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I Am Beyond: Power of the Riff with Pentagram, Eyehategod, Winter, Black Breath, Pelican, Trap Them, All Pigs Must Die, Black Cobra, Acephalix, and Early Graves @ Echo and Echoplex, 8/13/11

August 14, 2011

People often ask me what HardRockChick is. It’s not exactly a music blog- I don’t do record reviews….my live show reviews aren’t even really reviews. I try to explain to people that HardRockChick is pretty much my diary that has followed the story of my life for the past almost five years now, and how I use live music to help me through it.

It could also be said that writing HardRockChick is a manifestation of my Dissociative Identity Disorder. My coping mechanism is to pretend that bad things in my life happened to someone else. And since I have an alter ego, there’s that part of me to easily pass the bad on to. So when something tragic happens, I throw it in some dark corner and forget about it and continue on with my hectic life until I’m at a show and the music on stage helps me work through it and writing about it makes me deal with it. But lately, that process has stopped working.

As the one year anniversary of the death of my mother approaches, I’m starting to feel worse. Perhaps I picked up the pieces too quickly and didn’t really grieve. And that scares the hell out of me. So now, after the extra attention people give you when something like this happens has subsided, here’s me and the music again, that one stable thing in my life.

Power of the Riff is a mini West Coast metal festival. While other cities would have the bands play over two nights, the first stop in LA had all the bands in one day split between two stages, the Echoplex and the Echo.

The last time I was at the Echoplex was to see Nine Inch Nails. That was once upon a time in a land far, far away.

The second stage started at noon, but we rolled up a bit later…2:30…to catch the beginning of the main stage. I had spent the last three days on this crazy juice cleanse, and sort of felt like a strong wind could knock me over.

As Early Graves took the stage, I stood by the soundboard so I could ‘get my lean on’ to conserve energy for later in the day. This would be their return to the stage after last year’s tragic accident which took the life of vocalist Makh Daniels. The Funeral Pyre vocalist, John Strachan, is now at the helm. The emotional nature of this set is hard to convey…TFP was on tour with Early Graves when the accident occurred, and Strachan was in the van. As they launched into their first song, I got goosebumps as he pounded the mic into his forehead, making it bleed. It seemed too early to have my first ‘wow’ moment, but as I thought about this full circle moment happening on stage, I realized that at that exact same time my friends were in Finland playing on the same stage they played their final show with their bassist before he tragically died. And all of this made me think of that moment that keeps popping into my head lately, the way it sounded and the way it felt when I was the only person in the room when my mom took her last breath. Being with someone when they tragically die is something that will haunt you forever…you will never, ever escape it. And that makes life really hard to live. I saw Early Graves with Makh once, at the now closed Annie’s Social Club. Two years later and our worlds have changed. The set was phenomenal; it was interesting to see Strachan perform so differently within the context of this band. Perhaps this set the somber tone that seemed to plague the rest of the day.

In between sets you could wander around outside amidst what was mostly other band members at that point, eating greasy food from the Grill ‘Em All truck or in the early stages of their insobriety that would fuel the two headlining sets of the night.

Back inside for Acephalix, I had a hard time getting into it. The vocalist kept jumping into the crowd and screaming while walking around challenging everyone. I watched a few hardcore dancers windmill and karate kick their way into the stupidity hall of fame, and rolled my eyes.

Next up was Black Cobra, who I’ve seen a lot over the years. It wasn’t my favorite set of theirs…but it’s always good to see them. As I looked back on the last review I wrote of theirs just now, I got chills. Regardless, every time I see them, I’m always amazed that two people can make that much sound.

All Pigs Must Die was a loud blur in the middle of the day; I don’t remember much about it as we took a break in the corner to start what would be an ongoing joke of the day, turning catchphrases of the day into urls. Whyareyounothere.com, boysarestupid.edu, ihateeveryone.gov. You probably kinda had to be there.

We watched a bit of Trap Them, who I’d seen once before. They had driven straight through from Detroit to play this show, and the vocalist looked like he was on his deathbed. I’m still not sure how I feel about this band; perhaps I’m too distracted by the hardcore dancers flailing around…..ughhh.

We took a mini field trip to the outside world, where we decided to take funny pictures with a giant shrimp that stood outside the pizza place next door for some reason. Unfortunately, one of the guys from the group that we asked to take these pictures snuck up behind me and made obscene gestures, thus ruining the pictures with the giant epic shrimp.

A few days before we had discovered that the two bands we were most excited about seeing had conflicting set times. Pelican had a 15 minute jump on Black Breath, so we went up to the front to enjoy it to its fullest before making an escape to the other stage. As I stood there waiting, I laughed at the hot pink drum set everyone was playing on that night…not very metal.

As Pelican began the mood of the day completely shifted. I’m sure part of it was standing so close to the stage, but the tone of this band is one that makes you go inside your own head and forget the rest of the world exists. The last time I saw Pelican was the first time I saw Black Cobra. I got to enjoy three songs before tearing myself away to go to the Echo to be reunited with Black Breath.

I interviewed Black Breath last year, and this would be my first time seeing them since then. Heavy Breathing was one of my favorite albums last year. As I walked into the Echo I was able to sidle right up to the side of the stage, my favorite place to be. As the set began, all hell broke loose in there. People started climbing over each other to get to the stage…and vocalist Neil McAdams reacts to it by getting right back in their faces and sharing vocal duties with them. Stage divers come flying from the back of the stage; at one point everything went into slow-mo as I watched one sail right over my friend’s head. I haven’t enjoyed a set this much in a long time. I’m moving involuntarily, being one with the music. The guitar is right in my face, and I’m that girl yelling at them between songs. I’m grooving and screaming along to ‘I Am Beyond’ as the day came together for me in that exact moment. They dedicate ‘Eat the Witch’ to the ladies in the room, and McAdams walks over and bumps fist with me. I was sad to see that guitarist Zack wasn’t there, and McAdams humorously explained that he was no longer in the band, because he had ‘chosen to have a future and go to law school’. Eek! Good luck with that, Zack. The set ended with my favorite track, ‘WeWhoCannotBeNamed’, for which I moved into the pit with my friend to close the set out in style.

Back to the main stage for Winter, I was not prepared for how this would make me feel. They win the award for most depressing set of all time. I stood there listening to what felt like one long growl and one long discordant note of doom that weaved it’s way into the darkest corner of my soul and tried to bring all my demons to the front at once. I had to leave and go back outside, then went back in to try again but honestly couldn’t handle it. Seriously, I wanted to go into a corner with a soft blanket and suck my thumb and cry for my mommy. The set was epic in the most terrifying way, it was like being thrust into a horror film…the music was chasing me and I was that stupid girl who keeps running and falling and screaming like Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The only way for me to counter the traumatic experience that was Winter was to go up front for Eyehategod. EHG is part of my metal DNA, but no set has ever topped the second time I saw them. This would be my my friend’s first EHG set, and our first real pit experience together, and it turns out we make a pretty good team because it got pretty crazy in there. I always stand at the front on the side, and this is sometimes where guys who are too much of a pussy to get in the real pit try to stand and push people half their size around. I was getting manhandled by a dude who will surely wake up this morning with my elbow prints all along his side. There is something soothing about seeing southern metal tonight…it’s like a little piece of home. Guitarist Jimmy Bower is right in front of us egging on the crowd while serving up his version of southern hospitality. Vocalist Mike Williams has to instruct the lighting guy to stop the Pink Floyd light show and keep it basic. There’s some funny banter going on from behind the drum kit. People are yelling ‘SISTERFUCKER!!!’ and I get kicked in the head again by a crowdsurfer. Funny I barely even felt it, as I saw stars and 2 Bowers until I resumed focus of making my elbow juts in time with the riffage and pretended the asshole behind me was a toxic situation I’ve been dealing with. EHG always delivers in some fucked up form, tonight was no exception and as I left a sweaty beat up mess, I felt very much alive.

This would be my second time this year to experience EHG and Pentagram together. Could you imagine forming a metal band at a time when the name Pentagram was available? It was a jarring time warp to hear Pentagram after so much newer music. Unfortunately the set was plagued by sound and light issues…no guitar at first, and the lights weren’t the colors they wanted so a glaring spotlight was turned on at the back of the stage that shone straight out into the audience. It was so bad that I put my sunglasses on. My favorite Pentagram set was the first time I saw them. As expected, they played my favorite, ‘Forever My Queen’, second…but the song was nearly ruined with all the issues at hand. I stuck it out for a bit more before deciding that the Power of the Riff was dwindling…

Under the full moon which makes us crazy, in the middle of the three week mercury in retrograde period, we left the day of metal in a strange state of mind. Now having lived within 4 different metal scenes: SF, Austin, San Antonio, and now LA…I’d have to say LA’s is definitely the weirdest, though I haven’t exactly put my finger on why yet. As we walked back to the car, I picked a rose for my friend and that turned into a thorny mess and the flower fell off onto the ground (sofuckingtypical.com), so I jumped up and down on top of it mashing it to pieces. It was the perfect metaphor for how I feel: take the path that looks right to everyone else, or fall amidst the thorny dark side. Choose Your Own Adventure….sometimes you knowingly go with the perilous route.

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