Reborn as Kyuss Lives with its old singer, drummer and bassist, the group of desert rockers reunited after an accidental get together last year. They'll play the Fox Theater on Saturday and the Wiltern in November.
They were just teenagers out in the desert at the end of the 1980s, young dudes looking to make some noise with heavy guitars and heavier attitude. They became a hard-rock band called Kyuss, playing backyards and illegal all-night “generator parties” amid the canyons and sand dunes miles outside of Palm Desert and other nearby towns.
By the time Kyuss broke apart in 1995, the band had earned a dedicated cult following for its four albums of bruising “stoner rock,” despite no hits and little radio airplay. The sound was loud and atmospheric, as loose and formidable as a pile of boulders, and as soon as Kyuss was gone, fans clamored for a reunion.
It's an epic story that now has an unexpected new chapter, with Kyuss' former singer John Garcia, drummer Brant Bjork and bassist Nick Oliveri reconvening (minus guitarist Joshua Homme) as Kyuss Lives. The band has been touring for the last seven months, and plays Saturday at the Fox Theater in Pomona, and Nov. 18 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.
Any reunion was unlikely, especially once Homme formed Queens of the Stone Age, earning the kind of broad recognition (and record sales) that Kyuss never experienced. Homme always dismissed talk of reuniting his old band, which dissolved when he was 21.
“Kyuss was like a religion to us boys — that's really what we were. I've had people say, ‘I grew up with Kyuss,' and I always think, so did I,” said Homme, 39. “Kyuss had such a beautiful story, I'm always worried how you punctuate the final sentence.”
Before the Power of the Riff came along, the local L.A. metal scene was in need of a unifying festival. It was something that Sam Velde -- frontman of L.A. band Night Horse -- and Greg Anderson of Southern Lord Records knew they needed to be a part of.
Raging inside the doors of the Echo and the Echoplex, the day-long L.A. festival created a new thrash of energy among heavy music acts ranging from punk to hardcore to heavy metal when it premiered last year in L.A., San Francisco and Seattle. And despite running on corporate cash courtesy of its partnership with Converse, the celebration of amp-splitting distortion carried a spirit of DIY ethos you might find at almost any backyard metal bash -- only with bigger bands and a couple hundred more long-haired headbangers.
This year, the festival is no longer a free event, though Converse remains partly involved. However, Anderson says the 19-band line-up -- running the gamut from underground '70s icons such as Pentagram to the modern-day brutality of Chicago band Pelican -- is what makes this fest worth the $30 price of admission. Add to that an underground record-swap meet, the Grill 'Em All food truck and pop-up shops curated by local indie labels.
In Anderson's view, it's a chance to provide both a memorable show and an appreciation to the community it serves. Judging by the festival's expansion this year -- with extended two-day line-ups in San Francisco and Seattle -- the Power of the Riff's format and philosophy have served as an example to like-minded metal fests in the U.S. and abroad. Pop & Hiss recently caught up with Anderson, who let us in on why paying to see the Power of the Riff ensures the long-term power of the people in the L.A. metal scene.
Last year's Power of the Riff was free due to corporate sponsorship from Converse and Scion. What changed this year?
It was kind of a unique situation [last year], where we got corporate sponsorship. Sam [Velde] had a friend at Converse that was really into what we were doing and wanted to meet with us about it. So we met with him and he said, "This idea is great, but I’d like it to be free." So he put up the money in order to make it a free event. This year, we didn’t really have that luxury. Converse is involved a bit, but it was the same old story, that their budgets just weren’t there for promotion like they were last year, so we weren’t able to make it a free event.
The German heavy metal group’s songs are in its native tongue. But its thundering riffs and heavy pyrotechnics have the act translating quite well to U.S. audiences.
The group — singer Till Lindemann, guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers, keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz, bassist Oliver Riedel and drummer Christoph Schneider — is famous for concerts with enough pyrotechnics to shame KISS in its heyday. Towering columns of flame erupt from the stage, and smoldering arrows are shot out into the audience. Lindemann might perform an entire song clad in a burning overcoat.
For Rammstein’s sold-out show at the Forum on Friday, flamethrowers are standing by.
“The singer, Till, doesn't know what to do when he's not singing,” Schneider said recently speaking by phone from Chicago, when asked how the band developed its extravagant theatrical flourishes. “He doesn't like to interact with the audience in the usual ways, like saying hello.”
Formed by the East German-born musicians after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rammstein enjoyed its first success in the United States with the driving dark anthem “Du Hast.” That song, which featured the group’s signature mix of thundering riffs and Lindemann’s Teutonic baritone, earned a Grammy nomination in 1999 for best metal performance. The band played on the 1998 Family Values Tour with Korn and Limp Bizkit and had a cameo appearance in the 2002 Vin Diesel action movie “XXX,” making the group one of the few acts singing in a language other than English or Spanish to appeal to American audiences.
“I think one of the reasons is that this type of language goes very well with heavy metal music,” said Schneider, who said he grew up listening to bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. “We always get this reaction where people say even if they don't understand everything that we're singing about they're attracted by the music, just the way it sounds. For me, it the same when I was a kid and all the music I liked was all English language. I didn't get it what they were singing about. I had my own fantasy of what they might be singing about.”
Frank Sinatra may well be spinning in his grave over the heavy metal hijacking of a dozen cornerstone numbers from his repertoire for "Sin-atra," but given the testosterone-drenched machismo that was central to the way he lived his life and sometimes sang, there's actually a certain twisted logic to this shotgun marriage.
In fact, Twisted Sister's Dee Snider sounds utterly credible reminiscing about the heady days of his carefree youth, girls and life in limos in "It Was a Very Good Year," the common house band's distorted guitars and Marshall stacks strafing overhead and the rhythm section thunder rumbling below. Latter-day Judas Priest vocalist Tim "Ripper" Owens is suitably demonic on "Witchcraft," Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes bellows like there's more at work than just love as he sings "I've Got You Under My Skin" and Anthrax screamer Joey Belladonna inhabits "Strangers in the Night" as a credo of the metal man's hedonistic lifestyle.
Sinatra's swagger, braggadocio and over-the-top emotional climaxes are all here, though the sublime nuance at which he also was so adept apparently was checked at the recording studio door.
The singers benefit from the healthy sense of humor required to even attempt a project as brazen as this. If there are any victims of the whole affair, it may be the composers of these classic tunes: Cole Porter, Cy Coleman, Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn, Harold Arlen and other masters of the Great American songbook whose exquisite melodies and lyrics are taken on a rollercoaster ride through the musical underworld.
But hey, as Frank himself might have said, "That's Life."
-- Randy Lewis
Three stars (out of four)
Painted by Elephants -- a new band? No, guitars being readied for Ronnie James Dio-affiliated charity auction
In a collaboration that would seem to be a no-brainer, Wendy Dio, the widow of Black Sabbath and Dio singer Ronnie James Dio, who died last year of cancer, has partnered the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund set up in her husband’s memory with the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project (AEACP) to create guitars to be auctioned off for the benefit of both organizations.
Art works created by Asian elephants in Thailand have been featured in numerous publications and television programs and exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. Wendy Dio has teamed up with AEACP officials to enlist the elephants to decorate instruments donated for the fundraiser by ESP Guitars. She is in Thailand this month, along with Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler and other SUAS officials while the guitars are being painted.
Plans call for three elephant-painted guitars to be auctioned this fall, according to a spokeswoman for Dio. Details on the time and manner of the auction are to be announced. SUAS also plans to auction off a total of 100 other instruments being donated and/or signed by celebrity players to raise money for its prevention, research and education efforts. AEACP’s mission is stemming the dwindling number of Asian elephants.
-- Randy Lewis
Photo of Jaab the elephant painting an electric guitar. Credit: Mark Weiss
Influential heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio, best known for his iconic wailing for Black Sabbath and, before that, Rainbow, has died of stomach cancer. His death was announced via a statement on his website from wife Wendy Dio, which read:
Today my heart is broken, Ronnie passed away at 7:45am 16th May. Many, many friends and family were able to say their private good-byes before he peacefully passed away. Ronnie knew how much he was loved by all. We so appreciate the love and support that you have all given us. Please give us a few days of privacy to deal with this terrible loss. Please know he loved you all and his music will live on forever. -- Wendy Dio
[Updated at 2:45 p.m.: Dio's stomach cancer diagnosis became public in late 2009. Earlier this year, the artist announced that a planned European tour with his band Heaven & Hell would have to be canceled due to his declining health. Dio, however, was able to appear in Los Angeles at an early April metal event sponsored by hard rock magazine Revolver, where he spoke of the challenges of dealing with chemotherapy.
"I never realized what a difficult thing it was to go through," he said in a video interview with Artisan News. "It's a real cumulative effect -- the more you have, the more it piles up on top and it takes longer and longer to get over it. I find it very difficult to eat. I don't like to eat, anyway, so I guess that's OK. But I know I have to. But this makes it very, very hard. But if you're determined to beat it, then you have to go with what you believe is going to beat it for you."
Dio was born July 10, 1949, according to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, yet there has long been dispute about his age. Fans have long put Dio's true birth date as the summer of 1942, and numerous reports of Dio's death have cited his age as 67.
Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the lead singer of Black Sabbath, who left the band in 1979 after increasingly reckless behavior. Dio's first album with the group, "Heaven & Hell," has been certified platinum by industry trade body the RIAA, putting its total shipments at more than 1 million copies. Soon after the release of 1981's "Mob Rules," Dio left Black Sabbath to start his own group, Dio.
Dio continued to record with his namesake group into this decade, and more recently had formed Heaven & Hell. The latter was essentially a reunion of the Obsourne-less Black Sabbath, and released the studio effort "The Devil You Know" in 2009. The Rhino album entered the U.S. pop chart at No. 8 after selling 30,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan.]
The Times will continue to update this post with a more expansive look at one of the godfathers of heavy metal, but, for now, check out the above clip, eight minutes of Dio 101, which illustrates the breadth of Dio's powers. Every metal vocalist who's ever reached for an operatic note owes a debt to the master.
-- Randall Roberts and Todd Martens
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