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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Alabama Thunderpussy’s Erik Larson.

photo: Joe Putrock

Power of Four
By Bill Ketzer

Alabama Thunderpussy, Small Axe, Great Day for Up, Xibalba
Hudson Duster, Feb. 1

Tuesday night at the Duster is quickly becoming one of my favorite venues. Granted, Tuesday night anywhere is hard on the soul for even the most booze-hardened in the indie trades at any level of sleep deprivation. No small feat, that. But no matter. There were 50 or 60 mutants in the place and all sorts of regional glitterati about, from the likes of Chromepeeler Records to Boston’s Lollipop Magazine to Stupid White Boy Productions, all clutching drinks like cops about to pummel a whitecap with their Maglite. I was glad for them, and looked up at the mezzanine/stage with pride, because I didn’t have to hoof my gear up there on a Tuesday night, and because I simply couldn’t resist the evening’s bill. The curious woodland creatures Small Axe, the newly-signed Great Day for Up and the apoplectic old-school metal of Morrisonville’s Xibalba, all there to lend support to Relapse Records’ mighty Alabama Thunderpussy.

Xibalba were crushing, a cohesive and angry force, but suffered from inadequate equipment-for-head-removal disease. It’s common and can be cured with money, which is a mixed blessing, of course. I suspect they will only get better with time. Named after a Mayan god, the band burned with the ribald intensity of metal from the days of yore, calling to mind bands like Abattoir or Artillery. Wonderfully ubiquitous double bass and extra chunky goodness at the gooey core.

Speaking of core strength, it has been a while since I witnessed a live set from Great Day for Up, and there were no disappointments. Signed last fall to Detroit’s Small Stone Records (which also releases ATP leader Erik Larson’s solo stuff), GDFU are my favorite local band, replete with a vibrant, low-end cartel of soundscapes that have all the makings of greatness. Trust me. Singer Mike Diaz shone brightly despite a bad cold, howling over the top of the band’s wage of mayhem and appearing as if he were looking inward (his dark eyes peer out from the skull but they don’t see you). I was hoping for “August, Nineteen Seventy-Nine,” but received more than enough compensation with “More Than Enough,” a few new titles and nuggets from the Godlovesasinner disc. They are pure, kerosene-drenched stoner rock, nothing more, nothing less, and what are you gonna do about it?

Small Axe, on the other hand, are impossible for me to pigeonhole. They seem equally comfortable sharing the bill with weird little Syd Barrett-influenced electronic duos or going up against some of the heaviest metal Earth has to offer. It was strange to see them without their almost Dead-ish following in tow (actually, a few stragglers appeared, staying only to convulse madly to the band’s watertight delivery and then promptly evacuate the premises like roaches in fluorescent light). And indeed, the thing that comes to mind during their dance is that this music encourages the nesting of insects in the head, of complete metamorphosis including egg, larvae, pupae and adult. The mechanical-but-Stone Aged way T. B. Hall stiff-arms his cymbals, the manner in which guitarist D.J. Miller studiously winds his weird way through the Byzantine catacombs of his mind, his Gibson SG doing what it will, equal parts Zappa, Iommi and Garcia as he grunts out the lyrics, are the pearl in some weird clam that you must taste to believe.

But belief systems are frail at times, and Thunderpussy’s Erik Larson is a Viking, a beard and a prayer, the sheer courtesy of his Flying V a blessing this late on a weeknight, as relaxing as a cockfight in the Bronx. His good work with partner Ryan Lake invokes the ghosts of Gaines and Collins if channeled through a pre-Jurassic brontosaurus. ATP also is an acronym for adenosine triphosphate, the nucleotide known in biochemistry as the “molecular currency” of intracellular energy transfer, and new singer Johnny Weills harnesses that power with all the weeks-without-bathing fission he can summon, his coarse screams reminiscent of Unida’s Jon Garcia with Foot and Mouth. But in a good way. I just wish he kept his shirt on. I don’t know, it used to be cool in 1974 when all the guys in UFO would be shirtless by the third song, but that was in then. I am done with floppy titties. Anyway, the man has power and made quick work of old ATP standards like “Shapeshifter” and “Ol’ Unfaithful” while punching free ass-whooping holes in his calling card with “Wage Slave” and other gems from the band’s new Fulton Hill CD. Mighty double-axwork, mighty loud, mighty good. Tuesday’s gone with the wind now, amen.

Jet City Revisited

Northern Lights, Feb. 2

I was all of 13 years old when Queensr˙che released Operation: Mindcrime, a hard-rock opera about murder and guilt and political conspiracy and all that fun stuff. It was a lot for my young mind to handle. I was just starting to pay attention to hard rock and metal; until that point, Def Leppard were the heaviest band in my collection. I recall recognizing the ambition, regardless of whether or not I could wrap my head around the plot. Plus, the singles were pop-metal diamonds. “I Don’t Believe in Love” and “Eyes of a Stranger” worked both in and out of context, and looking back, that’s quite a feat—you can’t really say that about “Pinball Wizard.”

Granted, Mindcrime was never supposed to be Tommy. It’s dark and claustrophobic, more like The Wall in its need for visual accompaniment to connect the dots between scenes. It was also a career-defining moment for the Seattle group: Prior, they were Priest-obsessed howlers; post, they became a pop-chart monolith. The group performed Mindcrime nightly following the massive success of the Empire album, but their current tour marks the first time they’ve toured the piece in more than a decade. It also marked the first time Capital Region residents had a crack at catching it live.

Would the fans who had waited all these years walk away satisfied? Judging by the amount of fists raised during the first notes of “Revolution Calling,” absolutely. Lead singer Geoff Tate attacked the material, his smooth tenor sounding as strong as ever. (Cynical me wants to credit the sound guy for beefing up the vocals with board effects, but I’ll let it slide.) It was quite a surprise, actually, as during the first set, he had seemed tentative on the high notes. He must have been saving himself for the “big show.”

And a big show it was. The group played in front of a large set, with a projection screen interspersing live- performance shots with bleak animated and montage footage, largely drawn from the short feature produced at the time of the album’s release in 1988. To further illustrate the story—it’s all about the story, remember?—two live actors were employed to play the main characters.

Tate toed the cheesy-Vegas-sideshow line during an emotive duet with a blonde female singer on “Suite Sister Mary,” but as a broad theatrical stroke, it was priceless. In fact, all interaction between band members and actors seemed odd, but it did serve to further convolute the plot, and that’s what they were going for. During the climax of “Eyes of a Stranger,” Tate was strapped into a straitjacket and taken offstage in a wheelchair, but not before finishing the song with the microphone tucked between his bound arms.

Cheap thrills? For sure. Worth every penny? Without a doubt. I can’t say whether or not the visual cues helped anyone understand things any better—I’m still just as stumped as I was at 13—but it did make for an extremely satisfying evening of live music.

Queensr˙che opened for Queensr˙che with an hourlong set billed as “Hits Through the Years.” They kicked things off with the Maidenesque “Whisper” (from 1986’s Rage for Order), and threw in a few tunes from last year’s disposable Tribe to prove they’re still, you know, at it. Otherwise, they recapped their biggest successes: all five singles from Empire, plus the glam-rocky b-side “Last Time in Paris.”

Throughout the evening, the band powerfully plundered away, most notably drummer Scott Rockenfield, whose syncopated beats and kick-drum trills define the quintet’s sound as much as Tate’s vocals or the harmonized, melodic leads of Michael Wilton and Mike Stone (who filled in admirably for the departed Chris DeGarmo), all of which were on proud display. Everyone pitched in on the Mutt Lange-sized backing vocals that made Empire such a massive success, while the songs simply held their own. “Jet City Woman” and “Another Rainy Night (Without You)” sounded strikingly like power-pop 15 years removed, and the comfortably dumb Floyd homage “Silent Lucidity” pushed all the right buttons.

—John Brodeur

overheard: “Today is Tuesday? I gotta stop drinking so much. I could swear today was Sunday.”

— Ryan Lake, Alabama Thunderpussy



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