25 years ago, from the depths of the Californian desert, Brant Bjork and John Garcia formed a band that would become one of the most revered and influential bands of the 1900s. From their early days as Katzenjammer and Sons of Kyuss, the band would host generator parties – a flash mob by today’s standards, where they would play shows in isolated desert fields to small groups of people, where the band’s equipment was powered by gas generators. The label they put on their music never appeared to curtail the abundance of desert-level stoner rock that would be churned out during their short career.
The latest instalment is one of the last performances under the banner Kyuss Lives! before ex-bandmate Josh Homme forced their hand to change names again – to Vista Chino. Whilst success was largely attributed to them after the disbandment of Kyuss in 1995, a successful reunion tour as Kyuss Lives! has seen the band enter the studio as Vista Chino to record the first new material of the group.
First time visitors to our shores (and surely not last) Red Fang opened the show with Warren Ellis lookalike David Sullivan leading the charge on guitar, with their Mastodon-like sound threatening to blow punters away from the outset. And it was a sizable contingent that arrived early to catch the Portland quartet in action, as their fuzz racket and twisted hard rock were executed to perfection. With vocals shared by Bryan Giles (guitar) and Aaron Beam (Bass) the variations and layers to their sound were evident throughout. It’s not often that the opening act gets their name chanted midset, but that’s exactly what they got (and deserved). If you’re up early enough on Friday to catch them at Soundwave 2013 in Melbourne, I recommend that you do so.
Hailing from London, 3 of the 4 members of Orange Goblin strode onto the stage amidst sounds of xylophones and triangles. Then along came man-mountain and vocalist Ben Ward, like a hybrid of gargoyle and Tool’s Danny Carey, where they punched through a set of enjoyable and somewhat satirical hard rock that drew from influences such as fellow Brits Black Sabbath, whose influence is most notably shown through Ward’s larger-than-life attitude and stage mannerisms, constantly urging on the crowd and pulling some hilarious dragon poses. Some You Win, The Fog, and Red Tide Rising all ignited the crowd, and while the crowd were there to see Kyuss Lives!, there was a strong contingent there to catch a glimpse of this 4-piece in action.
The latest chapter of the Kyuss story made their way to the stage, minus Nick Oliveri, but with Corrosion Of Conformity’s Mike Dean taking over touring bass duties. He was a more than suitable replacement. From the outset, Kyuss Lives! were on song. The familiar riff that introduced set opener One Inch Man induced the sort of hysteria that grown men aren’t known to associate themselves with, as John Garcia’s signature vocal style was belted out at impeccable pitch. What must be said, with reference to the sound engineers, is that the volume on Garcia’s microphone was decibel perfect. It was raised above the wave of fuzz that surrounded it, then rode it like Kelly Slater through a barrel at Oahu. With such a recognisable and distinct voice, Garcia’s vocals make Kyuss Lives! the band that it is. If you’re a Josh Homme fanboy and you’re out of your seat in protest, I do apologise if you’re offended, but Scott Reeder’s bass work, and to a similar extent, Brant Bjork’s drumming, are equal parts to Homme’s guitar work when it comes to what made Kyuss such a great band, but it’s Garcia whose vocals give the band that unmistakable sound.
If One Inch Man didn’t get the palms sweaty enough, Bruno Fevery’s introductory chords of Gardenia and the punch that came with Bjork’s pulsating drumming and Dean’s bass kick quickly established itself as one of the night’s highlights. It’s a hit-laden first half of the show, with classics such as Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop, Thumb, and the Green Machine all busted out through thick fuzz and suspicious plumes of smoke emanating from The Palace’s lower level.
The stoner rock brilliance of Hurricane continued to bring the riffs at a chug-along pace, with Dean looking ever intense on bass. But his playing could not be faulted. Almost Flea-like with his stage stance and posture, his bass work brought out Scott Reeder’s influence on the Kyuss material more than Oliveri’s does, but I would struggle to find someone who wouldn’t find a positive in that statement.
Offering a taste of what is to come in the next stage of the Kyuss story, the audience were treated to a new Vista Chino song, Dargona, which, despite its age difference to the Kyuss back catalogue, did not find itself out of place in the slightest. A driving rhythm section intertwined with Fevery’s swirling fretwork showed that time hasn’t eroded the overriding themes that Kyuss’s music has stood for. The only noticeable difference was that the audience did not know when the punch would come or how to sing along to the lyrics. If this snippet is anything to go by, old-school Kyuss fans won’t be disappointed with what Vista Chino put out.
After a brief moment offstage, Kyuss Lives! were welcomed back to the stage as kings. They proceeded to delight us with the bluesy chords of Whitewater, which proved to be an unexpected highlight, and was immediately offset by the breakneck speed of Allen’s Wrench. It was a set that covered all bases. Bjork, working tirelessly behind the kit, introduced the mammoth Spaceship Landing with his trademark thumping, often resembling a charicature with his long flowing locks only kept out of his face by his signature sweatband, and as a blistering rendition of Odyssey was pumped through the famed theatre as their finale, Garcia, Bjork and co have left no cards unturned.
For what was their penultimate club show under the banner Kyuss Lives!, there was no doubting that the kings of stoner rock well and truly earned their Tuesday night. As the fans look to the future, the impending material that will surface soon is sure to leave them waiting impatiently once more for the stoner rock legends to make their way to this part of the world, no matter what name they use.
Gallery: Kyuss Lives! – Soundwave 2013, Sydney