Earthless & Ruby The Hatchet
@ The Haunt – Brighton
August 1st 2018
Review by: Beandog
Photography: David William Hatton
It’s easy to take life in London for granted.
Every conceivable avenue of entertainment can be found not much further than a bus ride from wherever you started. When it comes to rock & roll, the locals are certainly spoilt for choice. Week after week the city’s venues play host to travelling tours from the greatest and most compelling bands from across the world.
It is a rare occurrence when the best of things aren’t delivered straight to our grubby doorstep. Bearing that in mind, it’s actually quite humbling to see the current Earthless European tour bypass London and take the lesser travelled path down to England’s south coast.
As far as unmissable gigs go, the chance to witness some heavy, bluesy, psych’ grooves under Isaiah Mitchell’s impressive and often improvised guitar playing absolutely qualifies as worth booking a ticket on the outbound train – which is what brings the Metal Rules crew down to The Haunt in Brighton on a warm, Wednesday evening.
To the uninitiated, Earthless have carved out a successful career and earnt themselves a credible reputation based on extended, instrumental songs built around wah-wah driven riff rock with a psychedelic edge. This current tour sees the band out in support of their newest album, Black Heaven; a record that, given the band’s steadfast commitment to the lengthy guitar wig-out, makes an almost sacrilegious departure from the established format by featuring vocals across much of the album’s 40 min run time. I have little doubt I am not alone as I wonder how heavily this dynamic will feature in the current set.
Before we are given the chance to find out, the growing crowd is treated to a performance from another band, currently signed to the Tee Pee Records roster – Ruby The Hatchet.
To the cynical observer, it would be easy to write off tonight’s opening act as another occult themed throwback, mining the seventies for its fuzzy riffs, autumnal tones and fleece-lined denim. However, this would be a wholly undeserved indiscretion, because almost immediately Ruby the Hatchet prove they have both the riffs and the charisma to put on a very impressive show indeed. Taking their musical cues from other heavy, organ driven rock and roll bands such as Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, the band also throw in enough tri-tone intervals to prick up the ears of any Sabbath worshippers in the room.
Singer Jillian Taylor has a tremendous voice, which is often augmented by some warm harmonies from drummer Owen Stuart. However, what really raises Ruby The Hatchet above other bands in a very busy genre is their boundless energy and their complete commitment to the audience. Sean Hur looks like he is trying to destroy his keyboard. Guitarists Mike Parise and Johnny Scarps appear to be channelling Almost Famous and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas respectively, and in the centre of it all, Jillian seems completely possessed by the music, dancing and throwing herself into the riffs with a theatrical flourish.
Among all of this, the music remains tight and powerful.
It is a great show that completely wins me over and leaves me wanting to check out the band’s recorded output. I would urge anyone with an appreciation for good live music to catch them when they next pass through your town.
In comparison to what went before, Earthless are a much more straightforward proposition. By no means is that intended to suggest a drop in standards, but as Isaiah Mitchell, Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton take the stage, there is a palpable sense that in comparison to the theatrical edge of the opening set, this performance will be a simple, heads down, no frills blast through some crazy riffs and wild soloing.
It all kicks off with the steady but majestic burn of Uluru Rock.
Immediately, this seaside crowd is transported from the boozy darkness of a small Brighton venue to the hazy expanse of the San Diego desert. All eyes are on Mitchell. Indeed, with Mike Eginton fixing himself towards the back of the stage and Mario easing the set in with a loose, mid-paced pulse, it is largely Isaiah alone who provides the visual swing; standing toward the front of the stage, wringing a fuzzy crescendo from his guitar and building towards a bluesy howl.
What follows is exactly what people came here to see… an extended, sun baked guitar improvisation that crescendos its way to an electrifying, double time climax.
By the end of their sprawling opener, the band seem sufficiently warmed up to make an acceleration into the title track of the new album.
Black Heaven is a real mover of a tune that really goes down well with the crowd. To make a comparison, it sounds like the Groundhogs jamming on some Howlin’ Wolf, and it’s a song that gives Mitchell an opportunity to REALLY cut loose with some impressive, nimble fingered guitar playing.
The band’s conviction in their new album inspires a blast through another new song – Electric Flame, which is the first to feature Mitchell stepping up to the mic to sing.
In practise, Isaiah doesn’t have a bad voice at all. It suits the retrospective nature of the music, but I’d say it sits squarely in the gets-the-job-done category rather than carrying a particularly rich tone or any heavy charisma. However, none of that really matters when it’s backed up by such an appealing groove, as demonstrated perfectly on Gifted by the Wind.
Abandoning the microphone for a while, Earthless make a return to their From the Ages album and give a spirited run through Violence of the Red Sea. It feels trite to make a Hendrix comparison, but while Eginton and Rubalcaba hold down a rolling groove on this (notably – Rubalcaba breaking into some powerful fills), Mitchell gives such a frenzied performance, it’s enough to demonstrate that he definitely IS experienced and is channelling something quite spectacular. It’s a joy to behold.
Next up is a relatively short blast through Volt Rush, which gives the crowd a final shot of adrenaline before Earthless bring their set to a rousing conclusion via a cover of Zeppelin’s classic Communication Breakdown.
It’s a superb and unifying moment that acknowledges how, despite being alive and well in the current age, rock and roll’s true beating heart lies in the past, back within the fires from where it was forged. We all carry it forward though, from show to show – and as we file out of the venue there is no doubt it will be carried for a long time.
Gifted by the Wind
Violence of the Red Sea