Before I get down to the nitty gritty of how awesome both YOB and Bell Witch were in concert (Spoiler Alert: Very), I want to talk about a very special gentleman that I saw at their show, and how much he goes to show that metal reaches people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and levels of squareness.
When I set up shop at Le Poisson Rouge for the first opener the night of June 28 (I know, I know, I’m later than a procrastinating pregnant teen), I originally had a nice buffer of vacant space in front of me. Right before Heavy Temple took the stage, that buffer was filled by one of the most bizarre people that I’ve ever seen at the scores (that’s right, SCORES) of metal shows that I’ve attended. Let me paint you a picture of what I was looking at:
- This guy looked like a shorter, grayer, balder Boomer Esiason. He was easily in his 50’s, and if he aged incredibly well it wouldn’t surprise me if he were in his early 60’s.
- His outfit was composed of a beige polo shirt tucked into a pair of khaki shorts. This was complemented by a pair of Teva sandals, which as far as I knew went extinct about 15 years back.
- He was carrying a burlap tote bag that was halfway in-between a backpack and a purse, like something that a fashionable young mother would pack beach towels in for a day-trip down to the shore.
I couldn’t believe what I was looking at when this guy set up shop in front of me. Did he wander into the wrong venue? Did he misread “YOB” as “Bob” and think it was a gathering of guys named Bob? Was he the father of someone in one of the bands?
While the last option still may be a possibility, I can confirm that he was exactly where he wanted to be, because nobody was rocking out harder during Heavy Temple than this guy. It just goes to show you, whether you’re a grungy biker, a rebellious gothy teen, a suit-clad Wall Street hotshot, or a suburban Dad in sandals named Bob, metal has a place for you. I salute you, possible-Bob. Someday I hope to be as awesome, and as comfortable in my own skin/beige polo as you.
As far as the show goes, let me start out by saying how infinitely better a venue Le Poisson Rouge is than the site of my previous show, Stage 48. Despite being one of the smallest venues I’ve visited during my time out east, the venue knew what they were doing when it came to hosting a metal show. The sound quality, especially on the vocals, was FANTASTIC (let me reiterate, fuck you Stage 48). While the sightlines were less than ideal (it’s a small venue, so it’s unavoidable), the venue itself was a unique experience, and I’d have no hesitation about going back.
Heavy Temple, the first opener, is an all-female trio out of Philly that put their own sludgy/doomy twist on Black Sabbath’s sound, creating something both retro and fresh at the same time. Having never heard of the band before, I came away wildly impressed with not only how good they were live, but how into their set the crowd was (and not just possible-Bob). Sure, their sound is full of plenty of fuzz and feedback, but even so it was clear just how tight the band was musically (especially the drummer, who is a certified badass and a blast to watch play).
I’m not totally sure if anybody knew who they were beforehand, but Heavy Temple’s sound was accessible and energetic enough that they were the perfect appetizer for an evening filled with slow, lurching doom. Starting off the night with Bell Witch may have turned off a few too many people who were there solely for YOB, but Heavy Temple gave everyone a sound they could latch onto and get the blood flowing. I’ll definitely be checking out their catalog soon enough.
While most of the audience was there for YOB (and understandably so), I made a point to make this show to check out Bell Witch. Their most recent album, Mirror Reaper, is one of the best releases in recent memory, although I wasn’t totally sure how it would play out in a live setting. You see, Mirror Reaper is 80+ minutes long despite technically being only one song, so I didn’t know how that would work as an opening act (pretty sure I’ve never seen an hour and a half allotted for an opening act. Or most headliners, now that I think about it). Since I was mortified that the band would instead play some of their older material to fit into the time slot, I cheated and checked out what setlist.FM said they had been playing on this tour the night before the show. What I saw was this:
So…good news? I didn’t totally know what the “Partial” meant, but I was at least excited that they were giving Mirror Reaper a go on this tour.
Their set was, in a word, surreal. I’ve never experienced anything like it in concert before, and I doubt I will again. The duo played right around an hour of Mirror Reaper in what was one of the heaviest, most dense atmospheres I’ve ever felt, with those of us familiar with the record hanging on each and every note, and those unfamiliar with the album spending most of the hour wondering when the music would start (oh you fools, if only you understood the majesty you were witnessing…).
For those of you unfamiliar with Mirror Reaper, a HUGE percentage of the album is occupied by negative space, lending itself immensely to the atmosphere of the album but causing it to be very slowly paced. This was not a problem at all for me, as I’ve grown to love literally every single detail about the album. But I can easily understand how those who didn’t know the band beforehand would have not been into the set. The unfortunate downside of this meant that those people collected by the bar and started talking about their day, or their weekend plans, or their pugs, or whatever other inane shit they could think of, and those of us on the floor could hear Every. Single. Word. I’ve never heard people get shushed at a metal show, but it happened again and again during Bell Witch’s set. Look, I get it if you weren’t into the show. Mirror Reaper is not the most instantly accessible doom record out there, and if you don’t like it, fine. I mean, I hate you and you’re wrong, but fine. But for those of us who were there to witness the album live it sucked royally to have to listen to the band compete with a hundred separate conversations going at once.
Once you got past that, however, Bell Witch’s set was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s hard to capture just how enthralling their performance is, so just take a listen to Mirror Reaper and amp up the intensity by a hundred. And that’s it live. Amazing. Overwhelming. Crushing. Devastating. Beautiful. Despite a myriad of technical issues (vocals didn’t work for about 5 minutes, amps were blocking both video screens on the stage), Bell Witch’s performance was one of the most powerful I’ve ever witnessed live. I could never image such an overwhelming performance being generated by two men, but dammit, they did it.
So, about that whole “Partial” thing. As they hit around the 50-minute mark, it dawned on me that, so far, they had played Mirror Reaper in full. Suddenly, my hopes rose. “Hey, maybe they’ll play the whole album! This is New York, the Big Fucking Apple, after all!” Nope. Instead of chopping up the album to create the “partial” experience, Bell Witch lopped off the last half an hour or so, on the surface a natural break point in the context of the record. The problem? That last half an hour is my favorite part of the whole album. That’s where the record hits its melodic peak, where all of the ideas and thoughts from the record reach their soaring yet painful conclusion. It’s hard to fault a band who played such an incredible set for making the decision that they did, but it was such a crushing disappointment that I didn’t get to hear that last section of Mirror Reaper. Someday I’ll get over it, and even with that disappointment I was still blown away by what I saw. But oh, what could have been…
Last, but certainly not least, was the headliner of the night, YOB. I’ve made it clear before that I’m not the world’s longest-running YOB fan, but I’m a huge fan of their newest record, and the fact that frontman Mike Scheidt is alive, let alone playing live shows, was more than enough get me amped up for their set.
For a band I’ve always associated with lurching, crawling, spacey doom, YOB certainly brings a metric shit-ton of energy to their live performance. They kicked things off with the first two tracks from Our Raw Heart, “Ablaze” and “The Screen”, two of the heaviest tracks on the album, and even tossed in “Original Face” later in the set, yet another heavy jam of the record. They mixed in a few older songs that, while certainly full of lengthy intros, jams and interludes, were definitely not short on heaviness.
Scheidt did his part in keeping the crowd into the set, taking every opportunity to give the fans a friendly scream or menacing flex to let us know that he hadn’t forgotten about us. Although, in all honesty, it wasn’t all that necessary because the crowd was hooked on each and every howl out of his mouth. I’ve heard a lot of fantastic metal vocalists in concert before, but Scheidt is right up there with the best of them. His screams were powerful and full of force, and his signature croon managed to sound even better in concert than it does in studio. While the group was fantastic musically, Scheidt stole the show with his vocal work.
Of course, me being the negative Nancy that I am, there is one complaint that I had with the band’s set. Most critics have agreed that Our Raw Heart is one of the best albums that the band has released, and most of them (myself included) point to “Beauty in Falling Leaves” as the pinnacle of the record. The track is one of the rawest, most beautiful songs written by the band, and I had really hoped to hear it that fateful July night. And while I understand that the set was built around energetic and aggressive tracks, it was pretty disappointing to miss out on their live rendition of what is already going down as one of the finest tracks in their career just because it’s slower, delicate nature may not have jived with the rest of their set. That being said, it’s not like there was an easy track they could have lost to make room for the 16-minute saga that is “Beauty in Falling Leaves”, so even I can’t begrudge the band too much.
While it certainly isn’t hard to surpass the last show I attended (one final time, I swear: fuck you, Stage 48), this show will undoubtedly go down as one of the most impressive I attend this year, regardless of how many others I manage to drag myself to. Heavy Temple has a promising future ahead of them, YOB proved to be just as legendary as I’d hear, and Bell Witch gave me a live experience that I don’t think can ever be replicated. And, of course, Bob was there. What a night.