Remember a month ago when I promised a write-up of the Witch Mountain show would appear shortly? Well, this is shortly on some scales of time so I’m going with it.
As I try to do whenever I talk about this band, I’d like to say again that I consider their drummer Nate Carson a friend. However, he’s a good enough friend that he doesn’t want me to blow smoke up his ass, so I feel I’m pretty fair when I talk about his band. However, you can choose to take it all with a grain (or bucket) of salt if you so choose. I realize I haven’t talked about their current record Cauldron Of The Wild either, though I’ve linked to several songs throughout the year. At this point I’ll save it for my favorites list, as there is no doubt that it will be on it. Again, grain of salt as needed.
But the show’s the thing, so on with it. I met Brad and Cat at the venue, who proved to be two of the nicest people I’ve met in Texas. I also met the writer Chuck Eddy and his wife, who were two more of the nicest people I’ve met in Texas. I also met a kind cabbie who jumped our car, and my wife met a nice tow truck driver that AAA sent when the battery died after the jump. It was a rather friendly trip to Austin.
“But the show!” I hear you cry indignantly. “I thought you were finally getting on with it!” Okay, okay. Anything for my readers.
Witch Mountain were fourth on the bill. The openers were local Austin band Unmothered, who I liked a heckuva lot and hope to see again sometime soon; they call themselves “The innovators of haunt rock”, which is as apt a description of their blackened doom as any. Check ‘em out on bandcamp. I recommend “Trancendor”. I had hoped to see Skycrawler again (they were on the excellent Yob show last February), but they were off the bill for personnel reasons. Destroyer Of Light gamely stepped in, and they were good but not my thing.
Castle were doing the whole tour with Witch Mountain, and I was a little hesitant based on their album as I didn’t find it too appealing. Once again, a band proved to be better live than on record, and I quickly understood why they were on the tour. Though still not quite my thing, I found them engaging and talented, with Elizabeth Blackwell a true presence on bass and vocals.
It proved to be that everything was but a mere warmup for the headliners. Nate had told me that he felt the two tours this year had really helped them gel as a live band, but honestly I had no idea how true that was. They opened the set with “The Ballad of Lanky Rae”, the song that starts Cauldron of the Wild. From the first notes of Rob Wrong’s psychedelic opening statement, I could tell they were locked in; Nate and bassist Neal Munson dropped in together, and the pocket they formed stayed deep and dark all evening. And just as Rob’s guitar cut, bent and blared out from that darkness, vocalist Uta Plotkin shone bright, barely a pace ahead but lighting the way.
On record, the drums and bass serve as definition, creating a floor and walls for Uta and Rob to flail, wail and fly as needed. Live, this is even more the case, as Rob is free to explore the spaces, low and high and everywhere in between, but always stepping back at exactly the moment Uta steps forward; this delicate balancing act is easier to achieve in a studio, where edits and mixing levels can create where there is nothing, but live it requires a combination of elasticity and precise empathy that is unforgiving when it slips even slightly. Witch Mountain never slipped, even when Uta reached low and deep for her growling throaty exhortations in “Beekeeper”, where Neal and Nate accent each beat of her delivery with practiced grace.
The set seemed to fly by, “Shelter” following close on the heels of “Beekeeper”, and their newest track, “Bloodhound”, ending the first portion with style and power. I think “Bloodhound” is the highpoint of their recorded career thus far, and live it felt even more like a signpost pointing the way ahead; the sound of a band leaving the last traces of influence behind, a birthing of something wholly their own. The swagger they played it with live was evidence that in some ways, they felt the same.
Before launching into the second half of their set, I want to say a word about Rob Wrong. Rob is a self-proclaimed Hendrix fanatic, and has one of the best Jimi tattoos I’ve ever seen to prove it. In concert, Rob’s psychedelic tinged leads — all Jimi and Uli Jon Roth subsumed in glorious Wrongdom — are living things, sinuous and soulful and delicately strong, spider webs of aural entrapment; as a self-professed supplicant to the rhythm section, I was surprised how often his solos took me out of the pocket and into their internal logic, caught by the harmonics and restatements of themes. The closest they’ve come to capturing that effect on record is the end solo of “Bloodhound”, and even that isn’t the same.
“The Veil of the Forgotten” is one of the strongest cuts on Cauldron of the Wild, and live it proved just as powerful. The rising tension as the song ramps up about halfway through was real, and as Nate raised the tempo the crowd went with him, heads bobbing and horns throwing. The ramp down was just as perfect, the release just as true. Only one South of Salem cut was brought out for this show, the slow power blues of “Wing of the Lord”; live, it has a bit more swing in it’s grinding doom, and Uta sounds more comfortable with the Ann Wilson howls then on record.
They finished the set with album closer “Never Know”, and their ability to hold back, to teeter on the precipice of nothing without falling over, was something to behold. I’m sure a bit of the adrenaline had gone after that initial rush, but holding together something so glacially slow and empty is an art in itself. When Uta and Rob ring out from that abyss it’s something to behold. It may have been the end of the night, but Mr. Wrong was leaving nothing on stage; if a mournful cry could be torn from his guitar, if a cry of defiance could sound, he found a way to let it out. It was a triumphant end to one of the best shows I’ve seen all year.