Two raucous shows back to back at Annie’s Social Club last week; it’s hard not to feel bad for the Folsom Street venue’s upstairs neighbors.  Whore for Satan Productions put together an atypical bill last Wednesday, replacing their usual down-tuned fare with something more high-pitched, and high octane. The ambiance evoked a bygone era, an uneasy time straddling the chasm between bell-bottomed, hedgerow-bustling 70′s metal acts and the thrash and sleaze-glam that were to follow by the mid-eighties.  Interstitial bands like The Scorpions, Accept, and Saxon prefigured the popularity of these later trends, and the night unfolded in their image. Each of the four groups on the bill had an enthusiastic, retro-fied take on this fecund, classic period of metal, full of showy speed, strident, melodic vocals, and just the right amount of strutting testosterone.

LA’s Holy Grail set the bar high from the beginning, dazzling the crowd with the technical accomplishment of guitarists Eli Santana and James J. LaRue and the mindblowing pipes of singer James Paul Luna, who never met a note he couldn’t hit.  A buoyant rhythm section and an unswerving commitment to songwriting kept the tunes from devolving into shred-fests, and the epoch of evening was further confirmed by the band’s unimpeachable cover of Accept’s “Fast as a Shark.”

Holy Grail (formerly Sorcerer) @ Relax Bar from dave vorhes on Vimeo.

Cauldron kept things a little simpler, relying on infectious, chunky riffs that imbued class-of-’80 metal with some welcome garage grime. They also embraced the butt-rockin’ roots of the form with song titles like “Chained Up in Chains,” and a host of goofy misspellings (“nite,” not “night”). Their Torontoan origins may explain their unadorned, workman-like approach; Canadian metal bands are lauded for their straightforwardness.

Local heroes Slough Feg were next, providing a warped and idiosyncratic interpretation of a familiar sound. Guitarist/singer Michael Scalzi, more satisfyingly known as “The Lord Weird Slough Feg,” was the clear focus point. The songs coalesced around his vocals, lower than most on offer, and his striking, folk-inflected guitar parts, which dueled ceaselessly with lead-man “Don” Angelo Tringali. The band’s sci-fi-obsessed, Maiden-on-acid sounds held up against the other, catchier bands, but the music was more challenging, requiring a curious, careful ear and a measure of tolerance.


Slough Feg – “High Passage Low Passage”

Swedish headliners Enforcer represented the apex of the concert’s theme, cranking out relentlessly fast slices of metallic ear-candy while flossing spandex pants and leather jackets worn over bare flesh. Though singer Olof Wikstrand lacked the chops of Mr. Luna, his friend in falsetto, he looked and acted the part, tossing his hair like a young Sebastian Bach and superintending song after song of limber, double-time licks and sing-along choruses.

Flickr user whenwedie got some great pics of the Enforcer set.

Jucifer

It was a different affair the next night, featuring metal that paid its ancestral respects but looked resolutely toward the future. SF’s Grayceon played arresting, surging near-instrumentals, driving the sound with Jackie Perez Gratz’s inimitable electric cello and the low end of guitarist Max Doyle, who brings buckets of molasses-thick tone despite not using a pick. Building in and out of a series of stately, headbang-inducing riffs, the band represented forward-thinking Bay Area metal at its very best.


Grayceon – “It Begins and So It Ends”

No one was quite prepared for what happened next. The stage was full with eleven, yes eleven cabs, all painted white, to better serve as a backdrop for Jucifer’s amusingly jury-rigged effects show. Once the music started, I began to fear for the structural integrity of the building, as guitarist Amber Valentine summoned forth a succession of bass notes that reverberated through one’s entire body. The PA was clearly going to be superfluous. Joined by drummer-husband Edgar Livengood (his titanic kit augmented by a hilariously impotent cracked china cymbal) she launched into an onslaught of seamless, digressive riff-worship, using the massive amplification at her disposal to imbue once-staid notes with a new, mega-loud life. Songs started out inhumanly slow, only to become inhumanly fast. Everything, in the end, was unpredictable–the set seemed largely improvised and almost ritualistic, partially a concert and partially pseudo-sexual performance art; a ritual of thunderous, copulating heaviness; an act of worship in a temple of volume. Have you heard the bad news?


Jucifer – “The Plastic Museum”

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