New York, New York
October 18, 2012
As you more than likely already know, Heavy Planet hosted our first ever College Music Journal (CMJ) Showcase last week at Fontana's Bar in New York City. Much like CMJ, the goal of Heavy Planet is to introduce new ears to the music of independent and unsigned artists. Unlike CMJ however, we tend to focus on those independent and unsigned artists who lean towards the heavier end of the musical spectrum.
Given that fact, we put together a lineup of bands that ran the gamut from neo-stoner art rock to riff slinging doom and from psychedelic sludge to dune riding, desert rock. And just in case that wasn't enough, we topped it all off with a pseudo-instrumental set of mind bending, ear splitting groove that drilled our message home with measured precision. Friends…allow me to recap for you the performances from the inaugural Heavy Planet CMJ Showcase.
This NYC trio…one of two local acts to play the showcase…took the stage and immediately introduced the crowd to their post-grunge aural trip. With a sound somewhat akin to Bruce Springsteen doing “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”, vocalist/guitarist Lee Diamond and company kicked the evening off in perfect stoner rock fashion, all riffs and rhetoric. Shock Radar, which is rounded out by bassist Larry Hess and drummer Rich Drouin, played an eclectic array of experimental noise fused with flourishes of country twang and punk rock attitude. Diamond's raspy delivery melded well with the crisp backdrop of the rhythm section as the band got the evening off on the right foot. Bonus points to the Shocks' main man for recklessly flinging his Fender stage right as the band's set concluded, thus laying the foundation for what would be a raucous evening of rock n fucking roll.
I knew it was time for some riff slinging when I saw Summoner’s Orange amps being loaded onto the Fontana’s stage. And I have to say, I was stoked to finally have a chance to see these guys, especially since I’ve essentially had their recent album, Phoenix, on repeat for about three straight months…seriously. Employing the dual guitar attack of A.J. Peters and Joe Richner, Summoner created a deafening wall of sound from the second they started playing their opening number “Conjuring”, through to the last crash from drummer Scott Smith during "Across Iron Fields".
And to say that every tendon, muscle and sinew in vocalist/bassist Chris Johnson’s throat was visible as he shouted his message into a microphone laced with echo effects would be an understatement. The vocals, which are a powerful ingredient to the Summoner concoction, drape the band’s layered riffs in an ethereal tapestry that adds a measure of depth to their sound that isn't often heard in this genre of music. Listening to the band play "Let the Light In" for example, was chill inducing to say the least. Summoner, who graciously made the trip down to NYC from Beantown to play our little shindig, was a highlight among highlights…wicked fucking good. If you have an opportunity to see these guys live, do not miss them.
Brooklyn's Eggnogg were next on the bill and once again I couldn't wait.***Psst…since I put the damn lineup together, this will be a running theme throughout.*** After seeing Summoner jostle for position on the small Fontana's stage, this three piece almost seemed to spread out as vocalist/bassist Bill O'Sullivan set up shop at stage left with guitarist Justin Karol flanking him on the right and Jason Prushko situated behind his drum kit in dead center. Having spoken with O'Sullivan prior to the band's set, I learned that Prushko is a relative newcomer to the Eggnogg lineup, and as such, I was curious to hear how that would work out in a live setting. Turns out, the trio was just as tight, methodical and downright militaristic in their slow building, sludgy attack as they sound on their 2011 album Moments in Vacuum.
Given the band's name, you're likely to assume that Melvins comparisons are apropos…and in that assumption, you'd be right. Eggnogg is an aural juggernaut and on this night they had heads nodding in trancelike unison throughout Fontana's. O'Sullivan snarled from behind a mop of hair that was swiped from his eyes only long enough to say a quick thanks before the bludgeoning continued. Karol chugged along as one might expect, but managed to pull off impressive leads whenever his time came. And what of the new guy? Well he held down the band's patient rhythms and unexpected time changes like a seasoned vet throughout the 45 minute set.
In true showcase fashion, Eggnogg took the opportunity to highlight material off their forthcoming LP You're All Invited which seemed to be…at least to my ears…a heavier and darker Eggnogg. But don't take my word for it, take a listen for yourself to the live clip of the eponymous track off that upcoming album below. Also, the band is attempting to raise money via a kickstarter campaign in order to release the new album on vinyl. You can help them out with that by clicking this link: You're All Invited - Vinyl Kickstarter
Valley of the Sun
Valley of the Sun, who travelled the furthest to participate in this showcase, coming all the way from Cincinnati, Ohio, is so fucking good I almost don't have words. For starters, if you aren't already listening to their 2011 EP The Sayings of the Seers, then you need to stop reading this and go download that shit right now. Secondly, I want to thank vocalist/guitarist Ryan Ferrier, bassist Ryan McAllister and drummer Aaron Boyer for agreeing to play this show and for being true road warriors in doing so. It was much appreciated fellas.
Now…on to their set. Valley of the Sun took the stage and immediately erupted with the pure intensity and passion that can only come from a band who loves their craft. All three band members are equal cogs in this wheel. Ferrier, who casts a striking presence sporting the shaved head and bearded look drives the band's sound with his fuzzed out guitar tones and better-than-Cornell vocal delivery. But what you don't realize until you see Valley of the Sun in a live setting is that this band's secret weapon is it's rhythm section. McAllister and Boyer play off of each other so rapidly that it almost goes unnoticed…the former laying down the constantly shifting backbone of the band's attack while the latter pulverizes his drum kit into oblivion. In fact, Boyer played the drums so aggressively that at times, I found myself focusing solely on him…he was that much fun to watch.
Like Eggnogg, Valley of the Sun took the opportunity to showcase new material alongside the massive sounds from their aforementioned EP. And while the new stuff definitely whet my appetite for a new Valley of the Sun record, it was songs like "Hearts Aflame" and "Mariner's Tale" from Seers that drilled their way into my cranium. This is rock n' roll my friends! Combining power, hooks, and intricate melodies and then submerging them in a layer of glorious fuzz, Valley of the Sun breathes new life into a sound that bands like Kyuss and Fu Manchu coined long ago. Nobody inside Fontana's sat still during their set…and if they had…I would have checked their pulse. Phenomenal.
Borracho is another band that went out of their way to be in New York City for this CMJ showcase, traveling up from Washington D.C., and for that, we are ever grateful. Having had the occasion to see the band's full lineup a few times in the past, I was extremely curious to get my first look at the new trimmed down, three-piece version that debuted back in September at the Stoner Hands of Doom Festival. With vocalist/guitarist Noah Greenburg on an extended hiatus while he handles day job commitments that have him out of the country, guitarist Steve Fisher, bassist Tim Martin and drummer Mario Trubiano are busy keeping the Borracho torch burning. Their solution? Take the best instrumental sections from the songs on their excellent 2011 album Splitting Sky…and if you've heard it, you know there are many…segue one piece into the next, throw in some killer new material and the end result is one monstrous 45 minute groove. Sound good? Yeah you know it does.
There aren't many bands that can captivate and enthrall an audience without the need for a vocalist. Interestingly enough, I saw Borracho open for a band with just such a talent about a year ago when they played with Karma to Burn, and I can't help but wonder if that band may have rubbed off on them and perhaps influenced their decision to carry on as a pseudo-instrumental trio in Noah's absence. Whatever the inspiration, I'm glad the band has gone in this direction, because their infectious groove, heavy riffs and sheer fucking talent are truly a sight to behold. Trubiano lays down thunderous beats right in time with Martin's thumping rhythm. But it's Fisher who seems to have taken the lead in Greenburg's absence. Without a word spoken, the guitarist raised his Flying V to the sky, shook his beard to the heavens and wailed out riffs, chords and glorious solos galore.
And right about the time that me and the rest of the Fontana's crowd began to wonder what the hell that microphone was doing raised up in front of the guitarist, all Lemmy-like, Fisher stepped right up and belted out the finale to "All in Play"…"and when your armies fail to come…you find your castles come undone…the answer…the answer…is run away." Fuckin' A! And in true headliner fashion, the band launched right into their catchiest, most accessible number of all, as their guitarist proceeded to handle vocal duties on a killer version of "Concentric Circles" before bringing Borracho's set to a satisfying end.
With that, the Fontana's crowd left with their ears ringing and their minds blown. The scene at Fontana's last Thursday night was one of a small community of musicians and their fans coming together to show support and solidarity to one another. This was a true showcase of real musical ability…of talent…of bands on their way up. I'm proud to have been a part of it and I want to thank Shock Radar, Summoner, Eggnogg, Valley of the Sun and Borracho for being a part of it as well. I enjoyed meeting and hanging out with all of the band members and I can't wait to do it again.
For more on all of the bands that played the Heavy Planet CMJ Showcase, check out the following links:
Valley of the Sun
The following is a clip of Eggnogg playing the song "Eggnogg" from their forthcoming LP You're All Invited shot live at the Heavy Planet CMJ Showcase:
Check out more photos from the show below:
Valley of the Sun