Torche w/ Big Business, Helms Alee
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Wednesday, July 20
Last afternoon, with the e-mercury that I assume powers our digital thermometers refusing to recede, the Torche/Big Business/Helms Alee triple-header that would be closing my day and marking roughly the halfway point in my ongoing heatwave promised to be a big, sweaty mess. Torche’s music is sometimes called “thunder pop”; maybe they’d play a show humid enough to generate some extreme weather patterns right in front of the stage.
But before anything of that sort could happen, the night’s two spectacular openers had work to do. Helms Alee, a coed three-piece out of Seattle, kicked off the show with songs just as likely to begin with a band a capella or a three-note guitar riff taken from the soundtrack to some never-made Spaghetti Western as with good old-fashioned reverb and snare rolls. But if the songs often began differently, they usually ended the same, that is, to rapturous applause and nodding heads.
Big Business followed with a set of crowd pleasers long and strong enough to possibly convince someone who didn’t know better that the Melvins affiliates were in fact co-headlining. All show, the band wore its Melvins influence (and overlapping membership) on its sleeve, but the aspect of their live show most reminiscent of the sludge progenitors might have been singer Jared Warren’s ability to project his vocals (and with his saliva) over the massive, full-band riffs—riffs that would remain as large as anything played all night—coming out of the speakers behind him. By the time they closed with “Guns” off this summer’s Quadruple Single EP, a low-pressure system of a mosh pit had formed in front of stage, even though the Music Hall air conditioners were keeping the venue nice and cool.
After DJ 1000TimesYes, a regular around these parts, snuck in some of our favorite David Guetta beats and Osmosis Jones OST deep cuts to keep the crowd grooving between sets, Torche took the stage, proving why they were belonged atop the bill. The band came out firing, blasting through a four song run that culminated with crowd-pleasing rendition of Meanderthal standout “Grenades.” After the guys took a second or two to catch their breath, two more Meanderthal tracks followed and Steve Brooks, wearing a blonde wig that allowed the buzz-cutted frontman to whip his hair back and forth like a true metal head, finally addressed the crowd: “Look at all the people here tonight!”
Throughout their set, the band played hard enough to dispel those disavowed Foo Fighters comparisons that have been popping up since their aforementioned 2008 breakout record. However, their setlist and stage commentary suggested another extra-metal influence: Williamsburg fave Guided by Voices. “This is by one of our favorite bands,” Brooks noted, before hitting the strings on the guitar riff that begins “Exit Flagger.”
To finish things off, the band went back in time to “Charge of the Brown Recluse,” the first song off their first album, then ended with another pre-Meanderthal number, “Tarpit Carnivore,” Jonathan Nuñez’s bass literally shaking the floor at our feet. There was no encore, but no one was complaining… at least until we were forced to return to the humidity outside.
Critical bias: Torche is my go-to band for trying to make conversation with metal-loving friends.
Overheard: Quite a few different pronunciations of the headliner’s name. The dudes ahead of me in line were saying “Torché” confidently enough that I was almost convinced, but they lost all credibility when they recognized the “Meanderthal” portmanteau for the first time.
Random notebook dump: For a few months I’ve been waiting to see someone besides me moving it like Bernie. I just wasn’t expecting it to happen at a metal show.