If New Times decided to create a new "Best of Phoenix" award for Most Subdued Crowd, the 100-plus folks in attendance at Saturday night's A Storm of Light/Via Vengeance show at The Underground in Mesa would have to be in the running. Granted, it's not as if ASOL's sweeping post-rock or VV's lumbering proto-doom is custom-made for crowd surfing or circle pits, but the audience still seemed awfully reserved for a Saturday-night heavy metal show.
Maybe it was due to the fact that the stiffest drink at the bar was a can of Mountain Dew, but most of the people in attendance at the Venue Formerly Known As The Nile Basement™ reacted to the night's entertainment with polite applause and a smattering of halfhearted "woo"s.
I got to The Underground just as locals Hellas Mounds were finishing up their set. If the last 10 minutes were any indication, this instrumental quintet leans toward epic post-metal in the vein of Pelican or Isis. Their last song had me wishing I'd shown up 20 minutes earlier.
Tomorrow the Stars took the stage next for a 25-minute set. The band's Dillinger Escape Plan-meets-Slayer take on modern metal was commendably ambitious, if a little chaotic at times. They sounded great playing aggressive, up-tempo speed metal, but the occasional clean tones sounded tinny and a little flat.
Shortly after 10 p.m., singer/drummer/guitarist Shane Ocell took the stage and deadpanned "We're Via Vengeance." Ocell has been performing as a one-man band for more than three years now, and his first bona fide tour as Via Vengeance seems to be treating him well. Ocell's set was front-loaded with new tracks from the forthcoming VV album, Dead in the Snow. The new songs showcase Ocell's growth as both a songwriter and musician. A drummer first and foremost, Ocell has clearly grown more comfortable with both his singing and guitar playing, which manifests itself in more challenging arrangements. After focusing on new material early, Ocell closed his set with two of his oldest songs, "Bad Treat" and "Burned," both of which appeared on Via's 2006 self-released, four-song EP.
Headliners A Storm of Light came onstage shortly before 11 p.m., and it didn't take long to realize that singer/guitarist Josh Graham's vision is far too big for a club the size of The Underground. The large white curtain that had served as the backdrop for the opening bands was suddenly awash with visual imagery as ASOL played a 45-minute set of dreamy, melancholy post-rock. Touring vocalist Zohra Atash's ethereal harmonies added even more emotional heft to Graham's dark visions. As great as ASOL sounded in an intimate club environment, it would be nice to see what Graham could do on a bigger budget. If his work arranging visuals for Neurosis is any indication, it would likely be one helluva show.
Last Night: A Storm of Light and Via Vengeance at The Underground
Better Than: The same show at Revolver Records, which might have happened if The Underground wasn't available after the original venue fell through.
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Personal Bias: I have a personal bias toward concerts where grown-ups can drink alcohol.
Random Detail: After the show, when I asked Graham about the relatively tame crowd, he said that he'd actually played some shows in Europe to seated audiences. Now that's fucking subdued.
Further Listening: Since Ocell is still shopping the new Via Vengeance album to indie labels, you'll have to subsist on A Storm of Light's latest release, Forgive Us Our Trespasses.