Monster Magnet/Karma to Burn

Nottingham Rock City 05/12/2009
by Noel Oxford

Without wishing to sound rude, while none of us are ageing gracefully, the tolls of the rock ‘n’ roll existence seem to weigh heavier on some than on others. On Dave Wyndorf, apparently, they weigh quite heavily indeed. But then, it’s pretty easy to forget that he’s a man whose mid-50s are rapidly coming to meet him, especially when he opens his singing mouth.

The night began with a bourbon-infused set of instrumental roof-raisers from West Virginia’s cult heroes Karma to Burn. Arithmetic was never my field, so the final numerical tally of the support set’s integers went over my head, but ‘Nineteen’, ‘Twenty Eight’, ‘Thirty’ and ‘Twenty’ all definitely put in an appearance. So that’s 150, at least, by my crude calculations.

Chats with crowd members outside seemed to indicate that many people had come out specifically to see Karma to Burn, an impressive response for such an idiosyncratic band, and doubly so for one that’s been seven years split up. But the knot of appreciative witnesses that crowded the stagefront made jolly good sport of the brawny, red-blooded riffs they were tossed, even if the set did seem to careen to an end all too quickly. Cock on.

By constrast, Monster Magnet’s set seemed about 20 minutes too long, in spite of comprising only 13 songs, with half that number split evenly between matter from ‘Dopes to Infinity’ and ‘Space Lord’, and, surprisingly, only one song released later than 2001, the basically anonymous ‘The Right Stuff’. ‘Dopes to Infinity’ launched the headliners nicely enough, and that jolt of energy remained alive during ‘Crop Circle’ and ‘Powertrip’. Yet while ‘Third Alternative’ was anthemic enough to sustain crowd volume, the sense that the set had already peaked seemed apparent to me, and the middle songs appeared to sag under the weight of the loose spacey jams buttressing them. Indeed, it wasn’t until closers ‘Negasonic Teenage Warhead’ and ‘Space Lord’ loomed up that the upbeat groove appeared to come back.

For their extended encore, Monster Magnet had dug a fair way back into their storied history to unearth ‘Tractor’ and ‘Cage Around the Sun’, but by that point I found myself distracted, busily compiling a list of songs I wished they’d played, and marvelling at the effects of Wyndorf’s portable wind tunnel, which might have been installed to give us the thrilling impression of him performing from the back of a very fast racing car. Or perhaps it was to keep him cool seeing as how he’s a bit fat nowadays. Who knows?

In truth, he looks somewhat mismatched with the rest of the band, and almost nothing like the cooler big brother of Dave Grohl that he used to resemble in the 90s. Clad in some sort of grey leather bomber jacket, and more or less rooted to the spot, the stuff he strutted was markedly less than energetic, or even impressive. In the interests of slack-cutting, however, it bears repeating that the guy is 53, and what’s more, he’s had a rough couple of years, bless him.

But if the toll shows on his appearance, it has yet to make any impact on Wyndorf’s voicebox, which is betraying virtually no signs of decrepitude, and deployed repeatedly the trademark threadbare scream that has woven itself through the band’s oeuvre.

Monster Magnet are one of those bands who I’ve never quite managed to go and see before, despite having a great fondness for their work. Now I have, I’m glad I did, but it seems clear that, as a unit, their best days are behind them, and it’s a shame that such a great beginning petered out so sadly. In the end, Monster Magnet could have done with taking a leaf out of Karma to Burn’s book – always leave ‘em wanting more.

6/10

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