For the best part of a decade, I have forgotten to partake in the annual Eurovision Song Contest, a night of incredible cheesy music cleverly slotted inbetween a smorgasbord of sarcasm and scenery-chewing hosting of practically everybody involved. This isn’t even by design, I simply draw a blank on its existence until it is too late, blissfully unaware of when it is hosted, who is playing, and what I’m even doing in place of the easiest drinking game involving live music. By the time I know it is on the vast majority of my compatriots are either halfway to being shitfaced or are already there, depending on whose rules they are playing by. Turns out the UK did quite well which, if you haven’t the slightest idea of what I am talking about, is confirmation enough that hell has frozen over; the last time I remember enduring this event I was bereft of alcohol and Englebert Humperdink successfully crooned his way to 12 whole points!
But as I sit here, completely floored by the upcoming record by Baltimore’s Black Lung – a grandiose slab of rockin’ psychedelia by the name of Dark Waves, out on May 27th via Heavy Psych Sounds – and clutching my tumbler of Jack Daniels for fear the music will blast it toward the other side of the room, I am reminded why this was another year I didn’t abuse my liver to the game: my ears are still in intensive care. Having been bludgeoned to oblivion by the likes Black Atlas, Lead Desert Blues, Earl of Hell, and The Grudge in what I am saddened to admit is my first gig of the year (aside from Dave McPherson‘s slot at Beach Street Beer Fest back in March), the relentless battery must have done me a solid and switched this knowledge off. I’m sure there are no permanent ramifications of such an assault, and as one dosage of sonic bliss gives way to another in the form of upcoming desert-rock masterpiece Ephemeral by Albuquerque’s very own Blue Heron (also out May 27th via Seeing Red Records and Kozmik Artifactz) I am whisked away from the unseasonably gloomy dusk to the roasted lands of my spiritual longing. Yessir, no permanent ramifications indeed….
(This is more than just a live review avid reader. But if you wish to blast straight to the music you can do so by clicking here)
I’m A Broken Man Hoping For You To Set Me Free
I gotta come clean about something: I have a love-hate relationship with London. The city is a clusterfuck of degenerative gentrification, brazen inequality, and overpriced monuments that, unless you consider yourself deeply British or, even worse, a tourist, have become devoid of all meaning; jammed full of people slowly going nowhere fast, lost in a world all of their own, it is a pedestrian’s (and vehicle enthusiast’s) nightmare, and a poorly planned one at that. By that logic I should hate all cities! Truth is, I’m just a cynical sod and London just brings out the worst in me, having spent the majority of the last decade being dependent on it as a hub to get back to my familial home, relying on its intricately congested subterranean network of tim-can carriages and its nauseating coach starion for my journeys; the short, Stygian distance between Victoria Station and this hub is the graveyard where compassion for your fellow human comes to die. Maybe I don’t hate London. Maybe I just hate congestion, which in turn must mean I hate overpopulation. But I don’t want to get political, not here anyway. You fine people are here for a good time after all!
The heart and soul of this overcrowded urban quagmire however is a bustling sensory euphoria that quickly snaps even the most stoic folk out of their concrete shells. It is a conglomeration of cultures and subcultures thrust into a comparatively miniscule cauldron, a biochemical reaction needing no outside accelerant to keep it functioning in perfect equilibrium. Home to Dingwalls, the OC Desertfest Charter, and the nicest folks you could dream of meeting outside of København, Camden is the place to be if you ever want to see the real London, and I’m currently hurtling towards this paradise via London Liverpool Street, thirst quenched with your standard train tinnie courtesy of Tiny Rebel: best described as canned tropical sunshine, 505 may not be the most luxurious NEIPA on the market – its haze cuts through the mango as it glides down towards your inner darkness – but it is in the aftertaste this accessible beverage marks its mark, where the previously aforementioned bustling mango breaks free from the 6.2% ABV and simply dazzles. Outside my steel carriage it is a beautifully warm proto-summer’s day, one which this beer almost perfectly encapsulates.
Trapped In A Haze I Feel Dead Anyways
It takes all of two seconds to be swept up in the hell-raising fervour that so frequently sweeps through Camden the moment you step outside the station; come rain or shine the liveliness of this thriving neighbourhood never fails to ignite a spark somewhere deep within your psyche (or your soul, or your imagination, or something entirely different – you choose). At its anxiety-inducing crossroads the likelihood of being greeted with an uproarious performance is near-guaranteed – today it is the turn of Martha Makes Mistakes to slice through the discordnant backdrop of speeding engines, the million-and-one conversations, and the odd bout of road rage with her take on classic numbers such as Patti Smith‘s ‘Because the Night’ and Nancy Sinatra‘s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin”. I cannot be helped but be drawn into her energy and, for a moment, I forget I’m where I am; absorbed into the music it’s almost impossible to not song along with her, the small crowd she has drawn certainly cannot resist!
Venturing further down Camden High Street you are struck with a plethora of olfactory-snatching explosions wafting from every conceivable direction. Frankly, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a cartoon – so potent are the epicurean fragrances you can almost detect them with your eyes, being drawn in with that quintessential hand Disney once fooled you into thinking was real, as the sounds of sellers luring you towards their wares drown out the sounds of oncoming traffic. The second I pass by Buck Street Marktet (an eco-enclave of containers spread across three floors) I am immediately struck by the smell of katsu curry; indeed, this unbelievably real hand conjured by overpowering spices entices me off the street toward Hiden Curry Lab, a culinary intstituion with branches all across the city offering Japanese street food staples including a wide variety of katsu curries, chicken gyoza, and karaage (fried chicken). Coated in a crispy batter almost crackling between your teeth, this succulent offering is plentiful, a perfect snack to sit atop the roof of this mini market and watch the world go by, and Hiden Curry Lab do not scrimp on their portions either – a helping of five karaage here is enough to tide you over until your next meal; for me, this is literally right around the corner.
I’d be lying if I told you I am a strong-willed man. Across the Rainbow Road (an intersection I am anointing as such for its LGBTQIA+-coloured crossing) and perched underneath the infamous Dingwalls building, Camden’s equally famous street food vendors are vying for dominion over my culinary desires – and I’m having a hard time not caving in to temptation! Here lies my little slice of heaven, one not even the fussiest of eaters could possibly turn their noses at, and I am caught in the crossroads of soul-feeding aromas pulling me in every conceivable direction. This is simultaneously the best place and the worst possible place to be in. Why? I am the most indecisive person I know and my heart, head, and stomach are screaming at me with their own decisions, yelling so loudly I am oblivious to the sounds of woks and grills, and to the chitter-chatter of my fellow gastronomic voyagers. Each new step opens a different door and behind each one lies an intoxicating bouqet of powerful herbs and spices bursting to life through practically every cooking method you could imagine: there’s Indonesian street food, Vietnamese street food, shnitzels and numerous other hot dog vendors; brisket, Indian curries, burgers, calamari, halloumi, even a cheese wheel. And yes, this is just the tip of a very deep iceberg.
To say the answer to my predicament is blowing in the wind would be an understatement. Hollering from the Arepa Venezuelan Street Kitchen hut, the Arepazo Brothers are offering free mouthfuls of their La Cartelua to anyone who hears the call. Sure, I take the bait, who the hell wouldn’t! At first bite this succulent gift sings sweet music from between my teeth and lo! like some doe-eyed pup I return for more! Arepas, my friends, are rapturous, and chowing into one for the first time is nothing short of a religious experience. La Cartelua, my cherry-bursting meal, is an arepa (a crispy fried cornbread if you will) the size of a small child’s face stuffed to the gills with shredded chicken, melted cheese, plantains, and avocado that ticks so many sweet and savouriy boxes my mind melts just in contemplation. The sweet crunch of the cornmeal cakes against this resplendent ballet of chicken and avocado is, in every sense of the word, indulgent. But for the love of the Sabbathian riff, come prepared with enough napkins to satisfy a toddler, for this is no clean eatin’. And it wouldn’t hurt to bring a distraction for the birds – they go crazy for this stuff, but who the hell can blame them!
You would think that, after polishing off this decedant offering from pre-European gods, I’d be done here, that I’d make my way to the next venture perhaps to quench my thirst. But I’m not quite done here yet, intrepid reader; my next decision, however, may not be my smartest given how full my soul (and my stomach) feels right now. I have a craving for pancakes, a craving that needs satisfying, and Seven-Heaven dish up Dutch pancakes by the handful. What are Dutch pancakes? Simply put, these are pancake miniatures folded in half and served with icing sugar. Even more simply put, these are moreish morsels that lose none of the flavour a full-size pancake pledges – a helping of ten could easily be a breakfast stack; in fact, their diminuitive size concentrates this flavour into one bite. Though I am delighted with every bite I am at the point of needing a food siesta. Soho can keep its trendy eateries – here is where the real action is!
At this point you are no doubt wondering when you’ll be getting to the fireworks factory- I mean the music. To some degree, the music has now caught up with us for a short walk from the Camden food market take us up to The Blues Kitchen, a haven for, well, all things blues. From floor to ceiling the unmistakable presence of Sonnyboy Williamson, Leadbelly, and Shuggie Otis among a whole host of other musicians adorns this place, ‘lit’, if you will, by clustered grammaphones suspended from above, giving this den a wonderfully nostalgic yet no less classy vibe. In the depths lies a stage where every Friday night patrons can enjoy a heady mix of blues, soul, and funk music lasting long into the night, its rambuctious flare no doubt spilling down the towards the crossroads. I am here mostly for a different reason however: The Blues Kitchen has one of the most extensive whiskey lists in the area, ranging from bourbon to rye, single barrel to corn and wheated, and nearly everything else in between, including vintage Pappy van Winkle whiskies ranging up to an eye-watering £59 for the 23-year-old varietal – sadly my pockets are not lined with that kind of cash! I do however seek out the Wild Turkey American Honey, a delectable syrup that slides smoothly down the throat until the bourbon lights up like the Fourth of July! If this concoction is deemed the fireworks of the day, then the 1792 Bourbon brings the fucking cannons! With enough firepower to blow your head clean off your shoulders this astonishing beverage is beyond bold and intense yet no less smooth that my previous offering. With just enough stamina left in my soul after such a notorious hit I bid the free-spirited staff farewell and head on down to my final destination.
Murderer on the Dance Floor
The Devonshire Arms is a shrine for any heavy metal pilgrimage. One of the smallest houses of the riff in the neighbourhood, what this dive lacks in size it more than makes up for in its capacity to blow your eardrums to kingdom come; tattooed in gig and movie posters there are very few morsels of its flesh left untouched by the subculture that has continued to reap unruly havoc in these parts for an age. I, like many of my compatriots, have spent many a night knocking beers back and giving ourselves whiplash courtesy not just to the awesome folk who get up on the stage but by the power which resides in the den of unholiness. You may think I’m speaking in nothing but hyperbole but a) have you ever read my work? And b) if you’ve been there you’ll know exactly what I am talking about. Its beer list may leave much to be desired but when you’re under The Dev’s spell it just doesn’t matter, especiallly when you have a roster of ear-shattering rock’n’roll about to hit that very stage.
Outside the sun is certainly doing its job, but the moment Bedfordshire chaps Black Atlas begin tearing through ‘Paralyzer’ you could be forgiven for thinking we were in the death throes of night. Wrought with pain and desparation their album Weight of the World comes crashing through the rigs one doomy riff at a time, bringing the heads of the select few who have showed up in time down into a slow bow, especially by the time the downtrodden opus of ‘Incoming Waves’ is summoned forth. Mikey Ward (for whom I would be mistaken for on more than one occasion for the rest of the night) channels his lyrics with furious precision as his fellow bastions give in to the surging might long kept at bay during these past few years; far from being their first show of the year these guys let loose a barrage of riffs as if it were, coursing through their bodies in defiance of live music’s hibernation. Their statement is a simple one, one that has clearly resonated with those of us in attendance: rock the fuck out! They have, we have, and all in all, it has been a triumphant set. A short one, but by the end of ‘Long Man’ we’re left thirsty for more. To the bar!
If Black Atlas revved our motors to get out on the highway then Lead Desert Blues are the fuckin monster truck running us off the road, hurtling towards an imminent, fiery death. A crash course in dingy, derelict carnage, the local lad’s set is a diabolical rampage so savage the snare drums needs replacing half way through! In short revenous bursts the duo make mincemeat of their debut EP No Need, a violent descent through cacophonic punk-addled walls of noise, reducing the crowd to a sweaty heap of bones, pitting them against one another in a furious rendition of ‘Let It Out’ – a pit-inducing blitzkrieg destined to open the floor beneath our feets in the days ahead – before sequing into the aggro-blues of ‘Livin With The Enemy’, a tune as gnarly and gritty as the city they call home. Theirs is an intimidating presence, practically caged together face-to-face psyching themselves to tear flesh from bone, but this dynamic is exhilarating, intoxicating even, as the enrgy in the room ignites in a deafening uproar. It feels freakin’ invigorating to be back!
She’s Never Forgotten By Those Downtrodden
If you’ve followed The Motorfuzzin’ Ibex since its latest re-re-re-rebirth / exhumation (or tagged along for my social media endeavours), you’ll know exactly where I stand with Edinburgh’s Earl of Hell: front, center, and belting my lungs out to their carnivalesque brand of dive bar rock’n’roll. Tonight their A-game is on fire, cruisin’ thru their gleefully-dubbed debut EP Get Smoked as if they’ve been playing these songs for years and head Earl Eric Brock is captivating to watch as he struts across the stage completely absorbed by the music. The joyous confidence they exude here is beyond contagious; glowing in the loving depravity The Dev revels in, these utterly personable guys raise the roof with the likes of ‘Blood Disco’ and ‘I Am The Chill’, and though there was no symphonic crew in tow ‘Bitter Fruits’ sounds ridiculously huge, far grander than the venue could reasonably hold. Asnd just when you think the evening couldn’t get any greater, they roll out an electrifying rendition of Kyuss‘ ‘Big Bikes’ sending the growing crowd in a frenzy of triumphant headbanging. A beefy, rousing set from a band who simply cannot hide how much fun they are having, I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t die happy this night!
In the blink of an eye (or, at least, in the time it takes me to procure one final beer) my fellow patrons have aged by at least 20 years. But just like the five dudes about to blow this joint clean of its foundations, these guys and gals are the real deal, and the overflowing sense of commaraderie among this freewheelin’ bunch provides more of a high than most drugs. This is fuckin’ rock’n’roll man, and sure enough as The Grudge launch into ‘The Effect Of Transylvania’ and ‘Grand Caravan’ to a packed bar the room explodes in a cacophonic blaze of cheers and salutations. Everything slaps, and the decibels climb to monumental heights as the raw, greased-up heavy metal of ‘Long Live The Peel’ and ‘Ding Ding The Monkey’ wreak havoc on a crowd on the verge of destruction – and there is enough booze flowing on and off the stage to do that classic Motörhead lineup proud! These guys kick more ass than seven years in the slammer and by the end of their mammoth piston-blasting set – closing with fresh-out-of-the-garage single ‘Transmigration’, a glorious beast in every sense of the word – our beards have more doubled in length and volume! Tonight is the wakeup call London, this country, and its re-emerging live scene so desperately needed, a boost in the spirits of all attending this unholiest of congregations before stumbling home and waging battle with the ringing in the ears over the next 36 to 48 hours. Fuckin’ worth it though.
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