Woe Monger were the first to drop in on the ramp. The men of gloom oozed their sludgy hardcore so intensely, they apparently made a guy blow chunks by the stage. Taking time out from growling and punching imaginary enemies with the mic, vocalist Chad Jones subsequently informed the crowd that they recently recorded their debut album. Fans of High on Fire would be well advised to keep an eye out for that when it (hopefully) comes out later this year.
Even more immediate, Dead Quiet's lead vocalist/guitarist Kevin Keegan said that his band had just finished recording a new album earlier that day, the follow-up to their rib-rattling eponymous debut album from 2015. Though he claimed the stoner doom quintet was exhausted by that process, you couldn't tell from their performance. They had such a good time that keyboardist Justin Hagberg tossed in a little joy between songs, like the riff from a-ha's pop classic "Take on Me," while Keegan contemplated challenging Woe Monger to a cock-measuring contest, to see if they could "tango."
Dead Quiet were tight as a unit, and looked the part with the long, flowing manes one would expect from a band so rich with '70s rock overtones, but the star of the show was clearly Keegan. With the confident way he carried himself through his choice solos and grungy vocals, Keegan was on fire, tensing his face as he sang and acting out the lyrics with feverish hand gestures. There's a ton of talent in this band, though, which counts members of Barn Burner, Bend Sinister and 3 Inches of Blood among its ranks.
With guitarist Brock MacInnes pulling double duty in Dead Quiet and the headliner, having replaced the well-loved Chris Dyck on rhythm guitar earlier this year, Anciients kept the momentum going into the early morning with an hour-long set that confirmed their Polaris Music Prize and Juno nominations were well-earned, toning down the '70s rock nods of Dead Quiet for their more progressive metal approach in the vein of Opeth and Mastodon, as heard on their 2016 sophomore album, Voice of the Void.
Armed with the bushy beard of a wily nomad and the unflinching intensity of Mads Mikkelsen, guitarist/vocalist Kenneth Cook has an onstage gravity about him comparable to King Buzzo (Melvins). Cook looked as if Hades was going to spring from his forehead like Athena when he growled on the mic, but instead let loose a string of righteous, string-teasing solos on guitar (Yes, you should take guitar lessons from this guy). He commanded attention, with booming bassist Aaron "Boon" Gustafson, devastating drummer Mike Hannay and the seemingly tireless MacInnes backing him up every step of the way.
Of all the bands, Anciients were the only ones to get a decent mosh going. The mosh started off rather slowly — just a couple guys shoving around ten minutes in that quickly dissipated — but it eventually regained momentum, becoming larger and more belligerent as it went on. Eventually, people were running off the ramp and sliding down into the crowd, sending butts and beers to the floor in their wake. That was fun to watch from the relative safety off the ramp's lip, which provided choice seating to the sides.
Whatever the SBC may have lacked in refinement, it more than made up for with character. For the acoustic nightmare of the space, the sound was pretty solid, with the sound guy planted in the middle of the crowd constantly tweaking levels. There was a generally respectful, friendly crowd too; they let a guy in a wheelchair through before each set, so he could be up front and see. All three bands on this bill were quality too, so they're doing a lot of things right.
Overall, I had more fun at this $8.50 show than I have at most $85 stadium shows. Character and substance trumps bread and circus every time.