I’ve been a Trouble fan since the early eighties, so naturally I’m happy that here in the present day there are basically two Troubles. The Trouble still called Trouble and featuring guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell recently (well, two years ago now) released “The Distortion Field”, and it’s good but doesn’t sound to me like classic Trouble due to the absence of vocalist Eric Wagner. On the other hand, The Skull, named after the second Trouble album, does sound like classic Trouble because it’s Eric Wagner’s band. He is joined by longtime (but not original) Trouble bassist Ron Holzner and ex-Pentagram members Sean Haley on drums and Matt Goldsborough on guitar. The band is rounded out by ex-Sacred Dawn guitarist Lothar Keller.
I haven’t seen Trouble since 1987, when they performed an extremely short set opening for King Diamond at The Stone in San Francisco (set list here). My only other experience seeing the band was at the fabled Ruthie’s Inn in Berkeley, way back in 1984 (over 31 years ago!) when they played with Megadeth (historical note: this was Megadeth’s first show). See the set list here. In short, I was long overdue for another live dose of some classic Trouble songs.
I wasn’t familiar with any of the opening bands, and truth be told, wasn’t really that excited about having to sit through them while waiting for The Skull to do their thing. Moses had dropped from the bill for some reason, so there were only three openers, instead of four.
Happily, my trepidation ended up being for nought.
Despite my lack of interest in seeing the opening bands, I got there before the music started. Why is it that even when I try to be late I get there early?
Hellbeard is an especially dubious name, but fortunately the trio was enjoyable. Early on, my opinion vacillated between, “I’ve heard songs like this a million times before” and “Damn! This is heavy!”. I think I detected a slight Godflesh influence in the mid-paced, chugging rhythms and howling vocals. There seemed to be two guitarists and no bassist, but one of the guitars was either a six-stringed bass or tuned to sound like a bass, so it was more of a visual and less of an auditory difference. I enjoyed the heavy grooves woven through the songs. In short, what they lacked in originality they made up for with extreme heaviness. For what it's worth, they call themselves "post metal".
Next up was Crimson Eye. From the name, I was expecting bad prog rock, but happily, this proved not to be the case. The guitar tone was powerfully Iommi-esque, and the vocalist tended toward the epic doom metal sound, with occasional detours into a harsher style. I was reminded of bands like Candlemass and Dio-era Sabbath. The varied vocal style sets them apart from their obvious influences though, and in this case, it worked well. By the end of the evening, Crimson Eye proved to be my favorite of the three supporting bands. At the merch table, I was told that their debut album would be out soon. I look forward to hearing it.
Hornss continued the Sabbath-inspired mayhem by injecting a good dose of the Melvins into their sound. Their songs were also faster, sometimes sounding like a stoner rock/thrash metal/punk hybrid. The vocals were a bit buried in the mix, but what I heard occasionally reminded me a bit of Buzz from the Melvins. I bought a copy of their album, “No Blood, No Sympathy”, after the show ended, and it’s an enjoyable listen.
By this time, I would have expected the venue to be packed, but the crowd was surprisingly anemic. I did run into a couple of old friends, Shayne and Jason, who I knew from the late eighties Gilman St. crowd. They were recording the show with multiple cameras, and will have the results available somewhere online when they get to it. I’ll go back and link it here when that happens. It was good to see them after all of these years. I used to trade tapes with Jason back in the eighties (note to younger readers – that’s how we “shared music files” back then).
Then it was time for The Skull. The band arrived on stage and with no ceremony ripped into R.I.P. from their self-titled 1990 album. They followed that up with the controlled rage of Bastards Will Pay from their 1984 debut. It was already obvious that this was going to be a hugely heavy set. Eric Wagner’s voice sounded as good as ever, and the guitarists not only managed to nail the Trouble sound, but engaged in some breathtaking lead work as well (with the band's emphasis on heavy riffing it's sometimes easy to overlook the beautifully melodic soloing). The majority of the set was given over to Trouble classics, and we were treated to Plastic Green Head, Thinking of the Past, At the End of My Daze, Psychotic Reaction, and more, all sounding as good as ever. The encore was the one-two double punch of the massively heavy The Tempter, and the shorter, more upbeat Assassin, both from their long-ago debut. The Tempter, especially, is a headbanger’s delight, with a sawing riff that makes movement mandatory. It made me feel like a teenager again (for better or for worse).
Here’s a short clip of The Tempter:
There were a few songs from the new The Skull album, “For Those Which Are Asleep”, and they were of a similar high standard, if not yet etched across my psyche like the classic Trouble songs are.
The self-medicators in the audience shared enough of their medicine with Wagner that he complained he was likely to forget the lyrics.
At one point, I looked to my left and saw the infamous Harald Oimeon (co-author of the Bay Area thrash photo book “Murder In the Front Row” and current D.R.I. bassist) waving a flying pig around. Later, Ron Holzner mimed stomping on it. The pig survived the evening though.
The audience survived the evening too, although many of us were no doubt nursing sore necks the next day. I know I was.
Around the corner from the venue, a silent figure stared out of a window:
Here's the set list from The Satellite, in Los Angeles, a couple of days after the show reviewed here. It' s the same list, if memory serves, but nobody has uploaded one for The Metro yet.