Show Review: Boston Freedom Rally Benefit – Neurological Damage, Planetoid, The Force, Captain Cutthroat, Prospect Hill
No matter which side of the marijuana decriminalization debate you’re on, you gotta give it to the MassCann guys – they know how to throw a hell of a party… especially when they team up with super-promoter Shred for a night of musical madness! Saturday night at the Middle East downstairs was no exception. 6 bands graced the stage, all for the benefit of MassCann/NORML (Massachusetts’ Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and the Boston Freedom Rally – better known around these parts as the HempFest. The Boston Freedom Rally is in its 20th year and is considered the 2nd largest pro-marijuana reform rally in the country, and throughout the years has been funded largely by benefit concerts such as this one. The bands take no money whatsoever for their performances, choosing instead to donate their door fees to a cause they believe in. Regardless of whether you’re a regular smoker, an advocate of personal freedom, or you’re rabidly against all things weed-related, MassCann surely put together a great lineup of bands that rocked the Middle East all night long.
Build a Machine started the night with their patent brand of crunchy funk-rock. Unfortunately, they got things started so early that I missed their set – a real shame, since I’ve caught these guys before and they’re always a good time. My apologies guys, I’ll get to one of your shows soon… maybe at the August 14th show at the Cask n Flagon?
I did make it to the Middle East just in time to see Neurological Damage take the stage and shred out an insane, though somewhat disorganized, display of rock. ND throws in equal parts speed metal, grunge, and straight-up rock and roll, topped off with a little bit of funk that only Captain Dusty’s furious slap-bass can provide. Their incredible instrumentation makes up for somewhat shaky vocals – if they were to add a lead singer with a memorable voice and the stage presence to match the other members I could see these guys exploding on the Boston scene. Their music is intricate and detailed, featuring Primus-esque bass riffs overlayed with thrash metal solos, meaty basslines with wah pedal hooks, and sometimes synchronized shredding between the bass and the guitar. ND puts on an incredibly entertaining performance, be it guitarist Billy D ripping solos behind his head, bassist Captain Dusty slamming his fingers up and down the fretboard of his bass, or drummer Rusty McStix getting frantic and explosive with the double bass. Neurological Damage has a few shows coming up on the North Shore, but they’ll be back in Boston on July 31st up at O’Briens in Allston.
Next up on the bill was Planetoid, maybe one of the most original and bizarre bands in Boston. Just to give you an idea, take this statement from their website – “We have traveled forward in time from the year 1971 to take over your planet Earth with our transmissions of face melting rock.” This is actually a pretty accurate description, however it neglects to include the fact that they perform all their shows in full character and costume. Bassist and lead singer Locrius paints himself blue and rocks pointy elfin ears to go with his glowing red eyes. Guitarist Ovatus kind of has an Ol’ Gregg thing going on – only he’s got a large horn protruding from his head to go with the green skin and facial hair. The Drummer, known only as Admiral Time, wears a large chrome helmet that looks like a cross between deep-sea diving gear and a giant robot insect. All three wear white suits that accentuate their costumes while also picking up the full effects of the stage lighting, making for quite a surreal experience. In between songs they take on the persona of space-age
preachers, warning of the upcoming downfall of human civilization. These guys take their stage personas seriously too – I’ve talked to Locrius after a show and no matter how much I prodded, he absolutely refused to break character. All of this attention to appearance seems like a gimmick – but there’s really no need for it because their musical ability is as solid as it gets! Planetoid has a psychedelic sound with elements of metal, grunge, and stoner-rock thrown in, sort of like an extremely pissed-off Queens of the Stone Age if they formed back in the 70′s. All the musicians in the band are extremely talented, and are very tight on stage, especially on their breaks or when bridging to the chorus. They had ridiculous flange solos and perfectly timed cymbal-denting crashes that further accentuated their mind-bending musical qualities. Locrius’ vocals, sung into a headset mic to better allow him to move around on stage, were throaty, raw, and angry, but at the same time somewhat sibilant – his voice certainly reinforced the otherworldly feel of their music. A Planetoid set is not just a show, its an event – and is not to be missed. Check them out for yourself – they’ll be back at the Middle East Downstairs on August 1st.
The Force came onto the stage with a purpose Saturday night. Before the show, a few members of the band confided that this was most likely their biggest show to date. The right turnout, the right songs, the right reaction from the crowd for this show meant that The Force would be added to the bill for the Main Stage at HempFest! These guys have been trying to reach this goal for the past 2 years, playing countless MassCann benefits and paying their membership dues every year, yet were always left at the altar when it came time for the lineup to be selected. This year they were determined to let nothing stop them. While The Force always draws well, for this show a teeming horde of ‘Apprentices of Funk’ took over the club, ready to jam out to a maniacal onslaught of funk, rock, and hip-hop – all rolled into one ass-shakable package. On this night each member of The Force exploded with unparalleled fury and fanaticism, from Lord Scyentifik’s blindingly fast vocals to Skills’ psychotic screeching guitar riffs to Jeff Jazz’s complex keyboard stylings. Captain Dusty from Neurological Damage pulled double-duty tonight, bringing his jaw-dropping slap-bass techniques to the forefront of The Force’s funk madness. The Force showed their chops on “Technology is Pain,” the title track off of their newly released debut CD. Paulie on drums turned in what was probably the most impressive performance I’ve ever seen him come out with, smashing the shit out of his high hat while still keeping a driving beat that got everyone in the crowd moving. While Paulie was putting on a clinic, Jeff Jazz and Lord Scyentifik were trading solos back and forth, Jeff jamming out on one of his three synths and Scyentifik scratching with surgical precision on his turntables. The Force’s set culminated with their final song, an epic cover of Faith No More’s “Be Aggressive.” Scyentifik started off the hysteria with a call for all of the resident Girls 4 Ganja to come take the stage to sing along with him… and then extended the invitation to any and all females in the crowd willing to answer his call to arms. The end result of this was a mob of beautiful women on stage chanting “B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E” like they were Mike Patton’s personal band of cheerleaders. The lovely Lady Payne, serving female vox duties for The Force all night, really stepped it up, encouraging proactive guest participation. Phil from Captain Cutthroat even jumped on stage halfway through to lend his vocals to the “I swallow” breakdown – I think at that point there were probably about 25-30 total up there – complete madness! But honestly, this is what we’ve come to expect from a Force show, any less and we’d be disappointed. They get the crowd moving and have a blast while doing it. Long story short, a Force set is pure energy personified on stage. Apparently Mike Cann and the other organizers of HempFest agreed with this sentiment – towards the end of the show they were officially announced as an addition to the HempFest lineup – September 19th on the Boston Common! Congratulations guys, be seeing you there!
Its very hard to follow a torrid act like The Force… that is, unless you’re Captain Cutthroat. These guys segued perfectly from the former’s funk insanity into a more proggy hard rock style, while keeping a similar Mike Patton experimental feel. Honestly though, its all but impossible to classify Captain Cutthroat’s music. Don’t believe me? Go see one of their shows and tell me how you’d do it. Seriously. Just try it. Sure there’s prog, and there’s rock… but there’s also some metal, some punk rock, some jazz, some lounge, some psychobilly, some funk… get the idea? All these genres combined may seem a little over-the-top, and while its true that this might not necessarily be the most accessible music out there, when it comes together the way Captain Cutthroat does it, the sound is flat-out incredible. Each member of the band showed complete mastery over his instrument, ripping seamless riffs, solos, breaks, and bridges without missing a beat. On vocals, Phil DeSisto jumps from a maniacal croon to a raspy
whisper to a speedy rant at a moment’s notice, exhibiting the perfect style for wherever the band was at in the song they were playing. Bassist Kevin Landry was certainly not content just keeping the rhythm – his bass was dominant at times, alternating between driving lines, intricate scales, and straight-up demented licks. Guitarist Craig McKeough was a standout, popping off frenetic guitar solos that complemented Casey Trombley’s keys-induced rage ridiculously well. Drummer Adam Lentine was exceptional, managing the ridiculous stop-start action like the conductor of an orchestra. I’ve yet to see another band that makes you want to headbang at one point, snap your fingers at another, and even bust out with a cheesily-named 50′s style dance, all over the course of a single song! I could see these guys playing at a post-apocalyptic cabaret hall in the seventh ring of Hell… but in the meantime I just hope they add a few more Boston dates before they start recording their new CD at Sharkbite Studios out in San Francisco.
Methuen-based melodic rockers Prospect Hill were the final band to take the stage for the night, fresh off a West Coast tour that included some time in Vegas as well. Let me just say right now that Prospect Hill’s sound is absolutely tailor-made for radio stations like WAAF 107.3, and the fact that they are not currently in heavy rotation in said stations as opposed to crap like Linkin Park or Nickelback is an absolute travesty, and an affront to fans of local and independent music everywhere. If you tend to like the big rock radio stations in this area, you’re going to love Prospect Hill’s music. If you tastes run more towards indie rock, straight metal, or hardcore, you might not be so big a fan. Regardless of your personal preferences, these guys do put on an impressive set, dominated by lead singer Adam Fithian’s forceful stage presence and the seething mass of humanity in the crowd screaming along to every word. While Fithian controls the crowd up front, bassist Edgar Troncoso paces the stage like
a dredlocked supervillain, accompanied by the two guitarists and their furious headbanging. This style of high energy hard rock was best personified by the performance of their breakthrough hit, “Break Down.” Reflective yet uplifting vocals, edgy guitar licks, and a driving rhythm section all served to whip their faithful crowd into hysterics. If you’re a fan of this accessible style, if your girlfriend wants to feel more badass by rocking out to harder shit, or if you want to see just how a band’s stage presence can transform their sound, you’ll want to check out Prospect Hill the next chance you get. Prospect Hill is one of the hardest working bands on the Boston rock scene – they tour the East Coast on a semi-regular basis, and they’re playing about two shows a week all summer long throughout the entire Northeast. You can also catch them this fall, where they’ll be sharing a stage with The Force on the Common in September, co-headlining the Freedom Rally.
Congrats again to The Force for finally cracking the lineup for HempFest – its been a long time coming! If you haven’t seen the official lineup for the event yet, this is what we’re looking at:
Looks like its going to be a great show! Also, Rally organizer Mike Cann is currently considering adding a second stage to the festivities over at the Gazebo, sponsored in part by Stingray Body Art in Allston. Problem is, he needs more sponsors to make this a reality. If you’re a local business interested in getting your brand out at the Freedom Rally, get in touch with Mike. If you’re in a band interested in playing the second stage, you’re going to need to have the backing of a sponsor in order to be considered. Money talks, that’s just the way it is, and in order to make an event like this a reality there is a lot of cash involved. If you’ve got a sponsor willing to throw a few hundred dollars towards the cause though, e-mail Mike right away, and make it happen!