Weedeater, Black Cobra, Grayceon, Cormorant, Thee Parkside, San Francisco, CA 17/01/2014

Sludge is thicker than water...

Greetings all, various and sundry! Kicking off the new year here in San Francisco, anyone with some copper (or bitcoins) to spend was treated to an evening of the glorious and unmistakable low-end rumble of some good ol' sludge, the way Mom used to make. While local brutes Black Cobra had been confirmed to open for headliner Weedeater, the addition of Grayceon to the bill last-minute was a welcome one. We were indeed in for a treat.

The show took place at Thee Parkside, a great local venue that packs 'em in while keeping a total down-home feel. Plus, tater tots. Anyway, onto the music. First up were newcomers Cormorant, who played ably and stoked the fire for what would come later. Their music borrows from prog-sludge grandaddies, Mastodon, while adding in blackened elements as well. It'll be interesting to see how this band grows in the future.

Next were personal favorites and local legends, Grayceon. What can I really say about this trio? Their approach to metal is a singular one. For starters, the lengthy compositions meander from absolute sludge, to blackened sprints, to achingly beautiful clean passages. Jackie Perez Gratz is the obvious centerpiece of the band, applying classical cello training to the compositions in ways that lend altogether unique textures to the music. Not to mention she's got a voice that can alternate from sorrowful to savage in a breath. Meanwhile, guitarist Max Doyle's riffs move from doom to melodic and beyond. Finally, drummer Zack Farwell holds the whole thing together with an unbreakable backbeat. Playing only three songs (starting with mind-melter, Shellmounds), Grayceon nevertheless left an impression.

Black Cobra followed, and it's interesting to note the similarities between them and Grayceon. Really, the biggest ones are that neither band fits easily into any single category, and that both will routinely rip a set apart. Black Cobra is the duo of Jason Landrian on guitar/vox, and Rafael Martinez on drums, and they bring an idiosyncratic blend of sludge and thrash, bridged by some really odd ideas about time signatures. It's high-energy stuff, and the pit reflected that fact. Good times all around. The fact that it's only two dudes up on stage creating all that syncopated ruckus just makes it all the heavier. Songs like Chronosphere are unabashed thrash, and the jarring stomp of The Cry of Melora brought the set to a definitive close.

By this point, a few in the crowd were wondering how Weedeater was going to follow what had passed before them. But I knew better. If you haven't seen Weedeater before, you can't really prepare yourself for the onslaught of gut-churning, Vaudevillian groove you're in for. I say Vaudevillian because bassist/vocalist "Dixie" Dave Collins brings with him a stage persona that puts the already heavy music completely over the top. Swilling Jim Beam with reckless disregard for health or sanity, Dixie's confusedly cross-eyed bass antics conjured some moments eerily reminiscent of the Deliverance banjo scene -- that is, until he'd offer a cheeky middle finger to the crowd. The audience responded in kind, naturally.

The combination of such absurd humour with such heavy music kinda stokes the imagination, evoking as it does images of backwoods lawlessness mixed with the capacity for gargantuan amounts of distortion. (This appraisal might not be far off, as in 2010, Dixie accidentally shot off his own toe while tinkering with his favorite shotgun.) Unfortunately, amp issues plagued the hillbillies from the start, but the crowd stayed with it till the door had been slammed shut on closer, Monkey Junction.

The masses of hair and beard and denim thus made their exodus. The fleet of choppers parked in front of the venue dispersed, while others piled onto MUNI buses, and yet more (like myself) piled into cars too small for the number of humans contained therein. Overall, it was another successful night in the melting pot of sludge, doom, and good times, San Francisco.