Concert Review: Crowbar with Prong and Witchburn at Fubar

By Matt Albers

            There are many venues in the St. Louis area, each with their own unique nuances in style and theme that patrons who frequent them expect to experience. Case in point, Fubar which is located just outside the heart of downtown St. Louis, tucked away off the main artery of Lindell Boulevard (or Olive Street, depending on how far downtown you travel). This narrow, dank downtown hole-in-the wall venue and lounge is ideal for the right type of dirty, grimy, sleazy, or dark rock and metal bands that may stop in on their way through town. This may be why New Orleans sludge legends Crowbar have played this venue the past few times they’ve come through St. Louis. On their most recent stop in April 2012 however, they brought one of their strongest supporting bills, featuring equally respectable legends Prong as well as the fitting Witchburn.

            The local acts booked to open this show may have been barely much to bat an eye over, but still worth checking out to see what they had to offer. First up was the groovy, Clutch-influenced American Fistola, followed by Jesus Chrystler, fronted by the former lead singer of local band Prig. It was refreshing to see that St. Louis had its own sludgy, slightly grindy stoner metal band. However, the fact that they switched up their lineup midway through their set with most of the members trading instruments seemed a tad amateur. Their playing abilities were decent, but their stage banter seemed a bit rough around the edges, as if they were a bit too enthusiastic for a less-than-impressed crowd still waiting out the local openers. The negative aspects of the first two local openers had nothing on those of the last local band to play.

Musically, Saence had a surprisingly big, melancholy sound of doom and dark progressive or alternative hard rock, seemingly influenced by bands such as Tool. The singer’s strong vocals were well-supported and had a wide range, even reaching into high-pitched wails. However, what drew the line between epic and cheesy was their stage show. Before they began, two three-pronged candelabras were set on opposite sides of the already small stage each with lit candles, which took up too much room for them to set up their standing stage banners that stood awkwardly against the wall as they played. The members’ overblown, over-enthused rocking out on the small stage gave the impression that the band may have arrogantly thought very highly of themselves for whatever reason. The lead singer had virtually no charisma in between songs as he struggled for stage banter; he almost seemed either bored or unsure of himself when he spoke. Their use of gothic or horror sound bites seemed to be a failed attempt at making up for this lack of stage presence. Saence’s performance divided patrons, leaving people concluding for themselves that they were either creatively groundbreaking or downright pretentious.

After the unfortunately overall underwhelming local talent finally wrapped up, the first national act easily drew in the attention and approval of the now growing crowd inside Fubar. Witchburn consists of a female vocalist and guitarist and a male bassist and drummer. Their gritty, southern stoner rock groove was combined with classic heavy metal the likes of Black Sabbath or Deep Purple. Front woman Jamie Nova’s vocals were downright impressive; her bold, strong and well-supported voice soared through the venue and the crowded audience. Her much stronger and confident stage presence was a complete contrast to that of the previous band, Saeance. It’s not surprising that Nova also fronts the female AC/DC tribute group Hell’s Belles. Witchburn’s guitarist was able to show off her shred abilities more toward the end of their set, which by that point had the entire crowd practically eating out of their hands.

While a majority of the crowd was there for Crowbar – which explains the strong response for the similar-sounding Witchburn – there was a considerable bunch of die-hard, possibly thrash-based Prong fans. Seeing Tommy Victor perform anywhere is truly a treat. Seeing him with his own baby, the legendary Prong, especially in a small, intimate venue, is unique and incredibly fun. Victor plays guitar for other notable projects, including Danzig and Ministry. His talent and skill are constant no matter the context, as well as his stage presence. Victor’s fun-loving attitude and enthusiastic midair scissor kicks are evidence of how he is not afraid to continue to enjoy what he does both for himself and his fans after over twenty years, and his performance at Fubar was no exception. He and the other two members of Prong, including former 3 Inches Of Blood drummer Alexei Rodriguez, cranked out a non-stop set of hits including “Beg To Differ” and “Whose Fist Is This Anyway?” as well as new material from their latest effort Carved Into Stone. It was clear that Tommy Victor will always know how to play to any room, even as he closed his set at Fubar with the always essential “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.”

After so many ups and downs throughout the night at Fubar, by the time the headliners of Crowbar took the stage in front of a very full crowd for the venue, the die-hard fans took them in with constant cheers and moshing, while more casual fans looked on with interest. Crowbar’s set consisted of many old and new favorites, but their constant signature sludge appeared to almost sound mundane by the end of the night as their songs almost melded together into one long southern groove session. For those only familiar with front man Kirk Windstein’s work in Down and Kingdom Of Sorrow, his raspy, smoky growls and wails almost sounded too harsh. To true Crowbar fans however, it was a completely different story, as they clearly showed their dedication and adoration for the band 110%, just as they would any other time they would stop in Fubar. While Crowbar may be much more accessible to a wide audience on recording, in a live setting they may not be as pleasing to casual listeners as they would be to die-hard fans. At least this was the
impression given on that particular night. Crowbar has played Fubar a handful of times in the past year or so in support of their most recent album, 2011’s Sever The Wicked Hand. So if fans of any range of interest in Crowbar wish to see them play in St. Louis any time in the near future, chances may be good that they will get the opportunity.

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