I prepped for my evening with America’s quintessential doom outfit by spinning Born Too Late and Come my Fanatics all morning. Bleary weather and a meth-head who’d broken into my car to rifle through my glovebox only set my dismal tone further. All those little setbacks, those teenie tiny turdlings in the cosmic brownie batter, only set the stage further for the crowning achievement of my night (and month and possibly year), though: Pentagram.
Now, if this is swingin’ a little too close to "fanboy" territory, I’d advise you to bow out now, because it’s only going to get worse. In other words, "Be Forewarned" (tee hee!). Hellbent on crafting the most delightfully mournful atmosphere for my night, and to sike myself up for forthcoming noggin-bashing, I opted to walk to the show in the rain and listen to "Sign of the Wolf" 400 times. I made it to Club Sound right around the fifteenth repetition, but a little goes a long way with that shit, so I left well enough alone.
Local metallers Merlin’s Beard opened with a slapstick band of retro metal that straddles both NWOBHM and thrash. They pulled off a "cool horror cover"—I wasn’t cultured enough to identify it (it wasn’t the theme to Suspiria, I can tell you that much)—but the various assortment of heshers and longhairs occupying the front of the stage seemed plenty chuffed and cut things up. Will we see them on more bills? I’d certainly like to.
NYC’s Kings Destroy work with a variety of influences, somewhere in the mire of Only Living Witness, Goatsnake and maybe Helmet with the requisite shades of Vitus and Cathedral sprinkled throughout. The set was short, maybe 22 minutes, but still long enough to showcase their utilitarian brand of tuneful sludge, detouring on an occasional swagger ("Antlers") and some sick-ass twin leads that got me way more excited than I should’ve been (KK+Downing = 4 ever). I didn’t know what to really expect here, so I was pleasantly tickled by the results, and damn if that band doesn’t make the best song intros I’ve ever heard. Were Hydra Head still going strong, I could see these guys fitting right into that roster. Also, note that I managed to get through that entire paragraph without comparing these guys to The Melvins like the guy next to me. Win.
I had every intention of hating Radio Moscow. I dunno, I just did. I caught a potent "hipster-throwback" vibe that soured me somethin’ proper, but once that sweet hunka magma-thick riffin oozed from the amps a’la Blue Cheer and every other great power trio, I gave ’em a day pass for their ponchos and doe-eyed good looks. Not a whole lot of in-between song banter besides the occasional "thank you" and a "seriously dude, could you put some fucking vocals in these monitors?", and a whole lot of extendo-jamming did the trick for me. The band’s greatest strength is those colorful basslines, weaving in and around the skeletal foundations of their Grand Funk Railroad-via-In Search of Space sound. The final song, "Whatever You Want," culminated in (what seemed like) an 11-minute detour, which included a bevy of guitar effects and a drum sound not too different than The Stone Roses’ "Love Spreads," and the deed was done. Fresh n’ rocked, I’d done the initiatories and was sweatin’ for the main event.
Seeing "old" bands is always a double-edged sword. On one hand, dusting off old tunes for a festival crowd or quick reunion circuit can equal big dollar signs at the ticket office, but lackluster performances from old heroes well past their prime can quickly sour that magic. I guess that’s what made this all the better. Pentagram never really had a prime to grow out of. Sure, they revamped several times in the ’80s and ’90s, trying to catch that elusive break, but having just now caught some shreds of mainstream approval, the timing couldn’t be any better.
Oh, and let’s talk about Bobby Leibling for a bit, because I know we all saw Last Days Here. The dude’s wrestled some serious demons and aged far beyond his years, but it’s never diluted his delivery. Think about it, Pentagram’s entire sonic output is essentially predicated on one idea: escaping the woes of sin. I’m stretching a tad, but compared with the overt Satanism of many contemps in the thrash/death camps, Pentagram’s music serves as a woeful indictment of devilish living, and not a celebration of it. Leibling’s been square in the throes of addiction, constantly battling between life and death, running full tilt with a "devil on his trail." Maybe his silver hair, emaciated face and the despondent lyrics he’s been penning since the late ’70s serve as a prescient reminder of this, but when he’s onstage, fully immersed in the acrid music surrounding him, he looks nothing short of rock n’ roll deity. The music seems all the more "real."
"Nightmare Gown" bled into "Forever My Queen," into "Review Your Choices," and into "Sign of the Wolf." Victor Griffin, having taken back his post on guitar, made the tone wrench the ungodly howling of sweet ‘Gram standards, with a googly-eyed Bobby leering out into the audience at every available opportunity. I’d stopped taking notes at this point, only scribbling down song the names as they came, hoping I could make sense of them the next day. "Wheel of Fortune," into "When the Screams Come," into "All Your Sins." With each passing song, Leibling became increasingly more frantic, not unlike a woodland rabbit sensing smoke in the forest, contorting his face into "Petrified" into "Relentless"—an absolute spectacle and a riff that won’t quit. Leibling made eyes at cute girls in the front row, pulling at his sweater collar (an unholy stylistic collaboration between Robert Plant and Bill Cosby). Then, an encore of "Be Forewarned" and "Wartime," the most hideous configurations of fear and bewilderment. The forlorn spirits of RNR’s futurepast burst through the veil to warn me and all my lackeys of the modern world’s innumerable dangers. I wanted "Lazylady," but was too thrilled to care.
After the set, I began my journey home. The rain had stopped and the sidewalks were coated with a pre-spring sheen. The night was warm, and my car still had hubcaps on my return. I still had a job as a copywriter, a girlfriend (stranded in Texas), a heart murmur and high cholesterol … but I’d "walk[ed] in the blue light" and was carrying much more in my swollen teen-hesher heart. Is the devil on my tail? Does any of this even matter? Can a good quick brush with deathless rock n’ roll really leave such an indelible impression on an ostensibly educated person? Perhaps the answer is in the remaining 385 spins of "Sign of the Wolf." All hail Bobby Leibling.