Elder

support Mondo Drag + Carousel
author AP date 25/04/16 venue Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN

One might have thought that yours truly had been treated to a year’s supply of stoner-y music after four days of Roadburn the weekend prior, but the prospect of watching Boston, MA’s Elder live again just nine months after their latest Danish appearance was too tempting to pass on. At Loppen I found myself thus, well aware that my efficiency at work the next day would take a bullet due to the necessarily late starts for which the venue is known. But, as the following paragraphs will reveal, the decision was not one I regret.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Carousel

With most of the audience still huddled around tables as Carousel occupies the stage, the Pittsburgh, PA based quartet must be as foreign to everyone else as they are to me. Fortunately, it does not take the four musicians long to quake the attendance to its feet with heavy aid from bassist Jim Wilson’s monstrous pick-ups, which sit in driving seat in terms of translating the resolve and energy of “Jeweler’s Daughter” (off its namesake 2013 album) into the live setting. As more and more people gather before them, frontman Dave Wheeler and lead guitarist John Dziuban battle it out with an improvisational, protracted duel sandwiched into “Tears of Stone” (likewise the title track to the group’s 2012 debut EP), both faces contorting with emotion with each note struck, and you get the impression, as with the majority of artists practicing in the stoner rock genre, that Carousel likes to do things by the book and thus weighs the instrumental aspects of their music highest.

When the focus shifts toward material taken from last year’s “2113” however, the music takes a turn for the straightforward as Wheeler, backed by drummer Justin Sherrell’s backing vocals, injects the music with a stronger dosage of singing and leads his comrades into rock’n’roll terrain via “Buried Alive in Your Arms”. It is here, slinging ragers like “Trouble”, that Carousel show most potential, as despite the obvious prowess of the four musicians at their respective instruments, the jammy approach to stoner rock is becoming so saturated that bands really need to muster up some special tricks to stand out. In this respect, Carousel offer little that one has not seen and heard countless times before. The fact that the closing piece “2113” rides its Monster Magnet influences so explicitly only strengthens that impression, decent thought the song itself is, and as such one is left wanting something more from Carousel — either a more vivid performance, or songs with a unique character.

6

Mondo Drag

Mondo Drag’s buoyant antics at Roadburn are still fresh in my mind when the Oakland, CA born five piece begins its attempt to regenerate the enthusiasm with which their show at the festival was received. However, whether it is an excessive intake of the local… ahem… herbs during the day, or simply touring fatigue, the band seems significantly more sullen in its demeanour tonight, the wash of kaleidoscopic lighting creating a strange contrast to a very reserved and introverted collection of musicians. The disconnect between us and them means that immersing yourself into the shroomy psychedelia is not as straightforward as it was at Roadburn; that state of trance requires a longer time to manifest itself. But admittedly, as the venue grows more packed and the minutes clock in, so too does the allure of Mondo Drag’s performance begin to swell.

Although bassist Andrew O’Neill shoulders the entire responsibility of physically grooving to the tune of the music, the visual effect of the band bathing in a colourful, yet shadowy light show and seeming to sink deeper into their own selves is still pretty captivating — especially with the string of excellent tracks that follows after the halfway mark. But you never feel enthralled, or energised in the same way as was the case at Roadburn, and in a way, the advantage of watching Mondo Drag live tonight rather than listening to it through some serious hi-fi whilst staring at a media player visualiser, is hard to pinpoint.

6

Elder

In spite of the late hour, and the prospect of a full day’s work becoming more real with every tick of the clock, none of these worries are visible in the crowd when Elder takes to the stage at last and, following a short introduction, drives the frontmost fans in attendance into frenzied, euphoric headbanging to the tune of “Compendium” off last year’s “Lore” LP. It is a remarkable thing with Elder, the trio’s capacity for spellbinding their audience and keeping its focus sharp given how long and largely instrumental their music is. At 10 minutes and 39 seconds, “Compendium” is one of the shorter songs on that album, yet even as we approach an ordinary concert length by the conclusion of its title track — the fifth song proper this evening — one does not feel as though it should end here. There is so much dynamism, so many different aspects and ideas at play in Elder’s prog-stoner that even their most monolithic creations seem to pass by in the space of a single breath.

It is of course hugely beneficial that guitarist / vocalist Nick DiSalvio, bassist Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Couto master the art of performance also, as especially in such intimate confines as these their collective zeal transforms into an intensely emotional experience. Even the drunken and high middle-aged dweeb who spends most of the evening harassing the band members, eventually taking out Donovan’s pedals before yours truly removes him from the front, fails to dampen the bassist’s enthusiasm at playing this close to a mass of diehard fans so bewitched by the music. Seldom does what is essentially a stoner band elicit so much energy, let alone stimulate their audience to react in ways more customary to death and thrash metal gigs. But the combination of playing loud, peppering songs such as “Dead Roots Stirring” and “The End” with moments of booming heaviness, and enlisting the full repertoire of their instrumental virtuosity does exactly that.

It is thus a dangerous cocktail, booking a band with a taste for writing songs that last as long as they need to on a weekday, and one able to make them feel a third of their actual length. Yet even as the clock nears 1 a.m. during the finale, “Spirit at Aphelion”, the lack of proper sleep guaranteed to punish you the next morning seems worth the struggle. Indeed, Elder’s exploits tonight conjugate in another riveting, life-affirming concert, the likes of which you won’t find by almost any other stoner rock band.

Setlist:

  • 01. Intro
  • 02. Compendium
  • 03. Sanctuary
  • 04. Dead Roots Stirring
  • 05. Deadweight
  • 06. Lore
  • 07. The End
  • 08. Gemini
  • 09. Legend
  • 10. Spirit at Aphelion

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