Thanks to one of SPT’s rather annoying policies, my trip to the Oran Mor became significantly more interesting. My intention was to take the Subway at about 6.00 ish, assuming that it would shut down before I was able to return. I was right. In fact it shut down before I even got there. No subway after 6.00 on a Sunday. Every other day it stops after 11.00. So I cycled to the Oran Mor. Without having much of an idea how to get there, except knowing it was near the Hillhead subway station. What a fun experience that was At one point I found myself going up a street that was so steep each house was a full storey above the previous one… And given that I had enough trouble finding it in the daylight, imagine trying to retrace a route I didn’t know in the dark at after 10:00 when the show finished…
Okay, ignoring the 7 mile round-trip on the bicycle, let me talk now about the event. I sat recuperating in a comfortable sofa listening to Do Make Say Think, waiting for Torche to take the stage. Eventually they did. Their set drew mostly from their latest album Meanderthal, which is almost a redundant statement in any live review. I only have the latest one anyway, so this at least gave me a frame of reference.
Torche took off in a rip-roaring display of crazy-cool rock music, vaguely of the stoner variety emphasised by ultra-warm fuzz tones, for forty-five minutes (probably – I wasn’t timing or anything). This is especially impressive because their songs tend to be very concise.
Grinding melodic guitar riffage rode astride powerful and articulate drumming, and the obligatory searing hot solos to keep things moving along. Suffice to say, the set was highly energetic and highly enjoyable. Even when a pair of drunken buffoons started to dance by bumping into everyone before having a bottle confiscated and being reprimanded by security, I was still transfixed. Maybe I should have been dancing, but that’s just not my bag. Not in public at least…
They ended their set with the final track off Meanderthal, which is coolest song, both on the album and in the known universe. Upon hearing this track for the first time, after picking my jaw up off the floor, I began speculating on how this super-low guitar sound was produced. As it turns out, it involved switching to ridiculously down-tuned guitars, so much so that the lowest string was actually vibrating like a loose bass string. Whatever tuning it is, it sounds utterly awesome and crushing, much like on the record. However, this extended jam version rumbled on for twice the album length, and towards the end, the lead guitarist entered the audience and invited people to grab, hit and scratch his metal-necked Travis Bean guitar thereby producing an unholy racket. Then like a magic trick, he vanished, leaving the crowd passing the guitar around till he re-appeared on stage to turn off the amp and signal the end of the set. And yes, that one song deserves its own lengthy paragraph, nay, religion.
I shifted positions for Pelican, which I now regret. When they eventually emerged, I was reasonably excited, but the sound was absolutely awful. All I could hear was bass and drums, which is kind of a problem in a two-guitar band like Pelican. Either I had wandered into a bad listening location, or the engineers dropped the ball. Because of this, my enjoyment of Pelican was diminished. I almost left half-way through, but I didn’t really want to fight my way to the back of the tightly packed crowd just to get lost on my bike again.
Pelican can be slow, but on recordings, I find them highly interesting, what with the complex interplay between the guitarists, almost completely ignoring all pre-figured rules for twin-guitar metal. Unfortunately, their rhythm section is less interesting by far.
I hate to be one of those guys jumping on the “Larry Herweg is a shit drummer” bandwagon. Listening to their records, I find his work perfectly acceptable if not especially outstanding, but in this live performance, his timing faltered and wandered somewhat, occasionally to verging on what Robert Fripp calls a train wreck. Does that make him a bad drummer? Yeah, it probably does, but Pelican are aware of the criticism, and they don’t seem to care, friendship and loyalty evidently meaning more to them than pinpoint musical accuracy.
My point is, I could only really hear the rhythm section through most of the set, and coupled with the bands’ already plodding pace and lack of energy in comparison to openers Torche, this made for a very dull and slightly wobbly performance in my opinion. They came off stage after an hour which was about 45 minutes after I had zoned out. They ran out of time, so no encore for the ones who were digging it, proving once more that Sunday nights are shitty nights for gigs.
On reflection, maybe Torche’s live show just blows bands like Pelican out of the water.