend Brant Bjork embarked on a U.S. headline tour in support of his latest album ‘Tao of the Devil’, and ended it with a show at the Echo in Los Angeles on Monday May 1st. Along with his band he brought Royal Thunder and Black Wizard as opening acts, and Barrows, who have a Monday night residency at the Echo, were added as local support for this gig. The show was originally slated for the Echoplex, the bigger of the two sister establishments in Echo Park, but was moved to the smaller room, which was clearly the right move because it made for a far better and more intimate setting that suited this lineup to perfection. Despite a directly competing show (Weedeater, The Obsessed, Primitive Man, Fatso Jetson and Karma to Burn) occurring at the Regent not far from this venue, an appreciable number of people turned up to bask in the stoner riffs of Brant Bjork and the musicianship of the diverse supporting lineup.
Los Angeles based Barrows started proceedings at 8:30 PM with a set of shoegazy instrumental rock. Based upon this performance it comes as no surprise that they are indeed holding a Monday night residency at this venue through this month, because by all means and in every sense they seem ideal for the Echo, and fill the atmosphere in the room brilliantly with their style of music. The Barrows set served as an apt warmup for the bands to follow.
Vancouver quartet Black Wizard was up next. As expected, a sizable chunk of the audience was here for Brant Bjork, while Royal Thunder also had some dedicated fans who would not have attended the show if not for that band. But certainly the biggest surprise and bonus of the evening was Black Wizard. This band, of righteous riffs, scorching leads, crafty rhythm section and excellent clean vocals won the hearts of all first-timers in the crowd. Instantly reminiscent of the likes of Gypsyhawk, Black Wizard expertly blends stoner rock, proto-metal and traditional metal, and is easy on the ear for heavy music lovers. They are so impressive, not only are they the best new(ish) band one would get to see in 2017, they might even be the best of all the “Wizard” bands out there.
Royal Thunder took the stage shortly after, much to the excitement of many in the crowd who had been waiting eagerly for this show, particularly since the band’s splendid new album ‘Wick’ surfaced in April 2017. The band did not disappoint, and focused most of their set on the new material, while touching upon older tunes in between, although surprisingly there was nothing in the set from the 2012 debut LP ‘CVI’, the album that first turned listeners into Royal Thunder fans. Besides that, it was heartening to see the band return as a fully active touring entity, after an unsatisfactory touring cycle for the previous album ‘Crooked Doors’, by their own admission. More than anything, the set portrayed the fact that the band’s sound on stage is a far different entity from that on the studio recordings, and seeing them perform the songs lends the audience far greater appreciation for their craft. Here’s hoping for many more Royal Thunder U.S. tours on the ‘Wick’ cycle, including several Los Angeles appearances.
And lastly at 11:15, Brant Bjork arrived on stage as a familiar fragrance engulfed the confines of the Echo and the atmosphere was readied to suit Bjork’s well-known style of music. His live show, at least on this ‘Tao of the Devil’ touring run, is more on the laid-back desert rock side, and is less of the heavy, groovy, sludgy variety, but he certainly has diehard fans that were loving every moment of it and stayed till the end. Bjork’s show isn’t mind-blowing in a way that would capture the imagination and attention of a casual fan or a first-timer, but for hardcore fans it is a gloriously chilled-out riff fest, nothing more, nothing less. For most in attendance, the highlight was the appearance of desert rock icon Sean Wheeler, a name that attracted a lot of attendees to this show when his participation was announced a few days prior. Bjork and Wheeler’s combined effort made this a worthwhile outing here at the Echo.
Overall, a solid show from start to finish presenting four very different bands, and an event that would be deemed a success despite the stiff competition merely a few miles away.
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