So it’s April 20th, and you just theoretically wake ‘n’ baked (a sheet of totally normal untainted brownies). A mile away you know Weedeater will be repping riffs and spliffs with doom rockers The Skull while enjoying support from five more fuzz-dealing bands. So you head to Black Circle Brewing at the crack of 4:20 PM (naturally) and settle in. True, seven hours of music is a lot. But nobody likes hanging with peeps who complain about too much of a good thing, so shut your trap. You know the pint glasses and goblets will stay full at Black Circle and there’s Cuban cuisine in your near future. Despite the hazy sunlight outside the walls and windows, green light appropriately soaks the stage as The Big Lebowski plays on the bar’s TVs. A shriek of feedback is the official announcement: it’s time to tune in and hail the leaf. The Dude abides.
So the vocalist/guitarist of local sludge duo Potslammer goes by the pseudonym Holy Trichome Conjurer Bud Pots. You know, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. It may seem like it was his personal quest to have 4 sets on 4/20, because he achieved that feat. But after the set HCBP confirmed he was invited to all of them and didn’t pitch his services. That’s the universe guiding you to your divine purpose right there. Like Bongripper, the levity the band’s moniker implies isn’t reflected in the music, which is black as pipe resin. In a two-person project like this, there’s no room to hide. It’s not technical, more about mood than precision with their spare, stripped-down doom. A light drizzle outside the window was perfect for the band’s slow-burn gloom.
God damn, this Indy trio snared an instant fan. Drude‘s desert psych and rustic sludge swirled to life with looping guitars and uncompromising doom passages. Responsible for the show’s first blastbeats, I was reminded of High on Fire when they dialed up the heat. Drummer Dyllen Nance is absolutely explosive, standing up for half the set and punishing the cymbals with pieces of his sticks splintering around him. They battled feedback a bit at one point between songs, which is like sludge’s best friend suddenly becoming a foe. Sometimes you just can’t tame a wild animal. I was so impressed I picked up a copy of their self-titled record even before I spotted their sticker gracing prime real estate above the urinal.
When your low-end sports an Electric Wizard shirt and a Sleep sticker on the body of their bass guitar, you pretty much know what’s in store. On their recordings, Evansville crew Rat King invoke Windhand’s witchy drone. Live, they bring a more melodic approach to the deafening battle doom of UK volume addicts Conan. With the fragile vocals of drummer Kyle Wilcher guiding most of the set, it was a subdued performance. If your drummer is tethered to a microphone it’s usually up to the other members to connect with the crowd or transmit energy. Although guitarist/back-up vocalist Jason Wilcher engaged in late-set headbanging, the band didn’t quite relaunch after losing momentum by tuning a song into their set. Still, after listening to their song “Hegira” I’m interested in hearing more. Give that a listen below.
On an evening supersaturated with hydroponic puns, Hemperor won the lineup’s weed-related wordplay competition. When most of the bands on the ticket opted for slow ‘n’ low, Hemperor’s death-punk propulsion hit the spot halfway through the evening. While even the best sludge bands usually feature a solitary “change of pace” song per record, Hemperor’s set kicked aside any sluggish stereotypes. This show also doubled as a release celebration of their brand-new Death to the Old Gods EP. After vocalist/bassist Babe Woodward politely/apathetically suggested people buy one, I took the plunge and snagged one for myself. Happy to report back that it’s just as mean as their set suggested. Order one for yourself from the Bandcamp link below.
High Tone Son of a Bitch
Fronted by the Kott brothers (Paul and Andrew), High Tone Son of a Bitch rumbled out of Oakland, CA. Like Lo-Pan or Truckfighters, they match the aesthetics and energy of fuzz-soaked beard rock with tried ‘n’ trve pop structures. If you jam out to Clutch in your favorite flannel, you should chew on their discography a while. Bonus points for treating the crowd to a Moog synth and guitar solo battle. After three hours of music, I was starting to feel like the soggy sweat towel draped across their drumset. But High Tone Son of a Bitch were a refreshing splash of energy up to the final moments of raucous closer “Ten Mountain High.”
All photos: Murder Basement
It’s tough to discuss The Skull without mentioning Windy City doom pioneers Trouble. With vocalist Eric Wagner and bassist Ron Holzner in the fold, Chicago’s proud history of electric blues is alive and well in The Skull. While I saw The Skull touring with Trouble’s material when I lived in Philly, I was excited to see them lean on a set with more of their originals. Before they even played a note The Skull were sharing smiles and handshakes with fans in the front row. Wagner sort of enters and exits the stage at whim, drifting away during riff-driven interludes to examine a PBR so he doesn’t accidentally drink his band mate’s backwash. “4/20, huh?” Wagner smirked at the pink-eyed crowd. “We got weed goin’ on or what?” During an extended jam to close the set, Holzner banged out a bass solo with skull rings on his fingers. Sure, maybe the finale ran just a pinch too long, but these dudes know how to ride a groove. The exuberance of The Skull’s set reminds us there’s no such thing as gray hair when it’s bathed in green light.
All photos: Murder Basement
Horns way up and a round of applause for Dahlia Presents; booking NC stoner/sludge titans Weedeater for 4/20 is a genius move. Even if you’re not a gambler, you can bet your last green dollar and entire month’s bud fund on vocalist/bassist “Dixie” Dave Collins charming the crowd and harming eardrums. After carrying what looked like a gallon of Evan Williams onstage to share with his conspirators, Collins quickly won over the audience with crowd favorites “God Luck and Good Speed” and “Wizard Fight.” After he was implored to put out his lit cigarette before the set started, Buzzoven/Sourvein drummer Ramzi Ateyeh bashed out grooves with effortless power. When you’re on tour you have to be resourceful, and Ateyah shrewdly transformed a roll of tape into a convenient coozie for his PBR. Meanwhile, the first mosh pits broke out on the beer-slick floor as Collins pogo bounced on stage. By the time Weedeater covered Skynyrd’s “Gimme Back My Bullets,” a spirited superfan next to me looked like he was a second from an out of body experience. The superfan heard familiar chords and turned my way, possessed. “Weed….Monkey,” he slowly enunciated, identifying the closing song. For those who’ve seen Weedeater before, Collins has a familiar humble refrain of “‘preciate y’all” between songs. That ‘preciation was returned ten-fold by the crowd, who cheered Weedeater off the stage as topless arm-wrestling played on TVs around the bar. Sometimes there’s a man—I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a man—well, he’s the man for his time and place. Collins, 4/20, and Black Circle Brewing. Tough to top that kind of serendipity.
All photos: Murder Basement