DIAMOND HEAD with CAULDRON at Hard Luck Bar, Friday, April 19. Rating: NNN
A few hundred people peeled themselves away from the Boston Marathon bomber media coverage to take in the heavy sounds of England's Diamond Head, most famous for their influence on Metallica. The pioneers of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the late 70s are total professionals. There wasn't a note or beat out of place, and never has the Hard Luck sounded so good.
But while vocalist Nick Tart handles founding member/reunion holdout Sean Harris's vocal lines with gusto, he also adds further glossiness to the band's largely hard rock sound. Those who showed up expecting gritty, speedy Am I Evilesque tuneage might've left unsatiated, although that superb thrash-precursor of a tune, which they saved for the end, was almost worth the ticket price alone.
Earlier, local metal trio Cauldron inspired a mosh pit with hook-heavy, 80s-speed-metal-inspired tunes mostly from their latest album, Tomorrow's Lost. (It finally gets its North American release on April 30.) All three members are astonishing musicians. Ian Chains's guitar solos are so blistering that getting three or five of them per song was never overkill. And though Jason Decay's vocals lack power, they also sometimes evoke Geddy Lee (clearly an influence; Decay wore a Rush T-shirt and gave them a shout-out).
Plus: So. Much. Hair-whipping.
MARNIE STERN at Parts & Labour, Tuesday, April 16. Rating: NNN
In the case of Marnie Stern's music, what can sound confusing on record makes even less sense live. The New York City singer/guitarist prefers choppiness to groove and, live, sloppiness to perfection, making for a head-scratching audience experience that never quite turns into head-bopping.
The noise-pop musician's unique playing style - constant fret-tapping, basically - is flashy enough to get a basement bar full of fans craning their necks for a look. But tapping can be difficult to hear, especially over someone like Kid Millions, the busiest drummer on the planet. I wanted so badly to crank up her guitar.
But Stern seemed at ease and happy, joking with bassist Nithin Kalvakota that this was their "we don't give a hoot tour." Crouched over her mic, her blond side braid unravelling, she croaked out high, difficult melodies from fourth album The Chronicles Of Marnia while her fingers flew. Now and then a pre-recorded loop kicked in, upping the cohesion and power.
A messy spectacle, but a spectacle nonetheless.
TIGA at Footwork, Saturday, April 20. Rating: NNNN
Montreal DJ/producer Tiga is a survivor in dance music, able to adapt to changing trends and new audiences without altering his sound or approach.
The crowd at his Footwork gig reflected that longevity and wide appeal, ranging from 19-year-old newbies to greying techno veterans, with fans still standing in line at 3:30 am hoping to get in. Not many of his 90s-rave-era contemporaries can say the same.
When I last talked to Tiga in the fall, he said he didn't see much commonality between what he does and the wave of mainstream EDM superstars playing arena parties across North America. He has a point: his performance style has none of the theatricality and rock star trappings of someone like Skrillex or Deadmau5. Instead, it draws from the classic model of an extended DJ set rather than a short, pseudo-live laptop show.
However, he's also more playful and populist than the Detroit techno pioneers who inspired him, which makes him an ideal entry point for those more accustomed to the pop music experience.