By Kyle Harcott; Live photos by Ted Reckoning
Kicking off their very first shows in support of the stupendous 17th Street, early December saw San Francisco’s Hammers of Misfortune schedule four dates in the Pacific Northwest – the first of which would be their inaugural date in Vancouver. It’s safe to say that this show was my most-anticipated of the year, as I’ve been itching to see Hammers live since being introduced to them via the 2010 Metal Blade reissue of their back catalog (courtesy Hellbound’s editor, Sean Palmerston – who also amped me up with tales of the band’s impeccable live show), compounded by 17th Street being one of the best albums released in 2011 – unquestionably, this would be one hell of a show.
Unfortunately, the turnout left a lot to be desired – about 50 dedicated heads made it out. Apparently Bison BC were playing in Chinatown this same night and drew quite a bit, a concern not lost on the Biltmore’s bookers, who had designs on cancelling the show as late as the day before (as the band was three-fourths to the border!). Luckily, it all worked out and Vancouver got its show.
I got to the Biltmore right as ‘local’ (well, a ferry ride away) heavies Mendozza were finishing up their opening set. I’m kicking myself to have missed them- Mendozza always put on a killer show, and their 2011 self-titled record is the heaviest thing they’ve put out, so I would have loved to hear how it translated live. Fortunately, my illustrious Hellbound colleague Rob Hughes made it to the show earlier than me and caught their whole set, so I’ll turn it over to him for a moment:
“Mendozza made the most of their opening slot and delivered what turned out to be the heaviest set of the night. There’s no second-guessing with this band, no time wasted pondering what they’re about. Mendozza have the stoner/doom thing nailed, with hard-charging, bad-ass songs that sound deadly serious yet revel in the joy of the Riff. Not ones to depend solely on power chord saturation, they have the courage and authority to drop into a guitar solo or extend a song with a hypnotizing riff coda. A friend of mine, who’s a devout Sab-head from way back, was well into them. Mendozza were pure tar and concrete, laying down a solid foundation for the visiting bands to build on.”
Olympia’s Christian Mistress were quick to follow, and summarily got the room going with their gnarly take on trad metal. Featuring an absolutely scorching twin-axe attack in Ryan McClain and Oscar Sparbel, and the leather lungs of frontwoman Christine Davis, the band roared through a killer set of songs from 2010’s Agony + Opium, as well as previewing a few from their upcoming first release for Relapse, Possession. Having already perfected their classic NWOBHM sound on record, Christian Mistress come across even rawer live, and tracks like “Desert Rose”, “Black Vigil” and “Home in the Sun” positively seethe with heavy-handed aggression. Needless to say, fists pumped and heads banged righteously among the small-but-dedicated crowd. Really hope to see the Mistress up here again soon, hopefully for a longer set next time.
As Hammers quickly set up to begin, I spied drummer Chewy Marzolo showing Van City some canuck love , decked out as he was in a Rush first-album t-shirt. The band opened with intro ‘317’, its towering vocal harmonies made fuller in the live setting. From there, a flawless segue into ‘Trot Out the Dead’, giving frontman Joe Hutton the chance to commandeer the ship with his powerful voice and presence. While I expected Hammers to be tight, I was pleasantly surprised to discover exactly how spot-on the intricacies of their songs translated live. Hammers of Misfortune, of course, had the perfect balance of both precision and emotion, the songs given a new vitality, positively glowing in the live setting. ‘An Oath Sworn in Hell’ was up next, the guitarwork of Leila Abdul-Rauf as its centrepiece. But it was the next few -the lead tracks from the new record- that left me absolutely jaw-dropped: ‘17th Street’, ‘The Grain’, and the live debut of ‘The Day the City Died’ in succession, each song’s razor-sharp hooks somehow having grown even more heart-kickingly massive when blasted through a cranked PA – so powerful, I could only stand there with a gigantic smile on my face and just soak it all in. It was here -in the newest songs- that the guitar interplay between Abdul-Rauf and John Cobbett really shone through, the two of them in complete sync as they hammered home their awe-inspiring harmonies.
Yet still there was more to come: the powerhouse-stomp of ‘Motorcade’, driven by Sigrid Sheie’s thunderous keys and Max Barnett’s groove-laden bass; the Maidenesque ‘You Should Have Slain Me’, with Abdul-Rauf taking the central vocal roar over from Cobbett’s recorded version; and the powerhouse finale of ‘Doomed Parade’, its extended ending bringing the house down and leaving the crowd hungry for more. Vancouver may not have been the largest crowd, but we howled our appreciation and made a beeline for the merch table en masse as soon as the set was over, sending Hammers to their next stop in Bellingham with a few loonies, anyway.
Blown away as I was, what struck me most about Hammers in the live setting is how cohesive the ‘new’ lineup is, the six of them so at ease in playing off each other, and each so commanding on stage, it felt like they’d been doing this together a long time. And so with their show ended and ‘byes’ said, I sloughed off home into the frosty night ecstatic that the show had surpassed my hopes. I can’t wait for the opportunity to see that band again.