Live Review: Graveyard/The Shrine

It’s only been a year since Graveyard last came to New York City, and coupled with last week’s sub-freezing temperatures and a second show in Brooklyn two nights later, I was curious to see just how many people would show up to Friday night’s performance. By the time I arrived at the Bowery Ballroom a little before 9pm, the downstairs bar was pretty crowded but upstairs where the bands perform was virtually empty.

Yet openers The Shrine still ended up with a pretty decent crowd by the time they took the stage about 20 minutes later. It took me a song to realize it, but I’d actually seen the Venice, CA trio back in late 2011 when they opened for Fu Manchu. Needless to say, they’ve spent the intervening time really honing their craft. The band may not have the most engaging stage presence at this point in its nascent career, but each of its members more than make up for that with his instrumental prowess. It can’t hurt your sound either when you’re using the headliner’s plethora of Orange amps and gear. Frontman Josh Landau commented on the frigid weather conditions, and I can’t imagine it was easy for three dudes from California to deal with them, but he and his bandmates acquitted themselves well, particularly on “Deep River (Livin’ To Die)”, as they played tunes from last year’s excellent debut LP (#37 on our Top 40), Primitive Blast. While Landau is a bona fide shredder on guitar—I’d pay good money to see nothing but him and Isaiah Mitchell from Earthless trade solos for hours—the trio’s real driving force is drummer Jeff Murray. The skinsman may play one of the smaller kits I’ve ever seen (rivaled by Graveyard’s equally talented Axel Sjöberg), but he manages to make it sound as if he’s playing on something two or three times larger. Landau’s vocals still take a little getting used to for me, but hopefully these guys continue to make significant strides. We should find out soon enough as their sophomore album is due out this year.

Even though the show hadn’t sold out ahead of time, the place was packed by the time Graveyard hit the stage. Having first seen the quartet open for fellow countrymen Witchcraft (who didn’t draw nearly as well) at the very same venue way back in 2008, it became immediately clear that the Swedes have really built a name for themselves, at least in the Big Apple. The band kicked things off with “An Industry Of Murder”, the opener from its newest record Lights Out. It took the crowd a little while to get warmed up, but as the smell of weed became much more pervasive, everyone—including the band—seemed to loosen up. One highlight was seeing the following four audience members singing as loud as they could to “Uncomfortably Numb” from 2011’s Hisingen Blues: a father and son alongside a bald and heavily tattooed dude and his female companion. Speaking of which, the crowd was a melting pot, which wasn’t really surprising given the group’s crossover appeal.

While the band focused on more recent cuts, it was also generous in serving up tracks from its first two records, including “Evil Ways” and “As The Years Pass By, The Hours Bend” from their self-titled debut, my personal favorite of their three records. I’d love to see them extend a few more songs with some jamming, but overall Graveyard—between its look (it’s seriously like they walked out of a time machine from the ‘70s, though they’re all put to shame by their Joe Dirt doppelganger of a roadie), onstage presence (frontman Joakim Nilsson was quite talkative in between songs, even if he was often just introducing what they’d be playing) and stage show (smoke machines and lighting gear that were seamlessly implemented throughout the set)—really puts on a professional, enjoyable show. While I wouldn’t agree with the guy near me who proclaimed that what he just saw “must be what it was like to watch Bill Ward in the ‘70s”—I’m not really sure what that even means, even after witnessing a brief Sjöberg drum solo—it was hard not to come away impressed.

Despite the numerous camera phones deployed by the audience throughout the band’s set, shockingly no one has uploaded anything to YouTube yet, so check out some clips of the band’s set from 2011’s Bonnaroo below instead.