Thursday, May 31, 2012

Old Man Gloom, Rosetta, Jim Plotkin and Argonauts at The First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA, May 4, 2012

     My night began at El Fuego, Philly's fine burrito establishment that I've mentioned in previous posts.   On my way in I noticed a crude sign made of cardboard taped with duct tape to the front door that said, 'cash only.'  That seemed a little odd for a sort of upscale and hip eatery.  The place was more or less deserted when I walked in as opposed to the usual line of people waiting to order.  I tried ordering a beer and they said that they no longer carry alcohol as they need to 'work something out with the licensce.'  At least I can safely report that the burrito quality was still high.  They still make the biggest, fattest west coast style burritos around with very fresh ingredients.

     After El Fuego, I stopped at the liquor store across the street for some supplies.  Surprisingly enough, shows at the church are still BYOB, so I always bring a few beers.  I decided on a six pack of Sly Fox Phoenix Pale Ale in cans.  Since I was still a bit early for the show, I took a walk around the surrounding area for a while.  It's been a good six months since I've been to this part of Philly and there seems to be more empty store fronts than I remember.  Things just seem grittier.  A homeless person pulling two shopping carts loaded with junk passed me by.  The wind picked up and wafted the foul stench of the person and their belongings toward me.  At that point I was happy to make my way down the stairs to the basement of the church.  There was a big sign stating 'no bottles', so I was in luck. 

     While paying to get in I noticed that the guy behind me was totally 'metalled out' to maximum effect: leather jacket, full beard, long hair, black jeans, black Motorhead t-shirt and black boots.  The guy selling the tickets offered him free admission if he kept the leather jacket on for the entire show.  This offer was clearly not made to me as I looked more like a dork/jock with my white t-shirt (I came from work), blue jeans and sneakers.  I brought my Godflesh hoodie (I was pleasantly surprised to see that I wasn't the only one there with that hoodie) with me but it was intollerably hot down there and impossible for me to wear.

     Argonauts were up first.  The band isn't just a Burnt by the Sun clone; they're BbtS with a new singer and bassist.  They 'covered' a BbtS song, which basically confirmed my suspicions.  Chris Alfano is a far cry from Mike Olender though, whom is probably one of the best hardcore band front men ever.  John Adubato's seemingly infinite well of riffs is sort of running dry as the songs are starting to really settle in for me (this was the fourth time I've seen them).  It's like BbtS light; Witte does a fine job as always, and Brett is at equal levels of musicianship to Teddy, but these guys just don't have the punch of BbtS.  My initial hopes for them were high, but have ultimately been dimmed over time. The crowd is very sparse at this point; full of 'sausage' to use a term from Brooklyn Vegan's metal commenters.

     My pale ale was not sitting well.  Where are the hops and why is it more like a wheat beer than a pale ale?  Plotkin and friends definitely changed my mood.  James Plotkin is a true genius of the metal underground, albeit a far underappreciated one.  With bands ranging higher profile stuff like Khanate and Phantomsmasher to more obscure ventures such as OLD and Khylst, his interests and range are dynamic and far reaching.  The set featured Jim on guitars and electronics, Aaron Turner on guitar, vocals and electronics and Tim Wyskeda on drums.  This is the lineup for Jodis, which I have not had the pleasure of hearing but I assumed the set would be similar to that project.  It was as expected: minimalist, harsh at times, avant-garde, noisy, post-doom pieces, etc. Turner did some interesting stuff with his voice, mixed through a sea of effects pedals while Plotkin layed down the ambient drone guitars and Wyskeda provided what appeared to be a whimsical beat.  As you can imagine, this was far over the heads of most of the audience as the looks on 90% of their faces was a mix of confusion and boredom (mine was an expression of awe).   

     During Rosetta's set I was more or less bored out of my mind.  Mike Armine is a fine front man though.  He seemed like a hardcore punk version of Eminem: finger pointing like mad, earing, tats, short blonde hair, white t-shirt.  He also did the sound effects and loops which was probably the most interesting aspect of the band. Prior to and after the set he got on his soap box and lamented the proposed closing of many public schools in Philly (he's employed as a teacher in the city).  It was a passionate and well thought out speech and I was impressed with what he had to say (as was the crowd). As for the music, Rosetta just reek of (no, not putrefaction) that 2003-2004 wave of post Isis and Cult of Luna bands. You would think that they would grow and adapt out of that, but they followed that formula for the entire set.  When the progenitors of that micro genre do it so well, why even bother aping them?  To do that sound right, you need the riffs, which, unfortunately, were absent.  The crowd went wild for it though, as this is the next best thing to Neurosis that the locals can get on a consistent basis in Philly. 

     The crowd began to swell during Rosetta's set.  The sausage ratio began to fall as well, but the temperature in the basement began to rise.  At this point I had to step outside for some fresh air.  There was a torrential downpour outside and I quickly ran under the awning of a nearby store.  Many other folks went with me.  Packed under the awning looking at my Blackberry and hiding from the rain, a massive cockroach appeared on the side walk and made it's way up the window of the storefront right near me.  Flee into the rain, or stick it out cramped in with the sweaty metal heads and the vile insect?  I stuck it out and soon the rain ceased but I kept my eye on that little bastard then made my way back to see the headliners.

     Old Man Gloom largely kicked my ass.  This is the touring cycle for new album 'NO'.  The crowd ate it up, as did I.  Seeing them live, it was a true mix of Isis, Converge and Cave In.  Aaron, Caleb and Nate all traded vocals equally.  Nate was on guitar though as he plays bass in Converge and Santos of Zozobra provided the thunderous beat.  The songs were brutal and crushing in that late 90's - early 2000's noisy hardcore kind of way.  They played material from their entire back catalog and new stuff.  All of the noise and ambient tracks were played in between songs so the set flowed very well.  Their performance was tighter and on point way more than I expected, as the band is basically a side project (or is it?).  They had the noise and avante garde leanings of Jim Plotkin's set but it was more accesible; they had the crushing post hardcore vibe of Rosetta but way more powerful, memorable, face-tearing and relevant.  Believe they hype: the 'old' men of hardcore are back

     I had the distinct pleasure of talking to Jim Plotkin after the show.  I complemented him on his body of work and told him that I though that The Musical Dimensions of Sleastak was a work of genius.  He laughed pretty hard about that one.  It would be great for all those old OLD albums to be available for digital purchase online, but Earache probably has no plan to repress them or even sell them digitally most likely due to lack of interest.  This is very sad as any open minded fan of extreme metal should hear OLD at some point, especially Sleastak and Lo Flux Tube. 

   Philly is looking dark, gritty and used up: roaches, homeless people, fine eateries on the downfall, potential closing of multiple public schools.  I truly hope that Mike Armine's predicition of Philly becoming the next Detroit or Camden are not true, but we'll have to wait and see.  It was clearly a night of gloom...