Review: Torche set the speakers ablaze at Czar
You know your eardrums are in for a pounding when you can hear the opening band at a concert nearly two blocks away.
That was the case Sunday night at Czar, one of Tampa's most hipster-friendly clubs, before a show by metal trio Torche. I could hear the first band, Gainesville's Averkiou, from the parking garage just south of the Ritz Ybor.
On a normal night, Czar would be filled with indie and electro-loving trendsetters wearing chunky sunglasses and left-of-center haircuts. (See No. 2 on this list to learn more.) These are the people who have probably flocked to Czar for past shows by the Hold Steady, Girl Talk and Deerhunter.
Not Sunday. On Sunday, this Ybor City hotspot was all about black duds, long hair ... and okay, fine, there were still a few hipsters.
It couldn't be avoided. Torche, who call both Miami and Atlanta home, are one of those arty, Pitchfork-approved metal outfits, similar to the Sword, Isis, Sun O))) or Mastodon. You could go to this show and rock out, and not worry about losing your hipster cred.
Me, I have no hipster cred. But I do have earplugs. Thank god for that.
Czar is a very, very cool bar -- although technically, we weren't actually in it. The uber-trendy vodka bar sections are off to one side on a separate entrance; we were roped into Czar's "Imperial Ballroom," which is still plenty cool -- massive chandeliers over the dance floor, big steel scaffolding over the stage, Russian imperialist iconography on the walls.
Also, in many places, there's carpet.
I know what you're thinking: Carpet? At a rock concert? Bad idea jeans, man. But the truth is the carpet actually made the place seem kinda relaxed. There were no stools, so people were just crashed where they felt like it -- off to the side, up against the soundboard booth, wherever.
I missed almost all of Averikou's set (although what I heard walking from my car to the club was pretty decent). That meant my first band of the night was Winter Haven metal trio House of Lightning, who share a Floridian past (via the defunct bands Floor and Dove) with Torche frontman Steve Brooks.
They were very old-school metal, very Motorheadish, with lots of time changes and off-kilter riffs. It was about 90 percent wordless, and heavy on the guitar. "Jazz fusion" is not exactly the right word to use with these guys, but there were jazzlike elements to their music. It was largely a one-man show starring the singer-guitarist, and the rhythm section, while talented, were like the two other guys in a jazz group that might be named "The Lead Singer Trio." If that makes sense.
Then it was time for Torche, who've been touring long and hard this summer in support of their acclaimed CD Meanderthal. "It has been a long summer for us," Brooks said. "And this is the end."
As was the case with Bon Iver, you could see the end-of-tour joy on Brooks' face:
Sludge metal, stoner metal, doom metal -- call it what you like, it was wickedly tight, and all-caps, boldface, hyperlinked LOUD. I was right up front, and as soon as the band started playing, I felt the familiar sensation behind me of some long-haired dude banging his head, whipping his long hair against my back (accidentally ... I hope).
Torche had more singing than House of Lightning, but they still seemed to love the art of monstrous riffing even more. Brooks (who looks a lot like Jack Black) thundered up and down his fret like a brachiosaur, sending the fans up front into a fist-pumping, head-banging, PBR-fueled frenzy.
A couple of their songs were really fantastic; my favorite was actually one of the more melodic of the night: Across the Shields, a burst of Smashing Pumpkins/Screaming Trees-like mid-'90s retrobilia, which is always welcome in my book.
Interestingly, Torche seemed to be having a blast while they were playing -- a stark contrast to another metal band I saw earlier this summer, Light Yourself on Fire, who were excellent, but also extremely serious about their music.
Not Torche. Torche were all grins and wagging tongues -- especially shirtless 'n' sweaty drummer Rick Smith, who was just an animal behind the kit. Here's what he looked like most of the night:
On the last song before the encore, he started knocking over his kit, jumping to his feet to crash down on his cymbals and kneeling to finish the song. By my count, he broke a couple of drumsticks and, I think, his sunglasses. He was just berserk.
The show was a short one, less than an hour. But when it was over, some of the metalheads in the front row went up to congratulate Smith on a show well done. And one guy came up to personally thank Brooks for playing Scimitar, a sludgy metal jam from the old Floor days.
That was earnest of him. Not overly hipsterish at all. Nice change of pace for Czar.
Next up in The 50-50 Club: Sons of Hippies, Aug. 6, The Hub, Tampa.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*.