Christopher Hall at age five played the trumpet and later studied classical music in college, with the goal of becoming a trumpet player in the Chicago Symphony and teaching in a university. In 1986, while attending college in Macomb, Ill., Hall and Walter Flakus formed industrial rock band Stabbing Westward. They moved to Chicago and released an EP in 1992, followed by four studio albums from 1994 to 2001. In 1996, the band achieved its first certified gold album. In 1988, the band relocated to Los Angeles, California, but then disbanded in 2002. Hall formed the Los Angeles-based band the Dreaming in 2001, recording three albums. Flakus, who had become a Chicago radio personality, joined the Dreaming in 2015. Hall and Flakus reformed Stabbing Westward in 2016 to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary, and the band has continued to perform. Stabbing Westward currently consists of vocalist Hall, keyboardist/guitarist Flakus, returning lead guitarist Marcus Eliopulos, and two newer members, bassist Carlton Bost and drummer Bobby Amaro.
Stabbing Westward’s 2018 tour celebrated the 20th anniversary of the release of the band’s second gold album, Darkest Days, with the band performing the 12 songs in sequence followed by an encore of songs from other albums. At the Gramercy Theatre, Stabbing Westward faithfully reproduced a turn-of-the-century sound that was nursed at the experimental prime of alternative rock, alternative metal, post-punk and emo movements. Amid incessantly flashing lights and a video backdrop, songs frequently featured climbing vocal intensities and crashing cymbals as softer verses escalated into rallying choruses. Hall sang well and engaged the fans, several times coming off the stage to stand at the barricades, within touching distance of the audience. The performance revived 20-year-old songs and pleased the old fans. Stabbing Westward has been on reunion tours for two years; hopefully soon the band will move forward with new songs.
The Coffin Daggers/Otto’s Shrunken Head/Oct. 20, 2018
Victor Dominicis, better known by his stage name, Viktor Venom, in the late 1980s was a member of two New York City hardcore punk bands. He was the bassist for Reagan Youth and more notably the guitarist in Nausea. Leaving behind Nausea’s fusion of anarcho-punk and thrash metal in 1992, Venom reappeared on the scene in 1999 playing psychedelic surf music with the Coffin Daggers. The Coffin Daggers’ third and most recent studio album is 2016’s Aggravatin’ Rhythms. The quartet presently consists of Venom and keyboardist Rob Morrison, bassist Peter Klarnet, and drummer Alex Rochinski.
The Coffin Daggers’ set at Otto’s Shrunken Head was nearly as intense as Venom’s earlier work as a punk rocker. Venom’s rich, reverb-soaked guitar work was complemented by Morrison’s rolling organ rolls and supported by a fast and furious garage rock rhythm section. The music was harder and heavier than the average surf rock band, with Venom occasionally investing in enough deep distortion to rival a grunge band. Otherwise the music was clean and sparkling, yet darker than most instrumental rock music. The Coffin Daggers’ performance was a new hybrid we might call hardcore surf.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds/Barclays Center, Brooklyn/Oct. 26, 2018
Born and raised in rural Victoria, Australia, Nick Cave in 1970 moved with his family to a Melbourne suburb, where in 1973 he and several schoolmates founded a cover band with Cave as singer. In 1977, after leaving school, the band adopted the name The Boys Next Door, began playing original material, and became among the leaders of Melbourne’s post-punk scene. The band changed its name to The Birthday Party in 1980 and relocated to London, England, then in 1982 to West Berlin, Germany, before splitting in 1983. Cave then formed Nick Cave and the Caveman, which in 1984 became Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The Bad Seeds presently consists of violinist/multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, guitarist George Vjestica, keyboardist Toby Dammit, bassist Martyn P. Casey, drummer Thomas Wydler,and percussionist Jim Sclavunos. The band’s 16th and most recent studio album is 2016’s Skeleton Tree; a live EP, Distant Sky – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds Live In Copenhagen, was released on September 28, 2018. Cave now resides in Los Angeles, California.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ debut tour of North American arenas consisted of only four dates, including a performance at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. If this was a test run to see if he could graduate from theaters to arenas, Cave and company passed the test easily. For two and half hours, the dark poet with lyrical obsessions with death, religion, love and violence crooned his sometimes droll but always passionate baritone into mystery and intrigue, as his band ably enhanced his shouts and whispers. Cave periodically sat at a piano, but more often he was pacing along a narrow platform along the edge of the audience; during “The Weeping Song,” he even sang from a comparably low and small platform in the audience. His bond with the audience similarly was displayed when late in the set he invited dozens of fans onto the stage, and during the encores when he improvised a set change to perform an audience request for “The Mercy Seat.” This reviewer respectfully offers a couple of suggestions as Cave transitions from cult following to the mainstream. Firstly, balance playing not only to the disciples in front but equally to the fans at a distance. Secondly, modulate the pace of the set; tonight’s set consisted of almost all slow songs, and arena audiences often come to rock.
Monster Magnet/The Gramercy Theatre/Oct. 27, 2018
Based out of Redbank, N.J.,Dave Wyndorf first entered the rock world in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the lead singer of Shrapnel, a punk band that routinely worked the New York/New Jersey club circuit. When Shrapnel disbanded, Wyndorf learned to play guitar and began assembling a band with fellow New Jersey musicians. The band first adopted the names Dog of Mystery, Airport 75, Triple Bad Acid and King Fuzz before finally settling on Monster Magnet, taken from the name of a 1960s toy which Wyndorf enjoyed as a child. Monster Magnet’s stoner rock was largely ignored in the late 1980s and early 1990s until the band hit with its fourth album, 1998’s Powertrip, but soon afterwards the band was playing in medium-sized clubs again. Vocalist/guitarist Wyndorf is the only remaining original member; the band also presently consists of guitarists Garrett Sweeny and Phil Caivano, bassist Chris Kosnik, and drummer Bob Pantella. Monster Magnet released its 10th studio album, Mindfucker, on March 23, 2018.
Although Monster Magnet is based locally, its concerts are infrequent, so the headlining gig at the Gramercy Theatre was a homecoming event. The band’s muscular retro-rock sound drew from classic hard rock and space rock for a sludge metal set. The band dwelled in a muddy groove in “Dopes to Infinity” and “Look to Your Orb for the Warning,” visited outer space with “Negasonic Teenage Warhead,” and accelerated speed with “Twin Earth.” Often recalling primal 1970s Detroit rock, the hammering set was driven by Wyndorf’s unpolished vocals and the guitar team’s fuzzy leads and crunching, heavy-bottomed riffs. Unapologetically, Monster Magnet’s performance was purely rock for rock’s sake.