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Live Report: Conan, The Ditch and the Delta, and Witching @ Kung Fu Necktie

The tiny Kung Fu Necktie stage strained to hold all five members of Witching interspersed with ancillary equipment from all the touring bands. Bassist Tatiana Buonassisi was comically wedged into a corner, imprisoned by amps and the drum kit. Yet the plywood had it easy compared to the PA that strained at a volume local openers can only dream about.

The group plays a particularly guttural brand of stoner metal, heavy on grimy, gut-busting low end, and more mid-paced than dirgelike. Live, they’re a little faster than the studio version of their self-titled EP that they played in full, but speed didn’t dilute their power. Like a T-bone steak cooked Pittsburgh-rare, the meat was red but the edges were blackened, a product of Jacqui Powell’s convincing, cathartic shrieks. (Don’t be shocked to see Witching playing on stages they can actually fit on in the future).

The Ditch and The Delta are about as old-school as it gets. The trio dress their songs with massive amounts of distortion, and drummer Charles Bogus is as far from a keep-it-in-the-pocket type you will find. But, underneath all that noise is a band that knows heavy metal was born when a few guys took the blues and made it a little darker and a whole lot louder. Likewise, this particular Salt Lake City group uses the same blues-rock blueprint, just a hell of a lot noisier.

The fascinating thing about the band is how they strain the theoretical limits of how dense a three-piece can be. Not only were they were plenty loud, but they offered no silent contemplation for contrast. When guitarist Elliot Secrest isn’t riffing, he is providing skillful fills while Kory Quist beats his bass like it owes him money. The two also trade off vocals so often it makes a lead singer designation as futile as my earplugs. All three members look like burly cavemen, shaggy and bearded; they also play like it, ham-fisted and overwrought. They’ll likely tell you that finesse is overrated. Most bluesmen would agree.

Witching looks forward; The Ditch and The Delta looks backward. In both cases, they add wrinkles to the stoner-rock formula, whereas Conan simply embodies it and embraces all the trappings without any such embellishments. Nobody on the planet not named Matt Pike is in the same league.

Although drummer Johnny King played a European tour last October, he has yet to record with Conan, and this was his first trip to America since replacing Rich Lewis. To the surprise of nobody who heard his previous band Dread Sovereign — whose For Doom the Bell Tolls was about the least psychedelic and angriest stoner rock ever recorded — he is a perfect fit. He doesn’t overplay when a good ol’ bludgeoning will suffice, but he still makes it obvious he’s only scratching the surface of what he can do. It will be interesting to see how his style contributes to new material.

But that’s for another day. On this evening, the band rumbled through slightly more than an hour of unbridled, unhinged, masterful Stonehenge rock. Conan didn’t have a new album to promote — Revengeance is over two years old, and the Man is Myth collection from last November features demo versions of previously released songs — so they stretched out and hit on the entirety of their catalogue. This included reaching all the way back to their debut EP Horseback Battle Hammer with the especially dark “Satsumo” as well as hitting on material from all three full-length releases.

The superlatives are cliché — crushing, suffocating, pulverizing — but no less appurtenant. Doom was born in England ,so it’s natural that when the one Conan constant Jon Davis takes the flag, he flies it with the intensity of a general into a battle he knows he has to win. So he does. It’s in his lineage, in his blood, and it may very well be all he knows.

— Brian O’Neill

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