It’s a Saturday night in Greenpoint, a still-Polish neighborhood smothered by hipsters and transplants orphaned by and priced-out of neighboring Williamsburg. My favorite part of Brooklyn is not actually living there, and this neighborhood is blessed with the city’s worst train line: the G. Somehow, I make my way to Europa, a nightclub that not-infrequently hosts rock concerts that end early, via three different subway transfers just in time to catch the last two songs of Bison B.C.‘s set. This frustrates me since they’re one of the few metal bands that consistently impresses me. Their last two melodious albums have both made my year-end lists, and in the live setting you can tell that they’re simply a bunch of unpretentious guys who just wanna rock.
But Bison aren’t really why I came. Oxbow is why I came.
San Francisco’s long-running Oxbow rarely make it to New York for a proper concert. When they do, they’re frequently paired with acts that they don’t quite fit with. Last time I saw them, they were opening for Isis; this time, it’s Weedeater. As Dan Adams, Greg Davis, and Niko Wenner tune up, I move towards the stage and wonder when legendary frontman Eugene Robinson will take the stage. A threatening hulk, Robinson’s hooded entrance electrifies the room, and earns some preemptive hoots from the crowd. The sweatshirt is shed, revealing a dark shirt, tie, vest, and pants. Black electrical tape covers his ears. Those of us who’ve seen Oxbow before know that this hardened cool will soon devolve into something more primal and even more menacing. The music begins abruptly, Robinson groaning and howling along with Wenner’s jagged bluesy riffs. The set relies heavily but not exclusively on 2007’s The Narcotic Story, much to my delight. Robinson throws a mic stand into the crowd, strips down to nothing but an open vest, pair of tight-fitting briefs, and argyle socks. Frequently he’d tug at his underwear, making them even more revealing. (One dazed attendee describes the performance as “homoerotic”, though I was quick to correct him: this was erotic, sans modifier.) It’s hard not to be terrified, especially if you happen to know what he’s singing about. During a rare moment of one-sided stage banter, Robinson glibly warns the soundman not to lower the volume of the band–“If you turn them down, we’re coming down there.”
As southern sludgesters Weedeater begin their headlining set, a question forms like a toxic bubble in my brain: How is their hard-partying hillbilly schtick any more “authentic” than Hellyeah’s? Sonically, however, the difference is obvious and staggering, as Weedeater’s stoner metal is buried in filth and coated with resin. In between gulps of whiskey, “Dixie” Dave Collins wheezes and gargles over murky baselines signature of the trio’s dank sound. Songs with titles like “God Luck And Good Speed” riled up the crowd, who thrashed and shoved one another vigorously. Now I’ve seen Weedeater before, and I’m familiar with what we’re getting, so I move to the bar and perch on a stool there for the rest of their enthusiastically received set. A man arrives at the bar with a gash on his head, trying to convey to the pretty Polish bartenders that he could use some napkins. I sip my drink.
By 10:35, it was all over, with brusque bouncers shooing black-clad concertgoers further and further down the block to make way for the big-spending nightclub crowd. These shinier tanned newcomers pose and strut, blissfully ignorant to the prior spectacle and all the blood and beer spilled. Dance music booms out of polished cars with quality speakers and dressed-to-impress passengers. A line forms and starts to snake around the block, a few metalheads still milling about bored and directionless. The women are beautiful sometimes and monstrous otherwise, pouty with flesh oozing recklessly from department store off-the-rack numbers. A bouncer bellows, “Ladies on the left, fellas on the right!” I seethe and foam but fail to look away.
A white van pulls up, a hooded Robinson behind the wheel. What he must think of this scene! Does he think anything of it? It is horrible and threatening but closer to the gnashed-teeth sexuality of his performance. I start to wonder if he and the rest of Oxbow would be more comfortable in what this venue has become than what it was not thirty minutes prior.