When Saint Vitus came on stage, the quartet went right into "Blessed Night," with Dave Chandler letting out a wail or siren sound with wah and distortion from his guitar. From there, guitar and bass rumbled together like a high idling engine, as Henry Vasquez somehow occupied a space above the sound with his percussion, while Scott "Wino" Weinrich bellowed out the words in a much more commanding tone than on the album. The sheer physical presence made it even more apparent why this music has continued to strike a chord with a broad spectrum of people for more than three decades.
Sometimes the music sounded like fast boiling iron if it could be made to be darkly melodic. Chandler has perfected the use of wah to make pretty much whatever higher-pitched, cutting, burning sound he wants, and he did so often. He was so caught up in each of those moments, he moved like a wizard crafting a potent spell. And who's to say that isn't essentially what he was doing?
It sure wasn't just showing off how wicked a guitar player he is. That part was obvious not so much from the speed he was playing as the way he was playing the right notes with the proper pacing to help make things flow -- instead of just hammering us. In turn, this music is heavy not because it batters you relentlessly but because it pours deep into you and flows around.
Before playing "Let Them Fall," Chandler told us, "Governments can do one thing: Turn their back on you and fuck you in the ass at the same time," a sentiment that definitely rang true with this crowd. Who's to say what he might be referring to specifically, but one thing is for certain: Governments often turn their backs on anyone that isn't powerful enough to have the rules sculpted in their favor.
"Living Backwards" and its relatively frantic pace got some people in the crowd moving like they were at some hardcore show. Can hardly blame them. The middle sections without vocals gave Chandler some time to exercise some of his creativity with the wah and tremolo arm.
Throughout the song, it was so reminiscent of Chrome, from the rhythm and pace to the guitar tone and gyrations, I thought it might be a cover, but indeed it wasn't. The main part of the set would have ended on a cover, specifically, a fiery and sludgy version of Black Flag's "Thirsty and Miserable" (not seen on the printed set list), but before leaving stage, Wino told us that if we wanted to hear more, we'd have to make some noise.
Of course the crowd responded in kind, and when the band came back on stage they thanked everybody for being great this night. Apparently Vitus always has a great crowd at their Denver shows, and it was clear from the smiles on the band's faces that they had enjoyed playing this night.
The entire show ended with "Born to Lose," a song more than a few people had screamed out throughout the set. Chandler played his guitar with his teeth, put the neck in his mouth, and played a solo with the guitar over his head. At one point, it looked like he would fling his guitar into the audience in series of practiced moves that looked precarious anyway.
Alternately, he often played his guitar with the fretboard pointed upward like he was playing pedal steel. Not letting up on the power, dignity and respect for the crowd from beginning to end, Saint Vitus showed us what every rock show should be like but too often isn't.
St. Vitus Set List From Bluebird Theater
Earlier in the night, Sourvein, a band from, appropriately enough, Cape Fear, North Carolina, opened the show. With the bassist and guitarist hitting roughly the same tonal range in perfect synchronicity, it was hard to tell which was which in the mix, but that was clearly the point because the songs were like a sonic model of great, burning rocks striking semi-molten steel strings.
T-Roy Medlin sang in a shredded, feral wail reminiscent of John Brannon circa Negative Approach. These guys started off with the title track to the Imperial Bastard EP, dedicated "Black Fangs" to Saint Vitus and closed with one of the band's best songs, "Dirty South." In the middle, when the guitarist played his solo, it sounded like the term "shredding" had to have been invented for the guitar tone if played at a higher speed. As it was, it was more like "tearing" but without any compromise of the cutting and forceful and fiery quality of the riff.
Weedeater came armed for making massive sounds with what looked like a 4X15 bass cabinet and a Marshall full stack, not to mention Keith Kirkum's drum set situated at the front of the stage between the guitar rigs. After soundchecking, the band left the stage and came back on almost immediately while the theme from Sanford and Son played.
When Dave Shepherd started playing his guitar, and this may have been a function of being in the killzone directly in front of the stack, even before the bass got going, it was a similar sensation and quality of sound of seeing Jason and the Argonauts in the movie theater as a kid in the 1970s. It was colossal and, briefly anyway, awe-inspiring. The guy is a master of using feedback to his advantage and hitting chords or notes and letting feedback provide enough swell and impetus into the next bit of music he would be playing.
Kirkum hit with a lot of power but his style was like a great blues rock player: simple, spare and very in the pocket, even as he indulged some percussive flourishes the whole show. Dave Collins' tortured wail was animalistic, though he did slightly more conventional singing for the band's cover of "Gimme Back My Bullets" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. When he talked it made you think of Cronos of Venom. The Weedeater set ended strongly with the vast cataclysm of sound that was "Weed Monkey."
Personal Bias: Ever since finding out about Saint Vitus in Get in the Van by Henry Rollins, I've wanted to see the metal band that played shows regularly with Black Flag.
Random Detail: Ran into Grant Netzorg of In the Company of Serpents, Doug Wittner of Torso, former Westword scribe Tuyet Nguyen and Last Eyes at the show.
By the Way: Lillie: F-65 may have an odd title but it is vintage Saint Vitus.
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