Sunday, May 8, 2011

Kyuss Lives! preview

Over the past few years, I've been lucky enough to go see a number of bands that I honestly thought I would never have the chance to see perform live, most notably Alice in Chains and Faith No More (thanks, Soundwave Festival!).

In fact, my bucket list is getting pretty damn short now, although there are a few bands I've seen that I'd dearly love to see live again (looking at you, Sevendust).

But in the "unlikely reunion" stakes, I think Kyuss has to take the prize.  It's only 5 days until they play two nights at the Powerstation (speaking of nostalgia!) here in Auckland, and frankly I'm more than a little excited.  As is my concert-going partner-in-crime, despite only being properly introduced to Kyuss this year.

Most of the young-un's now know Kyuss as 'the band that Josh Homme was in before Queens of the Stone Age'.  Whilst not untrue, it's a little bit unfair to a band that in my view created one of the most unique legacies in hard rock history.

The uniqueness stems not only from their sound - which was a total revelation in itself that has spawned a lot of imitators - but also from the cult-like following they inspired for their relatively brief original lifespan.  At the time, not a lot of people knew about them.  This was back when radio was big, the internet wasn't, and I can distinctly remember that the DJs on 95bFM (pretty much the only place they got played in NZ) always introduced their songs in hushed, reverential tones.  You knew them, and loved them, or you hadn't heard of them.  Subsequent to their break-up, and partly following the success of Queens of the Stone Age, they gained a lot more widespread attention.

And my introduction came on 95bFM too, I think it was El Rodeo, so pretty much at the tail end of their run.  A few years later when "working" in the music department at The Warehouse, I stumbled across a 3-pack of Kyuss albums of $14.99.  I got some great deals in my time there, but I think that was the best.

It's the three albums in that pack - Blues for the Red Sun, Welcome to Sky Valley, and ...And the Circus Leaves Town that really are the definitive Kyuss.  There was an earlier album Wretch, but it isn't on par with those three.

But those three albums are just so damned good.  There's barely a weak moment across them - they're all great albums in their own right.  Blues is the most direct and aggressive of the three - drawing on Wretch to some extent but with the benefit of a little more maturity and much better production.  And it really sets out the Kyuss approach - a potent rhythm section, sludgy down-tuned guitar (often played through a bass amp), and John Garcia's inimitable vocal style. 

Welcome to Sky Valley is my personal favourite.  It's a stunning album and also one that has a bit of its own uniqueness and mystique about it.  Although there are basically ten songs, the CD has just three tracks, each comprising multiple songs.  This might be as infuriating as hell when you want to listen to Asteroid, but I personally love the reverence it shows towards the album format.  And it is really well-constructed as an album, much more focused than its predecessor, ebbing and flowing throughout before building to a fantastic conclusion on Whitewater.

Circus is also good, but it contrasts heavily with Sky Valley which I don't think works to its favour.  Whereas Sky Valley is an incredibly focused rock album, Circus sees a lot more sonic experimentation (for example, el Rodeo and Catamaran).  It's not a bad thing, but sometimes one craves the raw growl of classic Kyuss - although that's in abundance on the sprawling, psychedelic 10-minute closing track Spaceship Landing.  I consider that track to be one of the greatest album closing tracks of all-time.  At the time it was the final song of Kyuss' final album, and it's hard to think of a better closing statement for the band.

There were a few line-up changes over the band's career - Garcia and Homme were the only members to appear throughout.  The lineup on the Kyuss Lives! tour is Garcia, Brant Bjork on drums, Nick Oliveri on bass, and newcomer Bruno Fevery on guitar - who played on Garcia's "Garcia plays Kyuss' tour.  Arguments will no doubt abound over how it isn't the same without Josh Homme, whether they would've been better off with Scott Reeder on bass, etc etc, but frankly I still reckon they are going to kick some serious ass. 

As rock vocalists go, Garcia is one of my all-time favourites.  He's instantly recognizable - jagged, powerful, bluesy.  As a singer he makes you take notice not just because of what he's singing, but how he's singing it - and the way his voice blends with the Kyuss soundscape while still sounding like a distinctive instrument is amazing.  He's had a solo album in the works for years now; here's hoping it sees the light of day soon.

Oliveri is, of course, a powerhouse of a bassist and Brant Bjork played drums on every album bar Circus, so there's no reason to believe that this line-up won't kick some serious ass.

Even more so when you look at some of the setlists. Although there is some changing-up from night to night, it's pretty much an ass-kicking setlist when the likes of Green Machine, Odyssey, Thumb, Gardenia and a wicked triple-header of Freedom Run, Asteroid, and Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop all consistently appear.  And they've still got balls too - not a lot of bands would opt to open with a 10-minute epic like Spaceship Landing.

This time next week, I'll probably still be recovering.

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