Sunday, August 1, 2021

Review: Anti-Mortem at the Rail Club (July 25, 2021)

Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have made the four-plus hour drive to Forth Worth for less than a bucket-list concert. But these aren’t normal circumstances, are they?

Still, this one will certainly go down as a show I’ll never forget for a few reasons. The first is simply that it had been almost two years since I’d had the chance to abuse my eardrums with some live heavy metal. The second is that Anti-Mortem’s debut New Southern was one of my favorite albums of the last decade. It’s still in regular rotation nearly 10 years later, and until recently, I was bummed that I thought it would be the last music we ever heard from them. Even with those two factors, I still would have been hesitant to take this trip, but it was my son who spotted the show online and really wanted to go. That sealed the deal.

When we pulled in to the small parking lot of the Rail Club, I wondered for a second if I was in the right place. A non-descript aging beige rectangle with a flaking metal awning over the front door, it was certainly a bit sketchy-looking from the outside. I even joked with my wife via text that I was about to take our 16-year-old to his first dive bar. Of course, I’ve been in far worse-looking places in my quest for live music over the years, and as small venues go, the Rail Club was actually a pretty good one – once we got past the exterior. On the inside, it looked like the club had probably had a relatively recent renovation, and most of the people we had interactions with were friendly.

I had purchased VIP balcony tickets, which I usually do when they’re available because a) I’m a massive introvert, b) I’m old, and c) a good comfortable view of the stage is more important to me than being on the front lines these days. Looking down on the bar, I was struck with a major sense of déjà vu. Even though it was my first visit, I could have sworn I’d been here before. From the color scheme to the mural behind the bar to the banner for Texas thrashers Rigor Mortis hanging near the door, it all looked incredibly familiar. I wondered if perhaps the owner at some point had another club with similar décor that I’d been in.

The show opened with old school Southern rockers Blackhorse. They were new to me, though obviously not to the crowd in the Rail Club, as several people danced and sang along in front of the stage – including a toddler who appeared to be perhaps a grandchild of one of the band members. There was more of a street festival atmosphere to their performance than a bar show. Blackhorse has clearly been doing their thing for a lot of years, and they ran through their set like a well-oiled machine, despite a couple of technical issues. There were some nice grooves and good vocal play between the members. Being a Texas trio, the comparison to ZZ Top was the obvious one, but there was probably a little more Molly Hatchet or Skynyrd in the sound.

Next up was another trio, local outfit Waja, which was a bit of a left turn from the first act. Though there was certainly a Southern flavor to what they did, it wasn’t as pronounced as the other three bands on the bill. I found their sound pretty intriguing, mixing elements of traditional metal and thrash with a soulful vocal style. I was reminded at times of King’s X, minus the harmonies and with a slightly heavier edge. It was an interesting sound that bears further investigation for me.

At this point, I was surprised that the crowd in the place was still a little sparse, but it was late on a Sunday night. I was pretty sure by now that my son and I were the only two people who had driven anything close to four hours to see the show, and I worried that the energy of the main event may not live up to the boy’s expectations due to the turnout. I shouldn’t have.

When redneck rockers Scattered Hamlet kicked off their set around 10 p.m., it was on. I wasn’t a huge fan of the band going in, but after seeing them perform, I’m definitely a fan of their live show. They brought plenty of energy to the stage, bantering with the crowd throughout. The attitude and feel was that of a party with a bunch of friends where everyone was just laid back and having a great time. That camaraderie was backed up later during Anti-Mortem’s set when I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find Scattered Hamlet frontman Adam Joad just saying hello and complimenting my son and I on our Iron Maiden shirts (reminders of our last live experience prior to this show).

Joad presented a very charismatic and relatable character for the crowd, singing behind a mic stand made from an old shotgun, standing atop a beer keg to lead a performance of the song “Swamp Rebel Machine” and just generally reveling in his roots as the self-proclaimed Appalachian Apostle.

Around the middle of the set, he announced that it was the final night of the short Southern Gentlemen tour with Anti-Mortem and invited the members of the other bands on the stage. He then told the crowd, “If you don’t know this song, then your mama raised you wrong,” before launching into a rousing, scream-along version of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” that got everyone involved.

All in all, their performance was one hell of a good time, and even though I wasn’t a huge fan before the show, I’ll definitely see them again if they come around.

Normally in a review, you don’t see much about the action between sets, but I have to say that the speed with which Scattered Hamlet broke down their setup after they played was pretty impressive. You expect a wait between bands, but they set some land-speed records clearing the stage for Anti-Mortem to get started at 11 p.m.

And the headliners kicked it off in style, blasting out of the gate with “Hate Automatic.” Noticing some space down front, and knowing my son had never really had a front-row concert experience, I suggested we abandon the balcony and enjoy the show close-up. He was probably greatly embarrassed by his fat, old-ass dad banging his head and throwing horns at the front of the stage, but that kind of embarrassment is what parents are for, right? That first song alone was a glorious release of long lockdown frustrations that would continue for another hour, with the band playing all three newly released songs as well as favorites from their debut.

Anti-Mortem satisfied my biggest desire of the night early on with an energetic performance of “Path to Pain.” It’s perhaps my favorite song from the first album, and they didn’t disappoint. We missed “I Get Along with the Devil,” which was absent from the set, but the band hit just about every other song from New Southern that my son and I were looking forward to hearing – including the title track, “100% Pure American Rage,” and another favorite of mine, the grooving “Stagnant Water.”

They also gave fans a taste of one of my most anticipated releases of the year, their upcoming sophomore album Yeah Right. The front row, at least, was just as up on the new stuff as the old. Early in the set, they broke out “Old Washita,” a western-inspired tune that the band has been playing for a while but officially released last summer. A little later on, vocalist Larado Romo pulled out a megaphone for a performance of the title track. Honestly, “Yeah Right” is my least favorite of the three new songs, mainly because of the megaphone vocals, I think, but I have to admit the live version was pretty entertaining.

The highlight of the new material, not surprisingly, was “STFU,” which came around the midpoint of the performance. As Scattered Hamlet had done before, Anti-Mortem invited the members of other bands back to the stage to deliver a gang vocal shout on the chorus, and I think in the current political climate that the song addresses, everyone there took a lot of pleasure in singing along.

As midnight neared, the show came to a rowdy close with another tune from New Southern, “Words of Wisdom,” and though the crowd lingered around the rail for a little bit hoping for just one more song, it was a no-nonsense ending to a no-nonsense show.

I’m sure both bands have played to much larger crowds than the one in the Rail Club on that Sunday night, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell it from the energy they put out. Larado Romo screamed his lungs out, stomped and jumped as he delivered the songs like he was playing to a stadium crowd. Guitarist Nevada Romo criss-crossed the stage dealing out searing riffage as well as offering some serious vocal shouts of his own in backup, and the other, newer members of the band – despite a few more technical hiccups – were as tight as if they’d been playing together since the first record.

While it definitely wasn’t the biggest show we’ve seen, my son and I both left smiling ear-to-ear. We had a great memory, and we didn’t have a care at all about the long drive to get there, the one facing us again the next morning or, really, anything other than the show we’d just seen. Live music was back, Anti-Mortem was back and, for at least a few hours, all was right with the world.

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