Baroness: Live last night

baronessJohn Dyer Baizley of Baroness roars at Rock and Roll Hotel. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

Live Last Night

By Chris Richards

Head-bangers have Georgia on their minds. Two of this year's most exciting rock albums come from Savannah's Baroness and Atlanta's Mastodon, positing the Peach State as the new locus of American heavy metal.

The former brought some colossal riffage to Washington's Rock & Roll Hotel Wednesday, kicking off its U.S. tour for a throng of fans so tightly packed, you could detect distinct brands of shampoo (or lack thereof). The only thing more piquant than the clashing body odors wafting through the crowd was the voluminous din emanating from the stage.

("Screaming his larynx into ribbons," after the jump.)

Baroness eschews metal's traditionally sulfuric snarl for a more sepia-toned worldview, coating distinctly Southern melodies in a thick moss of distortion. On Wednesday, the group's finest moments throbbed at the intersection of classic rock and freedom rock - "The Birthing" matched Metallica-sized bombast with flickering guitar runs worthy of the Allman Brothers.

But the set's most dynamic passages came from the "Blue Record," an acclaimed new album teeming with prog-inspired nooks and crannies. Singer-guitarists John Dyer Baizley and Pete Adams roared in harmony during the rumble-tumble of "Jake Leg," while "Swollen and Halo" felt like a speed reading of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," guitar solos sprawling like kudzu.

But despite the ornate arrangements, the set retained an almost meditative calm, thanks to the even-handed churn of bassist Summer Welch and drummer Allen Blickle, who at times, appeared subsumed by a miniature weather system. (Blame the overzealous fog machine.)

Frontman Baizley was never out of plain view. He paced the stage as if it were a padded cell, flailing away at his guitar. Framed by a scraggly beard, his gaping chasm of a mouth opened wide with every crescendo, unleashing throaty howls that sounded like they needed the extra room to get out.

When Baizley wasn't screaming his larynx into ribbons, he was filling the space between songs with atmospheric guitar interludes. Adams would nod along with these drumless transitions, banging his head to the ambiance as if he had located a secret rhythm within the drone. But when the entire band came roaring to life with the brawny opening passage of "The Gnashing," Baizley and Adams appeared to forge some telepathic truce, trading guitar lines as if it were like it was a game of Frisbee.

The song bloomed into an unapologetically melodic plateau as Baizley sang about bullet-riddled bodies and boiling rivers. He may have been trying to evoke charred dystopias, but his band sounded like Georgia sunshine.

By David Malitz |  November 19, 2009; 7:58 PM ET Live Last Night
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