by Brian Cook
on Mon, Jul 25, 2011 at 2:39 PM
I skipped Capitol Hill Block Party this weekend. Having just returned from a six week European tour the week prior, I was still in the mode of “the last thing I want to do right now is go to a show.” So rather than standing in the sweaty, drunken throngs of Seattle music fans, I camped out on a river up in the mountains and decompressed from the nearly 40 shows I attended in the weeks prior. So I can’t join in with fellow bloggers and ruminate on the highlights of CHBP, but I can list off a few of my highlights from my travels around Europe.
Karma To Burn
I guess I should’ve already been well versed in this highly-regarded instrumental stoner rock band from the ‘90s, but they’ve always been lumped in with a certain breed of that particular niche that doesn’t appeal to me. To say that their album Almost Heathen is as crucial as Monster Magnet’s Spine of God isn’t exactly a selling point in my book. But goddamn, they were a force to be reckoned with live. I couldn’t stop watching the drummer—a tall, gaunt, disheveled man with a big bushy mop of grey hair, an unruly beard, and a general demeanor that screamed “I need my Thorazine.” His cymbals were raised improbably high, and his rack tom was set at face-level, requiring this strange, flailing, goon-like drumming style to successfully pummel his kit.
In the small mountain town of Bolzano, Italy, we played a festival. Like so many “underground” festivals, it was really more of a standard show with too many bands. The line-up was comprised mainly of post-metal artists, with the best of the bunch leaning towards halfway decent Pelican knock-offs and the worst offerings coming across as third rate Deftones impersonators. Ugh. But the last act of the evening was something entirely different. Local duo Satelliti wrapped up the night with an amalgam of Goblin’s synth-based prog and Tortoise’s brainy infusion of jazz into indie rock. One moment the band would be riding on a thick, sinister arpeggio, and then it would open up into a free-form jam of electric piano and nimble drumming.
There are cities with such music history that you hope to absorb some of their magic just by being within the city limits. I’m sure there are folks out there who hope to tap into the mystique of Hendrix or Nirvana when they roll into Seattle. On our end, we hoped we would absorb some metal mojo in Gothenburg, Sweden, but the town felt a little too safe and reserved (no offense to the fine folks at Truckstop Alaska). Similarly, we were expecting more sinister overtones in Oslo, considering Norway’s black metal history. Our show did not reflect the dark underbelly of the country’s music scene, though I suppose the tragic events of last weekend reinforce Norway’s morbid streak. Only Cologne, Germany managed to live up to expectations. Having met Nicoffeine in the backstage of the renovated factory hosting our show, I shared my excitement about being in Can’s hometown. The fine gents in Nicoffeine had plenty of Can trivia to share, with a couple of members having collaborated with Damo Sazuki in years past. They then proceeded to take the stage and unleash a horrendous torrent of gnarled, shrieking, audience-baiting noise. The subs in the PA were cranked, and at moments the bass made my temples feel like they were caving in. There was nothing “heady” or sophisticated about Nicoffeine. Sonically, there was nothing tying them to krautrock. But the sheer volume, migraine-inducing frequencies, and physical intensity of their set were a trip, nonetheless.
We played a heavy music fest in Milan. The big names for the night were Eyehategod, Kylesa, and Church of Misery. For a myriad of reasons (decibel limits, vibe-killing sunshine, and swarms of mosquitoes, just to name a few), the big attractions just didn’t really translate very well. It was underwhelming. But tucked away on a small side stage, Italy’s The Secret delivered thirty minutes of claustrophobic doom and voracious d-beat hardcore. They were louder, heavier, and more intimidating than anyone else at the fest.