High On Fire

support Jumping Jack + Lizzard
author EW date 01/02/13 venue O2 Academy 2, Birmingham, UK

Having to travel to Birmingham is rarely fun but as I am not to find myself in London when High on Fire arrive I took the decision to decamp to the second city for their first UK show of the tour. The city around the O2 Academy (this show was taking place at the smaller upstairs venue) is a hodgepodge of different races and nations amongst a sea of dull urban greyness, with the old venue itself being no better. Utterly devoid of character and crushingly slow in actually allowing guests in, the sterile corporate feel was doing badly in my books before an early confirmation that Guinness was off sealed it's ignominious fate. All in all, unpleasant surroundings for one of the most grizzled, blue-collar bands around. But first...


Despite being no more than the 30th person to enter I still found myself arriving as the first support act were completing their penultimate song. Infact even now I don't know what their name was for in the run-up to the gig I know of only the following two supports, but in those five minutes heard there was nothing to suggest I had missed anything of note; the low-key atmosphere sucked whatever life may exist in the band's music from their performance to leave the polite female-fronted act grasping at a smattering of applause upon their exit.



If the brief exposure to act I hinted they were a strange choice of support, Lizzard's grunge rock got me worrying I had stumbled into the wrong gig. They too they carried the air and appearance of a band culled from the local university ranks without thought being given to their suitability in support of a stoner/heavy metal band. Mixing what I felt to be Pearl Jam and Soundgarden with a vocalist strongly reminiscent of Tool's James Maynard Keenen, Lizzard were startling in their dullness. At least managing to avoid insulting, the odd opportunity to nod one's head was about as dramatic as it got as the inoffensiveness soon began to grate and the quiet acceptance of their reception only confirmed it was time to move on.


Jumping Jack

By now time was beginning to drag on in the wait for High on Fire, but before that tour de force there was French trio Jumping Jack to enjoy/endure. Off the back of the previous hour it was no surprise for the commencement of their set a still wary crowd had decided to hang back from the front of the stage, patently noone wanted to be the first to move forward, but once the opening Sabbath-esque throes of their music rung out the attention given by the growing crowd increased. Ultimately the Sabbath element turned out to be a false dawn as JJ for the most part rocked along in a fairly predictable manner, albeit with decent amounts of groove and tempo to their performance, which along with a drummer totally giving it his all in the performance stakes provided a more enjoyable musical, and visual spectacle. Still, as top support for a band of High on Fire's stature, an unknown and unrelated French trio stands out as a poor choice from the promoters, one which smacks of laziness and shallow ambition.


High on Fire

By now cursing the absence of decent support, Guinness or even familiar faces in the crowd with whom to talk (oh the things I go through…) it came as blessed relief when High on Fire strolled on shortly after 9pm. First appearances probably tell you a lot about guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike: beer-bellied, tattooed, topless and sweating like a mutha, he is a true care-free hard-living rock god in an age when such a status tends to be reserved for dullards like Chris Martin. In bassist Jeff Matz and drummer Des Kensel he has two powerful but understated accomplices, content to stay in the background while Pike, ala obvious influence Lemmy, does his thing. His 'thing' is to plough through countless riffs of sludgey, stoner goodness with the archetype gruff vocals on top; it's not a pretty formula but the determination and stubbornness of their sound and persona bears more than a passing resemblance to the singular-minded approach of the aforementioned Mr. Kilmister & co.

Though by no means soft on record, the ferocity of HoF's delivery in the live setting was unexpected; there was little respite between songs as Pike kept the talking to a minimum, aside from the odd mention of this being the city of Iommi, to summarily blast through the stoned riffs of "Fury Whip", "Frost Hammer" and "Snakes for the Divine". To add to the list of grievances against the venue, a sound that was simply too loud and unforgiving down near the front did not aid the appreciation of the more textured moments of "Fertile Green" and "Blood From Zion" but it's easy to believe this is just the way of Pike & co: you play loud or you don't play at all.

The city of Iommi Birmingham may be but to have the seen the crowd you would not have imagined this the birthplace of metal - the disinterest expressed by the majority aside for a few headbangers down the front did so little to add to the atmosphere that when the band left the stage at 10pm one just kind of felt they would not be returning. Pity as "Death Is This Communion" would have been a welcome addition, but some gigs simply never look like being classics; still, if you removed the supports and extended their set, I would pay to see High on Fire again tomorrow.


Apologies for lack of any decent photos.

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