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Emo sucks: Randy Blythe of Lamb of God.

PHOTO: Joe Putrock

Something to Die For

By David King

Lamb of God

Northern Lights, March 24

The scene outside the sold-out Lamb of God show on Saturday night looked like something out of a bad William Gibson cyber-punk novel. Toothless dudes with shocked-out beards that shot to their stomachs stood next to young kids with razor-sharp Mohawks, dripping leather and chains. A woman marched back and forth barking into a megaphone. Radio-station SUVs were positioned throughout the busy parking lot, their flashing lights combining with those of the many police cars that patrolled the area. For the first time in a long while I found myself at a show where it felt like there was actually something subversive going on.

Richmond, Va.’s Lamb of God are deceptively brilliant—or is it brilliantly deceptive? Either way, it would be easy to assume a band from Virginia with thick rebel beards, whose slogan is “Pure American Metal,” and who slam out thrashing, southern-tinged metal, might be the musical hand-puppet of the conservative-Christian agenda. But as Eric Bogosian told his henchmen in Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, “Assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups.”

LOG’s original moniker was Burn the Priest, and lead singer Randy Blythe led the band through a blistering set, full of vitriol spit directly into the face of the Bush administration on Saturday night. With a packed house at their mercy, LOG unleashed their rapid-fire thrash, and the crowd shouted back every word. During “Something to Die For,” Blythe had the audience thanking George W for him: “Now we’ve got something to die for!” they shouted in unison. Blythe’s distorted hiss came across less like actual vocals than like the urgent chirp of a war reporter over a transistor radio.

LOG made their name as a live band, and rightly so. The standout tracks of the night—from albums As the Palaces Burn and Ashes of the Wake—riled the live audience into frenzy. While tracks from their newest album, major-label release Sacrament, an album that features a turn away from the band’s political focus and a “more diverse” musical direction, drew cheers from the crowd, the songs felt decadent and sludgy. They threw a wrench into an otherwise unyielding blitzkrieg. Songs like “Walk With Me,” “Again We Rise, and “Pathetic” from Sacrament felt hokey, like walking metal stereotypes, in comparison with tracks like “As the Palaces Burn,” “Ruin,” and “Laid to Rest.” Fortunately, Sacrament did not derail LOG’s brutal juggernaut.

Florida’s Trivium demonstrated an undeniable competency in soloing and slick vocal harmonies, and a knack for aping James Hetfield’s vocal inflection. They were rewarded with sporadic chants of “Lamb of God!” and “Emo sucks!”

California’s Machine Head, who have spent the last few years distancing themselves from their late-’90s flirtation with nü-metal by releasing two critically praised pure-metal efforts, shot themselves in the foot by turning up the high-end, effectively turning their sound into white noise.

Opening the show, France’s progressive-death-metal masters Gojira put the arriving crowd on notice. Their monumental, stuttering riffs propelled forward by the precision drumming of Mario Duplantier had to fight to keep up with the mammoth roar of lead singer Joe Duplantier. Just to make sure the crowd understood what they were dealing with, LOG lead singer Blythe grabbed the mic from Duplantier during the symphonic “Backbone.” As the song came to its cacophonic conclusion, Blythe seemed reluctant to give up the microphone.

Letting Loose

Elana James and the Continental Two

Club Helsinki, March 23

Midway through their second radio performance of the day on Friday, violinist-singer Elana James and her guitar-and-bass duo were asked if they were maybe risking burning themselves out for their show later that night at Helsinki. Guitarist Whit Smith thought about it and said no, that the old 1920s Texas swing outfits the group emulates would routinely play a four-hour morning-radio show, then go to a different radio station for a four-hour afternoon show, and then go play five sets in a roadhouse at night. Compared to that, Friday’s schedule was leisurely.

Friday’s jam-packed show consisted of three supremely confident people having way too much fun doing something that they are extremely good at. While the configuration is the same and the sound is close to that of the group’s predecessor the Hot Club of Cowtown, this time around Elana James is the front-center boss, the range of material is wider, and edges a little sharper.

Guitarist Smith, playing a fat blonde Epiphone, spun one perfectly constructed jazz solo after another. There was nothing simple about his playing (except that he made it look easy), and the sophistication of his phrasing constantly took the tunes out of the realm of the easily classifiable. Beau Sample, besides having a name that would be equally cool in music, the NFL, or porn, more than made up for the group’s lack of a drummer with a slap-happy percussive style; he also came dangerously close to single-handedly restoring the dignity of the bass solo during an extended second-set breakdown.

Then there is Ms. James, classically trained and India-tempered on violin, who tended to blow stuff up every time her bow hit her strings. She sang circles around the songs with a voice just girly enough to be fetching, but not so much as to be cloying. One gets the impression that she may not know yet just how good of a singer she is.

The two sets, of swing, hoedowns, and gypsy explorations, featured the band whooping, yelling, making animal noises and beaming 1,000-watt smiles at each other and at the audience. And these weren’t show-business smiles. These were real smiles, and as infectious as the flu.

—Paul Rapp

Flying Solo

Roger McGuinn

The Egg, March 24

Folk-rock legend Roger McGuinn treated the sold-out Swyer Theatre to a career retrospective that also served as a primer on that moment in the ’60s when popular music transformed from mindless fun into something more culturally substantial. McGuinn opened the show with two early Bob Dylan tunes, “Chimes of Freedom” and “All I Really Want to Do,” which were given the quintessential Byrds treatment, lyrically abridged and set lysergically spinning with the help of a heavily compressed electric Rickenbacker 12-string guitar. The fedora-topped McGuinn then took a seat and busted out a seven-string Martin acoustic that he called the Swiss army knife of guitars, allowing him to get some of that Rick-richness with its doubled-up G string. He explained how he started out as a trad-folkie until he heard the Beatles, his Brill Building-honed professionalism giving him the then-novel idea to combine the two worlds, playing in an evocative folk style to a Beatles rock beat, thereby creating the folk-rock hybrid we now take for granted.

While sometimes seeming like a PBS fund-drive show come to life (McGuinn even poked fun at this by playing what he called a short “PBS interlude”), it was great fun to hear stories from someone who called the likes of Dylan, George Harrison and Gram Parsons his running buddies. Musically, McGuinn is the ultimate pro, still in fine voice and playing form, and inviting the crowd to fill in on harmonies during classics like “Chestnut Mare” (the corniest but loveliest cosmic-country epic ever?), “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The seven-minute acoustic version of “Eight Miles High” lived up to its billing as an amalgam of Coltrane, Segovia and Ravi Shankar. And after a spate of self-described “silly songs” like his very early “Beach Ball,” “Mr. Spaceman” and the disco-era hit “Don’t You Write Her Off,” things got impressively earthbound with a boss version of Leadbelly’s “They Hung Him on a Cross.”

As things wound down with a sing-along version of the Ecclesiastes-derived “Turn, Turn, Turn,” it wasn’t hard to gather how close rock music can be to a religion, shaping memories and sharpening feelings, serving as an underpinning and reminder of the things that matter most. Roger McGuinn’s voice and guitar were there when the cathedral was being built.

—Mike Hotter

Sail Away

Trio X

The Sanctuary for Independent Media, March 24

Saturday night brought a rare thing to the area—a concert of free jazz with Trio X at the Sanctuary for Independent Media—and a beautiful rare thing it was.

The Sanctuary, a converted old church in Troy, is a fabulous place to see a show like this; its faded elegance and acoustic qualities makes for an ideal deep-listening experience.

And deep listening was required for Trio X, led by Joe McPhee on tenor and soprano sax and pocket cornet, with Dominic Duval on stand-up bass, and Jay Rosen on drums. Time, structure and melody surrendered to tone, emotion and the give-and-take of the moment. And these guys, who’ve been doing this together for more than a decade, and have played variously with heavies like Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, and Ken Vandermark, proved to be truly masterful at this most challenging of musical genres. While the two sets were ostensibly a bunch of jazz standards (“Stella by Starlight,” “Round Midnight,” etc.), the heads of the tunes, if they were played at all, were merely platforms for flights of sonic freedom. For most of the show, it made sense to me to just shut my eyes and let go. And when I did, I went away. It was nice.

Rosen did more with less (bass, snare, two cymbals, hat) than any drummer I’ve ever seen. The cymbal work was sublime, and a mid-set solo tribute to Max Roach was riveting. Duval coaxed strange sounds out of the bass, using a bow and a beater to produce harmonic overtones to follow McPhee’s perfectly intoned sustained notes, and playing ridiculously quick burping patterns when things turned frantic. McPhee, a picture of understated dignity in a hooded sweatshirt that read “Poughkeepsie,” explored the limits of what his instruments could do, playing soulful traditional-sounding signatures, followed by howls, shrieks and generally furious noise, but always in control, always directed, always to the point. The pocket cornet made a few appearances, and the mellow and round tones McPhee blew through the tiny instrument added a different dimension to the room.

There’s more of this type of thing coming to the Sanctuary. Turn off your mind, relax, and float upstream.

—Paul Rapp

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