Underworld, Black Heart, Purple Turtle, April 6th, 7th and 8th
Having failed to see more than a handful of bands on Friday, Saturday heralded the promise of luxuriant swathes of delicious Stone Rock, with bands kicking off at the far unhealthier time of two in the afternoon. We, however, are struck by the decimation of our editorial attendance. Two thirds of us were so utterly transformed by the goods on display the previous evening that they have utterly failed to get out of bed. Or rather, they have got up, gone to Nando’s and then gone back to sleep.
Having three stages of dedicated riffage to cover and only one wordsmith means two choices: Either run like the wind between venues to ensure maximum exposure; or pick a venue and stay with it, ignoring all the tasty morsels the other stages have to offer.
It’s hardly Sophie’s Choice. The Underworld hosts all manner of fuzzy doom blokes, and for a capstone, local champions Orange Goblin. So the royal we heads to the bar for a pint of stratospherically priced ale (oaky body fading to a clean finish with subtle infusions of vinegar) before heading in to see Italians Zippo.
Playing a heady mix of straight ahead stone rock with sudden drops into psych-doom, they’re a perfectly pleasant way to start the day, even if they don’t quite manage to illicit much more than a lightly tapped foot and a gently bobbed head. Shrine ’69 take the energy up a gear, once you get past the fact they appear young enough to not remember the first Britney Spears record; not to mention that their vocalist is a dead ringer from Tony from Skins, albeit stretched to the height of a horse.
Fortunately for him and his band he’s got a hell of a voice on him, and they have a punchy blues-rock sound and some promising songs. Certainly they aren’t close to being the finished article yet but the new song they debut shows signs of progression.
A quick glance at the schedule and a check of my energy reserves show that I can manage a quick mosey over to see Steak at the Black Heart. They are wielding a straight ahead, fuzzed-out sonic assault, and they wield it well. I later learn that some of these men organised the festival. Good work on all counts.
I don’t have long to hang about, because we want to get back to the Underworld to watch Roadsaw, not because I know anything about them, but because Roadsaw is an excellent name for a band. I don’t realise it immediately, but I’m about to see a run of shows unparalleled in my gig going life. In Roadsaw, we find a rock solid American redneck bar band with a fine line in pounding blues ridden rock. The crowd starts to feel that little bit more coherent in its appreciation, my hands start to find themselves raised in the air in a clenched fist, and the pulse quickens.
Next I have a choice between the highly rated Ashes of Iron or Sungrazer, but seeing as the latter have an album – in last year’s ‘Mirador’ – that is rarely off heavy rotation in Demon Pigeon towers, and I already bought their t-shirt, again the choice is not hard. To begin with though, it seems like it may have been the wrong one. Following Roadsaw’s pure rock fury with gentle, subtly layered desert grooves was never going to be easy, and for the first few songs Sungrazer seem to be struggling against themselves, but then all of a sudden there it is; all warm tones and blissfully mellow jams that swell and break into long syncopated riffs. As soon as they finish, I put their t-shirt on over the one I’m already wearing in a defiant act of support. I’m sure they noticed.
Valient Thorr I know nothing about, which means that when they explode onto the stage in a turbocharged blur of hair and denim I find myself taking a step backwards in shock. Coming on like a mix of AC/DC and a shaken box of camel spiders, they zip through three songs in what feels like the opening minute. The lead howler has stripped to the waist, his sweaty beer belly, wild man beard and matching back hair dripping like a faucet. He fixes the crowd in his grin and starts to proselytize about the great church of rock and roll. The band pound their instruments with denim clad arms and fix us with serial killer glares. Seemingly seconds later I too am a sweaty mess and the band are leaving to a wave of feedback and joyous bewilderment. I feel like I’ve been assaulted – but, you know, in an exhilarating way.
Sweden’s Truckfighters may be derivative as fu(manchu)ck but they’re also pretty bloody good, and they take the energy of a crowd abuzz and raise it even higher. Fuzz, riff, chorus, repeat. As templates go it’s not bad; throw in some mightily impressive soloing and great lurching grooves, and the whole thing is elevated somehow.
Japanese doom legends Church of Misery only arrive at the venue at the same time they are due to go on stage, then spend the first twenty minutes wandering around plugging things in and hugging a drunken giant. Abruptly they pick up their instruments and out pours a thick pounding tortured doom that just about knocks everyone off their feet, and then their nasty, snarly Sabbath worship is underway; all earthquake riffs, time-stopping drums and vocals that sound evil enough to be Jeremy Kyle’s inner monologue. After only two songs they’ve overrun their allotted time, leading to my favourite heckle of the weekend, a fussily indignant; ‘Well maybe if you turned up for work on time.’ They get two more songs anyway, each more brutal than the last, and then they’ve left, leaving a heaving venue full of anticipation for the headline draw.
In terms of setting the groundwork, Orange Goblin couldn’t have had it much better. A quick bit of mental arithmetic (becoming ever more difficult in proportion to the quantity of vinegary beer so far imbibed) tells me I’ve just seen eight sets in a row and all of them were good. In fact, the last five were all of the kind of standard that has an anally retentive bastard like me reassessing that laminate of ‘The Top Ten Gigs Ever’ I’ve got in a shoebox somewhere. And here come a band I’ve longed to see for over a decade, whose live shows are legend.
Which is why it’s such a crushing disappointment that Orange Goblin are, tonight at least, absolute bobbins. Throughout the day, I’ve thought often how cool it is that vocalist Ben Ward has been at the side of the stage, checking out all the other bands, pumping his fists with the rest of the crowd, beer in hand.
But now I can see they can’t have been beers, they must have been bottles of mescaline, because this man is beyond wasted. It takes a few songs before it becomes apparent that this is not just a good time booze buzz, an aid to performance. This is a man who reaches into the crowd to keep himself upright, a man who can’t keep pace with his band, a man who utters the same blind platitudes (‘Roadburn on our doorstep!’) again and again in between songs because he’s forgotten he said them already. The band struggle to hold it together, but they soon lose the magic and start just gritting their teeth to get on with it. Most of the crowd don’t really seem to care, and the next day opinions veer between them being band of the festival and a shambolic mess.
Halfway through, I’ve had enough. Having been on my feet for what feels like days it is clear I no longer have the capability to keep going, and so I forgo the lures of Grifter closing the night in the Black Heart, and stumble into the night in search of pizza, my head full of fuzz and riffs and a joyful feeling that is tinged with just a slight hint of disappointment.