We're complicated animals, us humans. Sometimes the most precious cardigan-wearing DIY indie pop band makes us happy. Sometimes it takes a sleazy psychedelic rock band with an unfortunate moniker chosen for shock value. On this night twee wasn't going to get the job done, so I packed my camera, and headed to Riot Room to see a band named "Black Pussy."
The night opened with From the West – a local quartet of dudes in their 40s that deals in butt-shaking groove metal. Sadly, this is not my thing. Vocalist Landon Collis fronts the band. In a half hour set he worked the crowd with some affected stage banter, and only stopped his pacing to hold an opened, anguished hand to the heavens, or to lean back into a solid scream. Whether this sort of stage show is appropriate for a 9pm opening slot playing to a dozen fans is a matter of opinion, but you always have to respect a frontman that goes for it, and has the voice to back up every rock cliche he uses. Behind Collis, drummer Scott Bland held the very simple 4/4 beats with lots of ride work, while Brett Taylor fingered his bass adding the heavy bottom end that dominated the band's sound. Guitarist Tom Pugh was full of riffs, but curiously no leads. I've read that the band recently lost its second guitarist, so maybe the leads left with him. Thankfully the final song of the set (entitled "Vampires Everywhere," if I read the set list correctly) got it all right with a strong introductory lead, followed by plenty of swampy riffage.
The fog machine was kicked up a notch as Topeka's Youngblood Supercult hit the stage. The band currently lines up as a four-piece with Bailey Smith on guitar, David Merrill on vocals, Weston Alford on drums, and newcomer Brad Morris on bass. While some rough production has plagued the band's early work, the quartet sounded positively monstrous through the Riot Room sound system. Merrill's processed vocals nestled nicely in the warm, enveloping fuzz of the band's doom, while the Sabbath-worshipping Smith buried the room in Iommi-influenced riffs and leads. Only her solos differed from the master's playbook. The rhythm section kept things slow and very heavy. Merrill offered no pretense as he addressed the entranced crowd that nodded in unison with every irresistible downbeat. If the band can find a producer that can capture the swirling haze of cannabis that is Youngblood Supercult's live show, this little Topeka band is going to explode.
There was a discernable shift as the next act took the stage. The small audience thinned further, and the feel-good vibe of the first two bands was replaced by something alien if not actually misanthropic. Inner Altar's sound is conspicuously unhinged, causing the band to stand out no matter what bill it's on. Guitarist Long Feather (nee Neal Dyrkacz) certainly drops doom riffs, but most of his energy is spent tossing leads on the pile of sound. With only one guitarist, this means songs are always on the verge of collapsing. Furthermore, the rhythm section of Stingray (bassist Max McBride) and Strong Smoke (drummer Dillon Bendetti) don't provide the typical sturdy base, but instead lead the quartet through a minefield of tempo shifts, false stops, and time changes. There is a groove under it all, but it's not easy to find. Vocalist Lord Rewcifer (Andrew Snow) croons, but there's nothing warm or friendly about his vocals. He's not outwardly angry – there is no trashing about the stage, no stomping, or hardly any movement at all. Instead he seethes. He stands alone, holding the microphone stand, never acknowledging the audience, much less addressing them. Inner Altar is intense. And the band scares me.
All of this leads up to headliner Black Pussy. Because the Portland quintet is pompously anti-PC on social media, and its merchandise is unapologetically exploitative, I expected a lot of gimmick in the band's performance. And while the band dons the bellbottoms, flowery shirts, beards, and long hair of the failed hippie generation that simply became dazed and confused, on this night, the band opted to let its rock & roll do all the talking. After all, despite the Tarantino-coloring, the band is named for a Rolling Stones song, and it's that sticky-fingered excess that drives the band more than anything else.
Although billed as a great live act, the quintet brought none of the rock snarl or stage antics that I anticipated. Instead, the band turned in a surprisingly yeoman set. I suspect that the small crowd couldn't put out enough energy to stir the band, but the rough house mix that favored the swirling, effects-heavy lead guitar of Ryan McIntire over the vocals of frontman and guitarist Dustin Hill couldn't have help either. Keyboardist and backing vocalist Chief O'Dell was similarly lost, or maybe he provided such a foundation as to appear invisible. While the rhythm section never shone in the band's songs, the well-lit, heavily-fanned drummer Dean Carroll, was an attention-stealing ball of stick twirling, funny-face-making energy. As the band worked through a surprisingly nuanced set of bluesy rock & roll tinged with psychedelic colors and the slightest hints of stoner rock, things did begin to pick up. Either the band found its mojo, or simply I was able to discern it, but the final two songs of the evening were without question the best. After a lukewarm 40 minutes, I was suddenly ready for more. But despite my near certainty that the band were holding back its faithful cover of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," there was no encore. Instead the band simply packed up its van and trailer, and headed for greener pastures. I similarly packed my camera bag, not knowing if the next night would take me to a hardcore show where I'd need to dodge flailing fists, or to an alt country show where a dobro could tickle my fancy. See, I told you that we're complicated.