Q. How do you know when you’re at a stoner gig?
A. The entire audience leaves the room to “take the air” between bands
“This one’s for all the ladies here,” quips Sergeant Thunderhoof‘s frontman, a tad optimistically. The Bath quartet are a damn sight better than any act at the bottom of a four-band bill have any right to be, swiftly locking in to a meaty Sabbathy groove. They plod a little on occasion, but succeed in getting the party started in style.
Swansea’s Sigiriya are the heaviest act of the night and possibly the only Welsh mountain stoner band to be named after a Sri Lankan rock fortress. The Fleece is already packed as they kick things up a notch by injecting some doom into the proceedings. Their guitarist looks like a backwoods meth dealer, the bassist sports a vintage Hawkwind T-shirt (possibly in acknowledgement of the fact that actual Hawkwind bassist Haz Wheaton is in attendance), and the amiable frontman is the only person on stage all evening who bothers much with the niceties of audience interaction. Sigiriya’s best song, which is greeted with much headbanging approval, seems to be called Drag on the Bong, though later investigation reveals that it’s actually titled Dragging the Bones. I’ll stick with my version.
Playing their first gig in Bristol, main tour support King Buffalo from New York underline the agreeable diversity of this bill by changing the pace a little. But any fears that they’ll turn out to reside on the anaemic wing of the psych spectrum are swiftly dispelled. After a noodly start, they deliver an impressive set of heavy, riff-driven psych leavened with Gilmour-esque guitar touches. Classy.
Elder seem to have been on the road forever and may wish to have a quiet word with their tour manager about an itinerary that has bounced them back and forth across Europe all summer and sees them playing in Edinburgh the night after this show. The upside of this is that the road-hardened quartet are as tight as a (insert off-colour analogy here). That’s right: quartet. This time, the trio made the very wise decision to bring along a keyboard player/additional guitarist to flesh out their ever-evolving sound. That’s necessary because they’ve really delivered on their early promise with genre-transcending new album Reflections of a Floating World. Respect to all the other bands on the bill, but Elder are patently in a different league as they use the stoner springboard to spiral off into uncharted territory. Opening the show as it does the album, the soaring Sanctuary sets the scene: a confident, free-flowing, proggy epic brimming with musical imagination and built on a titanic riff interspersed with gentle instrumental passages. This is in no hurry to reach its destination, but never sacrifices melody on the altar of complexity. It’s easy to see where those Mastodon comparisons come from, although Elder are a tad less twiddly and more spaced out. Pinning them down is now well-nigh impossible, as one might perhaps expect of a band who cite Steely Dan, Uriah Heep, Gentle Giant and Yes as their faves (cool, huh?) and yet sound nothing like any of them.
The suitably cosmic projections do all the heavy lifting in the showmanship department, while the weak point remains ace guitarist Nick DiSalvo’s somewhat weedy vocals. And if there’s one set list disappointment, it is that they didn’t play the corking motorik instrumental Sonntag, which is what Can might have sounded like had they been stoner dudes from Massachusetts rather than Stockhausen acolytes from Cologne. No matter: judging by tonight’s crowd reaction, Elder’s days as underground kings are numbered as they ascend deservedly to bigger venues.