The local heavy-metal scene has proven it can draw huge crowds, host big-time band battles and produce decent discs. However, it remains a beast that roams a hinterlands habitat, dominating the Northland, Grandview and Independence while making occasional inroads elsewhere. The Westport Meltdown last Wednesday, a three-club crawl that involved the Hurricane, the Beaumont Club and America’s Pub, presented an opportunity for eleven aggressively unkempt acts to turn this meat market into a slaughterhouse. Recently, jazz acts had staged a polite occupation of midtown venues; this had the makings of an all-out invasion.
Instead, it was more like a meek visit from a nervous neighbor, with “can I borrow some sugar?” replaced by “pour some sugar on me.” No mulleted hordes stormed the sidewalks, and no one shouted “Slayer!” apropos of nothing. Perhaps the most metal thing that happened outside any club was an acoustic rendition of a Poison tune wafting from the deck at Harpo’s. For this, the Club Wars veterans risked bloody picking fingers and twirling-hair whiplash?
Everybody’s X guitarist Rick Allen played despite a mangled leg, banging out riffs while sitting in a chair. An admirable effort, but for the sake of showmanship, Allen should have done more to exploit his injury. If he would have rolled onstage in a wheelchair or worn shorts to bare the gnarly carnage, the crowd might have been more engaged. As it was, audience members probably assumed he was a prematurely feeble version of seated King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. It’s unclear whether a physical malady forced Brent McLaughlin to set up his kit sideways, but here’s a hint: If you’re a drummer and your name is not Meg White, no one is clamoring for a full-body profile.
One Beaumont band insisted that everyone in the room, except, presumably, Rick Allen, jump furiously and frequently. “This isn’t the Van Halen song,” Barphyte singer Darrell Whiteaker warned before going into a tune with the chorus Jump!/Get the fuck up!/Don’t be a pussy. About six people, either moved by the music or shamed by the lyrics, proceeded to pogo in place. Whiteaker didn’t say anything about it not being a Metallica song, though, so “Jump” ended with a rapid-fire flourish similar to the breakdown from “One.” This segment shredded, but Barphyte struggled to get moshers and headbangers involved. “Start a pit, get your cocks out,” he recommended, but the scattered spectators declined the offers.
At America’s Pub, Kingpin played a similar card with its opening “Get Up,” the chorus of which followed the titular command with a series of “or else” threats. Again, response was limited. The group combined distortion-heavy wah-wah guitars, slap bass and skittering drums with grunge-style growled vocals. That last touch, though jarring at times, rescued Kingpin from becoming a lightweight white-funk novelty.
Unlike its more event-specific Meltdown peers, the Hurricane can count on daily regulars — there were actually a few perky party girls in short shorts and spring colors in attendance, though they gathered around the bar and stayed far away from the scary stage. The bands on the Hurricane’s bill (Stonewalk, Hetcor and Penumbra) each possessed a rugged, robust sound that played well in the cramped confines.
But the true standout was Thrust, which by now seems more like a touring act than a local product. Vocalist Greg Divine unironically addressed the audience like he was an out-of-towner (“Kansas City, I can’t feel you!”), which would be an unforgivable example of rock-star delusion if the rest of the show hadn’t been so convincingly professional. Looking like Tommy Lee, with his tattoos blazing and his bandana wrapped right above his sunglasses-at-night, Divine did the ol’ squeal-and-shimmy across the stage while the band kicked in with industrial-strength riffs and a rhythm section that bumped and scraped like a lowrider on hydraulics. A mosh pit finally ensued as Thrust fans, many of whom had arrived early and sat silently through the other acts, released their pent-up energy.
It was a solid set, but for the local metal scene, seeing one band dominate an event like the Meltdown still felt like a setback.