Eyehategod, Graves at Sea, Hazzard's Cure, Bedrücken, Brick and Mortar, San Francisco, CA 23/01/2014

Camaraderie in hatred...

Ya'know what I dig about Eyehategod? They've got a total Southern Gothic vibe going. And no, I don't mean Skynyrd meets Sisters of Mercy. I refer to the storytelling genre of Southern Gothic, which stages the macabre and dark in the blighted, sticky heat of an American South irreversibly scarred by a historical legacy of inhumanity. That, to me, is evident in the whole aesthetic of Eyehategod -- bludgeoning and incontrovertible ugliness beset by Mike IX Williams' mad-preacher howls of an ongoing apocalypse, the proof of which lies in the moral smallness of our own everyday lives. Not to mention, they've got a groove that'll pull you into its molasses-feedback grip with disturbing ease. But I imagine y'all already know this.

So it was with some obvious excitement that I made my way across the urban environs of SF for some of that good gospel music at the Brick and Mortar, nestled right next to a freeway overpass. Being that Brick and Mortar is a small space, I had a feeling that I was in for something special. And that's what I got.

But what about openers? First up was Bedrücken. Googling the band name, I found it to be of German origin (no surprise there), and it translates roughly as the verb "to depress." Well, I didn't find it to be depressing, exactly. It was more a sludgy, punk-spirited good time, with a ripping female vocalist in Ami Lawless. Vibes of camaraderie permeated the set, with friends of the band coming up to swap handshakes and "Bobsyeruncles"s in between songs. Next there was Hazzard's Cure, those stony thrashers. The coolest part of this set, apart from drummer Clint Baechle's shorts (now with less ball slippage!), was an appearance by guest screamer, Laurie Shanaman (formerly of Ludicra). For those who don't know, Ludicra were an absolutely ripping Bay Area band that unfortunately disbanded before I ever got the chance to see them live. Shanaman's inhuman voice was undoubtedly a highlight of their sound, and I recognized it the instant she took the microphone. A real treat for yours truly.

Then the stage was overtaken by the heaviness that is Graves at Sea. This band plays sludge the way it oughta be played -- not too heavy-handed with the doom aspects, mostly letting the trudging pace of the music do its ominous work, and eliciting noise complaints from the neighbours. Peachy. Vocalist Nathan Misterek mixed it up admirably, and at times I thought his voice had gone, strangled as it sounded in parts. Turns out that was just one trick in his vocal-chord oeuvre. Another trick? Murmuring slurred passages in reverse in between songs. I felt like I was watching Twin Peaks or something.

It was about midnight when Eyehategod took the stage. I'd seen Williams wandering about during the opening acts, almost another member of the audience. But when he and his cohorts took the stage, it became obvious that's where he belonged. His mannerisms and mutterings reminded me of the Joker in his quieter moments -- coyly taunting the audience, cracking wise about his bandmates, then revealing some inspired bits of non sequitur that settled like eerie echoes in the wake of another sludge anthem. Given the unique strain of rage that permeates EHG's music, it's incredible in some respects that the dudes can remain so true to their message twenty-plus years after their inception. But that's exactly what came through in their performance -- honesty, and a devotion to their music.

As states of ringing feedback established themselves between songs, guitarist Jimmy Bower brought his hands together in prayer, offering thanks to an audience that truly showed its love for this music. He and fellow guitarist Brian Patton didn't miss a damn thing. New skinsman Aaron Hill held down the throne in the wake of Joey LaCaze's untimely death (R.I.P.). Gary Mader's crushing bass tones would've made a grown man cry -- and they might've done that night, anyhow. Every goddamn song was on-point -- the ringing feedback breaks on $30 Bag, the manic hardcore-gone-trainwreck of Methamphetamine, the head-bashing stomp-chug of Dixie Whiskey. The pit showed as much, with bodies getting thrown left and right, happily howling choruses to Williams' anguished screams. At the end, it seemed, no one wanted to leave -- not even the band. Hell, Williams offered a "one more song" promise no less than three times, the cheeky bastard. You know everyone held on till the house lights came on.