Torching Harvey’s Milk

Harvey Milk and Torche shouldn’t need an introduction. Both bands play sludge metal with a twist; one utilizes southern and classic rock influences while the other isn’t afraid to show that they have melodic sensibilities. Harvey Milk kicked the bucket during the 90s before resurrecting themselves in 2006 while Torche evolved from the ashes of stoner-rock icons Cavity and Floor. Each band uncannily suits one another, ushering the opposing dirt and gloss inherent in classic and modern sludge. Earning a chance to see both bands co-headline a venue is not only an event, as based on a certain Georgian band’s touring schedule, but much akin to viewing an inauguration. The elders respectfully pass on their flame to younger, thriving artists while full well embracing their own legacy. Suffice it to say, on June 23rd, 2009, the kings and princes of southern grit shocked, awed, and completely destroyed the handful of fans who made it out to Lee’s Palace in Toronto.

Creston Spiers is an otherworldly prophet. The rafters literally shook with his bellows and feared collapse when teamed with his Gibson’s harshly detuned chug. For anyone familiar with the band’s oeuvre, Harvey Milk know how to switch from a droning, calculated operand to a tearfully beautiful opera, and revert to incessant muted chords in the space of one song. “I’ve Got a Love,” off of 2006’s Special Wishes, went off without a hitch. The song’s painfully slow verses to its soaring, phaser-soaked harmonies hit all the right buttons and prepared yours truly for a night of patiently-burning goodness. But then something strange happened: The three-piece reached back for The Pleaser (1998). For the uninitiated, this offering came at the heels of HM’s grand opus, Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men, and it sounded like ZZ Top. It’s easy to compare this album to CarcassSwansong; It shortens the songs, it brings the rock, and it alienates the fans. A lot of people didn’t know what to make of this album. Good thing I’m not an elitist prick! Spot-on renditions of “Misery,” with its guitar-driven chorus, and “Shame,” where Spiers convinces the audience that “something is going wrong ’round here” had the audience bobbing its collective head while simultaneously scratching it in wonder. It’s a side of the Milk boys that doesn’t see much light of day, and brought a refreshingly relaxed atmosphere to the small club. “Motown” and “A Maelstrom of Bad Decisions” made it off of 2008’s acclaimed Life… The Best Game in Town, while the sludge rarely reared its ugly head. This was a fun, rockin’ version of a band that’s always scared the piss out of me due to their genuine heaviness. A great night of blues as opposed to a night of sonic skull-fucking.

Torche, on the other hand, brought the party. Never have I seen so much energy from three people while remaining so consistent. With the relatively recent ousting of guitarist Juan Montoya, the [now] three-piece outfit from Florida jumped about, knocked over snares, had a few technical mishaps (bassist Jon Nunez disconnected from his amp set a couple times), but persevered in bringing an exciting show to a starved audience. The band plowed through cuts from their entire discography, rifling through 2008’s acclaimed Meanderthal (including standouts “Speed of the Nail,” “Sandstorm,” and big-hit “Across the Shields”), and playing a number of tracks off of their self-titled full-length and In Return EP. If you’ve ever wondered how one could possibly shake their booty to a tune dropped far below Drop-B, or how a drummer could possibly manage to jump, kick, flail, and run while keeping a steady beat, I strongly suggest you keep your eye out for these guys at a club near you.

With a great atmosphere and some awesome merch, the show wasn’t only important, but fun as well. If you get a chance to see Harvey Milk or Torche, jump at the chance to witness them live. Second chances don’t come often in underground music.



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