Ash Street Saloon is a bar and venue on 225 SW Ash St, Portland OR 97204. This is my second visit for a show, the first being Absu a few months back. It's been around since around 1994 and never fails to attract some interesting characters. My wife and I grab a beer and then share a table with two strangers. It's a friendly place, but the music it houses often is not. Both the bar and stage area are small; just the way I like it. It's an intimate place with a dark aesthetic. PBR on tap for just $1.25, microbrews and cocktails for $2.75, and for $5.75 their signature drink: "The Cunt Licker." What more could you want? Anthrax and Meshuggah blare from the speakers as I go to drop some stuff at the car across the street.
Who should I see in the next van over but Charlie Fell. Erik Wunder walks by heading back into the front door. I admit I'm nerding out a bit, but I try to hold onto my dignity as I strike up a conversation. "Hey...are you Charlie?" We share 5-10 minutes in the parking lot. I consider doing a formal interview, but most of the questions I have aren't the ones I want to publish. Charlie is extremely affable in person. He speaks openly about his split with Abigail Williams, being stranded in North Carolina, his friendship with Jeff Whitehead (Leviathan), whether or not Missing is still a thing (it's still a big question mark, though he has some material written), and his first tour with Cobalt. Out of respect for those involved, and knowing there are two sides to every story, I won't post the details here. Just suffice it to say that he seems happy to be back on tour and plans to relocate to Colorado. Erik and Charlie graciously agree to a photo, though I get the vibe that they are a little uncomfortable with the whole cult status thing. They aren't rock stars. They're musicians.
My wife and I explore the venue further and pick up some merch. I get two shirts: a 'Gin' long sleeve and tour T. Prices are reasonable, and Charlie and his girlfriend at the booth give us a discount. This gig may not pay, but it has its perks at times. My wife strikes up a conversation and makes friends with them before being attacked by a trio of women who continue to tell me how "gorgeous" she is. The people here in my experience have always been nice, and never fail to be interesting. We hang out with them for a bit before the show starts.
First up is Face Transplant. Never heard about these guys before, but they are a local three-piece rock and noise outfit. As I jam out, I get a strong Sonic Youth vibe with a touch of Fugazi. They play well and don't take themselves too seriously. The guitarist is a tall, lanky guy who is a bit goofy and on stage comes off high as fuck. His post-hardcore delivery is very engaging, every word coming through with conviction. The drummer sports a tank with pride, showing off his portly physique and screaming some backup vocals. These guys had some raunchy basslines and a few trippy, grungy solos. After the set I ask the singer about his influences. He tells me he is "channeling Jerry Lee Lewis...and Danzig." I encourage you to check them out, even if youtend to lean towards more extreme music.
Next up is Mantar from Germany. The duo play a mixture of black metal, sludge (but don't call it that apparently), and punk. Their performance makes me feel like it's the golden peak of the 90's and I'm watching Helmet. With the harsh blackened screams and energetic, minimalist guitarwork they certainly have some similarities with Cobalt, but a little more Southern groove. Kyuss also comes to mind. Even though it's only a guitar player and drummer, they sound like a quartet. The frontman even pulls off a wicked bass solo by finger-picking the guitar. A few hypnotically paced vocals start to take hold. One song in particular towards the end really put me into a trance with its pounding drums and synchronized guitar chords (Era Borealis). I close my eyes and let it take me away. The vocalist talks about some fan making unfunny German jokes before erupting into their final songs. Sweat sprays from his lean body in all directions. He looks like the contortionist/character actor from Pan's Labyrinth. One word: Legit. I had never spent much time with Mantar, but I certainly will after seeing them live. In my opinion, they are way more impressive on stage than their already solid recordings.
Finally, the main event: Cobalt. Getting a chance to see these songs live is nothing short of a transcendental experience. They open with Hunt The Buffalo. The clean guitar intro is, to use a tired but applicable metaphor, the calm before the storm. Charlie is in another world. As he steps onto the stage, he is no longer the mild-mannered dude I shot the shit with outside. This is an animal. The crescendo strikes. Wunder is tearing up the kit; each snare hit punctuating the audience's convulsions. Fell breaks the mic stand during this first song. The mic itself during the 2nd. From his terrifying howls or violent gyrations, I'm not sure. Management seems less than happy, but he throws up the middle finger and presses on.
Supernovas of bass guitar really get the crowd moving with Erik never skipping a beat. Charlie is always presiding in full swing, but I can see what seems like pride in Erik's eyes...when he's not making Jens Kidman face anyways. The band is rounded out by what I was told to be members of Primitive Man. Both the bass and guitar player seem to be in their element. The audience is now just a wave of grooving bodies. The passion is there, but I note that this is an unjustly small crowd for the quality of music in the air. Speaking of which, with Cobalt audience participation is required. You know how at SeaWorld they have those signs warning "You Will Get Wet"? Consider yourself lucky if you only walk away from this a little moist.
"No fucking control!" Fell screams over and over. Indeed. None to be found here. This is complete anarchy. He showers himself in with a beer from the audience. He uses the mic cord as a bullwhip. He kicks a can into someone's face. The crowd only eats it up more. The man who was struck simply wipes his face and takes another sip of PBR, gives a thumbs up. Someone throws ice at the stage. Charlie merely laughs, gives his best Gene Simmons tongue, and his bulging eyes seem to say "bring it on!" I am reminded of the "Dethkomedy" episode of Metalocalypse where Pickles learns his most valuable lesson for the stage: hate the audience. Sand! Just a few songs in Charlie says fuck the suspenders and strips off his shirt but keeps the latex gloves. Channeling a little GG Allen, it is time to unleash. Somebody asks during a dramatic break, "Hey Charlie, tell us about fucking a tranny." Without pause, "It was a good time." No time for petty image issues here. Just metal. That's what encourages me to cover these bands. There's zero room for bullshit.
They close with the fantastic chord strikes of Slow Forever. Another favorite. I'm miming every slash of the pick. As the lights dim, I remember that I'm exhausted. I came out to Ash Street Saloon already tired from a long week, wanting nothing more than to curl my old ass up in bed for a nap. But aided by the flawless performance of the band alone, I was more awake than I have ever been. If you are a fan and have not caught these guys live, you MUST catch them on this tour. Who knows how long it will be before they have another and whether Charlie will still be involved? You owe it to yourself to see a great show, and the band deserves respect paid for all of their hard work on another incredible album. The tour listing is HERE, and I assure you that the tickets are dirt cheap. Special thanks to Earsplit PR for getting me out to this show. Review of 'Slow Forever' HERE. More pictures available on my facebook soon.
-Review by FlightOfIcarus
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