It's been a whirlwind around here lately, but two dazzling lights in today's music that recently went dark need to be memorialized. Jessi Zazu, the frontwoman of Those Darlins, was one of the absolute best stage icons of this generation. Charles Bradley lived a late-life Cinderella story that finally unearthed one of the purest, hardest soul voices in ages. Both were recently claimed by cancer. I've witnessed both their magic in person so I know exactly how much the music world has lost. And in light of the devastating Vegas massacre, all that echoes in my mind is Bradley's voice singing, "This world is going up in flames."
MASTODON, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL AND RUSSIAN CIRCLES, HARD ROCK LIVE, SEPT. 26
That the current golden age of heavy metal has coincided perfectly with the mountain-conquering rise of Southern metal paragons Mastodon is no accident. Say what you will about their more recent output – their longtime fans have said plenty – but they've kept it pretty legit. Their work has always been complex and elaborate to a degree reserved only for the grandest prog ambition. But, by keeping things genuinely brutal, they've never allowed it to devolve into total goofiness and wankery. The fantasy has always been delivered with fury.
Now that they're a full-on major-label legacy band with fancy stage production, and mainstream enough even to be on WJRR's radar, Mastodon are still true. And even all that glitz couldn't cushion their immense live hammer.
Besides them, however, this tour rolls as one of the deepest bills, metal or otherwise, in a long time. Acclaimed Chicago post-metal band Russian Circles have been crushing it in the city's best indie clubs for ages now. But over all these years, this is the biggest stage I've seen them on. Though I'll almost never choose a big room over a small up-close one, this was finally a space with a volume commensurate to their epic sound. Their instrumental odysseys are pure drama and dynamics, the soundtrack to the most remote places on Earth where nature is at its most wild, grand and balletic. And Russian Circles again prove that they're masters of sonic narrative, all without a word.
Since they've come here the least by far, the Eagles of Death Metal were a particularly special draw. Even without the live presence of his famous partner-in-crime Josh Homme, frontman Jesse Hughes commanded the show like a charismatic preacher backed by an ace band, delivering greasy rock & roll burlesque with libido and style.
For all their high levity, though, history has inextricably tied them to that most modern of tragedies as Bataclan terror survivors. Hughes made indirect reference to it, acknowledging the trial of overcoming. But he concluded with a reaffirmation of the unbreakable rock urge, reclaiming victory by saying he's just gonna "shake my dick and have a good time." Which is the only suitable response for the ringleader of a total cock-out rock-out. So fuck terrorists.
Eagles of Death Metal didn't come with the gravitas of their billmates, but that's not their stock in trade. They're in the party business, and they delivered a welcome bit of sex in what would otherwise have been one serious-ass night.
DJ PHILO AT SCRATCH SCREENING, GALLERY AT AVALON ISLAND, SEPT. 27
If you slept on last week's collaboration between This Little Underground and art-film series More Q Than A, you not only missed a screening of the definitive 2002 documentary on turntablism, Scratch, but also a special live demo by Orlando's DJ Philo.
As part of my guest curation, I handpicked him. But, honestly, I'd neither seen nor even heard of him before I started my search. I never would've considered him without due vetting, and he had some solid bona fides. But you never really know until you're in the same room. At the pre-screening demo, I finally was. And through routines that ranged from party-rocking battle sets with slick production to raw turntablism gymnastics, he dropped a high-level performance that was on par with some of the area's most venerated tricksters. Keep an eye on this kid. I am.