Monster Magnet Live @ Camden Electric Ballroom 26/11/2010

It’s Friday, it’s payday, and Monster Magnet are in town. I’d love to believe they got here in the Mystery Machine, or atop a chariot drawn by a giant bull made of chrome, and let’s face it – YOU want to believe it too.

Joining the best thing to have ever come from New Jersey are Seventh Void, Napalm Records current hottest ticket, and Cardiff lunatics Exit_International.

Oh, and there were early doors thanks to the venue becoming a rocknight/nightclub/type-thing.

So I missed Exit_International.

GOD DAMN YOU CAMDEN ELECTRIC BALLROOM!!!

Ok, I probably shouldn’t be too angry with the venue, since it’s not entirely their fault.

And, as this has happened to me before, I really should have known better.

Monster Magnet’s offstage visionary, Tim Cronin, (who, while not a musician with them anymore, is basically the guy in charge of the Magnet live experience) DID get to see E_I and speaks highly of them. While he’s usually one to trust, they sound a little ‘Hoxton’ to me. I’d advise you to go here and make your own mind up. They’ve got two bass players and no guitars, which sort of makes them the anti-‘White Stripes’.

Second up were Brooklyn-based Rooster-thieves ‘Seventh Void’. Initially formed during Type O Negative downtime by drummer Johnny Kelly and guitarist Kenny Hickey in 2003, they’ve now become a full time proposition. And, while part of me regards ‘October Rust’ as one of the greatest albums of all time, another reckons Seventh Void may well be a superior band.

Oh, and I REALLY hate it when a side project, spin off or super-group is endlessly compared to its constituent parts. So I’ll try to keep references to the Goth metal uber-gods to a minimum.

Since the two sound NOTHING alike.

Barring only a slightly familiar guitar sound, and Kenny Hickey’s vocals, now pushed further into the spotlight than they ever were with Type O.

Oh, and you can hear Johnny’s drumming too – I always thought it was a bit crap that some of the Type O albums had drum machines rather than a real kit, especially since he hits the thing harder than, say, Bonham did, but, what’s done is done.

Seventh Void are described by Napalm Records as ‘Brooklyn Doom’, which is being a BIT specific really. I’d simply call it hard rock. There’s a bit of grunge too. Sort of like Soundgarden, but with tighter focus, or Alice in Chains, but with less heroin. With some old-school Sabbath, because, well, you know……

Vinnie Paul digs it, and the album initially came out on his label, Big Vin. Beat THAT for an endorsement.

Live, they absolutely kill– ‘Heaven is Gone’ and ‘Shadow on Me’, the twin highlights from their album (for me at least), are thick and heavy, swirly and groovy, and as close to metal’s primal heart as it’s possible to get without input from Tony Iommi. And, awesome though they are, it’s not just the guitars: Kenny’s voice is kinda raw, kinda bluesy, sort of like that mid-nineties desert-rock, or what’s now become ‘classic seventies rock’.

For a relatively new band, they have they the confidence and compelling swagger that comes through years of touring together, and, thanks to their disparate backgrounds, manage to combine the “not in your face, because we’re behind your back stealing your stuff” edge of punk, with 70’s rock’s sense of melody, and metal’s “We don’t give a crap what you think, we’re doing this our way” philosophy.

When you get the chance, go see them.

If you don’t get given the opportunity, MAKE ONE.

But be prepared for them to steal your poultry.

Now, Monster Magnet, are often (lazily) described with words like ‘psychedelic’ or ‘trippy’. And once, that may have been true. Yeah they may have (allegedly) spiked an entire bar with acid and sent the entire crowd somewhere new, but those days have gone. Frontman Dave Wyndorf grew up watching the hippie dream burn itself out and, lost in his own little world of Hawkwind and Marvel, now stands as an almost lone figure against the tide of bullshit that the baby-boomers have left us with.

Sort of like a comic obsessed John the Baptist, trying to prepare us for a new Messiah.

A messiah with the face of a bull and a heart of polished steel. The kind of god who leaves burning hoof prints where’ere he goes.

The problem Monster Magnet have now is that they’ve been around for quite a while, and have changed their take on ‘Stoner Rock’ several times, and while each change in direction was normally well received, Magnet’s fans generally had their own views on which worked best. Generally, this was either the stripper anthems of ‘Powertrip’, or the slacker hymns of ‘Spine of God’.

Which basically means your crowd are either after twenty minute jaunts into the hellish areas of the human mind which only pschotropic drugs with three letter acronyms can unlock, OR they want punchy metallic warcries which scream how even though the world IS a sick and messed up place, it can all be fixed with naked chicks, astroglide and a jet fighter (actually, part of me REALLY hopes it can).

Tonight’s set (slightly shortened due to technical issues) was one that tried hard to keep everyone happy, while still showcasing the new album, But considering that ‘Mastermind’ is the best thing since sliced ‘Powertrip’, it shouldn’t be all that hard.

Opening with a meandering ‘Nod Scene’ and a promise to “start slow and see where we end up”, it starts off looking like it might be the night for the acid casualties.  A theory quickly destroyed by a vicious ‘Tractor’, followed by the twin assault of an insanely huge sounding ‘Dopes to Infinity’ and ‘Hallucination Bomb’.

Which plants us smack into strippers and Sabbath territory.

The evening actually continues like this for a bit – continually jumping from early nineties psyche-rock to millennial riffing to songs off ‘Mastermind’, and in a way, jarring though it may seem, it’s what Monster Magnet have always been about – Yeah, you COULD do a big load of pills and acid and have a chat with the personification of evil who’s now talking to you from behind the plug socket, OR you could have a LOT more fun with a clear head, a pair of leather trousers and some aviator style sunglasses.

In light of this, having such a vast, and (when you take a long, hard, objective look at it) diverse back catalogue, may actually be a bit of  a burden – it’s actually quite hard for a band like Magnet to draw up a setlist to suit every occasion or venue.

The trouble is that it’s hard to keep any kind of cohesion – are we here to freak out the squares: to throw ourselves upon the Bullgod’s mercy and hope he’ll see us through to the other side; or do we want songs about being king of eternity to a backdrop of tits and fire?

Debut single ‘Medicine’ still sounds like the unholy union of garage rock and Black Sabbath, though the blue and yellow oil projection takes a little of the edge off of it.

I swear I saw Homer Simpson’s face appear a few times. Weird? Yes. Unsettling? Not so much.

‘Dinosaur Vacuum’ is still a monster of a riff, and a cover of Captain Lockheed’s ‘The Right Stuff’ is the freakout masterpiece that Robert Calvert meant it to be. ‘Spacelord’ is introduced as “only sounding right with the correct lyrics” (which, as statements go, is something a no-brainer) so with ‘Mother-Fuckers’ back where they should be, it’s a mushroom cloud of rock. Helped, in no small part, by being played on a Stratocaster, an SG and a Les Paul, pretty much the holy trinity of guitars.

The closing pairing of ‘Gods and Punks’ and ‘Powertrip’ is Monster Magnet’s problem in a nutshell: Mighty of riff and insightful, if pop-art-collage lyrics keep the rock crowd happy, but…. Where’s the psyche out? Where’re the unhinged chords and lyrics about pterodactyls being ridden by witches?

The sort of thing half of Magnet’s crowd came to see and hear…

Actually, the more I think about it, the “It’s a satanic drug thing, you wouldn’t understand..” guys probably didn’t turn up in the first place: ‘Spine of God’ came out twenty years ago. Those guys probably have soul sucking jobs, a mortgage they can’t afford and probably don’t understand either now…..

So, yeah, ultimately, this was a night out for the rock crowd: we waited and we believed, and our trust was rewarded and we left happy in the knowledge that ROCK IS ALIVE.

Photography – Faith Hern

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