Show Review: Baroness, Torche and Iron Age

by Jack Diablo
Living in Jacksonville can be frustrating for the live music lover. Many bands skip over Florida entirely, and those that do grace us with their presence often pass up the First Coast for more welcoming cities. Sometimes you have to just suck it up when you see your favorite band’s listing in another city and just get in the car to make the drive.
Thankfully, just about every tour that comes through Florida makes a stop in Orlando. For shows worthy enough of the commute, it can be done in a day as long as you can handle getting home after 3 am. Such a sacrifice was certainly worthy in the case of Baroness, Torche and Iron Age at the Social.
Baroness’ Blue Album is already topping several lists of best album of 2009. Even though several people I’ve spoken with who were fans before the album have expressed their hesitance to accept it, it seems to be doing quite well–pleasing the critics and attracting new fans. Their previous record, the Red Album, was just so good that any derivation from can be a hard pill to swallow at first. But some of the best albums don’t blow you away on the first listen. Like acquired tastes, they get better with each subsequent listen as the levels of complexity are revealed and appreciated. For myself and my plus one, we decided to let the live performance determine how much of a chance we would give the Blue Album.
Orlando’s Social is a huge step up from the band’s modest DIY roots. I still hear stories of the house show they played years ago at the Tower of Power here in Jacksonville. But these guys deserve the success they have created for themselves and although it would be pretty rad to watch them tear up a punk house, we were still high on the idea of getting to see them at all.
But first, we had to get there. The trip was quick but upon arrival, the typical SNAFU threatened to keep us from accomplishing our mission. Despite confirmation beforehand, we weren’t on the list. Crippled with dismay, I searched my emails for a contact number. Nothing. A couple of friends showed up and as I was asking them to let someone in Baroness’ camp know the situation, the tour manager (I presume) overheard and took care of it. But in the process, we did miss the opening act and one of our favorite local metal heroes Dark Castle.
We made it inside just as Iron Age took the stage. Hailing from Austin, they play thrashy metal that at times sounds a bit like hardcore and other times a bit stoney, all infused with a dose of that Texas-psych. For my first taste of the band, I was fairly impressed. They failed to blow me away, but it was enjoyable and fun and I left with a 7”.
Following Iron Age was Torche. Even though this would be my third time seeing them since August, I was as stoked as could be along with the rest of the crowd. Trying to pin down a particular style or genre for Torche is to underestimate and otherwise completely miss the boat on what these guys are about. Sure you can take several Torche songs and say “that is stoner metal” and you would be right, but what stoner metal band would write a song like ‘Grenades’ or ‘Rockit’? Basically they are the perfect crossover band. Very few people listen to one genre of music exclusively but tend to prefer a certain energy or sound. Fans of heavy music are united in their affection for this particular Miami group regardless of any scene affiliation and the crowds are always insane. One thing I’ve noticed at every Torche show I’ve been to is that the three-piece feeds (nee feasts) off of their energetic audience and they seem to love every minute of it. The band is all smiles throughout their set causing a feedback loop of pure positive energy that is impossible to ignore.
By now, the crowd was eager and ready for the headliner. As if to tease us, a giant tapestry featuring John Dyer Baizley’s album art hung behind the stage throughout the show. When the artist/singer/guitarist took the stage, the audience erupted. From then on, it was nothing but the most glorious, heavy, even epic sounds with nary a break between songs until the set was over. Listening and watching them live made the difference between the old and new stuff seem perfectly natural and seamless even though the records are distinctively different. As usual, it gave me a deeper appreciation of the new material as I’m sure it did for any other skeptics in the crowd. One thing that did surprise me was how the drummer was able to make a simple four-piece drum set sound like he was doing fills on Tommy Lee’s kit. I have to admit though, I anticipated a bigger spectacle in terms of lighting and effects. Still, it was an awesome show. I’m sure the folks who went to the Atlanta show really got their money’s worth.
Before returning to the stage after their set, Baizley offered his mutual admiration for us. Us meaning Florida. Hailing from Georgia, the band has been playing the Sunshine State since they began. As an homage to the loyal and longtime fans, they concluded the evening with a song off their first record, causing the audience to completely lose it. That’s the thing about Florida crowds. We’re hesitant to jump on board with the next big thing, preferring to remain fiercely loyal to those who have shown us love from the start. But if you do come through and play your heart out, you’ll get the respect you deserve.