As we slog ever nearer to the pending change of ownership that looms over Churchill's Pub, it would appear patrons have splintered into two distinct camps.
There are the deniers who believe the punk landmark can only flourish with its current patronage and practices intact, and that any alterations by the new owners will be met with such intolerance that they'll be forced to leave well enough be. And then there are the prematurely bereaved who predict the inevitable death of "our beloved shithole."
While we're not quite prepared to join the pre-mourners, we'll admit the energy that's recently flowed through this palace of piss, vomit, volume, and love has been absolutely remarkable, and Friday night's tour stop featuring hyped heavies Cult Leader and Yautja was no exception.
The night was kicked off right with a fistful of meaty local metal from hardcore crew Pariah and some absolutely vicious Entombed worship, courtesy of Palm Beach's Shovelhead.
The latter received a particularly raucous reaction for a band that rarely plays south of the Broward-Dade border. Ending its set of post-Swedish metal with a triumphantly harmonized lead guitar assault that gave way to churning, HM-2-fueled filth, Shovelhead bludgeoned the assembled mob with the distinct message that Broward and Palm Beach counties are keeping pace with the current crop of notable heavy bands from Miami.
Next, it was time for some non-SoFla shred, beginning with Nashville-based trio Yautja, which has spun some of the most exciting, organic-sounding, and oddly cohesive heavy music in recent memory. This group combines sludge passages with d-beat mayhem and hardcore stomps to overwhelmingly great effect. The three-piece has also enjoyed the adoration of a few major music blogs, most notably earning a glowing bit of coverage from Vice Magazine's Noisey that appears to have broken the band on a national scale. So it seems that Miami was very fortunate to catch a performance by Yautja at a place like Churchill's before the threesome inevitably and permanently ascends to the land of larger venues.
Shortly after Shovelhead absconded from the stage with its pair of Gibson Explorers, Yautja began to ease into a ritual of ungodly heavy songs. All three members shouldered the burden of vocals at points in the set, which was as dynamic as it was overwhelming. Drummer Tyler Coburn appeared entranced, shifting between states of wild-eyed terror and close-eyed serenity while delivering one of the most intense and athletic displays behind the kit that we've ever witnessed. Guitarist Shibby Poole also appeared completely caught in the throes of a trance as he wrung sludge, thrash, and jagged atmospheres out of his axe. The aural war of attrition that is "Faith Resigned" was the moment when we realized that this band is going to be a very big deal if it can maintain the intensity displayed on its album Songs of Descent and at the Churchill's show.
Yautja's tourmate, Cult Leader, had the dubious honor of performing next. Setting up in front of a wall of custom-built guitar cabs that looked like discarded set pieces from a Klingon war ship, this Salt Lake City crew that formed from the ashes of Gaza had its work cut out. But jarring, metal-tinged hardcore soon broke the silence and brought a flock of eager followers back to the foot of the stage, reenergized by the quartet's thunderous reports of chunky guitar. Gaza was one of the rising stars of the genre and Cult Leader did its predecessor's legend justice with a set as technically masterful as it was explosively violent.
By the end of the Utah outfit's time, the crowd appeared as spent as the band. However, not the members of Holly Hunt, who quickly constructed the now-familiar mountain of amplifier artillery that it uses to unleash total sonic destruction.
When Churchill's sale was first reported, a lot of exaggerators grumbled about how even if some idiot bought the place, it would never pass a structural-integrity test. But during Holly Hunt's set, it dawned on us that if the bar could withstand having a band this ignorantly heavy perform on such a frequent basis without collapsing, it would probably be just fine in any kind of extreme weather.
Our next thought: This was most likely our last time seeing this band, one completely imbued with Churchill's spirit, a band that virtually learned who it was under the precariously dangling A/C pipe that hangs over the stage, a band whose members could be seen on any given weekend taking in the vibes from the red bench behind the pool tables, and just one band of many that gave Churchill's its unique personality.
On Friday night, Holly Hunt gave one of its most exciting performances ever. Guitarist Gavin Perry appeared in great spirits, smiling as he called forth the titans themselves through his Hiwatt amps. Drummer Beatriz Montevaro (who is always smiling) seemed to strike every fill with a bit of extra oomph, as if making the last ride a good one and savoring the final moments on that stage as it stands.
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We are sure we were not alone in feeling a mix of warm memories and sadness for the future as we left the bar that night.
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