October 22nd, 2012 | Live reviews

all photos by olivia jaffe

“We’re going to do something old and nasty, because we are old and nasty!” Scott “Wino” Weinrich, the singer of Saint Vitus, is riling us up good from the big stage at the Bootleg, and he’s not exactly exaggerating: to his right, founding member Dave Chandler looks every bit the Fabulous Furry Freak Brother, his big frizzy grey hair pluming out on either side of his bandanna’d head like the black and white photo of a baboon’s butt. But the main fashion accessory here isn’t his hair, or his Godzilla t-shirt, it’s his upraised fist. Doom metal allows a lot of pauses in which a guitarist can pump the air 70’s style, even while sustaining power chords from “War Is Our Destiny” and other light classics via a lysergic wah-wah pedal.

Now Wino is smiling, beneath his own grey monk’s cowl of hair. “I can see some people in front of me who I know weren’t born when we did this motherfucker!” And it’s true, there are some young ‘uns up front tonight, though many in the crowd are looking a bit long in the tooth as well, especially the hard rock couples, the ladies in tasteful not-too-tight tees and luscious lipstick, their dates with combat boots and Road Warrior haircuts, shaved in just the right ways to make you look at the missing hair on the back and sides and not so much in the front—manly mange, a look I’m considering more and more as I think about the contrast between my middling old-young age and some of the young ladies around me.

I was born in 1976, just about the same age as the band I’m watching, which along with Witchfinder General and a few other dark, slow anathemas basically helped move underground metal towards the fork in the bloody rivulet that led to where we are now. Doom, and its younger brother Sludge, were retro movements even when those names were first coined. If the original doomy metal sound started with Black Sabbath around 1970 (or arguably even with Blue Cheer a few years earlier), then “Doom” starts an entire generation of rock later, still at least two-three generations back for those rock fans who are sober enough at this point to count.

Even the youngest band here, Splith, the openers, started and broke up in the 90s. These San Franciscites reunited a couple years back and played tonight as a duo, the drummer looking like a normal guy who might be fixing the server issues on your website, and the guitarist looking like a long-haired, slightly old-looking metal yokel who might be tough as nails, yet who I got a feeling would cry if he could just meet Cronos from Venom one more time before he died.

Splith might well have been my favorites, as their sludgy, simple metal crystallized nearly everything that’s great about this kind of music. We hung with anticipation on every tense new note, each one landing like a tightrope walker on a trapeze. It seemed impossible to keep in time and tune at that slowwwwwwwwww pace. At one point, I smiled when I realized they were playing in waltz time. Even if doom and sludge began as the delicious Sabbathy alternatives to the Jake E. Lees and Zakk Wyldes and Nuno Bennencourts of 80s metal, they still, at their base, have a trace of math rock, of prog, of having disparate time changes and coming back together. And that’s fun.

Second band Sourvein, a four-piece, were fun slightly in spite of themselves, the singer singing into a chorus-y effect and kind of doing a Salacious Crumb vocal style, reminding me of the voice I make when I try to talk like my dog. But though this is not intended as jokey music, there’s no doubt the band is aware of the humorous contradiction in playing “evil” music and spreading joy while doing it. Clyde, the drummer, told me later how they met and became friends with the band that played next, Weedeater:

“Sourvein and Weedeater are both from Wilmington, North Carolina. When I originally joined Sourvein, I lived in Wilmington with Troy and worked at a head shop where Dave from Weedeater was my manager…. We were cutting up all the time, it was completely unbridled.”

Weedeater, a band you surely must know if you deigned to read this review, is a star of the modern vintage metal scene; their sound is less Doom and more “stoner rock,” as the name would imply. There’s a buzz to their guitar sound that lingers in a hash haze between Davie Allan and the Ramones first record! And they concluded with a song that almost seemed to have a flanger effect—yet I think it was the drums, drums which somehow reverberated in a strange and, dare I say, sinister, unnatural way, something like a prayer said backwards. It’s an evil sound, like a bad trip is evil, but you’ll still be able to get up in the morning and skate home.

And so now we come to our headliners, Saint Vitus. They start with a slow dirge that grows into “Look Behind You.” In my notes, it says one of them is wearing a Weedeater T-Shirt, though I can’t be sure which one, as the length of the show and my awkwardness around younger women mean that fact and imagination are bearing a striking resemblance to themselves in the story I now write. I can say that Wino nailed it on the vocals, even on the songs originally sung by his predecessor, the technically superior Scott Reagers. And yes, they rocked us far more than any damned thing Yngwie Malmsteen ever fucking could have!

This is music that can sound like shite on your iPod, sounds great on vinyl, but really needs to be heard in a live context to get the full impact. And for years, we’ve had nary a chance—no wonder the Bootleg was now packed to the gills with every imaginable headbanger, from old dudes in ponytails and pentagram tees (the band Pentagram, or just the satanic symbol, it didn’t matter much) to nerdy guys on man-dates with corporate hair pushed just slightly forward and tousled in a way that suggested this would be the sole night of rebellion for them until the second Obama term.

And who’s to say that Saint Vitus’ reemergence isn’t a bit like that for everyone involved, even the bands on their tour? “We’re not living very pretty on the road,” Sourvein’s Clyde told me earlier. “But we’re rolling, playing with Saint Vitus and Weedeater every night.” Sounds like a great way to not make a living.

Saint Vitus guitarist Dave Chandler has been bumping around in the audience. Now he’s back on stage: he hits the wah pedal, and then lets it ride, pumping his fist into the air. They conclude with “White Stallion,” and even though I don’t know the words, I saunter out to the lobby afterwards, buy every album I can afford, and flee the scene in a stupid euphoria full of hope that someday, maybe in a few generations, I’ll still be able to feel the glee in mixing my joy up, slowly and carefully, with a little bit of evil.

—D. M. Collins