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Concert Review: Audible Thought w/ Black Iron Prison, Martyrd, Purifier, Downfire (Poughkeepsie 2/28/09)

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Live music is great and glorious. One thing I have learned over the years is that I find it much easier to be forgiving of a band in the live setting. Not that I am apt to give a band a pass for a poor performance, but there is something tangible, intimate even, when you watch a band plying their trade in front of you. It brings the time and effort that goes into creating new music and putting together a live show into sharper focus. This applies not only to popular, nationally known acts, but also to smaller market, local, and unsigned bands who put it all out there on stage.

This particular night is all local, all the time. My friends in Audible Thought (trust me, no bias in reviewing them, if they are bad, you will know it) headlined a bill filled with unsigned talent from the Hudson river corridor, from New York City to Albany. Five bands in all, filling out an evening of hard rock and metal.

The venue is The Chance in Poughkeepsie, NY. It has a lot of history and is a great place to see a show. It also holds the distinction of being the first place to host to the Police in America back in the 1970s.

I got inside the doors shortly past 8:00, grabbed a beer, and got ready for the show to begin. While I waited, I caught up with Carlos Vega, guitarist for Downfire. We discussed the fact they are looking for a new bass player (if you know anyone…) and how the new material is coming along. They are working on new numbers and are experimenting in a new direction, changing things up following their debut album, Redemption. I also learned that due to the late arrival of one of the other bands, Downfire's slot was changed 5 times, causing them to set up and tear down their equipment a number of times. He also commented on me finally getting to see a full set from the band, my last two attempts were thwarted by long lines to get inside and unannounced door open changes.

I also got to catch up with Nick King, bass player for Audible Thought. He told me the recording process is going well. They are putting the finishing touches on a re-recording of the band's debut Measure Up LP with the current lineup. I am also told they have a lot of material all set to record the follow up, if only the singer would come to more practices. Don't worry, Lou, I am sure he was only kidding.

I also ran into Michael P, a former member of Audible Thought. He told me of his current project with up and coming act Freakswitch. They are currently working up material and will hopefully be getting on the stage for some live performances within a couple of months. They could be worth keeping an eye on.

The clock was approaching the 9:00 hour and Downfire was doing their last pre-performance set up. Then the lights dimmed and they was introduced. They took the stage and proceeded to put on a strong show. It was great finally seeing these guys again, it had been too long. I like the new direction they are heading in. Their early work could easily be categorized as being a lot like Black Label Society; however, their new material is seeing them find their own voice, and it shows in the easy manner with which they present themselves on stage.There is a definite intensity, but you can tell they are having a lot of fun up there.

Their music is highlighted by strong drumming from Ignacio Orellana, who brings a distinct heaviness to their sound with his high energy work, and from the twin guitars of Carlos Vega and singer/guitarist David Diaz, complete with impressive lead harmonies. Their set was highlighted by a pair of new songs, "The Way" and set-closer "Last Days." There was one song that I had a split reaction to, "Scream," which has great potential as a singalong, but it felt awfully repetitious and went on a touch to long. Still, this is a band you will want to make a point in seeing.

Downfire was followed by Purifier, hailing from Troy, NY. This band brought a distinctly different sound to the stage. It is less heavy hard rock, like Downfire, and more open and experimental, perhaps a little bit of Mastodon and Tool. The mix was heavily weighted towards the drums. I am not sure if it was intentional, but it was rather distracting early on.  I was able to get through the mix issue, and discover an interesting and layered sound. It was not great, but it was definitely not bad. The drummer was quite spectacular and proved to be the driving force of the performance.

Martyrd from New York City brought a more traditional metal sound to the stage with a mix of thrash and power metal. Their stage presence was high energy and consistently surging forward. Their focal point is their vocalist, Aaron (who reminds me a lot of Chuck's Vik Sahay), who is in a constant state of motion. Their songs are long, filled with speedy riffs and peppered with fast shredding solos. They do not really offer much in the way of advancement of the genre, but they do have the chops and could develop into something special. My biggest issue with the band is that despite being tight musically, it comes across as something of a technical exercise, lacking in genuine emotion. Still, they are a band to keep an eye on.

Next up, making the trip down from Albany, is Black Iron Prison. Watching this band proved to be an interesting experience. I had been talking to my friends about how if you plan on performing in a band you need to love the music, enjoy the stage, and want to do it. Black Iron Prison seems to go against a bit of that conventional wisdom by presenting the image of the tortured artist. They are another band that leans heavily towards the experimental side of things with an emphasis on driving drums, keeping everything surging forward in fits and spurts with vocals that range from whines and whispers, to screams and growls. It is an interesting blend of elements to create something that is original and stands out from the crowd. It did not seem to go over too well with the crowd, but so what. It is a group heading out in different directions, creating a hypnotic, disjointed experience.

Finally, as the midnight hour approached, it was time for Audible Thought to unleash their stepped up game. Just like Lou's wife Tracey, told me, they certainly did bring it. Unfortunately, an otherwise strong performance was marred by a series of technical issues that did not do them any favors. Then there is the fact that the crowd had dissipated and was not able to experience the band. They will just have to learn their lesson now, won't they?

The set list was peppered with old songs as well as some of their newer creations. Among the familiar were "Games," and a much heavier sounding "Measure Up" (compared to its previously recorded version). The new arrangements just keep getting heavier, I like the way they have been heading. As for the newer tunes, they included "Can't Break Me," which is fast becoming an old song. They also broke out a new take on "Crush," at least it sounded new to me, it is a fast and heavy charge, one of the fastest they have in their catalog. Then, making sure to point it out to me, they introduced a brand new song that no one had yet heard, the song is called "Ignorace" and it is another song demonstrating the band's growth.

Now as fine as the performance was, it was hard to get through the technical problems. I had a hard time hearing Ryan Cady's guitar. It was there, but was buried deep in the mix. Possibly even more problematic was the dominance of the bass in the mix, compounded by some sort of issue with the instrument causing it to buzz and cause all manner of unintentional sounds, completely unrelated to the performance.

Hopefully, when they play next month at Beacon's Barking Frog Bar they won't have these issues. Also, perhaps Ryan and vocalist Lou West can get together on their wardrobe and not both show up wearing Giants jerseys, giving them a delightful (not) look of a boy band.

Overall, from top to bottom, this was a very strong night for rock and metal. There was a variety of different bands, all of whom knew how to handle themselves on stage. They all stepped up with their own styles and presented a show the best they could. The crowd did not react to all of them favorably, but I can tell you it was a good night with good music from all involved.

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