Some of us love metal for the darkness and mystery: cloaks, pseudonyms, smoke and ritualistic paraphernalia.
Baroness offered none of that. Just four guys and their instruments squeezed together on a low stage in a tiny upstairs room at a London bar that was packed out with adoring fans.
This was no-frills rock and roll. Band and audience giving it their all.
I can’t quite understand why Baroness booked this venue (Barfly, capacity 200ish, completely sold out) in the UK’s biggest city when they could have easily filled one four times the size.
They seem to be doing stuff for shits and giggles at the moment so perhaps they thought it would be fun to go back to their roots.
They were right.
The heaving room was buzzing with excitement when Baroness hit the stage and they eased any fears that they had completely put aside heavy things by immediately lunging for the jugular with A Horse Called Golgotha.
I’ll admit it.
I may have let out a bit of wee when when it suddenly dawned on me that here I was, about a metre from my musical heroes, jumping up and down, pumping my fist and bellowing “the stained horizoooooonnnnnn” in unison with John Dyer motherfucking Baizley.
The shit-eating grin did not leave my face the whole night (or the next morning).
It was a wise move to open with a fan favourite, softening us up for recent single March To The Sea.
I’m still not sure about Yellow and Green. Not because it isn’t a good record but because it isn’t the euphoric and ripping record I wanted it to be.
However in a live setting, Baroness amp up the new material to match the rest of the set while JDB thankfully eschews clean singing for his trademark roar.
Delivered in this style, the heavier new songs Cocainium and Sea Lungs seem much more like Baroness of old and easily win over the crowd.
That comes later though, as despite recent talk about not caring what fans think, the band clearly wanted to please. They earned the right to to deliver a three-song sequence of new material in the latter part of the gig by first giving us the familiar classics we craved.
The set was heavily biased towards Blue Record with killer run of Steel that Sleeps the Eye, Swollen and Halo and a triumphant The Gnashing really ramping up the intensity with a fun little pit breaking out.
As always I was on the edge of the push-and-shove, enjoying the energy but wary of my increasing decrepitude.
Baroness tend to come across as very serious, even dour, in interviews.
Yet, on stage, I have rarely seen a band look like they were having so much fun.
They threw rock-god shapes, angling their guitar necks out over the front row Kiss-style and shaking axes triumphantly aloft to wring out decaying notes but along with the showmanship, there were some serious chops on display.
These guys can really play. I was blown away by how venomously JDB slashed at his strings at times and yet still perfectly controlled his instrument.
There was a real sense of communion: JDB seemed to be willing the crowd to respond at climactic moments, nodding his manically with bulging eyes, as if to say “come on, let’s do it!” and beaming in triumph when we joyously complied.
Respite arrived with the pastoral Ogeechee Hymnal that led into the contemplative Eula, JDB putting his fingers to his lips when someone tried to break the spell by yelling for Red Album favourite Isak.
It was testament to the love in the room that even though we all wanted to hear the thunder, we were all happy to indulge in the dreamier side of Baroness. All around were rapt expressions and smiles.
We didn’t have long to wait for violent catharsis that came with the cranked up versions of Cocainium and Sea Lungs.
The Sweetest Curse and Isak continued the pummeling: a one-two punch to finish the main set, taking the roof off and prompting some crowd-surfing – again, much to the band’s delight.
As the venue was so tiny, the band were back on stage before it sunk in that they had left to perform a frenzied two-song encore of Jake Leg and Grad.
The gig ended with JDB leaping into the crowd with his guitar to be engulfed by the appreciative horde.
As the lights came on, the band immediately hopped off the stage and started thanking fans individually for coming.
I’ll admit it. I gave John a big sweaty hug. It was that kind of gig.
Update: For some much better pics than mine, check out this great set from Gloomy Lights Photography