Coal Chamber arrived on the scene at a time when Nu Metal was at its peak. They brought a unique approach with them as front man Dez Fafara carried an element of Goth into a world that was ruled by dreadlocks and suburban white dudes rapping over drop D tunings. The first two records, 1997’s self-titled debut followed by Chamber Music were two very solid offerings to the metal community and arguably could be considered two records that gave RoadRunner records a much-needed and expanded fan base.
Most of the other Nu Metal bands went to major labels while Coal Chamber signed with what was, at that time, considered an indie label. Unfortunately, any music sub-genre that rises so quickly can also fall just as fast. Nu Metal was bound to run its course, and when it did there was a dramatic shift along with a substantial backlash to follow.
Fast forward ten years or so and the band that made Nu Metal listenable for lots of goth loving metal heads around the world returned to the stage with an almost original lineup touring to support a new record simply called Rivals.
Swervedriver is a perfect example of what happens to a brilliant band that doesn’t fit nicely into any one category. More than a decade later critics and fans continue to adore and celebrate the band’s seminal “breakthrough” album Mezcal Head, but the band somehow never quite broke as big as they likely should have. Who’s really to blame in this case? Radio? Press? Retail?
Well, none of them really matter too much anymore since the world of social media and streaming has taken over. With that said, it’s always a welcome treat when a band of this magnitude reunites, delivers a masterpiece of a record, and tours the US sounding better than ever.
Swerverdriver’s Mezcal Head was a real game changer when it came out in 1993. I remember seeing these guys open up for Rage Against the Machine back in 1992. That was a time when metal kids were really open-minded and the dudes in Rage were cool enough to take a chance on having someone truly unique opening their shows.
Shoegaze as a musical style was something that I had never heard of before as I completely missed My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive because I was listening to Slayer. Many other metal heads were probably equally as clueless. But I dug Swervedriver, and so did the majority of my metal friends. The problem then became—SHOULD they have taken that tour with Rage or should they have gone out on the road solo (as they had a huge buzz about them already) or gone out with a more “shoegazy” type band. Who can say?
Every year there’s one artist who seemingly comes out of nowhere and takes the music industry by storm. Many times it’s an artist who has one big hit then disappears from the face of the earth. It’s usually due to the lack of depth on their record, but every once in a while a new talent breaks through for all the right reasons. This time around it’s the latter as Irish singer-songwriter Andrew Hozier-Byrne has crafted a start-to-finish masterpiece.
Hozier’s self-titled debut is a brilliant mix of gospel, blues, soul, and stellar songwriting. It’s the kind of record that makes pop music feel far less disposable and the Grammys appear like they know what they are talking about for once. Speaking of the Grammys, this was the first show Hozier played after his stunning performance with the one and only voice of a generation, Annie Lennox. It was one of the most talked about performances at the annual awards show, if not the absolute best.
The breakthrough song “Take me to Church” was rightfully up for Song of the Year, but lost out to Sam Smith. While not quite as bad as the clueless Grammy judges awarding a comedy duo for Best Metal Performance, it certainly was a snub in my book.
It was a Saturday night back in 1991. My friends and I were all gathered around watching Headbangers Ball as we would do almost every weekend. That’s when it happened. Rikki Rachman, the host of the show, just played the number five “Skullcrusher” of the week, a spot rightfully owned by Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” video. He announced that there was a new band that he would like to introduce us all to. That band was Nirvana and the song was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
It was the first time I had ever heard of Nirvana and it was about to change everything. My friends and I who were all listening to “hair metal” at the time all looked around the room at each other but no one said a word. We didn’t have to. We knew that the days of hair metal ruling the charts were numbered. The writing was on the wall and it was Kurt Cobain’s handwriting.
It wasn’t all bad though, because of course this movement would give us brilliant artists such as Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and so many more. We would soon become fans of this new genre called grunge and would trade in our zebra striped spandex and eyeliner for flannel, matted hair, and ripped jeans.
Although this movement was spearheaded out of Seattle, there was one band that was paying very close attention from across the pond. They were called Bush and they delivered a “grunge” masterpiece by way of Great Britain called Sixteen Stone. It would go on to sell more than 6 million copies and Bush would end up becoming one of the most commercially successful rock bands of the 1990s.
Sometimes you just need to get out on a Monday night and go see some good metal. I had a choice between Periphery or Sleeping With Sirens. I choose Periphery mostly because I hate emo metal, but even more because Wovenwar and Nothing More were rounding out the bill that night at the legendary Fillmore. This show was perfectly primed to be a shredfest and that’s exactly what it was.
It was the eve of the release of two new albums from Periphery—Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. Two epic metal records that go from blistering technical metal, to free-flowing jazz, to soaring harmonies—all intertwined effortlessly with insanely heavy riffs. In an era when record sales are at an all-time low, who in the hell releases a double album? These guys do and they deliver big time.
Hailing from Maryland, Periphery is rapidly expanding its audience and, as founder and guitarist Misha Mansoor recently told Rolling Stone with a laugh, “Lately, we’ve even seen some females there who aren’t completely miserable.” I love that these guys have a sense of humor.
It was a beautiful spring day in Austin, Texas back in 2004 and I was on my way to pick up the Godmother of punk rock, the legendary Patti Smith. I was working for Sony Music at the time and Patti had just released her Columbia Records debut Trampin’. I was asked by the label to pick up Patti at her hotel, take her to KGSR for an interview with Jody Denberg, then over to Waterloo Records for an in-store signing. When I got to the hotel it was insanely busy and there wasn’t one legit parking spot open and of course I was running late, so I parked illegally thinking that I would be in and out.
It ended up taking me a bit longer than I had anticipated to get back to my car as several folks who were staying at the hotel recognized Patti as we were walking through the lobby. She was very cool and stopped to chat with each of them along the way. As we reached the parking lot, the hotel manager made an announcement over some sort of loudspeaker that sounded like it was broadcast to the entire city. “The owner of a red Saturn sedan parked illegally will be towed,” blasted through the air as if it was a public service announcement. Patti looks at me and says something to the effect of “I’d hate to be that person today,” I looked back and said to her, ‘That’s our ride.”
To make a long story short, I got to my car just before the tow truck did and we were on our way. Patti along with her antique camera asked me to stop several times so she could snap a photo or two along “the Drag” while telling me stories about her camera and even a story or two about her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith of the groundbreaking band MC5. It was an epic afternoon that turned out to be one of the most remarkable moments of my career in the music business.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years since The Jayhawks formed back in the twin cities. The mark they have left on the Americana music scene is undeniable, but also quite puzzling. Why in the hell is this band not a household name? What kind of music industry can let a gem of a band like this seemingly go unnoticed to the greater masses, especially after delivering a string of brilliant and critically acclaimed records?
I first heard The Jayhawks when I worked at a record store in college back in St. Louis. The label rep/ promo guy (you know, Artie Fufkin) brought in a promo copy of Tomorrow the Green Grass the week of its release and was saying great things about these guys. The label even had a display contest in which the store with the biggest and best Jayhawks display won a prize. I love that fucking record and the band so much that I made the entire back of the store one enormous Jayhawks display. (I swear I still have the photo somewhere, tweet me later and I’ll track it down) Oh, and I won by the way.
One of the other benefits of working in a record store back in the day, besides all the free promo CDs, was the free tickets that came along with them. I got to see The Jayhawks at the legendary Mississippi Nights. The show was EPIC. Fast forward to last week at another legendary venue, the Fillmore here in San Francisco, I witnessed The Jayhawks sounding better than ever.
The first time I saw The Flaming Lips live was back in 1999 while working at a record store in my hometown of St. Louis, MO. The local Warner Brothers rep gave me tickets to see the band at a club called Karma during the tour for their seminal masterpiece The Soft Bulletin. Since the album had so many intricate layers to it, the band knew they would have trouble pulling it off live so they created a radio station per se that would transmit a direct signal of the show to the audience through a pair of custom headphones that were given out at the door. How fucking crazy is that?
Fast forward to last week and it’s New Year’s Eve with The Flaming Lips. Wayne Coyne and company are still pushing the limits of technology for their live shows but these days they have no budget restraints or limits for pulling off one of the most amazing spectacles touring the planet right now. It’s part Cirque du Soleil, part Super Mario Brothers, but all together one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life—and a photographer’s dream.
Touring in support of their new album With a Little Help from My Fwends, it’s the Lips’ fourteenth studio release and a track-for-track tribute to The Beatles classic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The entire record is reimagined by The Flaming Lips and their special guests including My Morning Jacket, Maynard James Keenan, Foxygen, Grace Potter, and even Miley Cyrus just to name a few. The setlist that night would include the title track “Sgt. Pepper” along with a spaced out version of “A Day in the Life.”
I love a good heavy metal story where a band pays their dues, refines their sound, and figures out exactly who they are and where they are going. It doesn’t happen very often as the band either falls apart from creative differences, gives up too quickly, or quite frankly aren’t good enough. Maria Brink and In This Moment are the embodiment of the hardworking band does good fairy tale, and ironically it seems in many ways they’re just getting started.
Having launched their career on the most forward thinking independent label in my opinion, Century Media let the band do their thing and evolve over a number of years and records. Once they were ready for their breakthrough, the label passed them off to a major, in this case the mighty Atlantic Records. This is how the industry is supposed to work and in this case it’s set up In This Moment perfectly.
Touring in support of their major label debut Black Widow, In This Moment returned to the Bay Area for one of the best shows I have seen all year at the legendary Fillmore. It was the perfect combination of metal, theatrics, storytelling, and musicianship. Front-woman Maria Brink truly took on the persona of a black widow as she pulled the audience into the show and kept them hanging on every note.
Let’s stop with the silly comments such as, “It’s not really Smashing Pumpkins with only one original member.” Yes it is, because Billy Corgan IS Smashing Pumpkins. And while were on the subject—were his remarks regarding the Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam really off that much?
I mean I love the Foo Fighters, but Corgan’s right in the fact that they really haven’t “evolved” as a band. And that’s OK because they have perfected their formula for kick ass rock ‘n’ roll. As for Pearl Jam, again, I’m a fan, but can their new songs hold up to anything from their first three epic masterpieces? It’s certainly up for debate, and Mr. Corgan has made two very valid points that the media have spun out of control into an attack on his rock ‘n’ roll peers.
With that being said, this is a show review so let me get to it. I was able to score a last-minute ticket to see one of a series of intimate shows that have been taking place in London, New York, and Paris that all sold out instantly. The band is touring to promote their new album Monuments to an Elegy, which was released on December 9. When the band added San Francisco to the short tour, I was ecstatic.