To say that the Tower Bar attracts the eye is an understatement. At first glance, it’s a gaudy hunk of architecture rising several stories into the San Diego sky, a kaleidoscope of vibrant blues, oranges, and pinks. Further consideration (and a handy Google search) reveals its appearance actually honors the area’s local Hispanic heritage, spinning it into a rather impressive piece of art that evokes some long-last land. Inside, however, it feels like home.
The whole of the Tower Bar venue is comprised of a single room — the “base” of the tower. A deceptively roomy show floor, long bar, and small just-above-floor-level stage make up its main landmarks. Its parking lot is microscopic — just enough for the various vehicles that bands use to get from Point A to Point B. (I was parked a couple blocks away in a narrow residential street, my rear wheels just barely dipping into an illegal red zone, praying to whatever gods were listening that I didn’t get a ticket — or worse, towed.) A neon sign proclaiming “Tattoo Parlor” glows in an inaccessible upper level — this wouldn’t be a shaky top-floor affair like other shows I’d been to recently.
The stage had only enough room for the drums and the amps — four-fifths of the members of the first band had to occupy the space in front of the stage — another Soda Bar similarity. Real estate was tight, with most of the booths occupied by band members and equipment. I found a comfy spot in the center of the room near a pole (hey, just like the Soda Bar!) that pierced through the ceiling to the floor and watched as the first band prepared to play.
Caving in to a Local Act
I had missed my first chance to see opening local act Cave Bastard (San Diego) at another recent show, and as they kicked off their set I was kicking myself for having not seen them sooner. This powerful quintet delivered a stacked genre-sandwich — a multi-ingredient abomination of mainly death metal, but with toppings of black metal/blackened crust, grind, and a dollop of doom. Their charismatic vocalist raced back and forth, bobbing between a few fans’ faces, and just generally hyping the crowd up; he didn’t have to work too hard on my part — I was pretty sold by the first song, and by the third I was a fan. Their sound came through marvelously to let some seriously sick parts shine through; let’s just say that if I came across them through Bandcamp I’d be VERY pleased with my discovery.
Most local bands I want to support out of obligation; Cave Bastard I’ll gladly see of my own volition.
Conjured Beyond the Border
Cave Bastard’s vocalist had remarked how hot it was, and I had the decency to feel guilty — the full force of several fans were blasting behind me, making the place feel more like a comfy department store than a sweltering dive bar.
Shattering that illusion was Infernal Conjuration (Tijuana, Mexico), a black-clad four-piece playing a thrashy sort of old-school death metal brimming with loads of leads and syncopated crashing. The drummer was stellar, playing at times with awe-striking speed across the monstrous kit he lugged all the way from south of the border. The mix was fairly bass-heavy to the point where it drowned out much of the attack of the guitars, but that didn’t undermine the band’s magnetic appeal. The song Death Lechery, introduced as being played live for first time, was a crusher — a perfect embodiment of a band showcasing the allure of this older genre and why it still attracts so many newer bands.
Rotting with the Best of Them
The movies playing on the screen in the background had reached a distracting apex — a similar style of perverted gore-horror flicks that had played at the Til-Two. I’d been ignoring them as best I could, but when the scene of a Jesus Christ-figure getting his scrotum cut is superimposed over the band members, I can’t really look away.
Oakland’s metal scene is a rich vein I’ve been mining to great success as of late, and Necrot is the latest gem to catch my attention. A layer of punkish polish coats a gleaming death metal nugget, but biting into their latest bloody offering leaves you with a mouth of barbed wire. I couldn’t have been more excited to see them live.
The first thought penetrating my mind as Necrot unsheathed the slashing opener The Blade was “fuck, they’re good.” Whiplash-inducing backbeats pumped blood through hair-raising riffs, accented by gruff, low grunts. The trio ripped through a weighty set comprised of some of the choicest cuts off their excellent new album “Blood Offerings.” The songs’ subtly complex structures translated live in a remarkably headbang-friendly fashion; whenever a song extended a bar beyond the typical 4/4 timing, it fucked with the tempo in ways that felt like borderline sorcery.
Necrot’s drummer seemed frustrated with his constantly moving kit — irritated by its incessant inching-forward following each song’s pounding, he had plopped a cinder block in front of it to keep it in place. Regardless, he didn’t miss a beat — his single-stroke rolls tore across the toms with the ease of a machine gun’s trigger, effortless and deadly.
By the time 2017 closes out, I wouldn’t be surprised if I still consider Necrot as one of the better live acts I’ve seen this year.
Under the Gun with Undergang
Denmark’s Undergang is a death metal delight. At three members strong, and songs that rarely reach that number in length, each member has to pull his weight. They played a modestly sized set — a heap of short songs, ending with a cover of The Chasm by Finnish death metal greats Disgrace, dedicated to the crowd via the vocalist’s cartoonishly deep voice. The primitive simplicity of Undergang’s music was even more apparent live, but what they lacked in finesse they made up for in the thick, massive waves of noise washing over us. They played to a packed Tower (as far as I could tell from the very front; it sure sounded like an entire crowd was roaring its approval after each song); I sincerely hope the enthusiastic response they received was worth the long trip overseas.
Until Death (Metal) Do Us Part
Death metal continues to surprise me. It’s certainly fallen out of favor with me in recent years, but the bands at the Tower Bar showed me the genre still offers a lot — even bands that dabble in the more classic side of the genre, like Infernal Conjuration and Necrot. I’m most excited where bands like Cave Bastard are taking death metal, weaving other genres throughout, but a rock-solid act like Necrot proves that death metal can honor the past without being a tribute (as long as it’s done really fucking well). Each band’s different approach to death metal made for a varied, memorable night, and although Necrot stole the show I can’t deny that the genre is still alive and kicking. Plenty of other fans knew this already; the love for Undergang was unanimous throughout the room. I’m just glad I’m finally catching up.