(DGR bears witness to the May 18 performances in Sacramento of The Dillinger Escape Plan, The Faceless, Royal Thunder, and Journal.)
It’s been a bit of an odd concert season so far this year. I heaped tons of praise on the Sacramento music scene last year because it seemed like there was show after show, after show, hitting within the span of a few months, to the point that between seeing local bands and bigger acts I actually wound up doing something like seven shows in one month – which was fucking awesome. This year though, work has overtaken a lot of what I’ve been up to. The year has just devolved into an endless stream of overnighters on the job, which have insured that in the span of five months….I’ve seen a whopping three concerts.
This one in particular was very exciting because it meant I’d get to see The Dillinger Escape Plan again. I’d seen them once before with Mastodon, which was a very weird experience. That time it seemed like a lot of people were there because they wanted to hear that one song that Mastodon had on the radio, so something like Dillinger was going to sail right over folks’ heads. This time though, you had a crowd who really wanted to see them and were enthusiastic as hell about it — and no band can create a feedback loop of energy quite like Dillinger can.
Of course, there were other groups on the bill, and whilst I had no idea what I was in for with Royal Thunder outside of the basic description from their Facebook, I did want to see Journal (again) and The Faceless for the first time on this end.
A quick introduction for those who don’t know about Journal: They are a local Sacramento three-piece instrumental group. We’ve spoken of them before and they’ve gathered a bit of a following among web denizens. They are highly technical and very accomplished as musicians. You’ve likely seen their name brought up a lot and not noticed it, but I highly recommend you rectify that oversight by checking these guys out. Given the recent explosion of instrumental guitar works over the years, they deserve far more publicity than what they’ve gotten.
I’ve caught Journal before – given that they are local it’s usually pretty easy to cross paths with the guys and get to see them live. I’m not within the circle of people who get the privilege to jokingly heckle them yet, but alas, one day. I know that, musically, what they do can be incredibly abrasive because all three of those guys just beat the crap out of their instruments. They fly across those two guitars and that drum kit almost effortlessly.
As someone who has heard their CD and seen them enough to catch some familiar parts of songs, I’ll fully cop to the fact that I have no idea how in the world they keep track of what’s going on within their own songs. As someone who has played music, the sheer technicality these guys always put on display is incredible to watch. The joking, self depreciating humor that they have about what they do on stage is pretty great as well – which can lead to all sorts of goofy stage antics like the one pictured above, or the gathering of photos that a friend of the band uploaded to Flickr. If those shots look like the guys stomp around and spin on the stage a whole lot, that’s because it’s exactly what they do – in between every riff that sounds like a swarm of insects just popping back and forth.
It’s unfortunate that they ran a little long and had to be cut off right before their last song, but they managed to attract a whole bunch of different onlookers who seemed very intrigued by what was going on.
Royal Thunder were an interesting proposition on this bill because they were the most different act from the other groups present. The tour was already going to be pretty varied with just The Faceless and Dillinger sitting on opposite ends of the spectrum, plus whatever local openers would be added, but Royal Thunder definitely filled a role that’s becoming increasingly familiar on recent tours (in addition to being the most starkly different from the rest of the bands). It seems that tour promoters have now been specifically seeking out a slower opening band to contrast with the higher speed/energy groups that will take the stage later. Royal Thunder’s brand of psychadelic acid rock/sludge fits that bill almost perfectly.
They had a half hour or so long setlist and in that amount of time kicked out about four songs – one of which picked up the pace at the end, but the other three of which were super-meditative, burying themselves in full bass tones and some crawling guitar work that played the lowest notes possible to create an overall rumble.
I’ll qualify this by saying that I could absolutely listen to these guys outside of a show, so I was actually okay with following them on a brief interlude into the world of hazy colored lighting. But I can definitely imagine how they might have had the house stacked against them by being the literal polar opposite of the high intensity freakout of Dillinger, who would come on close to an hour after them – or hell, in the case of this show, by following the high-intensity freakout of Journal before them.
Royal Thunder was an experience to see on a show like this, because even as a three-piece they still fill a room. I just think that they had a supremely high wall to climb in the face of the people who were there because they wanted to see The Faceless or Dillinger. I am, however, glad that a bunch of folks still stood out instead of trying to hide in the bar or smoking area and watched the whole thing and got one hell of a different experience for it.
It may have taken some time, but I finally got to see The Faceless live. Granted, this was the latest incarnation of the band, in which Michael Keene is the only surviving original member, but the guys with whom he has chosen to surround himself are all skilled enough to hang with what the music is doing. One of the things that really surprised me about their set was how quick it was. The group played seven songs and there was very little in the way of stage banter or introduction. They got up there, hammered out the songs, and then just as quickly jumped off. I don’t know if we caught them on an off-day, but you could’ve missed these guys had you blinked at the wrong time.
Their setlist is pretty Autotheism-heavy, which was fine by me. You get five tracks off of that disc – including the opening trilogy of songs, which was cool to see live – and then two off of Planetary Duality. At this point, saying they play those songs to the letter seems a little silly, but these guys nail every weird section that comes up perfectly.
Their current vocalist is also crazy good with some highs that I think are criminally underused, although he seems to want to wander the stage more than the space he is given. I caught sight of him actually walking off the stage to go to a different section of the venue a couple of times – including one where he wound up standing in the corner of Ace Of Spades with his hands resting behind his head during the instrumental section of part 2 of the Autotheism tracks. I’m surprised he doesn’t get bothered more by fans of the band when he does that. My friend thought it was something bordering on stage fright, but I’m not so sure. It was just odd to see, although if they gave the guy a wireless mic, that might actually be turned into a pretty cool aspect of the band since you could then get vocals from anywhere during the show. Anyone else see stuff like this during this tour?
I’m just going to come out and say it – you could tell me Dillinger were going to play the back alley behind a 7-11 and that show would probably jump up to one of my favorite live shows I’ve ever seen. These guys are simply second to none when it comes to high-energy performance. When they really get going, there is almost no stopping them. That they also play the insanely complicated stuff that they do is just mind-boggling.
They had fifteen songs, but I’ll be damned if I noticed the passage of time, simply because I was so locked into their performance, When Greg ascended the PA (alongside Ben on the other side) and then leaped into the crowd, my whole night was pretty much capped off. Hell, you could probably construct a pretty nice photo gallery of nothing but sweet-ass amp dives that Greg has taken over the last year. I submit to you two images, one from Sacramento and the other from San Francisco the following night, plus a video of the Sacramento jump, just to get things started.
I say this with all my conviction: You don’t even have to like the band to have a hell of a time watching them live. It’s infectious as hell. I was stoked on the performance alone, much less how balanced their whole set was across all their discs. I love hearing stuff from Miss Machine live, even years after that disc was released, and the stuff fits in perfectly alongside the newer music they have. I haven’t heard One Of Us Is the Killer yet but Badwolf liked it a lot and those songs hold up insanely well live.
Coming off of a show like this, you can’t help but be enthusiastic about everything that band does. It’s preaching to the choir when I say this, but if you ever get the chance to see these guys live, you jump on that shit.