Shows should not start at 10pm. Not four-band ones, anyway, and not ones billed to start two hours earlier. Granted, late starts are good for laggards in Los Angeles on whom the parking gods frown. Finding parking near Three Clubs always leaves me a bit murderous. This is a justifiable price to pay, I suppose, for the chance to spy Lemmy (though I've never seen him at this reputed hangout) or Manny Pacquiao, whose Wild Card Boxing Club is next door. I found parking, didn't kill anyone in the process, and got a faceful of heavy. The night was good.

But, man, was it long. I was tired by the time Trees began. I'll never get to see Burning Witch or Khanate play, so I'll make do with Trees. Derivative though their music may be, it makes for a great show. Everything about this Portland quartet is strange. The vocalist turns his back to the crowd most of the time. The bassist sits on a chair, facing back towards the drummer. The drummer never plays anything resembling a rhythm. And the guitarist just stands there. He plays slooowly moving chords along with his bandmates, but he might as well be granite. I've never seen such under-utilization of a BC Rich.

Surprisingly, this arrangement works It is the inverse of a typical metal show, which directs energy outwards. Trees feel like a constant implosion. One note tolls, then another one some long seconds later, then a few more. This occurs seemingly randomly - I saw the drummer counting time on his hi-hat only once - but it stems from deep connections within the band. Trees' axis is their bassist and drummer. They look at each other for virtually the whole set. It is hard to mantain eye contact with anyone for more than a few seconds; to sustain it for over half an hour requires great trust. In between chest-caving strikes, the vocalist shrieked, and the drummer thwocked snares occasionally as if tenderizing meat. This was music of distillation, stripping away constructs like structure and melody to reveal, well, pain. It felt good.

. . .

Monarch! continued the punishment. I've never cottoned to their brand of extreme doom on record. Then again, such engulfing music is meant for live expression. This was the French band's first US tour. The band was mostly French, anyway; I was surprised to see Dark Castle drummer Rob Shaffer behind the kit. (He relayed the news of an already-mastered, Sanford Parker-recorded Dark Castle album out on Profound Lore next year.) I asked him how it was to play in Monarch!, as their time-stretching doom is a far cry from Dark Castle's creaky sludge. His eyes lit up. "So fun!" he said. It showed. He made frequent eye contact with the axemen - music without a regular pulse requires this - and made his snares crack so hard, I actually winced. Frequently he would stand up, only to slam down shuddering accents. He was having a ball.

So were his bandmates. On the surface, Monarch!'s music is like Trees': ultra-slow, ultra-downtuned doom. But Trees literally direct their energy inwards, while Monarch! bring explosions. Their bassist wielded dramatic upstrokes, as if trying to rip his strings out. Their guitarist was a dead ringer for author Ian Christe. And vocalist Emilie Bresson, in a nice Sunday dress, added a je ne sais quoi. Behind a table laden with effects pedals and candles, she didn't sing so much as make sounds. Moans and screams wafted upwards in a ghostly effluvium. She reminded me of a more abstract version of Bloody Panda's Yoshiko Ohara. (The two bands will start touring together tomorrow.) At one point, the band broke with its convention and launched into an actual riff with an actual rhythm. That felt so foreign, it felt hostile. Upending expectations so that the expected was unexpected: genius!

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Archons complemented Monarch! and Trees well. Those bands considered time as a plaything, but Archons treated it like a stern master. Scott Driscoll is one of the most best drummers I have seen, and I have seen hundreds, if not thousands. He's not flashy or fast, but he plays exactly the right thing. This is rare in drummers. Most are either just there or too there; few have the ability, as Driscoll does, to slot in perfectly between and behind riffs.

This ability was crucial, since Archons' riffs aren't great. They're not bad, a mix of noise rock and sludge. But I've seen Archons twice, and I can't remember any of their songs or riffs. Memorability matters. Live, though, volume can make up for it. At one point, I parked myself in front of Jeff Doom's (is that his real name???) amp and basked in the filth roaring from it. I am not an amp worshipper, but pure sound can be a pleasure. With Driscoll carving out beats like a chef with sharp knives, the set went down a treat.

. . .

Lesbian went on after 1am. Despite Alee's glowing recommendation, I am not a fan of their new record, Stratospheria Cubensis. It is creative, ambitious, well-played, and well-recorded. It is also not for me. Anything "psychedelic" tends to make me flee. I prefer music with hard edges - metal, not sort-of-metal. But sort-of-metal was the right thing to hear after hours of high-volume punishment. The set's first third was a massage-like web of clean tones. Even when heavy tones kicked in, the attack remained soft. I felt like I was floating in distortion, with hints of riffs in the distance. The metalhead side of me rebelled, but the side of me that simply wanted to make it through the set said, "Stay - this isn't so bad". In fact, it was good. The microphone went mostly unused. Instrumental prog/psych sort-of-metal - The Fucking Champs come to mind - not my thing, but not without merit. I would see this band again.

Other than "I should hate this, but I don't", my main impression was how incongruous the band looked. Two guys looked like total metal dudes, like they could join Vader tomorrow. One fellow with glasses and long hair had a gentler look, like he would play in a drone doom band. (Either, that or a cult '80s American metal band that only plays European festivals now.) Then the drummer looked like a total hipster: curly hair, pastel-colored shirt, could play Krist Novoselic in a movie. Despite my initial misgivings, I found him fascinating to watch. He had a jazzy technique, like an indie rock version of Rich Hoak. His playing was free-flowing and spontaneous. At one point, he stuck his stick on the disco ball above him and contemplated on that for a few moments. He also spent some time just sticking his left leg out into the air. Archons drummer Driscoll, he of martial precision and conciseness, was watching. I wonder what he was thinking. I know what I was thinking. The band was good, and it was way too late.

— Cosmo Lee

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MONARCH! - US TOUR 2010
Remaining dates

Nov 09 East Oakland CA @ Terminal w/ Trees + Riqis, Sutekh Hexen
Nov 10 Richmond VA @ Strange Matters w/ Bloody Panda
Nov 11 Baltimore MD @ The Sidebar w/ Bloody Panda, Pala
Nov 12 Manhattan NY @ Cake Shop w/ Bloody Panda, Tinsel Teeth
Nov 13 Brooklyn NY @ Union Pool w/ Bloody Panda, Evoken
Nov 15 Boston MA @ O' Briens w/ Bloody Panda
Nov 16 Portland, Maine @ Geno's w/ Bloody Panda & Ocean

Audio samples of Monarch!’s new album @ Crucial Blast

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LESBIAN - US WEST COAST TOUR 2010
Remaining dates

Nov 11 @ Sugar Mountain w/ Pigs, Cormorant (Oakland, CA)
Nov 12 @ Cafe Coda (Chico, CA)
Nov 13 @ The Alibi (Arcata, CA)
Nov 14 @ Oak Street Speakeasy (Eugene, OR)
Nov 15 @ Tube (Portland, OR)

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