Saw this menagerie last night at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago. The $12 price balanced the 9PM Sunday night start time, and then the bands really made it worth my while. It happened to be a benefit show for Lymphedema/Breast Cancer awareness, though there was less social commentary from the stage than the average Queensryche show. Reportedly more than $6000 was raised. On to the bands:
Cougars: Eight guys on stage, including the usual five of a standard 2-guitar band, plus trumpet, trombone, and keyboards. So what do they play, some kind of hardcore-jazz-funk-ambient-death-metal? Nope. Just regular old kickass rock-n-roll. Played nice and loud with perhaps just the slightest punk edge. I don’t know why brass instruments don’t appear more often in rock bands. They’re “loud”, distorted, and can really add an extra melodic punch. When the two guitars, horns, and keyboards would all get going, there was sometimes an epic level of layered harmony that was really cool.
Sweet Cobra: A bit like Mastodon, if Mastodon wasn’t as good. Heavy riffs and screamed vocals, that got a lot more repetitive than Mastodon. But they had some cool breakdowns in the middle of some of their songs, and I actually got a bit of an early 90s doom-death (like Paradise Lost) vibe in their last song, which was a nice surprise.
Pelican: Four guys, four songs, one hour, no singer, and totally captivating. I was repeatedly reminded of early Opeth. Not because they were at all similar sonically, but the songs are long musical journeys, starting at one point, continually shifting from phase to phase, and ending up somewhere different. They also work repetition to perfection; like Opeth, at the very second you think “hmm, this is cool, but I might start to get bored with this riff soon”, they’ve already moved on to something else. I figure any band who can keep me and the rest of the crowd interested for an hour while playing music I’ve never heard before, without a singer, and without any hummable guitar lines, must have some pretty unique songwriting skills.
Mastodon: After being really wowed by Pelican, I wasn’t sure if Mastodon would be able to top them. But they did, oh yes, they did. They started off by playing some really melodic stuff that was much less intense for me than it seemed to be for the Mastodon guys, who were thrashing about more than the previous two times I’d seen them. So I thought maybe I just wouldn’t be able to latch on to their vibe. But then they hit some heavier, familiar stuff and that’s when things started rockin’ and didn’t stop. I think they played a whole lot of new songs, and it sounds like it’s easily better than “Remission”. More melodic, but still with some really intense sections as well. My favorite line: “This is ‘Workhorse’. It’s a song about work. Work sucks!” And I still think the bass player is the son of Peavy Wagner.
I’d say “Catch this package in a town near you!”, but it’s not coming to a town near you. Suckers!