The smell of unwashed boys is thick in the air as I enter Annie’s Social Club. Nihilist is on stage, and the sparse yet meaningful crowd is all eyes on the stage. Immediately my radar goes off….guitarist and drummer have major X factor. I can’t describe it here, but you just know it when you see it. The three piece from So Cal are playing like they’re on the big stage in front of thousands. Their thrash metal in the vein of Slayer and Megadeth has the crowd’s interest. The guitarist throws horns in the midst of playing; the drummer stands up and beats the drums sporadically. They finish the set with a Megadeth cover.
A quick changeover and Hightower is up. Another 3 piece- this time local- the set starts with the bassist walking out into the crowd and playing in some faces. Then the guitarist jumps on a speaker and plays for a bit. The sound isn’t doing it for me at first- it sounds out of tune and out of pace…sloppy. By the second or third song, the drummer turns around for a good length of time, facing the back corner of the stage. He half airs drums, half uses his drumsticks to conduct and imaginary orchestra. Then he turns around and starts playing, and things got better from there.
After Hightower cleared their equipment, there was a long wait. So I started people watching. Metal shows at Annie’s are small- maybe 50-75 people- and it always seems like everyone there has a story. Besides the guys in the opening bands milling about, you’ve got guys from other local bands- such as Flexx Bronco, who you can’t miss when they wear their own hoodies. There are people who work at other venues and promoters and photographers and writers like me. This always gives shows a whole other tone- it’s far from amateur night….we’ve all been there, done that, know what to expect, and know what we’re looking for.
I knew something was going on with the long wait between sets, but then a bunch of speakers started being rolled in and a huge crowd walked in front of me and I got distracted. So when the lead singer of Valient Thorr got on stage and said Early Man had a man down- I got really confused…turned out that one of the members of Early Man was sick, so they had to cancel. But Valient Thorr really made up for it.
The vocalist- Valient ‘himself’- is part superhero, part wrestler. His banter is like a reverend; his red lace up high tops, iconic; his demeanor, totally lovable. I think we could be great friends in real life. I wish I could recall every quote he bestowed on the audience between songs….they would start out kinda cheesy, kinda funny and then become something profound and heartfelt. “Come closer” he says, “or the cops are going to come arrest you for not rocking hard enough”.
The stage was too small for them- I thought for sure there would be some black eyes from one member thrashing into another. The crowd was going off….one really tall guy kept reaching his hands for the ceiling and hitting it, two guys in front poured beer on each others heads. “We’ve missed you guys on the last four tours…..thank you for having us. Otherwise, we’d be playing Reno. Or South Lake Tahoe. Or someplace not San Francisco”.
They played new stuff, old stuff, and a song they had never played before. Every song had an introduction- whether it be a statement about semi-boners and pretty girls, or talking about how people from all over were in the room, but “it’s not about where you’re from, it’s where you are” followed by “it’s not black, it’s not white, and everyone is a story”. That kinda blew my mind.