Friday, November 20
Baroness don’t waste any fucking time. At precisely 11:37 p.m. on Friday night, the prog-thrash quartet stalked briskly onstage at the Bowery Ballroom in neat formation, wordlessly situated themselves, and without even a glance of acknowledgment towards the crowd, slipped into the minor-key, arpeggiated notes of “Bullhead’s Psalm,” the minute-and-a-half dry-run of atmospherics that opens their majestic new Blue Record. Then the highly choreographed skull-crushing began, exactly where it does on the album–with the jackhammering second track “The Sweetest Curse.” In fact, the first three songs in Friday night’s set consisted of the first three songs of The Blue Record played in succession. Baroness live, it turns out, have all the spontaneity of a tactical air strike.
John Baizley, the sinewy lead vocalist and songwriter, is a frighteningly compact and unremittingly intense physical presence. On Friday, when he wasn’t bellowing his lyrics into the microphone with a ferocity that suggested he didn’t trust the thing to do its job, he was peeling off one of his surgically precise dual guitar leads in tandem with guitarist Peter Adams. Baroness’s albums have a martial fervor; their guitar assaults are split evenly between the battering-ram chugging of down-stroked guitars and triumphantly baroque harmonized leads that carry more than a whiff of Marble Madness. Their sound, which combines the old-fashioned, epic sweep of ’70s concept metal with the bracing precision of math-rock and more cerebral post-punk bands like Shudder To Think, seems likely to make them the next metal outfit to cross over fully into an indie audience, a la Mastodon. Indeed, it may have already happened, to judge by the confusing audience demographic on Friday night, a Venn-Diagram overlap made up of Skeletonwitch t-shirts, vintage cardigans, and girls who looked like Chloe Sevigny.
We could have been a roomful of Veterans of Foreign Wars, or Promise Keepers, or prison inmates, for all Baroness seemed to notice us. As the evening wore on, Baizley seemed more and more caught up in the band’s white-hot energy; at one moment in “The Birthing” off of The Red Album, he spit an impressive spray of saliva straight up into the air before the band executed one its countless on-a-dime transitions. At the close of “Swollen And Halo,” he tipped back his head and let out a feral yell of exultation; the veins in his neck bulged like steel cables. In that moment, I was certain that this man was physically and perhaps even psychologically capable of tearing my throat out with his teeth. And then, after the hammering, drawn-out close of “The Gnashing,” the lights abruptly came up. John Baizley leaned into the microphone, gave a literal thumbs-up sign, and said, with guileless enthusiasm, “Thank you so much for coming, guys! We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you, so you should be clapping for yourselves! We’re going to be around after the show, please introduce yourselves.” It was disorientingly heartwarming.