Over the past couple of years, Voodoo – a converted restaurant just off Belfast’s main shopping thoroughfare – has become one of my favourite venues in my home city. Having rapidly established itself as the hangout of choice for a large proportion of the local rock and metal fraternity, it’s also quickly developed a reputation for the quality of its hospitality, for punters and band alike (and, speaking as someone who has promoted a few shows therein, for its highly professional dealings in this regard). It’s a small, intimate venue, blessed with an excellent sound system and one which has seen me enjoy myself watching many a band play to five punters or what seems like 500: and it’s the latter scenario which seems more like reality this particular evening, as US stoners Torche round off their most recent European tour in fine style with their first ever visit to this part of Planet Mosh…
Openers Dott seem a somewhat incongruous choice with which to kick off proceedings… The Galway four piece draw many parallels with Belfast’s own anti-pop hero(in)es The Wonder Villains: both bands feature a line-up of two boys and two girls, both see the latter pairing (in this case guitarist Anna and bassist Laura) sharing close vocal harmonics – and both play infuriatingly catchy and glittery indie-infused pop punk. Dott, however, have a punkier abrasion to their sound, reminiscent of The Breeders in places: nevertheless, while doing what they do efficiently and well, and gaining a fairly decent response from the small number of early comers, they are just a tad lightweight for PMs tastes.
Hailing from the north coast of Norn Iron, Axis Of up the heaviness quite considerably, with their dirty, lowend bass and guitar sound and punchy, adrenalized riffs. Their sound is that of backstreet garage hardcore punk mixed with distorted, heavy assed desert blues and thoughtful lyricism, all built on driving, hypnotic beats and delivered with enthusiasm and energy. With drummer Ethan Harman underpinning the sound with efficiency of a punishment squad, bassist/vocalist Ewen Friers urges the crowd closer and closer to the stage: indeed, the only weak point of their set is guitarist Niall Lawlor’s somewhat needlessly fanboy-ish speech about Torche being one of his favourite bands and the fact that “instead of watching a shitty support band, I’m playing in the shitty support band”… despite this rather sad interlude, Axis Of are far from a “shitty support band” but a mean, lean fighting machine who set the scene for what is to come.
Axis Of’s current album, ‘Finding St Kilda’, released on Smalltown America, is available from http://www.independentmusic.com/releases/axis-of-finding-st-kilda
By the time Torche step on to Voodoo’s low stage, the venue is bunged to the doors, belying its intimacy with a crowd that gives the impression of being much bigger than it really is – and effect which is added to by the noise which those present subsequently generate. What they are rewarded with is the loudest gig this little room has ever heard!
Despite what has been a fairly extensive trek around Europe over the summer, the southern US quartet are in great form and very obviously determined to end the jaunt on a high. Their heavy stoner sludge groove, which also contains copious injections of psychedelic punkiness – underpinned by Jonathan Nuñez’s low-slung, low-end bass and Rick Smith’s passionate drumming, both of which mirror the swirling catchy riffs produced on either side of them by guitarists Steve Brooks and Andrew Elstner, with Smith in particular battling through the brutal frontline to produce a standout performance that is as intricate and subtle as it is loud – is delivered with both intensity and precision.
All too soon, for both the band – who also show many lesser bands how to overcome adversity when Smith, brooks and Elstner effortlessly strike up an impromptu jam when Nuñez is briefly forced to quit the stage to replace a broken string – and the legion of fans who subsequently emerge into the chilly wee small hours with their ears wring and satisfied smiles on their faces. if you haven’t stood in the path of the juggernaut that is Torche, I heartily recommend you do so the next time they roll into your part of the world – although I equally recommend that you pre-book an appointment with your friendly otologist for the following morning!
Photographs by Paul Verner: www.livei.co.uk
Check out more photographs from this gig in our gallery – http://planetmosh.com/torche-axisof-dot-voodoo-belfast-220813/