Friday, October 16
The venue of choice for Saint Vitus’ first New York appearance in many years was slightly galling. Europa is a strange club. Giant smoky mirrors make it feel like an elderly woman’s living room, if that living room had a disco ball. The stage is is a small triangular thing shoved in a corner of the venue, and toward the middle of the room the sound tends to wash out. The only way to really hear what’s going on is to be within ten feet of the musicians. Which at least, as it turned out, I was: stage right, on a raised platform, crammed between the merch tables and some weekenders. Despite these challenges, Saint Vitus took the stage with no fanfare and proceeded to blow everyone’s head off with the openers “Living Backwards” and “I Bleed Black,” from their aptly titled fifth album V.
Despite what many claim, Vitus are not “stoner rock”–mostly because the band has existed since long before the term was coined. That said, this is great music to listen to while stoned. Especially live. I know this because early in their set on Friday I turned around to find Saviors vocalist/guitarist Austin Barber handing me a joint. About thirty minutes prior to this development, Saviors had delivered a show where, despite my own former misgivings, they proved themselves to be a solid five piece capable of spewing forth rolling, well executed, hard rock. Good people, if for no other reason than they gave me drugs.
As for the headliners, they moved through a set spanning all of their first five classic recordings. Highlights are too many to list, but would certainly include the mournful refrain of “Dying Inside,” the seething extended witch-woman jam of “Mystic Lady” and the hammering speed freak paranoia of “White Stallions,” complete with legendary front-man Wino’s introductory nod to his past affinity for riding the (drug) stallion: “This is my favorite song. See if you can guess why.” About halfway through Dave Chandler dedicated “Clear Windowpane” to recently departed Blue Cheer bassist/vocalist Dickie Peterson, who was a friend of the band. A fitting tribute, given that the song is a lyrical ode to LSD, the drug, of course, from which Blue Cheer took their name.
By the time the encore of “Born Too Late” boomed forth from the cabinets, the sound coming off the stage was dense with the miasma of a biker acid cult indoctrination and the release of compressed amplifier tube air. This is a band in possession of the sort of knowledge and experience found in those old before their time. It is doubtful that many bands around today will ever feel the sense of displacement Vitus had when spearheading a genre of music that was once derided for being–as stated in the “Born Too Late” lyric–“much too slow”. But these songs have shown themselves to be timeless. As Wino once told me, regarding their sound and its origins: “I mean it’s the old stuff, like the Blue Cheer.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 19, 2009