Live review by Renee Trotier; Photos by Albert Mansour
Arriving to the Sound Academy before the doors opened at the early hour of 6:30pm, I was surprised to discover a lineup that was sparsely populated. It was one of the warmest days Southern Ontario had seen since spring had officially been declared sprung, so while most ticket holders were enjoying the last of the sunshine my accompanying party and I staked claim to a spot with a decent vantage point of the stage (practically a luxury in this venue). The nice weather had put everyone in a jovial mood, and with the promise of an interesting lineup before us the small crowd was poised for an evening of good old fashioned rock n’roll.
One of the lesser known bands on the bill, Scorpion Child made it clear right away that they have their musical roots planted in the same 70s hard rock soil as that of Nuclear Blast labelmates Graveyard and Witchcraft. Not content to display their influences on one mere sleeve however, the Texas five-piece have chosen instead to construct an entire bell bottomed wardrobe. Vocalist Aryn Black in particular radiated with the aura of bands that came before, approaching the frontman role with obvious relish as he performed. From his leather vest to his soaring falsetto, he moved with a flamboyance that channeled a young Robert Plant with eerie similarity. While certainly entertaining, there came a point when the constant Led Zeppelin comparisons made it difficult to look at Scorpion Child as their own entity. They definitely have talent, but in the end I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d heard it all before.
As Lionize began their set they struck me as a band that might feel more at home in a dusty little jazz club. I can see them now; improvising jams while fedora clad gentleman down whisky and smoke cigarettes. They could be best described as an indie blues band with rock sensibilities, combining elements of jazz, reggae and stoner rock in a way that somehow still feels organic. There is an ease in the way they play off one another, a sense of comfort in their grooves. At one point they wandered into a jam only to be joined on stage by Clutch’s Tim Sult and Orange Goblin’s Joe Hoare on their guitars. The band comes across as one big, music loving family and the crowd clearly fed off the positive vibes. With all that was going on you might expect some level of pretense, but Lionize only beamed with natural humility and humble pride throughout.
Opening with their latest single “Red Tide Rising” from 2011’s A Eulogy For The Damned, Orange Goblin managed to arouse the first mosh pit of the night. Since this was their first time playing in Toronto since forming the band in 1995, it was evident that the crowd was ready to make up for lost time. While their particular brand of whisky soaked biker metal goes down smoother on record, it has much more impact live. It’s louder, grittier even, which makes the set that much heavier than the bands that came before. Vocalist Ben Ward has a massive physical presence and he uses it to energize the crowd with appropriate response. Fun, celebratory and just a little bit dangerous, Orange Goblin was a perfect precursor for what was to come.
I had heard many great things about Clutch’s live performances, but this would be my first time experiencing the Maryland legends for myself. With the venue packed to the rafters and beer flowing freely, the lights dimmed and the moment we had all been waiting for was upon us. Vocalist Neil Fallon walked out on stage and with a wave of the hand and just two little words he managed to incite an entire mob of onlookers: “Let’s party,” he said simply, and with that the positive chaos ensued. As the band tore into a blistering rendition of “Crucial Velocity” off of this year’s excellent album Earth Rocker, the crowd began its metamorphosis into one singular entity; a living, breathing cyclone of energy. For the next 90 minutes Neil commanded the stage like a preacher gone mad, pointing his fingers wildly in the air while delivering lines about who stole his rock and roll in a sermon-like fashion. The band churned out one rocking track after another, playing most of the new album as well as fan-favourites like “The Mob Goes Wild” and “Burning Beard”. Even drummer Jean-Paul Gaster was given a moment to shine, delivering a brilliantly organic drum solo with technical precision. Talk about pure rock fury.