Thursday, June 30, 2005

Last Thursday I went to the Brickyard with Smash to see The Atomic Bitchwax, headlining a four-band heavy rock bill. We missed The Belushis, but made it in time to see Hezzakaya. They’ve got a good live act together, with lots of high-volume stoner sludge and cool collages of images projected onto them and the back of the stage. Their singer faced 90 degrees away from the crowd and hollered into the wings. I find it frustrating when a band has two guitarists that constantly play the exact same thing, which was the case here. Maybe they’ll work out some dual-axe arrangements in the future and let the music breathe a little more. Right now they seem intent on pummeling as a unit, and they pummel well. Mendozza, a trio in the Electric Wizard/Sleep vein, went on next. You’ve really got to be able sell it to make that basic kinda riff rock work, and they did a good job of convincing me that they meant every damn power chord. It helped that they had some good songs that allowed each player to back off or drop out and lend a smidgeon of dynamics to the din. The Atomic Bitchwax were stupendous, in an elite class they surely share with Clutch and maybe a couple other bands that operate within, often above, the stoner rock realm. They began by playing the main theme to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (for maximum Mule appeal) before racing into “Stork Theme” from their first album. Drummer Keith Ackerman must have been warming up backstage because he laced into this “Moby Dick” doppelganger in well-limbered form. I was surprised by how many songs from their debut were in the set—“Birth to the Earth,” “Hey Alright,” “Kiss the Sun,” “Shit Kicker” and so on. The new album got its share of stage time as well, including their effortless and reverent cover of “Maybe I’m a Leo.” As someone who’s tried and failed to cover Deep Purple with various bands over the years (mass graves of mangled Smoke on the Waters and Space Truckings haunt my past), I can appreciate the talent it takes to pull that off. The Atomic Bitchwax can swing. They can also venture way out there, where it sounds like all three of them are soloing at once, before they reel the song back in for the big finish. New guitarist Finn Ryan is the perfect replacement for Ed Mundell (who left to focus on Monster Magnet), with a mellow, self-assured presence and an ability to rip shit up with a Telecaster and wah pedal. Just like their new album (38 minutes of relentless excellence) the set was action-packed, well paced, and more than enough evidence that The Atomic Bitchwax are the class of their field in 2005.

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