Form of Rocket Photo: Melissa Cohn
I'll be honest, Form of Rocket and Gaza are in my top ten favorite local bands of all time. Their lyrical word choice, math-rock rhythm and active stage presence hooked me early on in life. I think my exposure to Gaza and Form of Rocket deeply shaped my expectations for “good music.” Without getting all nostalgic on your ass, let me give you a brief synopsis of my first exposure to Gaza. Before I do, I gotta let you know that the show was just as good, if not better than the shows I attended as a wayward teen. I just wish I could have gone to the second one at the Urban Lounge the following night.
I first saw Gaza at the transitional age of 15, I was a band geek who had recently gotten off the Nu-metal pony and a few of my friends were playing at the Circuit—at that time, the Circuit was overrun with self-righteous straight edgers—on a Thursday night. Many of my outside-of-school-friends were semi straight edge, and though I didn't share their love for assaulting stoners or joining “crews,” I did share their love for Minor Threat and post-hardcore. To raise the stakes, it was a concert benefiting the animal shelter. With a can of cat food in hand, I walked the mile. Arriving late, I quickly paid and took my place around “the circle pit,” watching every other asshole punch the air around him. The shitty bands played their forgettable sets and their parents in the corner clapped loudly. Then came Gaza.
The first thing I noticed about Gaza was Jon Parkin, who was at the time, a tall angry looking shirtless bald man. With an equally looking pissed off set of bandmates, my first experience with Gaza was set to strobe lights and possibly fog machines. After the first song, I remember thinking, “who is the this wanna-be screamo 'Henry Rollins' band?” At first, it simply fit the bill: the music was dark, angry, something to punch the air to. Parkin paced the stage in the Black Flag-Rollins-style and by the third song I was sucked in. The anger felt legit, the intensity didn't originate solely from overworked amps, but from within. Their musical technique was difficult, they didn't rely on bar chord choruses and hammer and pull-off solos. Their music, like Parkin, paced wildly, often changing time signatures and key, unafraid to let the music just wander at moments. I bought—and eventually lost—their EP East, and (after I managed to find some lyrics) it changed me. I didn't fully understand the lyrical content at first, and I didn't immediately become the godless-but-moral-cynic I am now, but at the time, Gaza was the first local band I encountered with a conscience, with a conversation.
Almost ten years later and Gaza still kicks ass: brooding growls, guttural, vigilantly exposing the moral sickness infecting the modern world. Instead of jaded adolescent assholes, Gaza's fan base now consists of 25 to 35-year-old jaded assholes, and this show had quite a few, including myself. Fresh off from finishing the master tracks for their upcoming album, Gaza didn't bother to say much, they just started to play. Parkin limbered and ambled on top of the stage (pacing isn't possible at Kilby), climbing the beams, hanging from the greenhouse's red metal rafters, constantly sweating and red in the face. Between songs, Parkin briefly talked about the political sty America faces, memories related to Form of Rocket. Seeing how it's hard to play well and move around, the rest of Gaza understandably stood mostly still. Some of the crowd knew the lyrics, but most stood, arms folded, reluctant to put up their metal claw. However, the house went into a frenzy when they played “Hospital Fat Bags,” a song that debases killing in the name of religion and making my hair stand on end. The fact that Mike Mason plays the beginning slides of “HFB” and doesn't start hemorrhaging from his fingertips is insane. Overall, the set was less about playing older tunes—I was half hoping Peter Makowski of Form of Rocket would join them on stage to perform “Cattle,” but it didn't happen—and more about their new stuff. Closing out their set, Parkin praised Form of Rocket for their musicianship and dedication, calling their short tour “Another Grey Hair in the Beard.” To cherry it all, Gaza announced their next album will be available in May 2012, and with the recent worldly unrest, I am curious to hear what else Gaza has to say (one song was entitled “Deron Williams Number Eight,” I'm sure Jazz fans know what that’s about).
After the mic check, Form of Rocket tore into the show with “You Know What This Is,” ( a recording from 2008) the perfect opener: fast-paced and elaborate, the bass doesn't walk—it runs. All of this comes to a momentary halt, giving the audience a chance to participate by screaming “you know what this is!” From that moment on, we the crowd, were sold. The last time I saw these guys play as a whole group, the bassist, Ben Dodds, had been in some sort of skiing accident a couple days before the show (I believe) that knocked out quite a number of his front teeth. The man still played. How hardcore can you get? When I heard a rumor that Form of Rocket was going to play a couple shows in 2012, I tried to keep my expectations low. As a teen, Form of Rocket shows were always something to look forward to—something worthy of skipping Senior Prom for (seriously), something worthy of calling in sick at your job an hour before your shift. I'll say it again—I was not disappointed. It was clear that everyone was in their element: Peter Makowski did the “walked in place to the rhythm” at the beginning of every chorus, Gentry Densley had his menacing “oh yeah” face (which always made me think that Densley looked vaguely like James Hetfield of Metallica, no offense Mr. Densley). By the time they broke into “Dar Un Luz,” I ended up having to adjust the wads of TP in my ears to avoid any more discomfort (before my first show, my friend warned me to bring some extra cash and ear plugs, wise words). Unlike their yesteryear performances, Form of Rocket continuously played from song to song without pause. By the end of “Dar Un Luz” the room was bathed in sonic fury – hot with crowd-sweat. After studying creative writing in college, I further appreciated Curtis Jensen's spoken word-styled lyrics. They're often sharp, angular and staccato. For example, some lyrics from “Teapot Dome:” “Son, I've seen things you wish you could've seen. Son, I've seen things you wish you could've known. I talk to myself. I talk to myself. I talk to myself.” Complemented by a tight, rumbling rhythm section and screeching guitars, Jensen's lyrics turn the listener astray into some foreign desert wasteland where psychedelics are handed out like leaflets.
After playing for about an hour and a half, Form of Rocket closed with “Danger Snake,” a song about being in the jungle, next to “My Name is a Killing Word” (a nice little reference to Dune) “Danger Snake” is the their strongest semi-instrumental. Fast paced, dominated by the incredible skin-beating skills of Tyler Smith, “Danger Snake” doesn't sound like a jungle, unless that jungle is in Vietnam and it's 1968. Once the band exited the stage and the performance ended, most of the crowd left, but us few die-hard fans chanted for another set, and oh boy, what a closing set. The crowd shouted out some of the missed classics like “For the Judge,” and “Keep Smiling Ed Smart,” and as Jensen put it, “We've been practicing these songs for a few months and we want to play them.” Though the crowd was smaller, the energy doubled in the room. Fans took to the stage, it even got a bit rowdy in some parts of the room (possibly breaking the Kilby commandment of “no moshing”). Like their prior set, the music was strung together with ambient noise rock. The highlight of the set, for me, was hearing the appended version of “Keep Smiling Ed Smart,” written prior to discovering the whereabouts of Elizabeth Smart. The song ended with the band and audience screaming “run,” another slick move on behalf of the band to win over the audiences, as if they had to try. Form of Rocket and Gaza's performances were a fine example of what Utah has to offer the world. Let's hope they play together in the near future.
For more photos from the night check our photo gallery by Mellisa Cohn.