Agony Shorthand

Wednesday, June 11, 2003
COMETS ON FIRE / SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN, 6/10/03....Last night I got a big wallop of the much-praised COMETS ON FIRE live and in person at the tiny Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco, CA. The band personally invited their pals SUNBURNED HAND OF THE MAN to jet out from Boston to join them in a rocking good time, so let's start with them. Looking like a ragtag batch of rock and roll misfits cobbled together like a Bad News Bears for heavy pot smokers and early psychedelic record fiends, the "Hand" were a pretty sturdy ensemble who exceeded expectations. There were so many folks in the band I sort of lost count, but I'm pretty sure there were 9 of them, though I might have missed a couple "dancers" who floated around in the crowd (the guy with the tambourine may have just been a freak from off the street). In any event, they didn't all fit on the stage. This evening, The Hand specialized in a heavy tranced groove that warped and shifted in very calculated fashion -- no improv BS here; these folks appear to be of the SAVAGE REPUBLIC school of dense, eastern-inspired, clanging but controlled noise, and I think they pulled it off. Fans of Krautrock, islamic music and marijuana should be impressed.

I don't really know what to think about COMETS ON FIRE. I gave their latest CD "Field Recordings From The Sun" some major props only a couple months ago, and have since listened to a few more times with some slightly diminishing returns. See, I swore when I started this page I would never lie to you, the readers, even if it made me look less than all-knowing. I may have overstepped a tiny bit with the Comets. There's no doubt that they have an awesome, ultra-heavy sonic attack that roars like some out of control marriage of HAWKWIND and early MONSTER MAGNET (once a great band!), and they take their cues from what is obviously a real reverance for many of the heavyweights that came before them: Chrome, High Rise, Pere Ubu, etc. Live, they sound a lot like they do on the CD -- a good thing for the most part. But for Christ's sake, turn down the oscillator/electronics guy (!) -- whenever the band would come together for an gargantuan ear-shredding riff and some rock hero-style leaping about the stage (there was a lot of that -- if only it was Seattle circa 1988, there'd be some killer Charles Peterson time-release hair-flyin' photos), the squall of the electronics would drown out the real musicians & severely dampen the overall sonic effect. I was also a bit concerned, shall we say, with the lack of variation song to song; kind of like you heard one, you've heard 'em all. It's a real good one to be sure, but I came in wanting these guys to expand the pantheon, move heaven and earth, and in the process reinvent rock noise, and instead right now I see them as a pretty solid local rock music band. Maybe partying would have helped.