As a full moon rose across the Northern sky in the UK on Wednesday January the 19th 2011, excitement built inside the Academy 3 in Manchester. New Orleans titans of heavy music, Crowbar, were minutes away from taking the stage for their first live sonic onslaught in the UK for 6 years. The hiatus has been mainly due to their driving force, Kirk Windstein, being creatively occupied with DOWN and KINGDOM OF SORROW.
Crowbar is no ordinary band. They are not merely a band with a few catchy tunes that peaked a few years back. They are an institution. Their monolithic riffs are the perfect fusion of melody and heaviness. The result is a unique sound that is etched in the psyches and souls of there loyal fan base through incessant playback of tapes, records and Cds.
In recent interviews, Kirk, rather surprisingly, revealed he had completed a stint in rehab in 2010 which helped add an extra layer to the anticipation that fizzed around the hall that night.
The quartet, completed by guitarist Matthew Brunsun (also KoS ), bassist Patrick Bruders and drummer Tommy Buckley, started at an obvious place – the first track from their first, self titled album. HIGH RATE EXTINCTION felt like it was actually shaking the walls of the Manchester Academy 3!! And rather then Kirks vocals flitting from left speaker to right like the studio version, they came booming out from the centre of the diminutive stage. Even at this primitive point of proceedings, it struck me how honoured my generation is to be able to experience the sonic onslaught that is CROWBAR LIVE!
Just one song in and a mixture of relief and celebration swelled within the hall. Sharp, professional and revelling in what they do best – Crowbar were back!
The slothful opening of THE LASTING DOSE showcased another Crowbar tradition – the unique skill of playing S L O W, yet remaining uncompromisingly powerful and exciting. The notes stretched and seeped through the sound system before bursting into bludgeoning riffs, raining down like aural spears.
It’s worth bringing the readers attention to an often overlooked element of Crowbar: Their profoundly deep lyrics. The language used is not simply aggressive profanity to convey their, mostly bleak, message. It is economical and devastatingly effective against the musical backdrop. The contempt shown to the vocabulary in the white bubbles of comic books has also mistakenly been shown to Crowbars lyrics. (Challenge ANYONE who thinks comic books are kids stuff to read the dialogue and understand every word without the need of a dictionary – I think they will be surprised… but I digress) This is not brainless spouting about “getting wasted” and teenage angst. This is the harsh side of reality – darkly poetic yet poignantly heavy. “I FEEL THE PAIN OF A BRUTAL WAR… I FEEL THE PAIN OF A LASTING WAR…”. Of course we have front man Kirk Windstein to thank for these slabs of life so honestly expressed in song.
By his own admission, Kirk, the power behind Crowbar for the past two decades, is responsible for over 80% of the riffs and lyrics. But Crowbar is not simply ‘all about Kirk’. Track 3 of the night, ALL I HAD I GAVE contains a drum solo I have heard countless times on the CD. But my god, the energy that exuded from Buckley’s drum kit as he pounded those pig skins was a mesmerising spectacle in itself. Hail Tommy Buckley!!
I HAVE FAILED may seem a contradictory song choice for such a triumphant return, but it exemplified Crowbars honest attitude.
So with a quarter of the show done and their inaugural self titled record revitalised it was time to move on to BURN YOUR WORLD, a thumping reminder that Crowbar can do speedy Motorhead-esque thrash if they want to. I personally would not wish to burn anybody’s world. I would, however, love to watch a smouldering fire devour the camera-phones from the little legion of “You Tube” aficionados that felt it their duty to hold their gadgets aloft for 90 minutes or so. I found the peppering of mini screens capturing the show a tad irritating. Fans working their neck muscles would have been a much more appropriate show of gratitude – or maybe I am just getting old!
NEW DAWN showcased more hypnotic drumming from Buckley on which to lay the concrete riffs upon.
The slabs of sludge from the Broken Glass album were proving a popular choice amongst the revellers and by time the guitar break (New Orleans style!) filled the mini arena midway through I AM FOREVER, the audience was a sea of heads rhythmically banging in unison.
CONQUERING, complete with its soul searching breakdown, and THRU THE ASHES with its pummelling riff then followed. Around this point someone from the crowd questioned Kirk’s sipping a beer in between songs in light of his recent well publicized stint in rehab. With a wry smile Kirk simply replied “These things happen on tour.. What can I say?”
I would just like to offer Kirk some support at this point should he ever read this article:
Crowbar are an honest band. Kirk is an honest guy. And in some interviews toward the end of 2010, Kirk was very open about the delicate subject of his reasons for rehab being the pressures of non stop touring with DOWN and KoS running alongside some family issues. Complete abstinence in from alcohol is pointless in my eyes. It’s time to evolve from the defeatist attitude of labelling oneself an ‘alcoholic’ and outgrow the mindset of being a ‘dry drunk’ even when sober. A far more positive coping mechanism is to indulge in sobriety from time to time, thus keeping that liquid beast on a leash, as oppose to living in constant fear of falling off the wagon. The soon to be released album title, SEVER THE WICKED HAND, indeed suggests the slaying of your innermost darkest demons. While part of this obviously could be construed as abstinence, it’s also important to remember that wars are decided with many battles…. So to see Kirk indulge in a few brews while performing with vigour and professionalism with a smile on his face was heart warming. Any suggestion that this was a feigned act was thwarted with the odd humorous interlude between songs.
For example; before introducing a new track CEMETARY OF ANGELS, he promoted the new album by informing us it would be out in Europe on February the 14th. “That’s Valentines Day folks… so buy it for your lady and you might get some snatch!”
This dubious romanticism soon gave way to a stomping rendition of SELF INFLICTED before the climatic PLANETS COLLIDE provided yet another stunning highlight. The latter really does scratch every itch from start to finish and even in it recorded format rarely fails to give the hairs on my neck a fucking hard on! But live, it really is a beast to behold. It demonstrated the subtle differences between studio recordings and the unique sentient of a live performance.
The appreciative applause as the band left the stage earned the crowd an encore. The rare SUBVERSIVE (co-written by Jimmy Bower) was aired proving this was far from a ‘paint by numbers’ show. Neither was it sales pitch for the new album. It was Crowbar fulfilling the prophecy on their website that they were coming to the UK “To kick all your asses!”
As Kirk’s Iron Maiden sneakers traipsed off stage for the final time, and the brilliant white sphere made its way west across the Lancashire sky, our ears were left ringing and our asses left smarting from a good ole fashioned New Orleans kicking. Crowbar truly delivered a lasting dose of sludge – please don’t leave it so long next time brothers…..
By Marc Lissenburg