Las Vegas is one of those places that look pretty on a postcard but unless you’re one of those who have mastered the tables, it all tends to be depressing. Sadly, or perhaps fortunately, at the edge of it all is my favorite venue: The House of Blues (the Vegas branch, that is). So when the opportunity comes to see the opening night of Uncle Andy and his Sisters of Mercy’s American tour with The Warlocks in support, I’m in the car driving the distance without a second thought. Even though I’ve seen the Warlocks a number of times, now I can finally say I’ve seen them properly.
Amazing what a little bit of extra stage, decent lights and smoke machine can do for a band of gloomy noise magicians. Slimmed down to a five-piece (at least the fourth different lineup I’ve seen from them in the past few years) the wall of distortion and hypnotic guitar wailing has lost none of it potency. I’m still not convinced that the two-drummer approach is necessary, but tonight they’re more in sync than not. Frontman Bobby Hecksher seems more at ease lost behind a drift of smoke, commenting once between songs that less light on him would be better. He isn’t exactly a scene-stealing performer. He’s rigid, awkward and somewhat menacing. He looms like Eddie Munster, tall and lanky with a certain bulk at the shoulders, his dyed black hair raggedly dangling about his eyes. I still believe there is a storm inside of him, something that drives the music forward even though in his heart he’d rather be a thousand miles away from the crowd. There is honesty in this and somehow that turns the uncharismatic elements into something charming, more interesting than your typical song writer. He attacks his guitar, ultimately breaking a string which causes a moment of discord but those few seconds are the night’s only blemish for the Warlocks.
The song selection highlights their most recent effort, Surgery, their most melodic album to date and shows a flash of controlled hysteria combined with a structured approach that up until this point the band had only hinted at. It’s better than any of their previous efforts, which were collectively above average. They’ve long since become more interesting than their contemporaries and cohorts Brian Jonestown Massacre and remained more experimental than The Dandy Warhols while capturing a bit of their pop sense. Sure, they’re not quite to the dizzying heights of Spiritualized, or the distorted to subtle Americana of BRMC but they’re the perfect “not a goth band” to appeal to goth crowds. Uncle Andy couldn’t have picked a better support. Well, I suppose he could have picked an act that wouldn’t have stolen the night away from him. Call it a muddy mix, opening night jitters or perhaps the unfortunate rust of getting old but at least for this night the Warlocks are the superior band.