It’s been six months since I was invited to Baroness founder John Baizley’s home to be the first music journalist granted a listen to the band’s wildly anticipated new album, Gold & Grey. While listening to the record with Baizley and new guitarist/supporting vocalist Gina Gleason, we battled the nearly subzero winter elements together donning slippers and hoodies. A week after the interview, I packed up my records and relocated from Philadelphia to Indianapolis. I finished the cover story in my new home, besieged by unpacked boxes and unfamiliar surroundings.
On my way to see Baroness play at Indianapolis’ Old National Centre on July 21st, treacherous weather struck once again in the band’s honor. Funnel clouds formed and tornado warnings flashed across cell phones as people dashed through the rain and into the venue. Luckily, there are fewer places more sturdy than the ONC. But Baroness and openers Torche still challenged the venue’s structural integrity with their own seismic testing.
Full disclosure: I’ve only listened to Gold & Grey once since writing the cover story for Decibel #175, on the date of its official release in June. You ever see a movie at the perfect time and place in your life, and know a rewatch could only tarnish the memory? I had that worry about revisiting a record I had such a unique opportunity to experience. But the opportunity to hear the songs live lured me without hesitation. During out interviews Baizley and his collaborators were honest about the album’s “sneaky prog” direction and wondered aloud if they’re a rock band (writer’s note: they are) let alone a metal band. While I raved about the record, I found myself wondering since the issue went to print how the album would translate to a live setting. Could it muscle away adoration from the Red and Blue lifers? Would the album’s stained-glass mosaic approach ward away fans seeking the anthems of the albums sandwiching their horrific bus accident?
When the opening gallop of “A Horse Called Golgotha” pounded from the stage the audience roared. The crowd was equally electric as Baizley pogo-bounced to “March to the Sea” with a grin gleaming through his beard. But from the first note of “Seasons” the fans remained engaged with the newest material. With its nimble riffing and mid-song blastbeats, it’s a solid choice for the first offering from the challenging hour-long album. Next they tried out “Cold-Blooded Angels.” When I first heard the song in Baizley’s basement rehearsal space, I scrawled in my notes that it was “a restless, world-weary lullaby.” But the composition’s downcast denouement and throbbing bass reshapes the song into a true rocker when played live.
“Tourniquet” was a dreamy haze of grey before a golden dance-friendly shimmer shook the crowd from Seb Thomson’s kit. Baroness also debuted “Broken Halo” in a live setting. While the song’s opening chord progressions wink at “Chlorine & Wine,” in general the song’s not as guitar-forward and soars on the feather-winged harmonies of Baizley and Gleason. Their singing chemistry is almost pitch-perfect, and watching them trade smirks and inside jokes between songs lent welcome levity considering the thematic heft of Baizley’s lyrics.
The simplistic but effective lighting scheme changed to represent each album like the shift of seasons. The autumnal yellow soaking the stage during “Cocainium” and “Eula” were two of the night’s highlights. With the help of hindsight, both songs foreshadowed the aesthetic shapeshifting Baizley would lead with his new friends and collaborators two albums later. After “Shock Me” instigated shout-alongs, Baroness briefly cleared the stage before a three-song encore (the triumphant “Ogeechee Hymnal” interlude, first-class banger “Isak,” then the familiar swell of “Take My Bones Away”).
“Thank you for sharing your emotions with us tonight,” Baizley warmly addressed the crowd. But less than 24 hours later, Baizley and Gleason would play in an even more intimate setting. Over at Indy CD & Vinyl—a killer independent music shop in the Broad Ripple neighborhood—I was lucky to be among 200 fans watching them play an acoustic set (MASSIVE hat-tip to Spencer Hotz of Indy Metal Vault).
The night before the air was thick with distortion and crashing cymbals. But in the cozy confines of the record shop you could hear the pop of a beer can and the shy harmonies of fans invited to whisper along with their favorites. The set-list was similar to the previous evening’s, but the stripped-down versions lent a harrowing rawness to the darker confessionals like “Cocainium” and “I’m Already Gone.” Despite the naked emotion of morose melodies and plucked strings, the duo kept the quips firing quickly between songs—even when Baizley’s musings self-admittedly ran long. As someone who transcribed 90 minutes of audio from our last interview, that dude can talk. His tangents on creating and embodying the scene you want in your town by supporting local artists were wordy but always entertaining. Between sips of peach tea, Baizley and Gleason also volunteered some music recommendations for those who wanted to browse the shelves after the show. Tomb Mold, Immortal, and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard topped the list. As the whole band patiently greeted all 200 fans after the show, Baizley sketched reading glasses and a black scribble of hair on his bald likeness gracing my cover story. From the inner demons of the songs to the jubilant wit of their banter, Baroness remains one of the most enticing and adventurous rock bands creating new music. Whether it was their stage performance or the family-campfire atmosphere of their acoustic set, the many colors of Baroness shined brightly in Indianapolis.