There are times in life when you must do That Which is Right: marrying the girl you got pregnant, keeping a lifetime supply of Dunkin Donuts napkins in your glovebox just in case, and sometimes even reviewing a concert that your own band is playing. It was not my intent to cross the streams of music and journalism; a writer without a conflict of interest was going to cover this show for another publication, but he was unable to due to an Unforeseen Tornado Circumstance. (Fo’ real, half of Connecticut got destroyed last week.)
But I digress. On Thursday May 18th, Nashville’s Howling Giant rolled up to Cherry Street Station in Wallingford, CT driving a white 80s hearse. Their unusual vehicle has apparently been cleared by a paranormal inspector and has thus far brought them safely along their fourteen-stop eastern US tour. That night in Wallingford proved a success, with the Giants making new fans of the small but enthusiastic weeknight audience.
Tariffville, CT’s doom metallers Gorge opened the show in what was their debut live appearance outside their practice space. With Mark Coté on lead vocals and drums, Justin Keenan on guitar and backing vocals, and Joel Burgess on bass, they drew the audience in with their sonic storytelling. The band’s theme of “telling the war torn stories of this nations bloody past” was resonating and unpretentious, although sometimes very heavy in the not-musical sense of that adjective. “Buried in a Blizzard,” for instance, was about the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, where US soldiers opened machine gun fire on a Lakota village full of women and children. Snow began falling after the attack, covering the dead bodies where they lay — hence the song title.
Gorge is unique in that they have eschewed much social media use; the only platform they have is Instagram (@gorgeband), and their music is on bandcamp. So rather than battling algorithms trying to amass followers, they’ve spent their year as a band honing their artistic ideas and throwing DIYshows in their practice space, an old industrial building along the Farmington River. (They have aptly named this space The Gorge.) Judging from their first show at a venue that’s not their own, whatever they’re doing is working. My favorite one of their tracks is “Dream Bender,” about shamanic experiences. Check it out:
Last to the stage came the reason we were out past our bedtimes on a Thursday: Howling Giant. I believe the First Commandment of Scene Etiquette is not to have the out-of-towners close the show, but they wanted to — so hey, it’s their party and they can close if they want to. And boy was I glad that Nocturnal Bird of Prey Creator didn’t have to follow them, because we would’ve looked like a buncha bozos after the set they played.
I can’t tell ya what every single Howling Giant song was called, although I do remember the title “Earth Wizard.” (That one’s the final track off their newest release Black Hole Space Wizard: Part 2.) I can tell you their riffs were spiraling and viscous, and the band was quite a bit heavier than what I expected to hear from self-proclaimed “space rockers” — Howling Giant’s astronaut suits come with bullet belts. There was lots of melodic interplay between guitarist (and lead vocalist) Tom Polzine and bassist Mike Kerr, while additional vocals from drummer Zach Wheeler added yet another layer to the trio’s cosmic space cake. (Side note: apparently Kerr is just “filling in,” but he was sick. The perfect icing between those layers!) “Earth Wizard” in particular takes listeners on a trip to a smoky, far-reaching galaxy; the interstellar theme and ambitious songwriting remind me of Westchester prog metal trio Valence, but with vocals and much more fuzz.
This show offered distinct subgenres under the stoner umbrella, with talented bands in different stages of their respective “careers.” Gorge is just breaking out of the rehearsal room, but doing so with a sledgehammer. Howling Giant is driving that white hearse right out of their local scene with sheer determination and the Power of the Riff. Speaking of the hearse, HG has a few remaining tour stops:
- 5.22 – Baltimore @ The Depot
- 5.23 – Washington DC @ Atlas Brew Works
- 5.24 – Raleigh NC @ Slim’s
- 5.25 – Wilmington VA @Reggies 42nd Street Tavern
- 5.26 – Asheville NC @ Sly Grog
HG will also be playing Psycho Las Vegas, if any of you lizard people are lucky enough to get out there. Until then, find Howling Giant, Gorge, and that bird band on bandcamp — and always ask for extra napkins at the drive-through. You never know when you might need them.