(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
For the second time in less than a matter of weeks, I would see New Jersey rock band The Atomic Bitchwax live. This time would be in Asheville, North Carolina as they, along with NYC’s Mirror Queen and AVL’s own Gutterhound, would bring the noise to The Mothlight venue.
I just saw the trio, bassist / vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist / vocalist Finn Ryan and drummer Bob Pantella, a handful of weeks ago at Maryland Doom Fest III where they astounded all in attendance. Still pretty much reeling from that impressive display, little did I know that this one would be (possibly) even better… but more on that later.
I knew next to nothing about opening support act Gutterhound before this Tuesday night. I did have some clearly well acquainted folks, friends of mine, advise me to get there on time to see them… so I did.
The quartet of guys making up the band’s roster, Joel Schaffer (vocals), Scott Calloway (guitar), Sloan Brigman (bass) and Michael Hunnicutt (drums), seem to have some time on their side in playing music. I’d bet that they, like most of us, have a checkered past being involved in previous bands, ones where they learned their chops.
Those chops come through in Gutterhound as a heavy Eighties-Nineties influenced rock styling. With a sound melding retro hard rock with undeniable grunge and alternative elements, their music is dark and energetic, to say the least.
They played their set with zeal and intensity, keeping things tight and moving well. Calloway‘s guitar tones and playing brought to mind moments of Jerry Cantrell, but with a decidedly heavier edge. Schaffer‘s between-songs banter was hilarious and profanity-laden, while his vocals exercised good range and solid presentation. All while the rhythmic foundation of Brigman and Hunnicutt kept things anchored nicely with a powerhouse base for which all else was built upon.
Next to take the stage was the NYC-based band Mirror Queen, one of the better kept rock secrets in the music community. With shades of Thin Lizzy and Captain Beyond to Blue Oyster Cult, this is one amazing band that never ceases to incessantly rock.
With a blistering twin guitar assault fueling everything that they do, they are louder than all get-out as they continually get down. This would be my first time seeing the band, although I’ve been a longtime fan for quite a while now… and they would not disappoint.
Led by the former one-half of the band Kreisnor, guitarist/vocalist (and Tee Pee Records head honcho) Kenny Kreisnor, now alongside Zandelle bassist James Corallo, drummer Jeremy O’Brien and ex-Golden Grass guitarist Morgan McDaniel, unleashed a monstrous performance.
Loud enough to smolder speakers, the non-stop jamming of both guitarists – ala leads, trade-offs, solos and such – was intense. Kenny’s vocals provided enthralling narratives, sometimes bolstered by vocal contributions from Corallo, too, as the latter laid down the rhythmic backbone for all that transpired. He wasn’t alone though, as O’Brien’s drumming was just as equally spectacular.
Now we’d arrived at the night’s main attraction, The Garden State’s psyche-fueled stoner rock trio, The Atomic Bitchwax. As I mentioned earlier, I’d just seen them a little less than a month ago in Maryland. Now it was time for Round 2!
This round would ultimately be a TKO, too, as the guys rolled out an intro piece derived from a true classic to get things started, a piece of Pink Floyd’s “In The Flesh“. From there, the first full song was one that dates back to the ’99 self-titled début from TAB, “Hope You Die” and true to album continuity, its follow-up cut, “Ain’t Nobody Gonna Hang Me In My Home“.
We were all being treated to the seemingly limitless power supply of energy that Finn, Chris and Bob tap into during their live sets. Chris commented a couple of times about how hungover he and the guys were from a misspent night of heavy drinking in Wytheville, Va. the previous night. If so, it did not impede them in any visible way as they tore ass through amazing track after amazing track.
Touching upon 2000’s The Atomic Bitchwax II with the song “Forty-Five“, we were brought up to speed with some more recent material at this point. It came in the presentation of a trifecta of tunes from 2015’s Graviton, almost in the same running order as the LP with “War Claw“, “It’s Alright” and “Coming In Hot“.
Watching the onstage interplay between the guys was killer, but one of the most jaw-dropping visions to witness, and hear too, was the blurring dynamo of drumming that is Bob Pantella. This cat was all over the kit and pulling off an unbelievably, seemingly inhuman performance. Impressive almost seems like a slight when describing his skills.
Chris would routinely interject commentary between songs about each new one being ever “faster” than its predecessor… faster and faster. It was a valid claim, as the trio would routinely reach blurring playing speeds.
I have to mention the execution of two songs especially. The first one being “Kiss The Sun“. Although included on that aforementioned TAB début album, the song is not an original from the band. Nope, it actually dates back to Finn Ryan‘s pre-TAB band, Core, and their 1996 release, Revival. Second one was the anthemic “Shit Kicker“, also from the first TAB record and clearly a song known and loved by those in attendance this night.
Things would eventually begin to wind down as the rhythm section left the stage and Finn performed a mostly solo rendition of another Pink Floyd classic, “Pigs“. Chris and Bob would return and join in about 3/4 through the number and then together, the trio ended their set with the formidable “Force Field” from the band’s 2005 landmark, ‘3’.
And just like that, the show was over and the audience, myself included, stood drained and slack-jawed, astounded at what we’d just witnessed from all three acts. This was, and had been, a true rock ‘n roll show indeed, my friends… one that anyone having seen it would not soon forget.