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Whenever Dax Riggs comes around, I pretty much drop everything and go see him. Not because I’m such a big fan, though I do love most of his stuff. And not because his shows are so rare these days; he’s played New York pretty much yearly for the past few years.
Rather, I often worry that Dax Riggs is going to die young. The guy has been singing about death and drug abuse for over twenty years. He has also been living the life of a touring musician for most of that period — a life that isn’t especially kind to those who choose it, especially the less successful among them. Riggs has clearly put his body through a lot. When I last saw him in late 2011, he looked peaked and played haltingly, mumbling curses into the mic whenever he made a mistake. It was not a healthy man’s performance.
But judging by Riggs’s set at the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan last Friday (6/28), he is doing better both health-wise and business-wise. The Mercury Lounge is a 250-cap venue that does not cater to metal whatsoever; it was packed, largely with yuppie types wearing non-black clothing. (Granted, some of them were there to see openers Spires, an indie buzz band who prove that dull 70s pastiches are as popular in that genre as they are in metal.) Riggs, virtually alone amongst the metal-guy-turned-singer/songwriter set that he effectively founded, seems to have escaped the ghettoized world of huge riffs and found a broader audience.
Riggs’s music has waned greatly in complexity and loudness over the decades. It’s fun to play Acid Bath side by side with the combo-amp blues rock of his last two solo albums. His current live setup is even sparser — just Riggs with an acoustic guitar and a bassist who contributes backing vox. His set list has shifted to accommodate the spare sonics, too. The Acid Bath and Agents of Oblivion tunes that made appearances early in his solo career are long gone, replaced by a catholic selection of folk covers and recent originals.
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Dax Riggs – “I Ain’t Got No Home” (Woody Guthrie cover)
But though the volumes are low and the riffs are basic now, Dax Riggs retains a core appeal that goes back to the Acid Bath days. His stark arrangements highlight both the darkness of his lyrics and the sheer physical power of his voice, which remains one of the most expressive and beautiful sounds in contemporary music. Riggs’s recent solo material relies almost entirely on short, elliptical songs whose basic chord progressions serve as canvases for his melancholy vocal contortions. The effect is like that of a towering guitar solo played over an unobtrusive rhythm riff: nothing stands between you and the cascade of emotion.
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Dax Riggs – “Death Don’t Have No Mercy”
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