Kyuss have reformed. Without Josh Homme.
Those six little words appeared on the online a while back, and set a number of webforums ablaze.
Participants of the online war of words fell into two distinct groups – those (like me) who thought this could only be a good thing, and those who thought this was a heresy of epic proportions (who, loveably, thought that furious typing and rubbish spelling can somehow change the minds of the other camp).
The chief concern seemed to be the lack of the towering guitar giant. The guy who’s been on a mission to change peoples perception of what rock and metal are or aren’t. He’s still on that mission, and with Queens of the Stone Age, the Eagles of Death Metal and Them Crooked Vultures, he’s kinda busy with it. He apparently gave his blessing to the ‘Garcia plays Kyuss’ tour, but it seems he wasn’t invited this time around.
But, since he’s spent the better part of the last sixteen years telling the world he’s never gonna reform Kyuss, you can sort of see the reasons why they never bothered asking him.
The person they DID ask to carry 6-string duties was Bruno Fevery. Best known for a similar role on the ‘Garcia plays’ tour. This time, however, was a little different, since he was now the only non-original member.
Which brings me to the second issue surrounding this tour: Josh Homme and John Garcia were the only continuous members of Kyuss, with bass and drums being played by different people for what seemed like every album.
So, do you go for Nick Oliveri, Chris Cockrell or Scott Reeder on Bass, and either Brant Bjork or Alfredo Hernandez on drums?
While each member would be capable of covering the parts originally played by the others, the way each plays is very different, and would have a direct effect on what they newly dubbed ‘Kyuss Lives!’ would sound.
Without wanting to start another flamewar here, I reckon they probably made the right choice.
For the London leg of the UK tour, they played to two packed out crowds at the Kentish Town Forum. A venue which I’ve had my issues with before – put simply, the house PA is fucking DREADFUL. Unless you’re in the very centre of the crowd, it’ll sound shit.
BUT – Kyuss made their name by doing their own thing, like plugging guitars into bass amps and shit like that, SO I had my hopes up that some bit of desert knowledge might fix the venue’s shortcoming.
The tape we had to listen to before Kyuss came on was all fifties and sixties soul (all three minutes or less long), which meant that there were a LOT of times when the song finished, and the crowd collectively held its breath hoping that THIS was the one, THIS pause that means the time of Kyuss is at hand.
They were a bit late on, it’s true, and when they entered a minimally dressed stage (a giant flag with ‘Kyuss Lives!’ and amps only) to ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’ from Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’ rumbling over the PA, the crowd’s roar was deafening.
Now, in the interest of journalism, I didn’t just stay in one place during the gig, I wandered around, to hear what different bits of the crowd could hear. Don’t thank me, I take this shit seriously.
For first three songs I got to run around the photo-pit pretending to be a photographer. The sound there was fantastic (sorry) since it was essentially what was coming out of the band’s amps. Opening with (and ripping through like a hot knife through pot-smoke) ‘Gardenia’ ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Thumb’ destroyed any lingering doubts about the choice of lineup – Brant is one of the finest drummers of all time, John still has his ‘desert madman howl’, Nick still exudes danger and prowls the stage like a angry panther and then there’s Bruno. Well, Bruno CAN play Josh’s licks, but is locked into playing them EXACTLY like Josh did on record. So while we do get to see the songs played REALLY well, we don’t get to see the sort of riff-o-logical interpretation we’d get from Josh. But, if he HAD done that, the net denizens would cry foul about how he wasn’t playing the songs properly. It’s a hard choice, but I feel he went with the right one – let the other three improvise: for some reason they’re allowed to.
Leaving the Photopit and heading to the area by one of the bars (if the band was at 12 o’clock, I was stood at 10) I immediately noticed the change in sound quality – the bottom of the bass had dropped out, as had the top end of the guitar. John and Brant more or less sounded ok though. But only ok.
‘One Inch Man’ suffered the most, but was actually a pretty good run through, especially considering it’s a bass heavy song, and it’s not one of “Nick’s” songs either. ‘Asteroid’, on the other hand, was huge – by this point the venue temperature had gone right up, so the sound of a massive chuck of rock twisting through space and burning up in the stratosphere fit perfectly.
Now, when John did ‘Garcia plays….’ he had a number of guest artists. At the London date for that tour, it was Ben Ward – Orange Goblin’s singing berserker. Having already bumped into the guy in the queue on the way in (carrying a curry for some reason) I figured he’d be up to something similar on this night too.
And true to form, he was at it again. Onstage, he towered over John, lending helping lungs to ‘Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop’: a personal favourite of mine, and where the original is fake endings a go go, with increasingly longer pauses, THIS time, they shortened the pauses in the finale as well, ending in a wicked wall of noise.
When I spoke to Ben afterwards, I pointed out that there must be easier ways of getting on the guestlist, and he had this to say – “When you get asked to sing with Kyuss in your hometown it’s pretty much a no-brainer! I was honoured!”. Since he was wearing a grin you could see all over the venue, it was obvious he meant what he said.
Right about this time I got a bit fed up with the sound, so wandered into the heart of the crowd. It got hotter and much noisier, and with a lot of people infringing the UK’s smoking ban.
Which, oddly, was kinda well timed – crushed amongst a mass of sweaty stoned people, ’50 Million Year Trip’ is the one of the only songs I really wanna hear. Kicking into another spacey trip-fest with ‘Odyssey’ Nick again proved that he’s more than capable of carrying anything Scott Reeder came up with on record (well, almost, but I’ll come to that later). Ending the more psychedelic segment of the set with ‘Whitewater’, meant having to come back from the cosmos (or wherever it was I went) with something of a bump. It was a neat trick Kyuss pulled off there – imagine a concussion from being smacked around the head with a bass clef. Sorry, but that’s the best I can do in terms of metaphors.
Despite essentially being in the perfect place, I went wandering again. And ended up behind the mixing desk (at roughly 6 o’clock). The sound here wasn’t great, but at least it wasn’t quite as sweltering.
And it WAS a lot less packed.
Picking up the pace with ‘El Rodeo’ and ‘100 Degrees’, this was a definite plus, though since they then promptly disappeared from the stage, it did mean that my cosmological voyage had taken longer than I thought it had.
With ‘Spaceship Landing’ and a thrashy and metallic ‘Green Machine’ filling the encore slots, all that was left to do was grab a t-shirt and wonder if the night had met the expectations I’d been carrying for about 11 years.
On the whole, I’d say it did. While they didn’t play ‘Allens Wrench’ or ‘Demon Cleaner’, the set WAS comprehensive, with the wise omission of anything from their various side projects. Anyway, I saw the ‘Garcia plays’ band try and tackle the latter, and it didn’t quite sound right. I’d leave that one to Scott Reeder, he’s clearly the only guy who can play it properly.
And the most important thing was they were PERFORMED well. Since none of the former members ever ‘retired’, that’s not really a surprising thing to say though.
I’d say that Bruno proved himself – while it was never going to be a hostile crowd, most of us only know Kyuss from the albums, so as long as he could pull that off, he’s got my seal of approval as a member. Not that it’s worth anything, or that anyone cares. Whether he can write stuff is another matter, and if the mooted LP ever does get written, the nay-sayers will then, and only then, have a justified shot at even DISCUSSING the lack of Josh as a bad thing.
There are still dates left on the World Tour – this is one thing you WILL kick yourself about missing.
During their short, original run Kyuss wrote some amazing music, and music demands to be heard, and demands to be played. And that’s exactly what Kyuss Lives! is about – these riffs are too important to only reside in encoded in plastic discs or clusters of electrons on a hard drive. Written by outcasts in the desert, this is music too powerful NOT to be played live.
There will always be people who insist that they were barefoot in the sand when they saw Kyuss play with just a petrol generator, and anything else makes a mockery of their legacy.
They can go fuck themselves – this was a damn fine, and very fitting tribute; not just to Kyuss, but live music as a whole.
(hey, I managed that with out saying ‘Stoner Rock’ – who’d’a thought it?)
Pic’s by my own bad self
Thanks to Chris at Duff Press for the photo pass.