All Them Witches, Earthless, Causa Sui, Electric Moon, Siena Root, Yuri Gagarin // Iera Odos, Athens, Greece // 22.10.2016
This marathon of heavenly music is one of those rare cases of “writer’s block” not because of a lack of inspiration, but by a lack of enough diverse expressions accurate enough to describe how unfathomably great an experience it was as a whole. It was one of those nights that one might beforehand think things are definitely going to be superb, yet every expectation is surpassed by a mile. The reporter is left mumbling “It was…perfect!”, desperately trying to conjure up an appropriate verbal description for what it needs to be experienced in order to be understood in its entirety. Let’s take it from the top though, and see what can be mustered.
Entering the stage of “Iera Odos”, the first element an attendant might had been taken aback by (besides Yuri Gagarin’s performance itself) was the gigantic wall of sound produced by what I can only describe as “super amplifiers” or “backline on steroids”. My knowledge on technical stuff is poor, so I’ll just leave it on that, meaning the apparent difference in power, bulk and volume the notes carried throughout this festival, in comparison to other shows. YURI GAGARIN’S punch-in-the face-, powerful style also helped in creating a sensation of being in their rehearsal studio, with your ear stuck against one of the guitar speaker cabinets.
It is always amazing when a band manages to captivate the essence of what drew fans to their music and then portray that fully on stage. Their performance was exactly as chaotic and dirty-spacey as their sound on the albums and, to be even more precise, as “guitar driven” as in their albums. Sometimes there is the fear that a band without much experience in live shows will get lost within itself, struggling with little problems like the sound of a prominent instrument getting buried for “the greater good”. You will not find that here. YURI GAGARIN blew our freakin’ ears off! Our attention was shifted continuously from one guitarist to another, as if we were watching a tennis match, due to their great skill of painting scenes of cosmic, dreamy violence with such ease and on-point sense of flow. The wailing guitars, accompanied by the otherworldly synthesizer and a thunderous rhythm section produced a stupendous result which made obvious that YURI GAGARIN were an “opening band” only in terms of time schedule. I would not mind seeing this great band as headliners on any day; I would not mind at all…
Then, as the sounds of brutal psychedelia dies down, the question of “how is SIENA ROOT going to maintain our interest, playing something so different from the last guys?” comes up. The answer comes as naturally as taking a breath; “By being the genuine rock stars that they are on stage”. Honestly, these guys seem like they were teleported to our time right from the 70’s, about an hour or so before the show started, from their apparel to the way they own the stage and the sound they produce. They manage to transmit the quintessence of pure rock ‘n’ roll fun to the crowd, in a way that it almost feels this is a classic rock band on its prime on stage. Utilizing some of the greatest songs on their “arsenal” (“Words”, “Little Man”, “Coming Home”, “Between The Lines”), this was a definite recipe for success. The ease with which the seamlessly shift through genres is something that can only add to the experience and draw a huge smile on an attendant’s face. Shifting from heavy rock riffs to Deep Purple/ Uriah Heep organ freakouts and masterful blues soloing, SIENA ROOT were all over the place and spread a sense of bliss over our heads that I think lasted till the end of the show. Their chilled out jam session at one point brought to mind one of those can’t-get- cooler- than-this jam’s that Peter Frampton used to do during his 70’s shows. Even if we were positively predisposed, it’s not always easy to pump up a crowd, yet SIENA ROOT brought that task to fruition, and rightfully earned the thunderous applause and “we want more” chants during their bow. They also played a killer song called “Secrets” –if I’m not mistaken- from their upcoming album.
And on we go (with amazingly little time needed for preparations between bands might I add, congratulations to all the tech guys and overall organizers of this fest) to, perhaps, the most difficult, or if you’d prefer, definitely the most trippy band of the night. Out from planet Sulatron, the three celestial beings called ELECTRIC MOON take their place upon the stage to bombard the concert goers with tons of spaced out bass lines, wah-infused guitar marathons and sampled electronics or layers of guitar (which I think were a result from the pile of pedals and gizmos Sula Bassana and Comet Lulu had at their feet) to their hearts’ content. Being familiar with the nature of their music, I knew this was going to more of a stretched out, psychedelic experience instead of an energy packing rocker performance, so I took a much needed seat on the, largely filled up by that point, balcony; it was a good call after all.
ELECTRIC MOON carry a different type of energy, the kind that, even if someone is stone cold sober such as myself, still manages to alter someone’s perception of time and place. Numerous were the times I caught myself gawking at the scene, my mind trailing off to God knows where while a friend tried to tell me something I couldn’t pay attention to. My attention was fully centered to the psychedelic drone the German trio produced on stage, as if someone was swinging a pocket watch on my face trying to hypnotize me. Certainly, to realize in retrospect that a great portion of their show was based on the repetitive usage of wah-effects, might seem as a small drawback to their overall performance (which, at the second half portrayed bigger diversity in notes and fantasy) and serve as an explanation to why part of the crowd (probably not accustomed to the sound of such bands) seemed a bit numb. Then again, ELECTRIC MOON is not a band somebody watches to headbang, nor to dance their socks off. ELECTRIC MOON’S purpose is to take the listener to a spiral inward trip and make their thinking process be (to quote BUZZOVEN) at a loss and this is precisely what ELECTRIC MOON delivered. Speaking of the time-altering quality of this trio, it was a really funny moment when Sula Bassana thought their time on stage was over, only to find out they had 10 more minutes left (which they utilized the hell out of them). This band even hypnotizes itself.
Readying myself for CAUSA SUI, I strolled by the merchandise space and bars, finding out that beer was at a very welcoming price (a bit uncommon for concerts in Greece) and that the merchandise was very diverse, in more than sufficient quantity and generally good prices as well. Had I not been more penniless than Rodion Raskolnikov, I think I might had gotten myself that groovy colored EARTHLESS wallet and/or patch, or maybe that awesome “Return To Sky” crimson shirt. Speaking of “Return To Sky” though, the Danes I never expected to see playing live (at least in Greece) positioned themselves upon the stage and I could almost feel the whole venue getting as giddy as I was. Honestly, “giddy” is the perfect word to describe this experience since a good two songs worth of time was spent in muttering “dude, I’m watching CAUSA SUI!” and smiling till the gums hurt, like a child that receives exactly the present it wished for on its birthday.
To get some things out of the way for starters, I think the (magnificent) guitarist at one point stated that he is still trying to find his grip on that new guitar, which I think was the reason why the, in studio albums, shocking leading guitar parts that are in part responsible for falling in love with this band, for a portion of their set were a bit muffled and hard to pinpoint. Either that was the case, or positioning myself in front of Jess Kahr’s monstrous bass was the reason for the rhythm part of CAUSA SUI overpowering my ears. Other than that, CAUSA SUI were a straight up shocker. I really have to struggle for words here, having also drained my imagination clean for describing their music on our recent Spotlight section.
First of all, the choice to basically set their setlist around “Euporie Tide” and “Return To Sky” hit dead center. The groove that they produced on stage was colossal and it can only make one wonder how they still managed to bring out the breathtaking beauty, the one of a kind, emotional melody that characterizes them amongst this thunderous rumble (the keyboards; oh the keyboards!). “Mondo Buzzo”, “Homage”, “The Source”, “The Juice”; Moments like these transcend the point of “watching a favorite band play live”, they transcend the point of masterful musicianship and hit home on an even deeper level, rendering one’s very inner core truly, stupidly happy. This is exactly why I needed to point out the insignificant sound issues first, as CAUSA SUI are a band that revels in the very essence of “music” and watching them perform these songs perfectly, adds up to a truly unique emotional experience that truly needs to be lived to be understood. Maybe I become annoyingly abstract here, but I just can’t talk about that band in stern, technical terms. All I can say to wrap this section up is that, during their off the rails, stupendous jamming on “Ju-Ju Blues”, the combination of their performance, the sound and the video projection behind them, for a few minutes I felt like I was part of a cool movie scene, or I had somehow jumped inside some of my favorite rock live DVD’s. As expected, they were one of the greatest highlights of this festival; a fact that makes the next performance all the more glorious.
I kindly shoved and respectfully pushed people out of the way to position myself exactly where I longed, to the point of trembling from anxiety, the most; in front of Isaiah Mitchell’s guitar speaker cabinet. I literally get chills as I am writing these lines reminiscing about them calmly positioning themselves on stage. Though some bands make a writer struggle for words, EARTHLESS personally make me want to scream at the whole world. When Jascha Heifetz, arguably the greatest violinist of the last 100 plus years, played his first concert on U.S soil (Carnegie Hall specifically) just at the age of 16, Fritz Kreisler, another prominent violinist of the time, said “We might as well take our fiddles and break them across our knees”. On a similar note, in case you are a struggling or even accomplished guitarist, for the love of God, do not look up Isaiah Mitchell’s performance on Howler Edition. You will set your gear on fire.
The first notes of “Uluru Rock” sound from the speakers and a smile is drawn upon all the faces on the venue, thinking this is about to get as magnificent as the last time; if only we knew. Within 5 minutes, mass hysteria has ensued. For the 30 (yes, 30) minutes that “Uluru Rock” lasted, I saw professional photographers quit mid job and jump up and down frantically like teenagers, with thousands’ worth of equipment dangling from their necks without them giving a dime; I saw classy ladies, with makeup and elegant dresses thrashing around like maniacs; I saw people banging on the bars that separated the first row from the scene; I have never heard before an audible murmur of disbelief from a Greek crowd, ever (it’s either silence or rudely loud chattering). This time all one could see was people torn between headbanging -headbanging is not even the right term, I mean violently dancing consuming 200% of their energy- and turning around, praying for some validation from friends and strangers that what they are seeing is really happening.
What Isaiah Mitchell, Mario Rupacalba and Mike Eginton have done on those 75 minutes will go down in history as one of the most, literally, UNBELIEVABLE performances in Greek concert history. On a personal note, it will go down as one of the three, most sacred live performances I have watched so far in my life. I mean there is the “Live at Roadburn”, there is the collaboration with HEAVY BLANKET; it’s not like we did not know they can exceed their album material. But this was beyond stellar. If Paganini was considered “possessed by Satan” by the Church, since his talent seemed inhuman, I dare not think what they may have thought if they ever had a chance to see Isaiah Mitchell play live. It is not natural to play at that speed, with that technique, for so long. There is a moment that will be etched forever in my mind. At a point near the end of “Uluru Rock” , after EARTHLESS have completely drained our energy from banging around as if WE were possessed, after he has been shredding unfathomably for so long , where Isaiah picks up a speed that almost makes his fingers invisible to the naked eye and the crowd just breaks out in wild, animalistic roars of. This is what we call “apotheosis”.
At this point I need to make a small, yet highly important detour. It is very difficult to describe verbally this sense of grandeur that EARTHLESS portrayed on stage on the Spotlight section I wrote that I believe their rhythm section is the best there is today. Mario Rubacalba makes me want to become a drummer. Only 6 feet away from me is a musician I adore beyond any words can describe (Isaiah Mitchell), and yet 5 minutes in the set I realize I need more than two eyes to fully take in what Mario does behind the drum kit at the same time. Mario Rubacalba’s performance is pure insanity, the drumming equivalent of Mitchell’s guitar playing. Beyond Gene Hoglan speed, technique and frenzy only matched by some of the greatest jazz/fusion geniuses of all time, power that puts to shame any death/extreme metal drummer… He almost seems as two drummers play at the same time. Definitely the greatest drummer I’ve seen so far. And if you think I’m forgetting something, I was only able to take my eyes off the panic these two made just a few times to gaze upon the machine that is called Mike Eginton. He played bass on tempos faster than speed metal guitarists. He laid the fundamentally crucial foundations that these two weave their magic upon with such ease as if he was taking a walk in the park; and that, I think, says it all.
The first track ends in such a fashion that the crowd went berserk. I was in such disbelief that I could only scream “Get down from the stage! What more could you possibly do after that? It’s over!”. Sure thing kid, here’s a 40 minute version of “Violence Of The Red Sea”, see how you deal with it. From now on, anyone who wants to write about a crazy/out of this world live jam they should have that performance as a comparison measure. All I have to say is that I broke into a fit of laughter, somewhere in the middle of the song, just out of sheer amazement and frustration concerning how is what EARTHLESS do even possible. I can’t begin to explain what Mitchell did during this jam and I think it would be unnecessary even if I did because that man’s skills are largely indescribable. It was another 40 minutes where he seemed possessed by every great guitarist that has ever lived. I just hope someday others will exist that will utilize the possibilities of a guitar to the extent that he does. At the end of their set those three humble legends accept the deafening ovation by the attendants of Howler edition and return for the encore that finished off this already bedazzled crowd. Was it “Cherry Red” as everyone expected? Nope. Here’s the unexpected “Communication Breakdown” by LED ZEPELLIN, because if you’re great, you always need to leave the building with a bang. I personally think this is the best performance offered to us in a Smoke The Fuzz concert so far.
Stumbling around the venue, trying to cope with what I just experienced, besides the enthusiasm that I will always remember what I just witnessed by EARTHLESS, the terror that another prolific band, ALL THEM WITCHES will now seem to me like an after show comes eerily creeping up on me. Bull-shit. They set the place on fire, simple as that. They “forced” a man with back problems (and still in shock by EARTHLESS) DANCE his shoes off for almost 90 minutes, after about 7 hours of standing up. This should highlight how much of a “headline material” band these guys are. Just like the San Diego dudes, the Nashville boys : A) can become the absolute center of the crowd’s attention in just a snap of their fingers and B) with this performance they made it seem like on their first appearance in Greece they were just testing the waters.
First things first, even for a band with three albums and no fillers yet, they picked the best possible setlist. Let’s take a look: “Talisman”, “The Marriage Of Coyote Woman”, “Charles Williams”, “Elk. Blood. Heart.”, “Open Passageways”, “The Death Of Coyote Woman”, “Swallowed By The Sea”, “Dirt Preachers”, “Blood And Sand/Milk And Endless Waters”. Plus they played a fantastic new song that will be on their new album. How can you go wrong with any of the above? To be honest, it’s obvious you can’t go wrong with anything when your frontman comes out wearing a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and just owns the stage. I mean, Michael Parks is such a cool figure on stage that “Call Me Star” would almost feel like a self reference if we did not know how down to earth guys ALL THEM WITCHES are.
When it comes to their music though, ALL THEM WITCHES fly as high as a kite. Not only the songs themselves are prolific, but the way they bring them to life feels as if this is one of their first times playing them and they want to show the whole world how proud and infatuated with them they are. When we talk ALL THEM WITCHES, it goes without question we have to talk about passion as well. The way they shift from dagger-to-the-heart blues to electrifying fuzz rock, to straight up crazy, organ-infused jamming bits is just crazy. They are entertainers of the finest ilk and this was apparent by the way the crowd reacted to each and every song. It did not matter if it was dancing, swaying smoothly inside the blues feeling, headbanging, singing along or just reverently concentrating on those stunningly beautiful notes, the crowd had their back. Rarely has joy and fun been as apparent in a concert as in ALL THEM WITCHES’ performance in Howler edition.
And, to come full circle on the matter of that crazy backline and amp collection, I think that, above all, it mostly did justice to these guys. Their sound was prolific. When it needed to be smooth, it was crystal clear, helping us absorb all that blues and organ beauty in its full extent. When Parks and guitarist Ben McLeod stepped on that fuzz pedal though, Lord have mercy, it was a signal to break your neck salts. At one point during “Swallowed By The Sea” it almost sounded as if Rex Brown and Kirk Weindstein were up there! As I’ve stated before, the level of professionalism ALL THE WITCHES show is beyond any expectation. They are absolutely “compact” on stage, having people hanging from the edge of their chords and for the second time, they did not fail to deliver; an absolute wonder of a band, rightly headlining a wondrous festival. I hope next time we’ll also get an encore from this amazing band.
To sum this whole thing up, Howler Edition was another great day in the Smoke The Fuzz Fest schedule. When great organization meets impeccable bands, the result can only be what many of the attendants were talking about outside of the venue: how seamlessly and enjoyably 8+ hours flew by. Next stop, the Post Mortem edition!