Ovvl / Groan / Molly Bloom / Ten Foot Wizard @ The Star & Garter, Manchester 11/12/2013

Ovvl / Groan / Molly Bloom / Ten Foot Wizard @ The Star & Garter, Manchester 11/12/2013

It didn’t bode well. A bill composed of bands of varying degrees of ‘Who??‘, playing a venue that seems to have seen a significant downturn in attendance over the last few years – allegedly down to its ‘inconvenient’ location – on a wet ‘n’ windy Wednesday night two weeks before Christmas with another bill aimed at the exact same crowd containing a couple of marginally more ‘well-known’ bands also happening just across town on the same night….but, against the odds, I’d be inclined to chalk the entire night up as mostly a success. Who’da thunk it?

Now, I’d seen the name Ten Foot Wizard on bills before but had yet to even hear them, mostly down to the fact that their name made me shudder and roll my eyes. There’s been a veritable slew of ‘Wizard’ bands over the last year or so and the great majority of them seem to be deeply unimaginative variations on the now-generic ‘Stoner Doom’ trope, which I for one could be bloody sentenced to, so I wasn’t exactly expecting great, or even, y’know, good things from them.

I was, however, dead wrong. Rather than another fuzzed-up graduate of the Electric Wizard school of dull-as-dishwater plagiarism, Ten Foot Wizard hit like a hard-blues sledgehammer of Clutch-esque proportions. These boys clearly own the same Harvey Milk and ZZ Top albums that I do.

As soon as I clapped eyes on drummer Jonny’s headband, microphone and cowbell I knew we were in safe hands – I can’t think of any band that sucks and has a singing cowbell-thwacking drummer, and a headband is always a surefire sign of quality.

Bearded frontman Gary has an easy Irish charm and an endearing goofiness in the humour department that won the crowd over almost straight away and these qualities, combined with his whisky-laced sandpaper bellow of a voice and his sterling guitar slinging serve to effortlessly elevate him, and by extension the entire band, to a rather serious cut above those bands who would be their peers.

The steely tones of Gary and other guitarist Adam lock horns and complement one-another in a beautiful fashion, tangling and meshing to great effect atop the rock-solid battering of Jonny and one-man fuzztone hair-curtain bassist Seddy. Letting the bass end handle the fuzz and keeping those chrome-plated guitars nice and sharp meant that the riffs and pistoning bluesy rhythms cut through keenly and had so much more impact.

Although the lions share of the set was drawn from debut album Return To The Infinite – due for better-late-than-never review here shortly – there were one or two tunes from their upcoming sophomore recording which showed a continuation and refinement of their overall sound. I must admit that having listened to their recordings after hearing liver versions of the tracks, numbers such as ‘Six Feet Rising’ aren’t quite given full justice in their recorded form. Hopefully the live energy will translate into their second recording.

Ending with the preposterously-named ‘Covered With Tits’ and managing to squeeze in a Theremin solo to boot, I was left very impressed, wanting to hear more and feeling slightly sheepish at having avoided ’em up ’til now.

Still not keen on that name though.

Next up were Molly Bloom, about whom I am in absolutely no way, shape or form qualified to speak, since my tolerance of crusty-ska-and-polka type rhythms is about equal to Hitler’s tolerance of gypsies. Suffice to say if this had been the sub-stage of a mid-nineties Glastonbury festival and RDF, DF118, Senser and the fucking Levellers were on the bill, this shower of bollocks would probably have gone down very well indeed. I, however, hope to never have to suffer the like again so long as I have ears to hear.

Moving on, stoner-metallers Groan hit the stage with the sound of Down or Orange Goblin filtered through the metalcore of Killswitch Engage, to my confusion. The last time I saw this lot was actually at their first ever gig, at the Doomsday III fest back in 2010, and they were merely competent meat ‘n’ potatoes stoner doom ala Sleep. Having heard nothing in between, this more uptempo and overtly metallic approach came as something of a surprise to me.

Guitarist Mike Pilat peels off riff after riff in the style of Kirk Windstein by way of Adam Dutkiewicz, adding hoarse hardcore-style backing vocals when needed, whilst bassist Leigh Jones flails around the neck of his instrument and careens around the stage like a pinball bouncing off of electrified flippers and drummer Zel Kaute absolutely annihilates her kit, smashing seven bells out of it and glaring it down with truly murderous intent. Seriously, I would not want to piss this girl off. Up front, beflared and centre-parted rawk gawd Mazzereth wails and semi-ironically struts whilst spouting arena rawk platitudes and self-deprecating pithy asides.

Smashing through a selection of tracks that took in what seemed like their entire back catalogue – from their Sleeping Wizard EP through to The Divine Right Of Kings album, and taking in a new, yet-to-be-released, EP to boot – there was no let-up during their set. The heavy boogie party metal flowed freely and whilst it may not be the kind of thing that I generally listen to I was most certainly entertained. How Zel kept up her energy level I have no idea! I can only imagine she was gobbling down Boosts between beats or possibly being fed Lucozade intravenously. Managing to skirt the edges of ridiculousness down to sheer physical intensity, Groan were full-on OTT fun for those who like that kind of thing.

As if the midweek spot, the rival show and the crappy weather weren’t enough, San Franciscan proto-Fancy Metal hessians Ovvl were a (wo)man down, with bassist Melanie ‘Manslaughter’ Burkett having been denied entry to the UK due to her shady, nefarious past and unfounded piracy allegations, but, as luck would have it, Mel’s rawkin’ chum Velvet was on hand to slap-a-de-bass and save the day….and, boy, can she play! Having had one show and a couple of soundchecks to get into the groove and learn those tasty licks, she done nailed that shee-it. Phew!

With Velvet firmly in the pocket, those fabulous Baechle boys – headband ‘n’ shades bedecked vocalist/guitarist Alex, shirtless smartass Fenriz-lookalike drumgod Clint and pocket-rocket livewire guitarist/vocalist Axell – brought the rest of the noise, blasting out that scuzzy garage-rock-inspired Fancy Metal voodoo that they do so well. Now, good as they are on record, the live arena is where Ovvl make like Frampton and come alive, Axell in particular – it was as though the guy was plugged directly into the mains, a-shaking and a-shuddering through riff after riff, harmony after harmony and blistering lead after blistering lead, fringed jacket and curtain of hair a-flying all the while. Towards the end of the set, the stage could contain the boy wonder no more and he climbed down and began to solo and flail on the floor, right in front of me, before hitting the deck and writhing around like the bastard offspring of Angus Young and Nigel Tufnel.

I wish I’d taken a picture, but, alas, I take a bloody awful photograph and would more than likely have gotten more of the floor than the man himself. Where was thee Shaman when you needed him eh? Tragically double-booked actually. Ah well, his loss.

So, yes, Ovvl were on fire. Don’t ask me what they played – I wrote one note during the entire set and that was to remind me that they busted out a cover of obscure-but-awesome Brit proto-metallers Jerusalem’s ‘Beyond The Grave’ and I could be wrong about that. I can say with some degree of authority that ‘Gypsy River’, opening track of their self-titled LP, was played but as for the rest of the set, I was too busy digging the savage tunes to pay attention. Apologies.

Terrible memory aside, I think it’s safe to say that Ovvl triumphed over adversity. I’d even go so far as to say that Ovvl cornholed adversity and gave it a good kicking in the car park out back to boot.

Scribed by: Paul Robertson