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Concert Review: Pentagram at Le Poisson Rouge, Manhattan, August 21, 2011

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Pentagram is led by doom metal cult figure Bobby Liebling, who spent the better part of the last 40 years on the couch in his parents’ sub-basement, a psychonaut engaged in a solitary inner voyage aided and abetted by various illegal substances. Liebling has finally emerged from the depths, both literally and figuratively, and is now married with a child, and his band, which has seen various incarnations since its inception in the early 1970s, has re-emerged this year with a great new album, Last Rites, and a tour to support it.

This stop at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge club was a triumph. The recently sober Liebling has reunited with his former guitarist Victor Griffin, who has created some hard rock classics of his own with his band Place of Skulls. The two men make a formidable team, with the underrated Griffin’s grungey, Tony Iommi-influenced guitar stylings underpinning Liebling’s demonic lyrical visions, which often function as warnings to avoid the various pitfalls of human existence which the singer himself has fallen into.

Photo by Greg Cristman

The band led off with “Treat Me Right,” a hard rock grinder from their latest album, which draws not only on the Black Sabbath brand of “doom metal” that makes Pentagram so beloved of that genre’s aficionados, but also on the work of 1970s hard-rockers like Sir Lord Baltimore and Groundhogs, bands like Pentagram for whom critical recognition has come very late, if at all. Pentagram standards “Forever My Queen” and “Review Your Choices” saw Liebling in fine voice, hitting the high notes with ease. The band’s signature tune, “Sign of the Wolf,” came early in the set, and seemed to be slightly rushed, as Liebling played around with his vocal phrasings, perhaps in an attempt to reinvigorate the song for himself more than for the audience of rabid Pentagram devotees.

With the following number, “Vampyre Love,” however, Pentagram kicked into a higher gear, as Griffin turned it up and Liebling immersed himself in the role of lusty goth-metal rocker. “Evil Seed” was as suitably doomy-sounding as the title suggests, while “8” (from Last Rites), which, perhaps in an attempt at numerological significance, was indeed the eighth song of the set, was a standout. Like much of the new album, “8” features some moody psych-rock touches, and in a live context, the pulsating drumming of Tim Tomaselli pushed the band onwards and upwards.

Whoever was working the light show at Le Poisson Rouge had been “treating” the crowd and the band to a barrage of blinding strobe effects until this point, when mid-song, Griffin yelled, “that’s enough strobe lights” into the microphone. “I’d like to thank Ray Charles for the light show,” the teed-off guitarist remarked as “8” ended, a theme picked up by his singer, who yelled, “Hey Ray, you on lights???” as the band tore into the next number, “All Your Sins,” with a new gusto, Liebling getting a raucous audience sing-along going with the song’s chorus, “You can never win / pay for all your sins.”

“Call The Man,” an uptempo hard-rocker from Last Rites, kept the energy level high, and the 1-2 punch of “Relentless” and “Nothing Left” had the place going wild as the band left the stage, only to be quickly called back by a joyous chant of “PEN-TA-GRAM, PEN-TA-GRAM!”

“They only come out at night,” quipped Liebling as the band launched into the first encore, “The Ghoul,” (from Relentless) which sounded like the essence of doom metal with its lines, “Once you’ve shared your death with me / a ghoul I shall forever be.” That led into two fine numbers from 1987’s Day of Reckoning, the surging “Wartime,” with some evil-sounding doom riffing from Griffin, and the night’s closer, “When the Screams Come” (also the title of the band’s new DVD). The latter song featured a fine, extended bluesy jam that had Liebling moaning, “I know it hurts so bad,” while Griffin chipped in a sizzling guitar solo that would make Johnny Winter smile.

Before he left, Liebling saluted the crowd: “Thank you New York for coming out like you always do . . . you’re number one with me.” As Pentagram left the stage to more applause and howls of delight from the assembled throng, it was clear that on this night, the feeling was very much mutual.

Setlist

1. Treat Me Right
2. Forever My Queen
3. Review Your Choices

4. Sign of the Wolf
5. Vampyre Love
6. Evil Seed
7. Too Late
8. 8
9. All Your Sins
10. Call The Man
11. Relentless
12. Nothing Left / Relentless reprise

Encores

13. The Ghoul
14. Wartime
15. When The Screams Come

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