Snake Canyon/Niagara/January 16, 2020
Vocalist Morgan “SuperMorgan” Liebman and guitarist Joe Hogan knew each other from Manhattan’s hard rock and heavy metal circuit that seems to gravitate to Arlene’s Grocery and a few other nearby venues. In 2012 they began collaborating on what would become Snake Canyon. Liebman and Hogan recruited solid musicians and played local bars regularly, releasing a debut album in 2016. A second album, Too Damn High, was released on March 15, 2019. After a few personnel changes, Snake Canyon presently consists of Liebman, Hogan, guitarist AJ, bassist Vance Garcia, and drummer Vic Pullen.
Snake Canyon is not averse to performing in small venues, and the back room in Niagara was about as tiny as venues come. Never mind that the musicians and audience are almost belly-to-belly, Snake Canyon drove its signature blue-collar heavy rock as if the stage was at Madison Square Garden. Liebman, always dressed in a black t-shirt and black leather vest, looked like a long-haired southern rocker, and there was a bit of that in him, but his shouting vocals were more grounded in gritty nineteen-seventies hard rock. Hogan and AJ were loud and boisterous on their guitars, playing rough-edged leads and fuzz-distorted boogie riffs, while Garcia and Pullen provided the crushing grooves. Snake Canyon fell comfortably at the cusp where hard rock meets heavy metal, bringing full-tilt head-banging to audiences so close that heads were close to really banging against each other.
Anti-Mechanism/Stimulate at the Delancey/January 19, 2020
In 2005 in northern New Jersey, programmer/lyricist/vocalist Brian Alt conceived an electronic project he called Anti-Mechanism. With David Borsky (programming, guitar, keyboards) and Lance Marxen (keyboards), Anti-Mechanism became a bigger, wider concept. The band performed on the underground industrial circuit and released an EP in 2006, an album in 2013 and, most recently, a four-song EP entitled Distortion Days in 2017.
Because darkwave and similar genres are so far below the mainstream radar, Stimulate parties are bastions of discovery for the community that enjoys the extreme edges of dance music. At Stimulate, one only hears industrial, post-punk, death rock, electronica, and other alternative dance music. Anti-Mechanism is comfortable in that cache. At the Stimulate party at the Delancey, Alt performed alone at a small console, introducing many new works that furthered the Anti-Mechanism catalog. Nearly obscured by rolls of dense fog and flashing stage lights, Alt played anvil-hard beats and swimming layers of electronic waves, with occasional growling vocals. Several songs were somewhat lengthy, but rather than build on repetition, Alt twisted knobs on his console and increased the distortion or suddenly collapsed a groove to intensify the dynamics. The half-hour adrenalin-pumping set pulsed relentlessly to deep and dark rhythms. Anti-Mechanism is not yet a well-known name in darkwave, but this new music is bound to reach a wider audience upon release.
Temples/Webster Hall/January 21. 2020
Vocalist/guitarist James Bagshaw and bassist Tom Walmsley met when they were in rival bands in their hometown of Kettering, Northamptonshire, England. The duo later performed together in the Moons, then developed a home studio project called Temples in 2012. As Temples, Bagshaw and Walmsley uploaded four self-produced tracks to social media and, when the songs earned industry attention and popular acclaim, formed a band so the songs could be performed live. Temples presently consists of Bagshaw, Walmsley, keyboardist/rhythm guitarist Adam Smith, and new drummer Rens Ottink. Temples’ third and most recent studio album is Hot Motion, released on September 27, 2019.
Postponed from November 2019, Temples headlined at Webster Hall, the second night of the band’s tour. The band’s synthesizer-loaded second album disappointed many fans, so the set was comprised mostly of songs from the guitar-rocking first and third albums. Growth was evident. In years past, Temples sounded like a nostalgic throwback to rock’s early psychedelic era, but this tour demonstrated that the band has taken ownership of its vintage sound and sprouted expansively from its roots. The big hair and outmoded wardrobe assigned the visual impact to a time some 50 years ago, and some low-fidelity guitar sounds accentuated this time imprint, but the music no longer sounds like an old recording. Floating-on-air pop melodies, tight harmonies, chiming guitars, kaleidoscopic riffs, scuzzy glam grooves, and dreamy vibes redefined and transcended the original psychedelic era. The only drawback was that the musicianship and arrangements were so precise, especially in the early part of the set, that it seemed like every note was carved into an inflexible template. A few songs towards the end of the performance seemed looser and gave the band increased dynamic presence. Five decades ago, psychedelic music was the bridge between traditional pop music and the new rock movement; today, Temples sits on the dividing line again, but overall tilts more to the pop side.
Heilung/Webster Hall/January 24, 2020
German vocalist Kai Uwe Faust, Danish producer Christopher Juul, and Norwegian vocalist Maria Franz formed Heilung in 2014 as an experimental folk band. Designed to be more than a music experience, Heilung’s performances from the beginning incorporated actors and dancers, and featured costumes, ancient texts and rituals, replicas of primitive musical instruments, and sounds from the Germanic peoples of the Bronze Age, Iron Age, and Viking Age. Heilung has described its music as “amplified history from early medieval northern Europe.” Heilung released its third and most recent album, Futha, on June 28, 2019.
The line waiting to enter Webster Hall was atypical, with numerous fans dressed and face-painted like they were auditioning for the grittier scenes in Valhalla Rising. The show’s music was also atypical, in that aside from a synthesizer, all the instruments used were those available to humans in the Iron Age, such as animal horns, whistles, bowed instruments, drums, bones, and rattles. As if the program was to be a pagan ritual, a cloaked person opened and closed the presentation by walking along the edge of the stage casting incense throughout the room. The actors came on stage and played eerily hypnotic and heavily percussive tribal music. All melodies were created from vocal grunts, howls, chants, and choral arrangements in ancient languages. Barefooted, body-painted, bearded, long-haired warriors wearing antlers on their heads and carrying spears and shields lined in various formations for war dances; other similarly-attired men played hand-held drums. Women portrayed less aggressive roles, singing and playing lighter percussion. If a storyline was intended, it was left to the imagination. This was not rock music by any means. This was an otherworldly experience.