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Eyehategod & Fight Amp Live in Wilmington’s Ziggy’s by the Sea

Words and photos by Blair Hopkins
Words and photos by Blair Hopkins

Ziggy’s By The Sea in Wilmington, North Carolina, is a near-perfect metal venue. The layout of the theater is simple, just an open concrete room with a stage that’s large and high for the venue’s size (capacity 746). That, coupled with the quality of sound and lighting, make Ziggy’s reminiscent of one of my favorite places, Oakland’s beloved Metro Operahouse. The music scene in Wilmington is small but tight-knit and thriving, perhaps in part due to the arrival of this relatively new venue. I saw the evidence firsthand on Sunday, April 17, with Eyehategod and Fight Amp.

Outside chatting with people, I was quickly caught up on all the scene’s juiciest gossip and had about a dozen leads on well-regarded new bands. Among the shows attendees were Dixie Dave and Randy Blythe, who kept a low profile except to graciously indulge fans who wanted pictures with them, and turnout seemed solid for a Sunday night with lots of support even for the early openers, Double-Wide and Wilmington locals American Americans.

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Double-Wide had an exceptional set, with a well-balanced sound, impressive bass lines and strong vocals. Those of us in the audience weren’t ready for the way they threw us into the deep end straight off; they fit the bill perfectly and had people talking about them for the remainder of the night.

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American Americans kept pace easily, their home-field advantage giving them lots of energy to feed off. My biggest takeaway was that their bass player has more fun than any of us. He plays with power while bouncing around smiling alongside sterner bandmates. In my mind, his gig pre-game ritual involves sharing a batch of home-brewed kombucha with his fellow parkour enthusiasts in the park, and those who know him personally describe him as being “full of life.” A closer investigation reveals I wasn’t far off; he was drinking coconut water and shared it with friends in the crowd between songs. I was skeptical after being informed that American Americans have been described as “southern metal/hardcore,” but they killed.

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The real treat of the evening was Fight Amp. The band hails from Jersey and Philadelphia and are just wrapping up a two-week stint as Eyehategod’s direct support, but, Fight Amp differ from recent EHG openers like grindcore/thrash act Full of Hell. They are self-described “sludge punk,” but come across smarter and more musically evolved than most punk. On stage they have a noticeable sense of humor. One can hear some early-’90s industrial influence in the production on their latest album, Constantly Off, and a significant amount of grunge homage, as if Stone Temple Pilot’s “Purple” had a heavy metal baby with a more exciting drummer. About halfway through their set, I found myself thinking “I cannot wait to listen to this stoned.”

Fight Amp has been hitting the studio hard, with nine releases under their belt since 2009, and the work is paying off. Constantly Off is a fantastic album through-and-through, and the reviews reflect it. Their live performance is incredibly tight and the number of people who showed up specifically to see them at Ziggy’s was impressive, given their headliner.

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Eyehategod’s set was unremarkable, but only in the sense that they are so consistent live that it’s barely necessary to say anything at all. Fight Amp’s front man introduced Eyehategod by asking attendees if they were ready to “have their faces melted off.” Mike IX Williams gets on stage, blows a snot rocket and wipes his nose, leaving a snail trail on his fingerless hobo gloves, he and Jimmy Bower rib each other and the crowd lightheartedly for a couple minutes, the feedback kicks up and the crowd gets its faces melted off for two hours. Williams and Bower are a natural Vaudevillian double act, with Bower playing the straight man to Williams’ screaming and swaying. Also, as an aside, Gary Mader may be the only bassist who’s playing I’d describe as “sarcastic,” which is especially satisfying for “Medicine Noose” and “Revelation/Revolution.”

The group has been at it long enough to be completely in control of their fans’ enthusiastic and occasionally manic energy. When a couple of guys in the pit took it a little too far and started shoving, Bower put the kibosh on the situation instantly and effectively with a gentle chiding of, “hey now guys, there’s no fighting at our shows,” then a mammoth bouncer “encouraged” the surly gentlemen to hug it out before the show could go on. Later, a kid who looked to be about 8 years old crowd surfed like a champion, with the crowd and band all effectively facilitating his safe return to the ground.

—Blair Hopkins

Double Wide

American Americans

Fight Amp

Eyehategod

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