December 7th’s show featuring Mortals, Solstafir, and Pallbearer was my first visit to San Francisco venue Bottom of the Hill. It’s a cosy space, festooned with Christmas lights, tucked inside a converted Victorian house on an otherwise quiet street. It got a little awkward to navigate when the place filled up (it was a sold out show), but the sound was good and the bathrooms were clean, which are the two most important characteristics of a venue as far as I’m concerned.
I arrived early enough that I managed to grab a spot right up front for the first couple of sets. Brooklyn-based Mortals were up first. I’ve been a fan of their peculiarly unclassifiable brand of blackened, sludgy, doomy stuff since I first heard Cursed to See the Future, and they did not disappoint live. The band is tight, crashing through the songs with precision and energy. Visually, they’re a bit of a study in contrasts – guitarist Elizabeth Cline and vocalist/bassist Lesley Wolf are all business, while Caryn Havlik bobs her head in time to the music and grins like a maniac. It’s a shame they only played 4 songs, but that’s the trouble with going to a doom metal show – nobody gets to play very many songs.
Some photos of Mortals:
Next up were Iceland’s Solstafir. I’ve been kicking myself for missing their set at this year’s Maryland Deathfest – I mean, I was there for it, but I’d hit a point in the day where I’d had enough of heat and crowds for a bit, and so I wandered off to sit in the shade of the merch tent and have a drink. So, I heard their set, but it made practically no impression on me, despite other people telling me that it was the highlight of their MDF.
So I felt very lucky to be able to get another chance to see them. From the front row, no less. And, yes, Solstafir live is every bit as fabulous as I’d been led to believe, and you shouldn’t miss them. During the set, I found myself counting the band members on stage, having a hard time believing that just four people were creating such a majestic, chaotic yet controlled wall of noise. (I don’t think they had much in the way of pre-recording backing tracks either. Usually when a band is is doing that, there’s a MacBook or two on stage, and there were none in evidence here.) It’s hard to believe that this was Solstafir’s first visit to San Francisco, but I really hope it won’t be their last.
After Solstafir finished their set, I gave up my spot in front of the stage to go grab some Mortals merch. (Props to the band for having patches available. It’s disappointing how few bands stock patches at their merch tables these days.) As a result, I watched Pallbearer from the middle of a rather packed crowd. I didn’t take any photos, because you’d mostly just have seen the heads of the people in front of me.
Fortunately, seeing Pallbearer live is a compelling experience from anywhere in the crowd. (Indeed, there’s something eerie about looking out in front of you and seeing this sea of heads slowly bobbing in unison in time to the music – it’s a bit like participating in a rather strange religious ritual.) The band had a few minor sound problems – those thundering guitars kept wanting to erupt into feedback – but still delivered a great set. They played about 7 songs, including “Worlds Apart,” “Foundations,” and “Ghost I Used to Be” from their new album, as well as “The Legend” and some other songs from Sorrow and Extinction. “The Legend” got a big cheer – I gather that the band haven’t played it live in a while.
This tour has one of the most consistently solid and enjoyable line-ups I’ve seen in a while. If you get a chance to catch any of the remaining dates, or to catch any of these artists live elsewhere, take it.