Weirdness Down Below

Wednesday July 20, 2005

Slough FegI don't know how it started, but a long time ago I took it as my responsibility to see every heavy metal concert that I possibly could. I used to think things like, "Someone has to go, or the clubs will stop booking shows and the bands will stop coming to town," but that's a delusion along the lines of believing that every vote counts. A lot of the shows I see now have become little more than exercises in endurance: I barely even watch the band! But I rarely have a bad time when I go out. I often meet up with some friends at the venue and we share a few rounds, and my eternally patient girlfriend is such a good sport that I'm almost never wanting pleasant company, so that even an Amorphis show can be a good time. It's rare that I ever even consider giving up this hobby/habbit of mine, and when I see a truly great show, all thoughts to that end are completely obliterated.

That's the sort of show I saw on Monday. It was even sweeter because I had to drive to Baltimore to see it, and let me tell you, there's nothing more tiring than an hour and a half drive home at 1:00 am after a band that turned out to be not-so-good. In this case, I felt it to be my neighborly duty to see Slough Feg (formerly known, even more inscrutably, as The Lord Weird Slough Feg), as we're both on the same record label. I'm a very recent convert to this band's music, although I've been aware of them for many years. The sticking point, I'll admit, are the unique vocals of guitarist/mastermind Mike Scalzi. Let us say that his singing is an acquired taste. Slough Feg's music is a tough nut to crack, too. They only band to which they're regularly compared is Manilla Road, but beyond a similar penchant for quirky, melodic metal in the traditional vein and a singer that a lot of people can't stand, I don't think the two bands have much in common. Slough Feg might be described as a cross between old Metallica and Thin Lizzy, but that's still too easy a summary for this band's complex sound. They're one of the only bands I can think of that are both truly nerdy and utterly intimidating. Their last disc was a concept album about a 70s sci-fi roleplaying game(!!!), but for some reason, I find this band more than a little intimidating. I think Scalzi himself is the main reason for my trepidation. The guy looks like a heavy metal cavemen; a very thick brow draws attention to what can only be called psychotic eyes. He's a scary man! Before the show, he was walking around in a sleeveless denim vest with a St. Vitus backpatch, and he wasn't wearing a shirt under it. My observant girlfriend assures me that he was coked up, too. I briefly introduced myself before the set, thinking he might appreciate meeting one of his labelmates, but we didn't speak for more than a minute or two before he rushed to the stage to play (after dilly-dallying for a good twenty minutes!) I didn't mind, though - I had nothing else to say. I would like to interview this band for my zine, but I don't know if I have it in me!

But now I've gotten wholly ahead of myself. I'm already to Slough Feg's set, and they were the last band of the night. Some background is in order. The show was held at the Sidebar Tavern in Baltimore, MD. Baltimore feels a lot farther away than it is, but it's still a bit of a haul for a monday night show, especially when the doors don't open until 9:00! Nancy and I got there without any trouble and met up with our friend Jaime who works nearby. It was at least 9:30 when we got there, and I was really hoping the first band would be halfway through their set when we went inside, but such was not our luck. Their gear was set up, but alas, they had yet to take the stage. The Sidebar is a pretty cool little dive. It's in a basement not too far from the Inner Harbor, and while it's small, it has all the charm you look for in a dumpy underground (no pun intended) venue. You know a band like Slough Feg is not going to draw a huge crowd on a Monday, and this is exactly the sort of tiny venue that can make any crowd seem like just the right number of people required for a good time. I saw a few Skinless stickers on the walls, so I guess the Sidebar is no stranger to metal, but the crowd, particularly for a metal show, seemed awfully hipster to me.

I blame the openers, The Assrockers, whom I won't even dignify with a link. Musically, they were generic bar rock, leaning toward AC/DC or some other frat-friendly pseudo-metal band. The lead guitarist and bassist weren't bad. The rhythm guitarist and drummer were pretty crappy. But special new adjectives are needed to describe the lameness of the singer, a waifish, balding, tone-deaf rockstar wannabe whose every ironic, Jagger-inspired stage mannerism made me want to punch him. This would have been pretty easy, too, as he had a habit of coming off the stage and into the crowd to do his idiotic ass-shaking. I might have been able to endure his terrible posing if it weren't for his abysmal singing. I would be shocked to learn that he could command a full octave of range, and he couldn't even hit those 12 notes reliably. Just awful. I will give him credit, however, for the clever pun of "Carpe Denim." That's funny, at least.

The Sidebar's website led me to believe that Slough Feg was second on the bill, but it didn't take long after The Assrockers left to realize that Bible of the Devil was next. My friend and bandmate Chris Black recommended them once, so I wasn't unhappy to see them, but I was hoping to be out of Baltimore earlier rather than later. No dice. Bible of the Devil were pretty cool, though. They sounded a lot like Accept to me, with more than a little Iron Maiden thrown in. I always appreciate it when a band looks like they're having fun on stage, and Bible of the Devil certainly had fun. I liked them enough to pick up their latest disc, but I have to say that the live show far outshines the studio recording, which comes off like a slighly heavier Buckcherry or something like that. Not so good. They have a new disc just about to come out, though, and insofar as Mr. Black also told me that the band just keeps getting better, I'll hold out some hope that this new release will be better than Tight Empire.

So now, finally, Slough Feg. As an aside, this band was formed in State College, PA, in the early 90s, although the band has been based in San Francisco for more than a decade. As a grumpy and bitter Penn State alumnus, it warms my heart to know that at least this one good thing has come from Happy Valley. Slough Feg were even more fun onstage than Bible of the Devil, and Mike Scalzi becomes a lot less scary when he straps on a geetar and starts singing. Their set was pretty short, no more than 45 minutes, I'd say, but they seemed to cover their discography pretty evenly. I know they played at least one song from their first album, and a lot from their last two, and I presume their second and third albums were represented as well, but to be honest, I'm not that familiar with those. Without knowing the numbers, I'd guess they played more songs from Traveller (the role-playing album) than from the new disc, Atavism. There was one song I was really hoping to hear from the new one ("Hiberno--Latin Invasion"), and they didn't play it, but otherwise I was totally happy with the setlist. The crowd was thoroughly into it, too, which, as I've said before, makes even a good show better. I left the show with a handful of t-shirts and an unpleasant reek about me. What more can you ask from a night of metal?

Follow ye olde "Continue Reading" link for some pictures.

My digital camera is not particularly adept at low-light photography, but I do appreciate the ghosty images it produces with the "nighttime scenery" setting. The last picture is Bible of the Devil, but the others are all Slough Feg.



More Mike

Slough Feg

Yet More Mike

Bible of the Devil

Posted by Matt at July 20, 2005 11:03 AM


A complex old Metallica / Thin Lizzy hybrid sounds enticing indeed. I'm downloading their samples now.

Posted by: Rob Weychert at July 20, 2005 12:57 PM

Rob : You would probably really like this band. I would start with either Atavism or Traveller. You should also check out the band Hammers of Misfortune, which has some of the same members. They're also on Cruz del Sur.

Posted by: Matt Johnsen at July 20, 2005 02:04 PM

The Sidebar is awesome. One of my friends called it the 'diviest dive' he's ever seen (and he's from the Bronx). They have a wide variety of shows (mostly hardcore, but sometimes various varieties of metal). Plus the drinks are super-cheap.
Nice to see someone else who is willing to drive over 100 miles on a weeknight...

Posted by: Sarah at July 27, 2005 11:05 AM

Sarah : Yeah, I liked the place. I would go there again in a heartbeat. Strangely, I even kinda like the late start time - it means I can leave after rush hour, and then it only takes me an hour and a half to get into Baltimore. Anyway, thanks for stopping by - I'll check out your concert blog!

Posted by: Matt Johnsen at July 28, 2005 03:59 PM

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