Far from the idyllic Shire-like spring paradise in which it is painted by yearning winter minds, May is an unpredictable month in the Mississippi Valley, a season of change unto itself. It's a time of wild weather, sweet sun and drenching rain, touches of spring and summer and even winter coming together over 31 restless days. School nears its end, summer breathes through the rippling green, weather extremes shift toward the fearsome Midwest thunderstorms and gales. Blake's sweet May dews hold a sense of potential tangible to the sensitive, and silver scrapes with something outside the world as normally seen are distinctly possible. The polarity of the season is reflected by this month's musical events: a pair of shows as drastically different as the ever-shifting days of May.
Wake Brewing is starting its outdoor concert season on an extremely strong note, with perhaps the highest-profile artists ever to grace their Rock Island parking lot (so far). A robust touring package consisting of Elder, Ruby the Hatchet, and Howling Giant is hitting the Quad Cities on Saturday, May 6, with Path of Might rolling up from St. Louis to provide regional support. The show is set for a 4:30 p.m. start, with gates opening at 3 p.m. This is a rain-or-shine event; given the caprices of May weather in the Midwest, attendees are advised to come prepared, and maybe leave the leather at home. Rain and cold have not been known to keep people away from a Wake show, and with the QCs' seemingly insatiable appetite for metal, it's unlikely that anything short of a tornado or catastrophic flood will stop the legions from thronging 2529 Fifth Avenue.
Elder started out in 2008 as a doom metal power trio in the Boston area. They quickly built a dedicated following through constant gigging and stunning displays of dextrous musicianship. In a subgenre not necessarily known for ambition, Elder quickly broke out of the Sabbath/Sleep mold, with a progressive bent apparent from the start. They've been consistently evolving ever since, routinely passing the 10-minute mark with songs not laden with leaden riffs or indulgent jams, but built on constantly shifting rhythms and thoughtfully arranged guitar textures, creating ever-changing soundscapes that alternately evoke dread and awe. Their 2015 album Lore is a must-listen for anyone curious about the band and for anyone who wants to know just what heavy bands of the last decade-and-a-half are really capable of when they start leaning towards “progressive” music.
The band have since expanded to a four-piece, with the added guitar a major asset when bringing their compositions to life onstage, as well as providing more opportunities for judicious use of synthesizer. Now based in Berlin, the band maintained a steady output of new music through the pandemic, with 2022's Innate Passage among their best work yet. PR for the album sums their mission thusly: “... veterans at the forefront of a league of progressive and heavy groups working in large part under their influence; a stately presence as reliably forward-thinking as they are unpredictable in sound. They are among the most important acts of their mostly-still-emerging generation. Genuine leaders in style and expressive intention.”
Recent work channeled the dread and uncertainty of our unstable times, but Elder's lyrical outlook has evolved along with their music. Guitarist, vocalist, and composer Nick DiSalvo describes the last album's outlook as such: “This record channels the surreal world we live in from a fantastical point of view, not super-literally, and how we as humans processed that; everyone on their own passage through time and space and whatever version of reality they chose for themselves. The phrase ‘Innate Passage’ appeared to me when writing the record. Passage and transition are necessary in the human condition and this process is intrinsic to us. All the growth and introspection we underwent in the past few years totally made this apparent to me more so than any other experiences in life so far.”
Few bands can touch on the metaphysical without losing themselves or the listener in the attempt. Elder make an earnest and original effort to tackle human growth and the mysteries of life in their music, and succeed. Their appearance at Wake is a rare chance to catch a generation-defining talent in an intimate space, a chance made all the more valuable by their touring support.
Ruby the Hatchet have likewise built a nationwide following through frequent touring, both as a headliner and as an opener for such bands as Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats and Candlemass. They play heavy rock with an ethereal atmosphere redolent of '70s prog rock, with a guitar-and-keyboard-based sound reminiscent of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep without falling into derivation. Frontwoman Jillian Taylor cuts through the spooky mist with a thoroughly modern, seasoned voice that croons and wails above the chugging rhythms. 2022's Fear Is a Cruel Master is, like Elder's newest, a reflection of our tumultuous times; especially cutting is “Primitive Man,” a sneering middle finger to macho attitudes and entitled masculinity that rings true everywhere from the record store to the Supreme Court. Your dad will dig this band as long as he doesn't take the lyrics too far to heart.
Tennessee young guns Howling Giant complete the tour package; they've likewise made a name for themselves through frequent live shows and youthful energy, bringing together progressive stoner rock with a '90s grunge influence into a big glorious watery mess of a sound. “Stoner tech space cowboys” Path of Might tread similar water, and are a proper fit for this bill.
Unfortunately what may be the QC show of the year is strictly 21 and up, but there's nothing to stop young headbangers from setting up lawn chairs across the street without losing any sound. Advance tickets are available online for $15, and are available in person at Wake Brewing in Rock Island as well as at co-sponsors Ragged Records.
The month of May closes on a completely different note with an eclectic Sunday night bill at Bootleg Hill Honey Meads in Davenport. Desert Liminal are making the trip from Chicago for a Sunday, May 28 late show, with support from Nonnie Parry, Elliott Bay Towers, and Blue Movies.
The late-night, low-key sound of Desert Liminal is best explained by their PR release: “Desert Liminal – touring as an experimental pop duo – is a fixture in the deep field of Chicago independent music. Their unique sound combines elements of melodic dream pop, shoegaze, and noise. Low-end vintage synthesizer is filtered through a distortion array and layered under warm, looping walls of violin that wash over driving electronic drums and poignant guitar. The band carries an astute ear for creating warm, engaging art-pop that entwines Quillin’s eliding delivery around smart hooks and introspective melodies. Linehan's varied instrumental loops create a deeply emotional sonic bath that envelopes the open listener to receive her starkly beautiful vocal harmonies. The further these songs move from the source they begin slipping into headier terrain creating neck-craning audio fields of droning violins and looped voice that recall Tony Conrad at his most accessible and Haley Fohr’s experimentations with voice and breath. These sounds cohabitate in the liminal space where meaning and reference slowly fade into Jungian archetype and back again, revealing solid, reality-affirming songwriting. Desert Liminal has shared bills with varied notable artists like Caroline Polachek, Molly Nilsson, Airiel, and Eyedress, and recently performed live on Chicago's NPR station WBEZ.”
Nonnie Parry rock with economy. The two-piece QC goth-punk band pack catchy riffs much larger than their small amplifiers, with perhaps the best guitar sound in the Quad Cities. Rachel's hypnotic, dead-eyed vocals fall on you like a thousand-graveyard-stare, capping her monstrous riffage with caveman drums from Billy. It's a sound more suited to the catacombs beneath the meadery than the warm space upstairs.
Elliott Bay Towers are best described in their own words: “Elliott Bay Towers is a two piece experimental theater troupe with a shared enthusiasm for tape, recorders, tape recorders, and the 1990s hit sitcom Frasier. Their daring new piece The Human Pendulum will take the duo to new acrobatic heights that must be seen and heard to believe.”
Their sets are charmingly bizarre and endearingly anarchic; group member Lucas Berns is also providing visuals for the rest of the night's entertainment.
Blue Movies are perhaps best known, though not by name, for their terroristic pop-up noise sessions across the street from Bootleg Hill and the Raccoon Motel. If you've been on Third Street on a Friday or Saturday night, you've probably seen a crazy baldhead with Miles Davis glasses skronking through a a saxophone and various devices, using the AC jack of a Ford Explorer for electrical power and something far more demonic for spiritual power. Performing sometimes solo, sometimes with assistance, the longtime discordant presence has found an unlikely home at the semi-frequent experimental shows held at Bootleg Hill. The easily-irritated or faint of heart may want to skip this opener; the brave and curious, and enjoyers of free jazz, are encouraged to bear witness.
This show is slated to begin around 9 p.m.; no admission charge has been set, but shows like these at Bootleg Hill are generally donation-based.