While they still get connected to the Savannah, Ga. sludge metal scene, the truth is that Baroness are now a Philly band. The members are based out of the Philadelphia area; they practice in nearby North Wales, Pa. So for the first date of their first tour since a bus accident nearly took their lives (and forced half the band to quit), it had to be Philadelphia. Sure enough, Baroness headlined Philly's Union Transfer, with quick sets from openers Tombs and Pallbearer, to great success.
Tombs had sound issues for the first few songs, unfortunately. Drummer Justin Ennis was fire on the kit, but his levels overwhelmed the rest of the band. Given that the Brooklyn sludge/black metal outfit rely on a certain amount of dissonance in their songwriting, it created a bit of unbalance. The sound guy finally got things figured out just as Tombs wrapped up. Simply put, 20 minutes was not enough time to enjoy the grooves they were laying down, but hopefully that just means they'll be back soon.
Metal act Pallbearer shared equipment with Tombs, and also benefited from having levels already figured out. Their tunes occasionally skewed towards prog, so they came out sounding stellar, although I could do without the high pitched vocals. All the same, Pallbearer went over huge with the crowd.
But they weren't the headliner. The last time Baroness played in Philadelphia was for a supporting slot with Meshuggah (although remaining members John Baizley and Pete Adams did play an acoustic show in between). They stuck to 2009's Blue Record for the most part, as the career redefining Yellow & Green hadn't been released yet. The bus accident stalled plans for a U.S. headlining tour, but here, after so much physical therapy and lineup recruiting, was Baroness, ready to honor their latest album.
I had three reactions to Baroness' live set. Sometimes I felt all three at once. On one level, there were little signs that this was the first show with new members Nick Jost (bass) and Sebastian Tompson (drums). Baizley and Adams admitted as such when they mentioned that the show had been booked before they even had a full band. There were the occasional flubs. The printed set list included key changes. Hell, Baizley's guitar cut out during "Take My Bones Away." Not that it mattered, seeing as A) Adams fired off a sweet solo anyway and B) the crowd still freaked out and started chanting "Welcome back" afterwards.
Reaction #2: Holy shit, a lot of Yellow & Green reads like a reaction to the bus accident. "Tell me when I will be whole again." "I wish I was airborne." "Take my bones away." "You have taken this for granted / Please don't take this all away." Baroness mostly stuck to the new record here, and rightfully so given the circumstances, but hearing Baizley sing about his broken body after undergoing such profound physical changes felt so damn literal. You know how some people listen to Nirvana's In Utero and Unplugged in New York for clues to Kurt Cobain's suicide? This is how it feels to listen to Yellow & Green now.
But the biggest feeling of all was simply joy for Baroness to be back. Baizley and Adams were clearly touched to have such an enthusiastic crowd. Given the circumstances, they had to stick to the set list (mostly the new album, although Blue Record cuts like "A Horse Called Golgotha,""The Sweetest Curse" and encore ender "Jake Leg" came up as well), but they promised to come back with even more tunes ready to rock. And while it would be cool to hear even more songs, I still left Union Transfer with this warm energy. Baroness were the band that got me into contemporary metal. They never repeat themselves in the studio, and they always sound organic and alive. And now they're back onstage and damn near unstoppable.
Take My Bones Away
March to the Sea
A Horse Called Golgotha
Swollen and Halo
Board Up the House
The Sweetest Curse
The Line Between