Amazing how a quickly a ‘yearly event’ suddenly becomes a ‘tradition’.
Orange Goblin’s London festive frenzy has been a local fixture for so long now, I can’t really remember a time before it. Which is odd really since this is also their 15th anniversary.
You’d think I could remember 16 years ago, but, I guess, we just learned something.
So, 15 years of beer-core?
It’s (mostly) been a fun ride.
Starting off life in dank Soho watering-holes, as an above-par Kyuss clone, Orange Goblin have defied trends, expectations, line-up changes and all the usual stuff that kills off smaller bands, and have found themselves today in a position shared pretty much only by Saxon and Motörhead – reliable performances (which never seem workmanlike), media respect and fan adulation.
As far as I can tell Stoner rock came along about the same time as grunge, had it away with doom, and dumped a few new sub-genres on us before fizzling out for good around the turn of the millennium. This should have sounded Goblin’s death knell, but it didn’t. Lesser bands would have either called it a day, or insisted that, yes, contrary to beliefs and expectations, there HAD always been a rap element to their sound, and THEN called it a day.
And now they’ve brought their friends along too.
For the London date, there were 4 bands in total – value for money, no matter who you ask.
Openers Obiat, were a bit on the odd side, if I’m totally honest – they tick enough boxes that they SHOULD be a fairly straight up psyche rock band, but they’re just too damn strange. Singer/screaming druid Laz is a captivating enough frontman (cowl, crazy hair, flask) that you DO keep watching them; and while the projections and the music itself aren’t bad either, it seems like I’m watching a ritual I don’t really understand. Maybe with a longer set and a larger (and warmer) crowd the twisted pagan thing might work. Actually, that could be it – we’re here for rockin’, not trancin’. There’s a quality there, but it’s just not the right night for it.
Second up were Firebird. Fronted by legend Bill Steer, ex of Napalm Death/Carcass. Firebird sound NOTHING like those two bands at all. And (or but), depending on your point of view, they sound fucking awesome. A personal issue of mine is singers apologising in advance for a chest infection (a certain Italian metal band has claimed that every single time I’ve seen them), and, while Bill does this, he really needn’t – you can’t tell. Maybe. He might not sound that ragged normally, so it may well be a happy coincidence. It works though. What I did see, however, was what looked like some last minute set-list shifting, but you’d never know since the set seemed to flow pretty naturally.
Firebird seem to have been lumped in with the stoner/doom scene, and like most.. er.. lumpings.. it’s missing the point entirely. This isn’t stoner rock, and it isn’t even remotely doomy. This is bluesy proto metal. This is Led Zep or Deep Purple. It’s bands like Firebird that are probably stopping Zeppelin from reforming – with blues rock of this quality, the 70’s behemoth simply AREN’T NEEDED!
Finishing with an unforgettable cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstitious’, and joined by Goblin’s Joe Hoare, and with Solace’s Guitar player Justin Daniels on vocals, you end up feeling elated and sad at the same time – the former, because you know deep down that this is something VERY special unfolding before your eyes; and the latter because you KNOW this is a finale, so that’s all your gonna hear from them for the night.
Still it’s not all doom and gloom.
Well, actually it sort of is.
Solace are one of the only decent things to have come from New Jersey, and why they aren’t better known is proof that Doom and stoner DON’T sell magazines. So they get very little press.
While I’d technically class my self as a ‘fan’ (I bought their debut, ‘Further’, twice), I’m not at all familiar with their later stuff, but, since it’s not a million miles away from their early works, I’d say they’re still an act to watch out for. This time, the ‘Stoner/Doom’ tag IS about right – I hear Kyuss’s rumble (but given a grimmer, grimier depth with a second guitar) tied to Jason’s Ozzy-esque voice – a sort of brutal-Sabbath.
I only really recognised ‘Whistle Pig’ (they MAY have played other stuff from their debut but I can’t say for sure). And it SLAYED – it was the high point of ‘Further’, and the high point of the ‘I Used to Fuck People Like You In Prison’ sampler I found them on years ago…. And it was the high point here for me too.
From where I was stood, the crowd really dug it, but what’s not to love about a five piece of massive, hairy dudes playing REALLY heavy and groovy, evil-sounding stoner-rock? Well, “Doom-metal” would be more accurate: this is too gruelling and desolate to be mere ‘Stoner’.
It could well be geography that defines the genre: if you come from the desert, you’re a stoner – you can drive whatever you drive real fucking fast and commune with the cacti; if you come from a decaying city, are surrounded with industrial estates and traffic, you’re doom.
New Jersey, apparently, is a shit-hole on a par with Birmingham or Corby. Solace could only EVER be doom.
Goblin on the other hand, DID dabble in ‘stoner’: early albums had the trademark stoner feel of the sky turning purple and dripping onto baked sand; but later albums carried the rage and dank, urban decay more in keeping with Sabbath or Cathedal.
Opening their 15th anniversary set with ‘The ballad of Solomon Eagle’, the opener from ‘Healing through Fire’, before bulldozing into ‘Monkey Panic’ the crowd explodes – a situation the security team seem strangely unprepared for….
In general, good frontmen (and women) tend to fall into two categories – the larger than life demigods who seem to walk among us mortals, and those who seem affable enough to be or drinking buddies we haven’t seen in a while – Clad in a ‘Rainbow Rising’ T-Shirt, Ben Ward epitomises both.
And makes it look easy.
When he launches into the grinning masses, you can see the thought processes of the pit-crew – “We should keep an eye on him, the crowd’s a gnat’s breath away from ‘apeshit’” before reason kicks in and you see the blood drain from their faces as the thought turns into “Sod him – he’s a 12 foot tall Viking warrior, he’s on his own now”.
Oh, and I’ve seen the guys in day-glo put in earplugs, but I’ve never seen them take them OUT.
Eagle-eyed punters (and those who read the press-release) have spotted Harry Armstrong waiting in the wings. You’ll either know him as ‘Harry from Hangnail’, ‘Harry from End of Level Boss’, or ‘That guy that shows up to sing “Turbo Effalunt”’. And it’s a worthy choice for a night such as this: every album is well represented, and while your favourite tune might not have been played – your second, third and fourth will have been.
Each riff and roar pour from the speakers with either the smoky, bluesy charm of the ealier material, or the ragged, angular frustration of ‘Healing Through Fire’. As the records were released to us, there was a logical progression. Out of context and chronological order, each song sits as comfortably with its neighbour in the set as it does on record.
Closing the set with “Aquatic Fanatic” and “Some you win, some you lose” , it’s made clear that this has been not quite been a night of nostalgia, but one closer to retrospection. The line up and out look may have changed direction, a little, but the power and dedication has stayed true.
Retaking the stage to a cake, candles and a crowd chanting ‘Happy Birthday’, Goblin drift into ‘Time Travelling Blues’ and a roar through a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘Symptom of the Universe’.
From the snap of the set-list, I also gather they were gonna close with ‘Scorpionica’, but, with London snowed in, we left early. Sometimes it’s best to take the safer, easier route, as you’re guaranteed to get home to the warm. Goblin don’t ever seem to have taken any shortcuts or any easy route to anywhere – and going by tonight, if you do decide to live by their example, you may well end up bitter and angry, but you’ll arrive with good company.
Thanks to Darren @ Plastichead & Big Ben Ward himself for arranging our entrance.
Pictures – Saul Bunn