Stop me if you’ve heard this one: High On Fire was great the other night. That could be the lead sentence to any High On Fire live review. Ever read a piece that says the band was just O.K. at such-and-such venue in such-and-such city? Or “High On Fire sounded good, but lacked stage presence”?
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If Matt Pike, Des Kensel, and Jeff Matz are onstage, with instruments, and playing music (doesn’t even have to be High On Fire material, really) there is a 98.6-percent chance it rules. Scientific fact. Research was done. The band’s Riot Fest show at Metro defended said evidence.
Shirtless — of course — and shadowed by two full Emperor stacks (buy local!), Matt Pike played the opening riff of “Frosthammer” and the bludgeoning began. He and his bandmates didn’t even bother to stop and wipe Chicago’s brain matter from their boots during a condensed, tight, effective set that also included “Turk,” “Fire Flood And Plague,” and “Rumors Of War” among others. Perhaps it was the time restraints associated with an all-ages gig, but the setlist definitely favored High On Fire’s last two albums, Death Is This Communion and Snakes For The Divine. That was both good (“Bastard Samurai” has been introduced since HOF’s April, Lincoln Hall stop) and bad (no “Blessed Black Wings” or “Devilution”), but dissecting song choices is just nitpicking. It means, plain and simple, there is nothing bad to say about the Oakland trio’s performance. Plus, 2005’s Blessed Black Wings did make the clutch appearance of the night. After initially ending the night with via “Snakes For The Divine,” Pike, Kensel, and Matz re-emerged for a ferocious run through “Cometh Down Hessian.”
An aura of anticipation hovered around this show/tour not only because of High On Fire, but also because of who was playing with HOF: psych-sludge mindbender Kylesa (Laura Pleasants and Philip Cope were glorious when locked in a riff together, but how much percussion is too much percussion?) and hipster fave Torche (would have benefited playing earlier; not meaty enough to be sandwiched between Kylesa and HOF). But you fucked up if you didn’t arrive early enough for openers’ opener Droids Attack. Around as long as High On Fire and Kylesa, the Madison-based threesome made the most of a 30-minute slot with riffy, boogie-woogie, pit-stained stoner rock. The group had a quarter the stage space to operate in, but frontman Brad Van played the crowd well enough and his guitar hard enough to deserve Madison Square . . . or at least the full Metro stage.
– Trevor Fisher
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