SoFla Does CMJ

Hialeah gets a shout-out in Manhattan

Unfortunately for opening act Fog, this is where most of the action, or rather, inaction is during its set. It's been a long week of standing, walking, running for cabs, and swilling free SoCo, Sparks, Dewar's, Budweiser Select, and other fine lifestyle rebranding spirits. Most of the attendees are fried, lurking in the dark and half-sleeping through Fog's technically apt but slightly navel-gazing set.

But there is a swift and noticeable exodus downstairs to the floor when the members of Torche amble onstage to set up their instruments. The crowd is an amazing mix – real metal people with carefully groomed Mohawk/rat-tail combos and black leather jackets, tattooed rock scenesters, old intellectual art weirdos, teenage mall rats. The group's self-titled first album was released on the indie imprint Robotic Empire, but constant, dogged touring both nationally and abroad has raised Torche's buzz factor significantly. The bandmate's forthcoming sophomore album, recorded recently during two weeks in Salem, Massachusetts, for the legendary Hydra Head records, will only increase their profile.

Oh, that, and their serious instrumental chops. The opening chord slices through the air, the dual-guitar attack so ear-bleedingly loud my throat involuntarily constricts. Previously I'd seen the band only at Miami venues like Studio A and Churchill's. But it's quickly clear that this is, or should be, a big-room band. At the Gramercy Theatre, the droning onslaught floats to the high ceilings. It's so thick and striated it's almost tangible, like a surrounding fog.

The low point is the sound mixing: For a good first half of the set, Brooks's vocals are nearly inaudible. But he doesn't seem to mind, wearing a toothy, squinty smile of concentration and seemingly utter elatedness. Finally his words pop back into the foreground during the group's minor hit "In Return." When the tune is done, he squints up into the engineer's dark aerie: "Could we get more drums in the monitors?"

"More drums everywhere!" someone in the crowd retorts. "More vocals!" someone else yells. "Better sound!" But things pick up afterward, with actual headbanging and air-guitar action going on in full force. Onstage the members of Torche are humble, without any stupid costumes, gimmicks, or in-between song patter. Their fans have latched onto this sort of everyrockman appeal — the band is all about the music and not about the bullshit.

And guitarist Juan Montoya, besides being probably the friendliest guy ever in heavy music, is also, pretty much, nothing short of an axe god. The number of unidentifiable sounds he elicits from just two guitars is encyclopedic. There are moments when a song begins with only feedback; then come stabs of strings and then a rumbling like the onset of an earthquake. At one point, he pushes out a vibrating hum by strumming a chord and then letting the instrument's neck slide by the frets down his open palm. Near the end of the final song, he thrusts his guitar into the front row, letting the clamoring hands claw at its buzzing strings. And for someone who has professed to not like singing, Brooks sure looks as if he's having an awfully good time throughout.

When the band leaves the stage amid a blaze of feedback, many people take a noticeable moment to recover, tugging their earlobes and shaking their heads like wet dogs. Two teenage boys in front of me let out victory shrieks. "I bet that first band is crying right now, asking, 'Why didn't we get that response?' Torche is so fucking awesome, dude!"

I second that emotion.

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