Friday, March 24, 2006

A Time When I Wasn't Sure - Cont'd

Greetings and salutations. Again.

Like I said in my post earlier this week, the plan was go out last night and review a show for this week’s column, putting me only a day behind but still bringing that signature Phantom flair to this week’s InsideOut – can’t let my fan down (thanks Mom!).

The funniest thing about last night was that, while I did end up going to a show, it wasn’t even the show I’d planned to see. Any critic, let alone a PHANTOM critic, should have a little more control over who he sees, but it happens so much more than you’d think. Hell, I’ve tried and failed to see the Pop Rivets like, 8 times. If I make it to 10, I might have to give them some kind of medal.

The important thing is that I did end up in the presence of live music, so I’m going to write about it. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you won’t. Combining forces were Red Letter Day, The Venus Transit, Savior Bullets, and Aggressor State. Initially, I feared the style contrast between Aggressor State and the other acts might create crowd problems, but aside from one emo kid who accidentally got sucked into the mosh pit while dancing, everything remained under control. He escaped the pit before he could be sacrificed and eaten, and seemed to enjoy the rest of his evening, albeit a little further from the stage.

If you haven’t heard them before, Aggressor State’s name should tell you everything you need to know about the band and their music. Combining elements of straight-ahead thrash with the operatic themes of bands like Diamond Head and Iron Maiden, they’re one of several acts who are reviving the 80’s underground vibe in the local region. Billed as “Roanoke’s Leading Speed Metal Band,” it is unclear whether “leading” is meant to imply “fastest “ or “best,” but I’ll reserve judgment and let you decide for yourself. Despite what most people in thrash bands would have you believe, speed is not nearly so difficult to develop as is the precision that actually defines talent. Fortunately for Aggressor State, they are well aware of this, and for the most part, have their chops in fine order.

Savior Bullets was next, bringing the sound a little further into the hardcore genre. Interspersing their intricate melodies with alt/rock riffs and punk choruses, the band flexed it’s musical muscle as the singer exploded from one side of the stage to the other, falling down on the floor, climbing up on the drum riser, running out into the mosh pit, and even crowd-surfing overhead. His vocal style (and general behavior) were emotional and uncompromising, swinging from a whisper to a scream and back again. In contrast, the guitarist and bassist were the models of restraint (at least musically). Despite their obvious talent, both served up tasteful slices of minimalism, only stepping up to explode when the occasion called for it, doing musically what the singer was doing physically.

Following Savior Bullets’ roller coaster effect of lightweight textures and middle finger sounds was Red Letter Day, who managed to surprise me from the moment they took the stage. Sounding significantly more original than I first thought they might, and looking nothing like they actually sound, the group’s mix of SoCal punk and aggressive rumbling beats provided the backdrop to the singer’s uncharacteristically low emotional vocal style. At first glance, I would’ve bet money that he was a hardcore/screamo singer. But that was my beer money, and I’m glad I didn’t lose it. Instead, he belted out a controlled midrange tone, possessing the kind of power that let him hold big notes without hearing his voice crack and break like so many other emotional singers.

Ending the night was The Venus Transit, which if you’re a Phantom Critic connoisseur, should be a familiar name. In that huge mailbag I keep talking about every week, I’ve gotten several letters from people who wonder what I’ll do when I run out of bands to talk about. While you would fall asleep reading this if I reviewed the same show every weekend, who ever decided that I couldn’t talk about someone more than once? Variety is certainly a priority, but the best thing about original bands is how much they grow and change. Each band’s evolution is a vital part of the scene, and so it’s worth my time.

That being said, I have no idea if the band ever saw my first review, but what I saw last night was evidence of band who are coming in to their own. Overall, their entire sound has gelled, and they’ve adjusted to life onstage. My first few shots toward the band were mostly because of how different they were live from the cd tracks I’d heard. That early show was rough around the edges only because their sound was being lost. Signature elements on the recordings were falling through the cracks and so their vision, dressed in layers and depth, seemed naked and bare. Not this time, however. Fuller, tighter, and generally more comfortable, they have their live sound. Now if they just stop buying faulty equipment…

Good show overall. Usually shows with more than two or three bands start to blur into each other, but the diversity of last night’s acts kept it interesting and an energetic crowd kept it fun. Best of all, the bands seemed to have a great time playing and rallying around in support of each other. They may all hate the world we live in, but at least they can play nice.

Another review next week, hopefully on time. Expect an announcement about the interview offer soon, and maybe I’ll acknowledge the considerate people who wrote in to share their thoughts on my “unnecessarily hostile” review process. Wait, I just did. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom