Tuesday, December 4, 6 PM
Negative Approach, Battlemaster, Shadow Age, True Body, Slump, Unmaker, Serqet, Gumming, Loud Night @ Strange Matter – $15 (order tickets HERE)
The holiday season is here, but for the Richmond music scene, it’s a sad time, as perhaps our most reliable mainstay for live music over the past decade is going away. However, while it’s hard to think of how we’ll get by without Strange Matter in 2019, the venue’s imminent closing seems to have created an absolute bonanza for people who love seeing awesome bands. Between now and their final closing on December 15, they’ve booked a whole passel of action-packed, star-studded farewell shows to close out their time on a high note.
Indeed, there are so many that I couldn’t possibly fit all of the worthy bills happening at Strange Matter this week into this show column without ignoring some really great shows happening around town elsewhere. But rest assured, if any of the following picks isn’t in your lane, there’s probably something amazing happening at Strange Matter that night — check out the full schedule from now til their last night over here.
All that being said, I couldn’t possibly avoid mentioning this show. It was already stacking up to feature an abundance of excellent local bands from a variety of genres… and then Negative Approach came calling. This legendary first-wave US hardcore band came roaring out of Detroit in the early 80s with an amazing treasure trove of hardcore bangers that made their debut EP and Tied Down LP classics of the era. These days, vocalist and human whirlwind of rage John Brannon keeps the band alive in the company of the band’s original drummer, plus former members of fellow hardcore legends The Necros and Easy Action on bass and guitar.
And believe me, when they hit the Strange Matter stage, they’re going to rip your fucking head off. And yes, I intend that as a very high compliment. If you haven’t seen the reunited Negative Approach on any of their previous trips through Richmond, this is the time to make it happen. After all, you’ll not only be getting to see John Brannon go wild up close and in person, you’ll be celebrating the past decade of greatness Strange Matter brought to us, and in the company of some of this town’s best local bands. Its brought Shadow Age back from their recent retirement to play their first-ever set as a quintet, the dynamic psychedelic-postpunk duo of True Body and Slump are both on the bill, Unmaker’s fresh off the release of their new album and ready to lay you flat with Killing Joke-style heaviness… and there’s a whole lot more. I’ve already taken up too much space saying even this much. Just go.
Wednesday, November 28, 6 PM
Broadside, With Confidence, Sleep On It, Small Talks @ The Canal Club – $15 in advance/$18 at the door (order tickets HERE)
Broadside have been at it for a long time here in Richmond, and they’ve been through a lot during their decade or so of existence as a band. In fact, no one we talked to for our first interview with Broadside back in 2011 is even still in the band — so that should give you an idea. However, since singer Ollie Baxxter joined the band in 2013, they’ve had a standout sound that sets them apart from the pop-punk pack and helped get them signed to Victory. Second LP Paradise showed them branching out in their sound, increasing the emphasis on melody as Ollie grew as a vocalist and showed off some teen-idol vocal chops.
But rest assured, this band still packs the sort of punch you’ll need to get you jumping and dancing even as you sing along to all those heartbreaking lyrics we’ve all memorized alone in our rooms late at night. And they’re coming to town with Australians With Confidence, who have a similarly sure-footed approach to melodic, emotional punk sounds, though these guys are more on the emo tip than Broadside’s whole post-easycore approach. New album Love And Loathing is an excellent listen, and the band will bring all those tunes to life in glorious Technicolor when they hit the Canal Club stage. Wear your basketball shoes for this one, because the club is gonna be jumping.
Thursday, November 29, 8 PM
Manatree, Stray Fossa, Bottled Up, missangelbird @ The Camel – $5 in advance/$7 at the door (order tickets HERE)
If you’d like a one-night crash course in what’s going on in the indie scene around VA, you can’t do much better than this show at the Camel. Your star attraction, as it’s been so many times, is Manatree, a group that started out as bouncy teenagers but have grown up, matured, and been through some lineup shifts in order to evolve into their current form. They’ve developed a new approach that moves away from the alt-rock and emo tinges they had on earlier material in favor of delicate, mathematically complex precision, which they showed off on Engines, the full-length they released this past summer. If you haven’t caught them live since 2016 or so, rest assured, a lot has changed — and in good ways.
To our west up 64, Stray Fossa has been putting together some excellence of their own of late, releasing debut EP Sleeper Strip earlier this fall to give us all a taste of their pensive UK-style tuneage. It borders on shoegaze, but the way frontman Nick Evans’ voice sits above the multi-layered guitars is so strong and assured that the end result is closer to pre-shoegaze UK guitar slingers like House Of Love and The Chameleons. DC’s Bottled Up let loose with a bit more distortion than the two previous bands we’ve discussed, but there’s a great deal of space in their sound nonetheless, and delicate, bouncy pop is ultimately the best way to describe their music. Recent EP BU2 is a lot of fun, and their performance at this show seems certain to be as well. Finally, Harrisonburg’s missangelbird, which grew from a series of quiet solo demos into a softly powerful indie-folk trio over the past few months, opens up, easing you into a night of lovely sounds from around the state. Don’t miss a moment.
Friday, November 30, 7 PM
Drug Church, Gouge Away, Seattle’s New Gods, Twin Drugs @ Strange Matter – $12 (order tickets HERE)
Just to show you a little bit about how the sausage is made: this double-headline bill was a major candidate for Featured Show this week. I couldn’t deny the outstanding nature of the Negative Approach show, but it in no way reduces the greatness this truly stacked lineup has to offer. Drug Church and Gouge Away have both released new albums this year, and both of them show some major growth. Drug Church’s third LP, Cheer, just came out and finds this crunching (post?) hardcore band dishing out their usual top-quality distorted midtempo riffs, only now with a slight undertone of minor-key melody that increases the emotional quotient even as lead vocalist Patrick Kindlon (also of Self Defense Family and the Axe To Grind podcast — yeah, you know this dude) is still blasting you with his usual acerbic wit and cutting insights into the darker sides of human character.
Drug Church have always had a lot to offer, and seeing them on this tour is sure to make that clear. But don’t get too excited about them and miss out on their touring partner — Gouge Away’s new LP, Burnt Sugar, is clearly the best thing this already shit-hot band has done. It finds them cleaning up their sound but continuing to lean into their driving, furious punk rock sound, with the end result landing somewhere between the excellent emotional hardcore of Xerxes circa Collision Blonde and White Lung at their career peak (that being the “Blow It South” single). Both of these bands are guaranteed to offer powerful live performances that you won’t soon forget, and openers Seattle’s New Gods and Twin Drugs only make this show even cooler and more interesting. Get there.
Saturday, December 1, 6 PM
Inter Arma, Black Tusk, Earthling, Humungus, Hoboknife, Buzzard Dust, Prayer Group, The Astral Void @ Strange Matter – $15
OK I can’t talk about ALL of the Strange Matter farewell shows, but some of them definitely need specific mention, and this is one of them. This one is for all the kids who wear old faded metal t-shirts with the sleeves cut off all summer, and denim vests covered in patches all winter. It’s the perfect evening for people who like the idea of doom metal, but prefer bands to be too creative to fall squarely within that genre’s rather narrow borders. That description perfectly fits headliners and local metal legends Inter Arma, who have shown us over their decade-plus career that they are equally skilled at all genres of metal, and are willing to fit pieces from the majority of them, as well as some completely uncategorizable elements, into any given song of theirs. And it always rules.
But there are a ton of other bands on this bill, and all of them deserve your attention, especially Black Tusk. This Savannah, GA band has persevered despite tragedy, returning this year with TCBT, their first album since the death of founding bassist Jonathan Athon. The album’s unrelenting heavyosity makes clear that these guys still have an immense amount of metal power running through their veins, and their set at Strange Matter should make it even clearer. Of course we’ll get a ton of other great metal from around the state on this bill, from Earthling’s blackened crust rage to Humungus’s power-metal triumph and the psychedelic noise of The Prayer Group. Plus more! Get that vest out and let’s rage.
Sunday, December 2, 3 PM
Doll Baby, American Television, Alex Jonestown Massacre @ Hardywood – Free!
It’s always fun to visit Hardywood on a Sunday afternoon when Handmade Holiday is in full swing. Tons of crafters, artists, and other local vendors will be on hand to offer you an artisanal alternative to the Christmas gifts the big-box stores are all pushing this year. And what makes this Sunday afternoon’s Handmade Holiday presentation even cooler is the presence of three excellent bands to liven up your afternoon and give you sounds to tap your foot to as you browse through the tents and get some holiday shopping done.
American Television are the out-of-towners, but they’re from just up the road in DC, and they’ve got a great sound that will find a home in RVA’s heart for sure. The “Death Defier” single they released this summer, which was sold in conjunction with a signature dark roast coffee if you can believe that, has the kind of caffeinated rush you’d expect from a melodic punk band with an addiction to the dark nectar of the bean. The signature roast is sold out, but they’ve still got plenty of killer tunes to deliver to you this Sunday afternoon, as do local favorites Doll Baby and up-and-coming young band Alex Jonestown Massacre. It’s free, it starts at 3 PM, there are food trucks where you can score a late brunch, and you can get all your gift-shopping done in one place. What more could you ask for?
Monday, December 3, 7 PM
WHY?, Lala Lala @ The Broadberry – $15 in advance/$20 day of show (order tickets HERE)
Remember when people used to talk about “backpacker hip hop”? It doesn’t get brought up as much now, but all that stuff released during the 00s on Anticon, Definitive Jux, and similar labels had a real effect on the culture and stretched the sounds and ideas of hip hop into new realms. Why?, a group formed by former cLOUDDEAD rapper and Anticon all-star Yoni Wolf in the mid-2000s, was a big part of that expansion. The project started as a de facto solo thing for Wolf, but soon evolved into a four-piece band that incorporated guitars, keyboards, and drums into a sound that was almost closer to indie than anything anyone would expect from a project associated with the hip hop genre.
But Wolf was still rapping over it all, and it created an intriguing fusion, one that Why? were largely responsible for creating, most prominently on their landmark 2008 album, Alopecia. You might hear about the fusion of rap and rock and think cringingly of Limp Bizkit, but Why?’s sound was about as far as you could get from that, accentuating Wolf’s thoughtful lyrical pensiveness with a quiet, contemplative indie sound that fit in well with groups like the Silver Jews — who Why? actually toured with back then. And they made their mark on a whole generation of music lovers, from hip hop heads to indie kids and everything in between. On this 10th anniversary tour for Alopecia, they’ll be bringing all those fans into the same room once again, and it’s sure to blow your mind whether you were there for the first go-round or you’re just discovering Yoni Wolf and his excellent band today. It’s something you need to see.
Tuesday, December 4, 8 PM
Ghost @ Dominion Energy Center – $39.50 – $79.50 in advance (order tickets HERE)
Nearly a decade after their formation, Sweden’s Ghost remain a very interesting band. Their theatrical Satanism, always exemplified by elaborate characters and onstage costumery, took a bit of a hit after legal action by former members of the group revealed the identity of mastermind Tobias Forge. Forge has actually been the band’s frontman throughout the many transferrences of the vocal position between different characters over the years, and he’s portraying yet another new character on the current Ghost tour — Cardinal Copia, a break from the Papa Emeritus lineage.
However, neither official character changes nor demystification has slowed Ghost down one bit. While their image might lead you to expect King Diamond/Cradle Of Filth-style theatrical thrash, their music has always hewed to a more classic proto-metal sound in line with late 60s-early 70s pioneers like Covenant, Bloodrock, or Blue Oyster Cult. That remains true on Prequelle, their latest offering, which carries their spooky, organ-fueled sound forward into a haunting, multi-layered extravaganza. It’s a bit late in the holiday season for Ghost’s current tour to arrive in Richmond — Halloween would have been much more appropriate — but with two full sets of excellent music and an incredible stage show, we’d be total grinches to complain.
Bonus Hampton Roads Picks:
Wednesday, November 28, 7 PM
Kaonashi, Cryptodira, Vatican, Accident Prone, Nhibitions, Split Wrist @ Charlie’s American Cafe – $10 in advance/$13 day of show (order tickets HERE)
It’s been nice to see a new generation of metallic hardcore kids who aren’t afraid to embrace the influence of nu-metal on their music. Because the fact is, the best of those bands had a lot to offer. When PA metalcore maniacs Kaonashi hit us with unabashed Slipknot and Mudvayne influences on their latest EP, Why Did You Do It?, it demonstrates clearly what sort of value can still be gained from those angst-ridden late-90s thrashers who loved tuning down and sporting eyeliner. Kaonashi songs like “My 5 Year Plan” and “You’ll Understand When You’re Older” mix the out-of-control moments of emotional meltdown that marked the best nu-metal into a recipe cobbled together from the best elements of deathcore’s downtuned thud and the gothic emo-prog of groups like Chiodos and Coheed And Cambria.
Kaonashi aren’t alone in following this thread to wherever it leads them — Sworn In has done quite a bit with it over the past few years, and Vein are certainly dipping a bit more than just a toe into the nu-metal pool on their new album. But Kaonashi’s new EP shows that they’re on the forefront of this musical territory, and they are sure to take it to another level entirely in the live arena — making attendance at this Charlie’s American Cafe show tonight all but mandatory (assuming you can make the drive). New Jersey’s Cryptodira are also on this bill, bringing an erudite take on progressive death-metalcore to the table, as showcased on 2017’s excellent The Devil’s Despair. Straight edge metalcore thrashers Vatican, who hail from Georgia, will also hit the stage with metalcore fury that harkens back to the genre’s 90s roots (so you know I’m stoked). All that plus three heavy-as-fuck local openers… gas up the Mustang, y’all. We’re going.
Thursday, November 29, 8 PM
Raven, Songe, Doomsday Lullaby @ Riffhouse Pub – $10
In a world where it seems musicians spend just as much time reinventing the wheel as they do building on the traditions of those that came before, it’s no surprise that some younger metal fans today don’t even remember the legends of the early 80s “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” scene. But that doesn’t make it any less vital, essential, and important to everything that followed. You might not know the name Raven as well as you do other legendary NWOBHM acts like Iron Maiden and Motorhead, but they’re every bit as good, and if you value the history of the music you love, you need to be paying attention.
Raven’s probably best known today for their mid-80s albums — 1983’s All For One featured a song called “Athletic Rock,” in which Raven named their own musical genre years before the “active rock” format was even a twinkle in a Clear Channel exec’s eye, while 1985’s Stay Hard produced their biggest hit, “On And On.” Three decades later, though, Raven’s founding Gallagher brothers, bassist John and guitarist Mark, are still going strong, and 2015’s ExtermiNation showed that they’ve still got the furious metal power they wielded at the height of their fame. So get a history lesson at Riffhouse Pub tomorrow night, and let Raven show you that metal was heavy as hell even before you were born.
Email me if you’ve got any tips for me about upcoming shows (that take place after the week this column covers–this week’s column has obviously already been written): [email protected] [and yeah, there’s plenty more of my writing to read over at GayRVA — come say hey.]
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