Friday Night: Pallbearer, Power Trip, etc. at Fitzgerald's
When Fitzgerald's changed ownership a couple of years ago, some of us worried that the days of mondo metal shows at the storied club might be over. But as has often been the case of late, Fitz was once again the center of Houston's metal universe on Friday night, featuring stacked bills of local favorites upstairs and down and capping the night off with a set from Little Rock's Pallbearer.
It was a free show, and fans turned out in force. For one night, at least, it felt like there was a real metal scene inside the Loop that might be gaining some momentum.
There was no pussyfooting around Friday -- the volume was turned all the way up right off the bat. The first band I caught was the teeth-rattling Houston fixture Omotai. The group's caustic blend of grindcore and groove/sludge warmed up my ears immediately, thanks to the relentless pounding of drummer/vocalist Anthony Vallejo.
Downstairs, Oceans of Slumber drummer Dobber Beverly kept the racket coming, brutalizing his kit with endless rolls and fills. The band pumped out a capable death-metal stomp, but it was Oceans' more melodic passages that pricked my ears up most. Perhaps unsurprisingly, melody would be in short supply on the night.
In order to see and hear everything, it was necessary to hustle up and down those stairs all night. Back up top, the sounds started getting thicker and swampier, thanks to Transmaniacon MC and Austin's Eagle Claw. Heads banged hard for both.
The real action was heating up downstairs, however, thanks to a triple stack of War Master, Mammoth Grinder and Power Trip. The floor was packed for each of them. The night's first mosh pit exploded for the crusty local death-worshippers in War Master, who happened to be breaking in a new singer.
War Master whipped the crowd into a frenzy with tasty blastbeats and sent hair flying with some tight guitar solos. The moshing grew even more furious for Austin's Mammoth Grinder, whose downtrodden, dino-stomp riffs entirely swallowed guitarist Chris Ulsh's vocals. The crowd was too busy diving offstage, circle-pitting or avoiding both to care much.
As expected, the dancefloor violence reached its crescendo for Dallas' Power Trip. Despite hailing from the capital of Oklahoma, the hardcore thrashers are regulars on Hatetank bills, and if Friday's crowd was any indication, they're becoming a nice draw in Houston. Their crowd was buzzing for them.
"I think we've played as many shows here as in Dallas," said singer Riley Gale. "This one goes out to the people who keep coming to see us time and time again."
And with that, a massive circle pit blew up that seemed to suck in half the crowd. A dramatic clash in styles made for a rather nasty melee up front. Hardcore "dancers" swinging elbows and fists were not received kindly by the shaggier set, and a few heads butted both literally and figuratively.
A Power Trip pit triggers the fight-or-flight response in concertgoers like few others in the state. Maybe none.
The large crowd kept the rowdy energy flowing upstairs for Venomous Maximus, whose brawny, grease-covered sound has been covered extensively on this blog. The locals appeared to be the one act on the bill that everybody knew, and they delivered a typically high-voltage set on Friday.
"This is a beautiful thing to see," front man Gregg Higgins told the crowded, enthused room. "It was not like this five years ago. It was not!"
After being partied out and pounded flat by a whole state's worth of metal bands, the crowd settled down considerably for the headliners, Little Rock's Pallbearer. The band scored a nice Pitchfork rating with its debut album earlier this year, but their appeal lies in their emoting, not their thrashing.
Simply put, Pallbearer's music wasn't nearly so immediate as the other bands on the bill. Their pallid, doomy riffs required more patience. It was clear right away that the mosh pit was closed for the night.
Guitarist Brett Campbell cast his eyes downward as he sang and played pained music, draped in sackcloth and studded with only brief notes of hope. The mercurial "front man," sequestered to the side of the stage, offered little beyond a quiet "thank you" to the crowd between songs.
I found myself wishing his vocals could have been quieter, too. The singer often sounded off-key, and as one turgid, ear-shattering piece was followed by another, his voice started to grate. All of a sudden, I was acutely aware of how tired I was.
The emotional swells in Pallbearer's music were impressive and affecting, but after five draining hours of metal, there was only so much soul-searching I was willing to do at 1:30 in the morning. I don't think I was alone. Many were glad of the chance to see the heralded group from Arkansas, but they were hardly the night's main draw.
Pallbearer gave fans something to stick around for, but it was the Texas bands that the largest crowds showed up to see. Makes one wonder about the possibility of nationally touring acts opening up for the likes of Venomous, Power Trip and others sometime soon.
Personal Bias: Gotta love free!
The Crowd: Inner-loop bangers. Lot of long hair and black T-shirts.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Fuck you, hardcore dancers!"
Random Notebook Dump: When there's a free show at Fitz, go. This shouldn't be necessary to explain.