Sometimes you find yourself driving an hour and a half up a highway, cramming a burrito in your mouth as the sun sets and turns the horizon from dusk to pitch black, alternating chugging gulps of black coffee with keeping your hands on the wheel in order to keep the black compact sedan bullet you're speeding in from flying off the road. When you arrive at the destination, you know you're on the guest list but everything's happening in the basement of one half of a crappy duplex, so you pay the seven bucks anyway because you know at least two of the bands drove at least three hours to play this crappy show. In the living room, everyone's sitting around on couches watching "Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!" with the subtitles on while the reverberating sound check from the bass is rattling the walls and floor. And every so often, a dog trots down the stairs, looks at everyone, drops its tail and heads back upstairs.
Medusa opened the show, and I have the feeling they may be better on record than they are live. Playing metal riffs somewhere between Turbonegro and modern metal like High on Fire, they had their moments, definitely. But the guitars were having problems keeping the right tone and you could hear some unintentional dissonance on some of the notes. It's not a big deal, and they played great, but there's often a step that bands take when they concentrate on making the entire band sound great together live instead of every individual bringing their 'A' game and hoping it all works out well. They have potential, but definitely designed for a more mainstream metal crowd.
And speaking of professionalism, there was an obvious jump in sound quality when Sweet Cobra took the, er, floor. I've said it before, but Sweet Cobra sounds like Born Against covering Black Sabbath's "Paranoid." And that's meant to be taken as the highest compliment. They blew through a set of songs off both Praise and Forever, tearing through "Content with the Tide" and "Bandicoot" from the former and "Road Born Orphan," "Fucking Fertilizer" and "True Crime, True Criminal" from the latter. They closed with the fucking amazing "Jackals and Arabs," a punishing driving song with a fist-pumping mid-tempo rhythm and some heavy fucking low end. They destroyed that tiny, tiny basement.
And then it was time for the whole reason I made the trip: Akimbo, on a months-long tour across the United States and back, was playing their entire new album Jersey Shores in full every night. It's a 45-minute-long epic opus concept album about a string of vicious shark attacks in 1916 along the New Jersey coast. Being the brown-nosing music reviewer I am, I had a copy of the album for months ahead of time, memorizing every note for this moment to come. Waiting, brooding, driving and standing. After the set was over, my ears were completely fucked. It's no secret the band has a really loud stage sound, often bypassing PAs in most medium-sized clubs. Playing in a 10 x 20 concrete basement wasn't exactly a prime sound location. And when I walked upstairs, I was unable to hear conversations happening a foot away from me. Every sound sounded like guitar feedback or a fax machine connecting. Or better yet, a demonic robot hell-bent on destroying life. We're talking enough ear damage here to leave me nauseous the second day in.
And oh baby was it worth it. The album is cut up of six songs ranging from six minutes to 13, strung together by interludes and loops and ambient bass noise. Those of you familiar with the band's sound will recognize the heavy lurch of pummeling riffs, but new to you will be the extensive foray into experimenting with dynamics, classic rock guitar solos, a wide vocal range and the aforementioned interludes. No longer content with being one of the loudest and wildest bands around, Akimbo is now one of the most expressive bands. Fitting that the band's record was picked up by Neurot, Neurosis' label, for this album.
Sad to say that many of the intricacies in the bass and guitar were lost in the washout, but how many times can you really be so immersed in sound like that? Every note was hit perfectly; the performance mirrored the album to a dot. After the show, Nat the drummer said they had to cut out about two-thirds of what they normally would do, but if Superfan #1 couldn't tell, then I don't know what they were talking about.
Despite being 45 straight minutes of rock and not-rock, the performance whizzed by faster than it felt. The music is a cohesive block that tells the story of these shark attacks from beginning to end, and like a good movie (and yes, I've been tempted to write an essay comparing the album to German Expressionist film), you don't even notice the time go by.
Our parents may have had the Monterrey Pop Festival or Woodstock, but I'll always be able to say that I saw Akimbo play Jersey Shores from start to finish in a basement with only 15 other people, and it was something that may have defined my life forever.