Better Than: Witch Mountain.
One of the greatest delights of concert-going is being blown away by a band who’s not the headliner. This is exactly what happened to us at Saint Vitus on Friday when Royal Thunder, from Atlanta, played second in a lineup of four bands and made all who performed afterwards seem anti-climactic by comparison.
Top billing for the evening went to Corrosion of Conformity. In the mid-90s, this punk/metal trio (originally a four-piece) from Raleigh, NC, earned Top 20 hits with singles “Albatross” and “Clean My Wounds”; they’re now touring in support of their new self-titled album.
In the context of Friday night, it would be easy to write off CoC as post-peak-career — or maybe as guys who, in their 40s, fall into a nebulous place between no-longer-new and not-quite-veteran. In truth their latest songs are some of the best they’ve ever written. Fresh tunes like “Psychic Vampire,” which opened the set, and “No Tomorrow,” which inspired a bit of moshing amongst the crowd, hold up live as well as if not better than CoC’s older material.
Guitarist Woody Weatherman and bass player Mike Dean were all smiles as they performed; CoC seem like three fellas who are just happy to be onstage again after seven years separating their last studio album from the most recent one. At any other show, they would have owned the night. But something really special had happened two sets before theirs.
The extraordinary happening was Royal Thunder, whose brand of metal is a gentler one, more in the vein of classic rock and psychedelic blues, and whose allure shines through vocalist and bassist Mlny Parsonz. Parsonz is magnetic: she projects a mysterious contradiction of strength and vulnerability. On Friday, she only half-faced the audience by angling herself stage-right — so that we saw her mostly in profile — while pointing the neck of her bass guitar, weapon-like, directly into the crowd. It was a guarded sort of stance, made beguiling by the opposing power of her gravelly voice.
Others have compared Parsonz to Alison Mosshart, Joan Jett, and Janis Joplin. While there’s merit to these frames of reference, applying them risks glossing over whatever that indefinable “it” thing is that makes a singer unique. (And besides, we’ve never seen Mosshart, Jett, or Joplin do a near-backbend while playing bass.)
When a woman fronts a metal band, heads turn. It can be tempting to laud women in metal simply because they’re more of an anomaly–or because they’re attractive. But what makes a lead singer outstanding has nothing to do with gender. It has to do with presence and emotional commitment to the lyrics. It’s something that cannot be faked. And when you see someone who sings from the depths of her soul, you cannot forget it.
Critical Bias: See “Better Than”.
Overheard: “So, Brooklyn, how’s the weather? How’s the weather been?” –Mike Dean, Corrosion of Conformity
Random Notebook Dump: No more hot beverages at Saint Vitus. Bummer. But they do serve Tito’s vodka.