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Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Graveyard, Twin Temple @ Union Transfer, Philadelphia (Live Report)

In 1969, Coven ended the album Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls with an actual Satanic Mass. Half a century later, Twin Temple start their set with one, only this one implores Old Scratch to rid the world of sexism and racism proving that in these enlightened times the devil has a lot more than just the best tunes. Inspiration for the group goes back even farther than Jinx Dawson’s crew 50 years ago. The Los Angeles band plays self-described Satanic doo-wop with crooning vocalist Alexandra James making like a teenager in love… with Satan. It’s a sock hop from hell with candelabras, skulls, chanting, and lots of buzzing rock and roll-era sax appeal.

Twin Temple is cheeky fun — how can it not be when during “Lucifer, My Love” she says Jesus is a lousy kisser? Sure, it’s gimmicky, but it’s a clever gimmick and, in its own way, far more earnest than such a thing has a right to be.

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By comparison, Graveyard seemed positively modern. It’s all relative, right? The hirsute Swedes encapsulate everything from the 1970s on a single stage: Shaggy manes, dark denim, scruffy faces… blues clues in the riffs and Joakim Nilsson’s hoarsely-spun tales of good times and bad times (you know he’s had his share, and spoiler: there’s often a woman involved who may have done him wrong.) In the live setting, the band’s repertoire seemed more expansive, a throwback in a slightly unexpected way. At times they come this close to full-on free-form jamming, and maybe if they were closing the show, that’s exactly what they do.

During the “Walk On” solo, it was easy to imagine the tickle of piano keys take over the break even though keys were nowhere to be found. The Thin Lizzy-inspired “Burning Truth” felt like it had the impetus to turn into an extended version. “Hard Times Lovin’” might have been dragged out for 20 minutes as if it was on Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies.

Still, this uneasy restraint wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It allowed Graveyard to touch upon most of their discography and also give a proper showcase for last year’s solid Peace comeback, playing seven of the disc’s ten cuts. It helped that they got over an hour to play while being listed as a co-headliner.

That ‘70s Show continued with Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats though they were about as markedly different from Graveyard as possible for such kindred spirits. The band performed as silhouettes surrounded by enough acrid smoke to set off five fire alarms while psychedelic images were projected behind them. It reduced the band to semi-anonymous shadows of cascading hair. The claustrophobic atmosphere was like watching an overly compressed video rather than a live performance featuring musicians who were mere feet away. The feeling perfectly encapsulated the discontented paranoia of the band’s lyrics.

Speaking of which, next to the setlist on the stage was a binder of handwritten lyrics — Ozzy Osbourne relied on a teleprompter in later years, and it’s not uncommon for a singer to have lyrics handy when attempting a cover song, but there surely aren’t many examples of vocalists who are not senior citizens singing their own material who have a book onstage.

During a few choice cuts, the backdrop shifted from lava-lamp level hallucinogenics to grainy pictures. They tended to do this for entire songs. For example, during “Mind Cracker,” the band played in front of a stream of semi-consciousness collage that featured, in order: dusty reprobate bikers, jiggling go-go-girls, a close-up of a line of coke, an exploding Jesus, a line of smiling models, some naked people, an eyeball, some cars on a freeway at night, Charles Manson’s eyes, a sun flare, a bunch of Quaaludes, a close-up of blood vessels filling up with plasma, and finally various cruise missiles in flight.

Probably a bunch more things too, but a man can take in so much before insanity kicks in.

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The sparkling bubblegum pop of “Dead Eyes of London” off the Vol. 1 debut proved that Uncle Acid was always more than yet another wannabe heir to Iommi’s thorny throne. Seeing it performed with the context of the rest of the band’s discography makes it all the more evident that Uncle Acid emerged from the womb the least Sabbath-influenced maker of dirgy 1970s jams. Even the “After Forever” flavored interlude during “Mt. Abraxas” doesn’t dissuade that fact, and even that isn’t the stereotypical chug everyone else stole — that said, the droning “I’ll Cut You Down” mimics the plod of “Hole in the Sky” perfectly.

Otherwise, most of it, and specifically most everything from last year’s Wasteland, glittered like David Bowie wanted to be a metalhead. There is genuine pop songcraft here, the best parts Redd Kross stole from Cheap Trick, and it’s especially obvious when Kevin Starrs and Vaughn Stokes do their patented falsetto harmonies, which is nearly always. It’s just a hell of a lot darker.

Acid isn’t just the band’s name, it’s a way of life. Here’s hoping they never kick the habit.

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