Photo by Matt Caltabiano, a braver fellow than I
Red Fang at Underground Arts, Philadelphia, PA, December 2, 2016,
Dec 09, 2016 Web Exclusive
This review comes with a qualifier. A confession. An asterisk, if you will. I, Frank Valish, am not tough enough for Red Fang. At 5'8", I am not tall enough. At 140 pounds, I am not big enough. And at 40 years of age, I am probably not young enough. I, embarrassing as it is to reluctantly admit, cannot handle Red Fang.
On Friday night in the cavernous basement space of Underground Arts in Philadelphia, I tried. Truly. Well, at least for a moment. I tried my tail off, for a moment. Then, like the tiny weakling I am, I bailed. It took about three long seconds.
Back in October, the Portland four-piece released Only Ghosts, a blistering firestorm of an LP that fulfills the rock hard promise of the band's previous three albums. Songs like "Flies," "Cut It Short," and "No Air" cut a swath from groove-based rock and roll to the heaviest, meanest metal you can imagine. Songs alternately sway and bludgeon, right through the album's six-minute closing romp "Living in Lye." It's a monster of an album and unquestionably one of the best heavy rock releases of the year.
But back to my long three seconds. Having caught the tail end of the first opening band's set and glad to observe the second opener, furious but shambolic heavy-rockers Torche, from the wings, it was time for the main act. With balls of steel, I ushered my two compatriots through the crowd, weaving a serpentine path to front and center, three hardcore dudes deep from the stage. I was ready. I was prepared. Looking forward to the blitzkrieg. Or so I thought.
The moment the band hit the stage-guitarist/vocalist Bryan Giles, bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam, guitarist David Sullivan, and drummer John Sherman-something happened, though I am still, days later, not sure exactly what. The room went dark, the band hit the first chord to the opening song, "Wires" from 2011's Murder the Mountains, and my world suddenly went....wet. Drenched. Soaked. I'm not sure how. I surely don't know why.
All I knew was my face was splashed, my glasses dripping. My right sleeve felt like it had been dipped in a tide pool. I didn't have a drink on me, so it couldn't have been a wave of excitement leading me to soil my clothing with my own libation. Looking up, the room was all of a sudden an enraged pit of movement, a furious cacophony of noise. And apparently an ocean of what I can only hope was beer.
So did I suck it up, brush myself off (or wring myself out, as it were)? Man up? Embrace the rock? Sadly, and embarrassingly, no. I panicked. Three seconds. A ball of nerves and so taken aback by the sudden and stark turn of events, I bailed. I was out.
Taking the same circuitous route I so deftly navigated to stage center not minutes prior, I wormed my way out of the crowd. To the back. Past the hordes of a thrilled packed house. It was over for me. There was no hope of seeing anymore. Undergrounds Arts is set up like a bunker, a concrete room with few natural sight lines and large beams interspersed among the audience space. For the remainder of Red Fang's blistering, beautiful 75-minute set, I destined myself to shuffle back and forth along the periphery, trying in vain to recoup some of what I had missed. Trying in vain to clearly see what was most obviously the most kick-ass of kick-ass shows. I was, alas, a miserable casualty of rock. Doomed. Relegated to the faux electric chair Underground Arts has situated by the bathrooms. A failure.
Make no mistake, Red Fang came to play. The band whipped its sold out crowd into a continuous fury. A topless bearded man crowd surfed above the fray. One of my braver cohorts later described the scene front and center, being showered over the head with beer and welcoming the cool hoppy spray. Feeling like he had come from a hockey brawl, battered and bruised, muscle weary and overcome by exhaustion. From the back, I could vaguely see circles of flesh, those enjoying with such visceral glee the romp that was taking place, the glorious metal thrashing to which they were being subjected. It was beautiful mayhem. Red Fang were kings.
Eventually, 60 minutes out, I found my cohort at the back bar, sipping on water, desperately trying to rehydrate. Another was still lost in the mass. He lasted far longer than any mortal man could have expected, and lived to tell. I'd already made my choice, regret it as I might.
We staggered back to within barely visible view of the stage and watched the band's triumphant conclusion. It was over. People were funneling out. I made a feeble stop at the merch table. "One skull t-shirt, Large please." Am I really doing this? After my epic Red Fang fail? A pretender. A poseur, I am. Handing over the last of my dough in a feeble attempt to save face, I finally stumbled out the door to the brisk late-Fall evening air, talking a good game with my braver fellow concertgoers. "Red Fang rocked!" Oh for sure they did. For sure they did. If only I was tough enough to see it.
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