Pentagram took the stage with a spooky soundscape coming through the PA, Bobby Liebling looking like a puppet woken up from a nap and blinking. He was all but twitching to life, pulled along by invisible strings. But when Liebling took the mic, an instantly commanding voice issued forth. He is one of the few rock singers able to combine and synthesize a sense of theater and performance with raw, emotional honesty. He expresses an idiosyncratic poetic sensibility channeled from dark places in his heart and mind. Sure, those wide, wild eyes and waggling tongue and left-handed air guitar all seem odd and almost amusing, but the guy captures your attention from the moment he takes the stage.
It was interesting to see was the recent return of longtime Pentagram guitarist Victor Griffin, who laid out the meaty guitar work of the band with assurance and power, linking perfectly in rhythm with bassist Greg Turley and drummer Sean Saley. Half of the set was drawn from the band's 1985, self-titled debut, but Pentagram didn't just rest on their early laurels. Even a song like "8" from 2011's Last Rites fits right in with the classics in terms of quality songwriting.
Sure, he made hilariously crass yet strangely poetic plays for various women in the crowd. But his words, weaving stories of sin, redemption, cosmic peril, love and existential insight proved those trivialities an act. Liebling may have clowned around a bit during the set, but he contrasted that with a focused intensity; he never wavered on the vocals. In the encore the band performed "Be Forewarned," and the imagery of despair reaching to the core of the psyche was still chilling.
The show opened with Denver's Space in Time. Anyone who has seen the band before knows to expect excellent. But it sounded like Mike Atencio has been taking voice lessons or practicing a lot in the off-stage hours. He rocked back and forth and gestured dramatically in a way that is also effective for Ozzy Osbourne, but his control and expressiveness were exceptional even by his own high standards. The rest of the band synched perfectly in rhythm. You could see Javram Ciel-Tilton facing Yancy Green and Charly Miller, and that section of the band established a dynamic rhythm that worked perfectly with Atencio's phrasing and Vaughn McPherson's ghostly, yet bright, keyboard work. Yes, that early '70s hard rock sound was there, but Space in Time make it live and breathe today. Kings Destroy from New York City was, at a glance, yet another doom rock band. But the shimmer and texture of one guitar against the grit and grind and muscle of the other guitar played with the rhythm section in genre-breaking ways. Steve Murphy's vocals were reminiscent of that of Ian Astbury but more gruff and less melodramatic. The contrast of it all was somewhat reminiscent of Soundgarden, but based more in metal than punk. In some of the guitar work was the aesthetics of thrash but slowed down, and that proved a strong technique, expertly employed. Kings Destroy also managed to inject its slowed-down pace with an upswing of energy throughout its set.
A surprise standout of the night was third opening act, Radio Moscow. Oh, the paisley clothes and the gear sure looked like these guys were way into Cream or Blue Cheer and definitely The Jimi Hendrix Experience. But it wasn't an affectation. Normally this sort of pursuit of yesteryear authenticity means the music can be a bit rote and feel stale, but this trio comprised extremely talented players. They made blues and psychedelic rock ideas sound fresh vividly realized. Parker Griggs displayed a mastery of technique across the full spectrum of the ways in which one can make sounds with an electric guitar. He used it so imaginatively and tastefully, with such rich tone, alongside a rhythm section that knew how to subtly provide gripping and exhilarating dynamics, that it felt like the closest one might get to seeing a guitarist as talented as Hendrix without actually seeing Hendrix and the Experience. But these guys had their own vibe and that is what impressed the most.
Pentagram Set List at The Summit Music Hall, February 28, 2014
1. The Deist 2. Nightmare Gown 3. Forever My Queen 4. Review Your Choices 5. Sign of the Wolf (Pentagram) 6. Sinister 7. When The Screams Come 8. 8 9. Death Row 10. All Your Sins 11. Dying World 12. Petrified 13. Relentless
14. Be Forewarned 15. The Ghoul 16. Wartime
Bias: Pentagram's unique combination of the profane and the profound in both its lyrics and music is something I truly enjoy.
Random Detail: Ran into Eric Van Leuven formerly of Anti-Scrunti Faction, Cavity, Breezy Porticos and currently of Howling Hex; DJ El Brian; Lloyd Arcesia formerly of Mood Syrup and Pink Swastikas; and Rebecca Davila of Eunochorn at the show.
By the Way: I've seen Pentagram three times across a span of a few years. This was the best of the three.
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