The EARL, Atlanta, Georgia
September 6, 2015
The East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge (“The EARL,” for short) is exactly what its name implies, a restaurant and lounge located in east Atlanta. On the Sunday evening before the Labor Day holiday, my focus was squarely on the “lounge” part of the equation, as a killer three-band touring package was in the house. I’d never been to this particular establishment before. It turns out the lounge is actually a back room that is relatively spacious but nearly pitch-black. It took several minutes for my eyes to adjust to the dim light when we walked in, and the stage lighting was so minimal (and so red) that attempting to photograph any of the bands was an exercise in futility. Still, the assembled crowd (maxing out at 70 or so enthusiastic punters) was here for the music, and we definitely got what we came for.
After a local opener, the first touring band out of the chute was Kentucky’s SAVAGE MASTER. It felt a little strange watching them set up their gear sans stage costumes, then return minutes later all decked out in their executioner’s hoods (guitarist Adam Neal’s glasses poking out of his hood’s eyeholes, like always), chains and bare bellies. Of course, diminutive spitfire of a frontwoman Stacey Savage eschews the matching attire of her bandmates in favor of a long dark cloak that she shed after the first song to reveal what might best be described as heavy metal dominatrix attire. Collectively, as a band, Savage Master make quite a striking visual impression, no matter how dim or how red the stage lights might be. Musically, though, their 35-minute set ripped, with the band tearing through the bulk of their ‘Mask of the Devil’ album and also adding new single “Black Hooves” plus a terrific cover of “Swords and Tequila” to round out the proceedings. Whatever one might think of their visual gimmick, their overtly occult and over-the-top lyrics, and Stacey’s abrasive vocal delivery, Savage Master have some very strong songs in their arsenal. Opener “The Ripper in Black,” “Blood on the Rose,” “Mask of the Devil,” “Altar of Lust” (complete with “Hail Satan” chorus), and especially “Death Rides the Highway” are simply excellent live old-school metal songs. I enjoyed their performance immensely, perhaps more so than the first time I saw them in Chicago four months ago, because I wasn’t so distracted by the visuals this time around. I am already anticipating my next appointment with these rippers in black out west in October. Approximate Setlist: Ripper in Black, Mystifying Oracle, Blood on the Rose, Black Hooves, Mask of the Devil, Marry the Wolf, Altar of Lust, Death Rides the Highway, Swords and Tequila.
In a short period of time, HIGH SPIRITS have become one of my favorite bands, naysayers and skeptics be damned. This marked the fourth time Jen and I had seen them since December 2014 (the other occasions being in Mississippi, New York and Illinois). It seems like we never catch High Spirits with exactly the same configuration of players. So it was this time as well. One of the regular guitarists, Mike, is sitting out this tour, so the band presented as a four-piece rather than a quintet. To achieve this feat, regular bassist Bob switched to guitar and vocalist Chris added a left-handed bass guitar to his singing duties. The result was a slight diminution in the band’s fabled live energy on stage, as Chris was necessarily less mobile while pulling double-duty and Bob seemed a bit more restrained with his guitar responsibilities. Still, there was abundant activity both onstage and in the crowd (which was significantly larger for High Spirits than for any other act on the bill). More importantly, there were no noticeable sonic shortcomings in High Spirits’ live attack, so the reallocation of band member duties bore no adverse effects for this gig. In keeping with tradition, High Spirits shook up their setlist, opening unexpectedly with the high-energy “Wanted Dead,” and surprisingly featuring deep cut “I’ll Be Back,” which I’d never actually heard them play before. Another unexpected twist in the set was when Chris dedicated a song to Jen and me for having seen the band four times in four states in less than a year’s time. It was an extremely kind gesture, and much appreciated by both of us. So this review has been highlighting what was different about High Spirits’ gig tonight. What remained the same, though, was how I felt bouncing up and down singing along with all these catchy, stripped-down tunes like “When the Lights Go Down,” “Full Power,” “This is the Night,” and of course “Another Night in the City.” Every single time I hear them, these songs make me feel happy to be alive. Judging by the highly enthusiastic audience reaction, I was not alone in this sentiment. Whether you know their songs or not, whether you own any white jeans or not, go see High Spirits if you get the chance. We brought along two of our Atlanta-area friends to this gig, and it’s safe to say that High Spirits made at least two new fans on this night. As the t-shirt says, Lightning to the Highway! Setlist: Wanted Dead, Full Power, This is the Night, When the Lights Go Down, I Need Your Love, I Need to Know, Demons at the Door, I’ll Be Back, Another Night in the City, Midnight Sun, High Spirits.
Unfortunately, after High Spirits’ set, the room emptied out significantly for CHRISTIAN MISTRESS. No matter, though, as the Mistress took the stage by storm. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Christian Mistress have always been something of an enigma to me. While I’ve always loved their sound (twin-guitars churning out energetic NWOBHM-style riffs and leads, husky female vocals, all wrapped in a kind of swampy production), I can’t say I’m terribly familiar with their material. Tonight was my first time seeing them live, and I was highly impressed. Christian Mistress played for about an hour, and it was just a sweaty, old-fashioned, rock’n’roll party. Frontwoman Christine Davis (wearing a Cathedral shirt) spoke little between songs, not even introducing most of the tracks off their as-yet unreleased second full-length album, ‘To Your Death,’ out on September 18 via Relapse Records. She and her bandmates just kind of kept their heads down and rocked out, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Not sure exactly what they played, but I know I heard “Desert Rose” off the ‘Agony& Opium’ EP, and the ‘Possession’ album was well represented in the setlist with the likes of “Pentagram and Crucifix,” “Possession,” “Black to Gold,” and regular set closer “Haunted Hunted.” I know there was a bunch of stuff off ‘To Your Death’ too. Maybe not all the songs jumped out at me, but who cares. Christian Mistress’s gig was more about spit and vinegar, grit and whiskey, sweat and attitude than anything else. I thought they were great fun. The only thing that marred the Christian Mistress set was an incredibly annoying woman hovering near the front of the stage with a camera and handheld flash (held aloft over her head) that blinded everyone in the room each of the many times she fired it. That must be one of the more inconsiderate things I’ve seen a so-called “photographer” do at a gig in recent memory. Still, nothing could rob me of the cool vibe of this Christian Mistress show. Hope to cross paths with them again soon.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~