I may look contradictory. I usually slate reunions but I went to the Forum for this Kyuss Lives! comeback which isn’t even complete, missing a key band element as Josh Homme.
I went because I missed Kyuss in the 90s. Twenty years later they still demonstrate how relevant they are to contemporary music.
It’s strange the way music fans change opinions about decades.
10 years ago the 90s guitars were considered the saviour of rock’n'roll after that a (new-) wave of synth oriented music had drifted the 80s into an era of electronic loops and synthetic sounds. With the exception of very few (Smiths, U2, REM) or very underground bands (Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth, Jesus and Mary Chain), guitars were almost always relegated and often ridiculed to show-offs of soloists.
Nowadays electronica is back in fashion, hipsters are as hedonistically driven as Brian Ferry was. Dream pop is openly inspired by the music of those years (think Beach House than think Kate Bush) so that 80s have come back as the creative decade with the 90s moving to a dull era.
I haven’t changed my mind. I believe truth is in the middle and, as a guitar lover, I prefer 90s over 80s. I acknowledge there was some amazing stuff in the 80s especially beyond the kind of music I like, but undeniably the 90s symbolize the moment electric guitars stepped back to the front stage.
About a week ago was the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain death.
Nirvana frontman without doubts embodies the period. So many years went, the 90s can be analysed with an historical perspective.
(To an Italian guy living in Rome in his 20s) the 90s, musically, created 3 groups of fans.
Lovers of USA rock, either stood up for the Californian funk-rock crossover (Living Colour, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Janes Addiction, Primus… up to Rage Against the Machine) or were based around Seattle during the (remember grunge?) heydays of SubPop (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains …. Screaming Trees, Mudhoney).
UK music fans as a counterpart had the Brit-Pop invasion. They partied and danced singing along the stadium choruses of Oasis, Blur, Verve, Pulp anthems.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly (the avant-garde movements always foresee the times and tend to go unnoticed by contemporaries), there were a couple of niches that, retrospectively, will bring a big influence to the music that follow.
One was the alternative American (college) rock. Lead by bands such as Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies. They weren’t as big as Seattle heroes and not as big as they become now that time legitimated them. Noisy experiments as My Bloody Valentine were too early and a band as Sonic Youth had to sign to Geffen and almost “go grunge” to gather some visibility.
Then there was, still in California but away from LA lights, somewhere lost among the cactus of the Joshua tree desert, someone who was recording and playing something important. The Desert Sessions held at Josh Homme studios designed a style who became series of legendary rare double albums then a genre.
The band by far most representative of desert rock (a.k.a. Stoner rock) is Kyuss. With an ever-changing line-up, they existed for less then ten years through the end of the 80s and the first half of the nineties.
Three quarters of the most relevant members of Kyuss are on stage tonight for the London dates of this come back tour renamed as Kyuss Lives! to mark the absence of Homme.
John Garcia, the singer, is the one that made it possible. Last year he toured as “John Garcia plays Kyuss” to test the ground. The reception was big and must have convinced Brant Bjork to take a gap year from his activity as guitarist and go back at the drums. Nick Oliveri, probably thanks to the absence of friend/enemy Josh Homme could rejoin the band on bass. Yes, he is the same Nick Oliveri who did embark with Josh Homme at the end of the 90s on the cruise that brought stoner rock into mainstream with Queens of the Stone Age.
In fact the huge success of QOTSA in the past years is probably one of the reasons why Josh Homme guitar is tonight replaced by Bruno Fevery.
In a similar but economically more proficuous nostalgia move, post Them Crooked Vultures experience, Homme has toured the second QOTSA album Rated R months ago and is at present touring their self titled debut.
I could argue that, with Oliveri on stage here, those are not the real QOTSA . Nevermind.
My skepticism, to go or not to go, was swept away by a friend who pointed out that Kyuss catalogue is so good that live those songs are going to be massive whoever plays guitar. I relistened to all their albums in a row and bought a ticket straight after. Than I sorted out a pass.
Kyuss opened with Gardenia, three bars in, my friend was right, I am happy to be there.
Why are Kyuss still so popular to sell out a tour 20 years after the debut even without the charismatic presence of Josh Homme? What did they record 20 years ago that wasn’t evident to most but few people? Why their hard-rock is so actual in 2011?
Moving the point of view from story to history helps.
Take a look at the Hard Rock to Heavy Metal transition from the seventies to the eighties. That music lost the blues feel of Led Zeppelin, the hard-progressive solos of Deep Purple and the satanic suffocating darkness of Black Sabbath.
Following the trend of the 80s it became a stadium, sensational, over-the-top affair. To the hard & heavy scene the new decade started on the 19th of February, 1980, when Bon Scott, the first ACDC singer, was found dead suffocated by his own vomit.
Bands as Iron Maiden in UK; Aerosmith, Guns’n'Roses and Metallica in USA and ACDC themselves originally from Australia but set in London, moved hard rock into a different thing. At best they added a massive theatrical component to rock’n'roll, at worse became circus.
Think at Kiss or Motley Crüe to name a couple, or relisten to those self-referential guitar solos attempting to beat the world record of n. of notes in a minute, and see why long haired teens started filling stadium while many old school hell raisers started feeling betrayed.
Stoner rock arrived to fill that niche. Passionate hard rockers found in it the love for the music, songs, albums to listen to, without caring of the frills coming along with the distortion.
As indie rock in the eighties brought empathy back into music, with lyrics talking about and to the listener, stoner rock delivered a new heavy guitar sound for a revised, purer version of hard rock.
As any artistic trend, Kyuss didn’t come out of the blue but were inspired end evolved from the music of the past. At the earliest it sounded as Black Sabbath and the early Metallica guitars met Garcia voice that still had a style inspired by classic metal.
What Kyuss added, expanding and transforming this music, is a high dose of psychedelic philosophy sustained by mind stimulating drugs which slowed down the beat. Relistening to masterpieces as Welcome To The Sky Valley and Blues For The Red Sun are the best way to verify this.
Even tonight when Brant Bjork drumming slows down and allows the guitar to design lunar
landscapes, heavy riffs, the effect is mesmerizing.
Kyuss songs bring back the largeness of the open chords, the power of the big sound depicting the hot, starry and bright dark skies of the Californian desert.
When the music enters those loops the importance of Kyuss in rock is palpable.
Bruno Fevery has his personal guitar style but when the solos and riffs take that acid twist that, must be credited, was invented by Josh Homme , as it happens in Asteroid, the music expands the mind.
Josh Homme sketched in Kyuss a technique he will mature in QOTSA first albums. His ghost is present in this song and many others. Fevery is good to find a balance between a faithful rendition and his personality, he can’t do more, he couldn’t do better.
Genres in music are often identifiable by rhythm, think at reggae, trip-hop or post-rock. Tonight the two that made this concert glorious are a grownup and professional, Nick Oliveri at bass and Brant Bjork still majestic behind the drums and under his curls.
The rest is just the songs, and the songs tonight were all there in a greatest hits setlist that left out nothing and peaked with the pair Odissey and Whitewater. Minutes that epitomized everything I tried to put on the previous 1500 words.
The thousands at the Forum enjoyed a concert that will not bring Stoner rock back into mainstream or Josh Homme back into Kyuss. They were part of a history lecture, where classics were brought back to life, classics which many people in the audience could listen to for the first time.