It’s with a perfect timing that Pontiak arrive to UK and then onto liveon35mm.
The same week Kyuss announced they’re reunion (minus Josh Homme) and follow the post I was pondering about reunion tours, solo projects and Carl Barat.
It gives me a lot I want to talk about, let’s go in no order.
Kyuss reunion without Homme is somewhat I expected. John Garcia just finished a solo tour playing the music of Kyuss to test the temperature, and the temperature considering the welcome he got from everywhere those songs were played, is hot.
More recent signs.
Garcia joined QOTSA to play some Kyuss stuff. Brant Bjork and Nick Oliveri joined Garcia for more Kyuss treats somewhere in the States. Bruno Fevery, who already learnt those songs touring with Garcia, is the obvious replacement for Josh Homme on guitar.
It is also obvious that Josh Homme won’t rejoin to play with the old pals. No indie hypocrisy, please. Homme is the star, he is the one who made the bucks, so what to expect? Will you leave a 100.000$ job for a 10.000$? No, you will not so he won’t. Period.
But they are good friends, which means he’s given them the permission to go ahead, probably in the moment John Garcia joined QOTSA and they drank backstage.
After all, this collective kept hanging out despite endless bands and countless desert sessions.
Brant Bjork played some great live shows. He moved to guitar and label management, but on record his dry desert rock never really took off, many have been missing him on drums. Nick Oliveri, well, since he was sacked by Homme he sort of disappeared into a world of special naked appearances that not even himself remembers.
Now, Kyuss Lives (so they are called), as all reunions, is not Kyuss. Not only because they lack a key member, but because the world has changed since these four guys, stoned into the Joshua tree desert, invented stoner rock and showed the agonising world of heavy metal that the way out was through the sand.
It’s not the nineties and won’t be the nineties anymore. This tour, as any reunion tour, is nothing more than an “operation nostalgia”. It is a night for old fans to get back together at 40 something, leaving the baby sitter at home and relisten to those songs. With no smoking policies happening to be in place in most venues during these years, they won’t be the same songs either! For the youngster is the occasion to listening to them for the first time live. It’s fashionable, it’s money. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Morlocks, Swans even the most radical no-frills acts are doing it.
If you’re happy with this idea, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re expecting time to run backward, you indeed will. The baby sitter will go home when you’re back, she won’t sleep with you. How rock’n’roll this is, not! I’ve bought the ticket for the Forum gig in London.
Pontiak. They’re not a think of the past. These three brothers from a remote area of Virginia, are someway sons of the fathers of stoner rock. They just published their fourth brilliant album, Living, for the ever brilliant Thrill Jockey label and they are at the top of their form. It follows Maker probably their masterpiece and a 1000 copies limited vinyl only release, Sea Voids, out last year.
Which is more or less when I saw them live in a double bill with White Hills at the Luminaire in London, they nailed it. I did not post that show here because it was simply too dark to photograph. But the set was impressive, which is the reason why I came back tonight and I sent a bunch of friends to see them in Rome.
Harder then friends and label mates Arbouretum to give a name, Pontiak‘s music mix the circular, psychedelic guitar loops borrowed by stoner rock with Black Sabbath darker heaviness and then mellows everything down on the singing parts that remind me of Pink Floyd Meddle era, when rock was ambitious enough to have 30 minutes long pieces played into Pompeii amphitheatre.
Pontiak don’t go that far but their music expands live. Bass (Jennings), Gibson SG guitar (Van) and drums (Lain) stratify and go deeply into their instrumental, circular journeys.
You have a sign that it works seeing is the peculiar sort of ondulating movement this music causes on the heads of the audience.
It is unfortunately a poorly attended gig. Cambridge hasn’t listened to this kind of sound since Pink Floyd played here sometime four decades ago, probably. It is a too posh town to get involved with psychedelia now, too far from any desert to soundtrack a night with hot stoner rock… and it’s freezing cold. It is too literate for small-town America as well. Cambridge people are nostalgic enough to travel to London for Kyuss Lives, maybe, but Pontiak at home on a wednesday night doesn’t look to be their cup of tea, sadly.
This music engages the audience beyond the listening experience, it is physical. To get to the point it turns up the volume, tonight all set at 11.
Half an hour into the concert I feel my cold opts for a comeback, including its high temperature load.
I start shivering at any guitar noise. Feedback strides into my timpani (despite comfortably protected by quality earplugs after a couple of songs). If this is was bodily means, I experience it… wholly. I struggle to resist to the end, but I endure. I carry on taking pictures to ignore the headache kicking in and, in a sort of no-drugs-fever-supported mystic trip, I am lost into those suites that seem to go endless. Maker is a hell of a song and the band is totally into it. I remember a guitarist lost in it as I am in my dream of swallowing the only drug that would help: paracetamol.
Pontiak play for about 75 minutes without any pause. Behind their beards, into their hoodies, in the dark, professionally undisturbed by the few people they deliver a rock-solid live set that ends exactly the moment my resistance fail. I couldn’t tolerate an encore. It will be not.
I buy Living on my way out, it’s a good action to avoid Amazon and HMV when possible, to support these bands. They drove all the way to a Cambridge and will be driving all over Europe in their van to pursue a dream. They are not legendary as Kyuss, but Pontiak live shows are fiery and hypnotic as the best psychedelia deserves. Few bands nowadays can deliver with such a honest dedition and passion.
When I shot the Like, my first gig at the Haymakers, a tiny Cambridge pub relatively new to standard touring, I though I found my ideal small concert photography venue.
No pit, entire gig to shoot, low stage, inches from the musicians, opportunity to shoot from side of the stage, few hundreds metres from home, nice beer, decent pizzas and, most important of all, nice lighting and a set of sweet white back lights for some special effects.
I was wrong, as Carl Barat show proved, those backlights have been switched off since with many of the main lights too. A red dominant spot left and the overall atmosphere is back to plain pub gloominess. Because this is the reality, pubs are dark. Built to be dark.
I had to go back to digital B&W which is the best of the tricks to get something usable in almost impossible conditions.
Pontiak played the Haymakers too. With few people attending, no confusion, relaxed atmosphere, chatting with the band before the gig, I decided to approach the beardy guy at the mixer. I asked if lighting was going to be the same as the support. He told me it was certainly going to be more light. Confident, I asked for less reds. He said “you want less red lights, no problem!”
Illusion. Gig was as dark as night, the only light was that bloody red gelatine. I had to use all my skills in photographing and post-editing to bring you these shots.
If you happen to shoot a pub be ready to tough moment. Set your best ISO, bring your fastest lenses, bring a flash and bounce it to the white ceiling. Probably someone will tell you to stop but until that moment, you’ll be hoping for some usable shots… or try asking the guy at the mixing desk about those red lights, you may be luckier.