Last Sabbath, bloody Sabbath, far too much heaviness took place in DC to comprehend. This, for me, is a very good sign, and hopefully a harbinger of things to come (or better yet, as the phrase goes, “a harbinger of doom.”) There was the juggernaut of High on Fire, playing with Priestess, Black Cobra, and Bison B.C., at the Black Cat; the giant of Red Sparowes (members of Isis, Neurosis, Angel Hair, and more, FYI), Doomriders, and Fang Island, at the Rock & Roll Hotel; but it was the hearty troll of Thou and Danke, performing at Big Bear Café, that interested me the most.
Danke is a band I still remember from my Warehouse days, and, come to find out, this show was their first in two years. I’m hoping this means they are attempting a come back. Coming from several other bands, Danke initially arrived on the music scene towards what I would call, the end of everything, but that doesn’t mean that had to let a good idea die.
Meeting in an odd spot where doom, math rock, and screamo, (Need I remind you again, I refer here to actual screamo, with the intoning of names like Majority Rule and Ampere?), Danke always managed to snap every bone in just the right place. And, while you tell there was a bit of unease in a live return from a two year retirement, the group deftly picked up right where they off. The only thing noticeable was two years of improved musicianship.
I’ve already mentioned my first encounter with Thou, and how memorable it was. Since then they have skyrocketed in popularity, and rightfully so (not something I am prone to say). They are part of that small tribe who find them selves still standing after the onslaught of the term, “doom,” laid waste to the land for the last two years or so. Along with similar kin, such as split LP mates Salome, Thou are a fiercer, more venomous level of doom, and whether in a cramped basement, a massive stage for Scion Rock Fest, or in the corner of a café, they always rip the beams down with them.
Their set on Sunday was primed for the same action, and as Thou sounded the muddied cry for war, the crowd seemed to ready itself for battle. For a period, we all drowned in a blood-curdled, misanthropic bliss. Then suddenly, an announcement was made that the police had arrived, and that Thou should only play one more song as the authorities were shutting the show down.
It is noteworthy that from first hand experience, Colin goes out of his way to make sure the shows at Big Bear are controlled and respectful of the neighbors (they always end at 10PM, period). Without turning this into an editorial, let me simply say that actions such as this threaten all of the arts in a city that already doesn’t care about them, unless they can prove a hefty pricetag. If a city cares more about major chains and an influx of certain demographics than it does the arts, local businesses, and, most importantly people who live below a certain economic level, then that city is sure to lose it’s soul.
None-the-less, Thou proved that they could slay the largest of beasts with simply a handful of songs. Beyond the rallying cries the ushered in the last song of the shortened set, the attendees lost all social control, and slipped into a blind rage. Even a quarter of a Thou set is an epic event.
Fortunately, I was able to get a bit of footage before the proverbial plug was pulled.
Afterwards, the group was kind enough to let me share a few minutes of their time. Even though they had performed four shows in four cities, in two days, and were about to drive 17 hours home to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, they shared their thoughts about preferring house shows, the importance of DIY, the string piece on their split with Salome, and how they have too many upcoming releases to even mention.
They were exceedingly exhausted, more than a little loopy, and also in the mood to interview me for a moment about topless men with luchador masks. (I’d also like to extend my deepest apologies for parts of this footage being exceedingly shaky; the majority of the interview saw me pinned against a wobbling van door.)
In true a propos style, the minute the show was over, the majority of the crowd (myself included), hopped on our bikes and pedaled away to the next show. For several of us, this was definitely Red Sparowes, but for the majority of us, it meant one thing: High on Fire. Featuring Matt Pike, of the legendary stoner group Sleep, (for the record, “Dopesmoker” is ironically one of my favorite songs), High on Fire have been doling out high-powered doomy stoner metal since 1998. And they proved last Sunday that they only get better with age.
Taking the stage to a hail of praise, the group launched headlong into a barrage of brimstone that never let up. To the psychotic delight of the audience High on Fire powered through upwards of ten songs, and a demanded encore, including several emphatically received numbers such as, “The Yeti,” and “Bastard Samurai,” (though sadly no “Brother in the Wind), with all the effect of large arena rock stars. As Pike demanded twice the energy from the audience as they were grinding out of the stage, you could tell that all they live for is to do this night after night.
I for one, would be living in the most heavenly hell were this the typical day in the District, though I might need health insurance for all the bangovers. With larger support for heavy touring bands, at all levels, by both spaces and fans alike, this may well be less of a dream every moment. We shall see…