The SXSW Showcase
March 18th, 2010 ~ Austin, TX
by Todd K Smith

For years we’ve been covering monolithic records by Detroit’s Small Stone Records. Spurred by the singular vision of label president Scott Hamilton, the company founded in 1995, has come to represent all that is good and heavy in stoner, doom and hard rock. Originally envisioned as Detroit's answer to Sub Pop, Small Stone has branched off into a multitude of directions, unafraid to push the boundaries of conventional genre definitions. They have become home to “classic rock” bands like Dixie Witch, Roadsaw, Dozer, The Brought Low, Five Horse Johnson and Solace with plenty of room for metal up-and-comers like The Mos Generator, Ironweed, Shame Club, and Sasquatch. If there’s a constant theme to the label, it’s quality over quantity where they can be heralded as “The Home of the Riff”.

For the last couple years SSR has made the trek down to Austin, TX to showcase their ever increasing stable of top-notch bands at South By Southwest. We joined the festivities early Thursday afternoon, March 18th, 2010 to find a surprisingly hearty crowd surrounding the outdoor Encore Patio stage in support of Boston’s Roadsaw. Coming out of hibernation the groove-metal foursome dug in deep for a power-soaked set of thick and wooly riff rock. A couple songs from their landmark ‘97 Nationwide debut shook the rafters including “Satellite” and “Black Flower” followed by the heavy blues of 2002’s Rawk n’ Roll. The Montrose-inspired “Right on Through,” was a solid crowd favorite while “Disconnected” and “Blackout Driver” saw guitarist Ian Ross roaring. Lead singer Craig Riggs, with logger boots firmly square belted out a thundering “Who Do You Think You Are” and rumbler, “Look Pretty Lonely,” from ‘08’s See You In Hell. Not to be missed was the incredible catchy “Go it Alone” and the timeless classic “I Smell A Rat.” The group has mastered their James Gang meets Sabbath with bassist Tim Catz playing the perfect Geezer Butler.

Granted we couldn’t see everything offered and in some cases only part of certain sets, but Boston-bred newcomers Gozu made a BIG splash. Their Clutch / Kyuss / QOTSA combo was oddly progressive while still maintaining a stoner edge. New album Locust Season should be out any day now and one not to be missed. The newly signed New Orleans natives Suplecs made a hilarious yet fierce return to the stage fusing stoner with punk in an all out assault on the ears. Bad luck struck the band in 2000 when their then label Man’s Ruin went belly up. They will fair much better under the Small Stone umbrella. As the party moved inside to the main Encore stage Portland, Maine’s Sun Gods In Exile captured the crowd with a magnetic surplus of balls-to-the-wall rhythms and a bulldozing dual guitar attack. Hot tracks from their debut jumped to life including the catchy “Eye For An Eye,” the bass-thumping “Black Magic” and head-pounding “The Gripper.” Aerosmith meets Lynyrd Skynyrd all rolled up in a ball of Motörhead.

Next up was our favorite Texan trio Honky mixing hillbilly ZZ Top with a full barrage of southern punk. Last time we saw these guys, guitarist Bobby Ed Landgraf jumped off the stage in a drunken stupor and attempted to beat up a heckler in the audience before passing out on the floor. They were just as memorable this time around with a set loaded with redneck hellfire and good ol’ rock ‘n roll. Three-piece Throttlerod brought their New York meets Richmond, Virginia swagger to the party in bucket loads. Dancing to the beat of their latest long player Pig Charmer, the band reached that perfect medium where hard southern rock will see its future. They had their moments of ‘90s grunge, but overall it was an excellent display of chemistry, animal magnetism and piping hot guitar leads. On the run between cities, The Brought Low made a brief but poignant stop during the 9 o’clock PM hour. Slamming out their New York blues with a tinge of punk and country, the three-piece echo a hybrid of ‘70s FM radio. Singer/guitarist/main man Benjamin Howard Smith took great pride in exorcizing his demons with distorted chords and screeching leads while bassist Robert Russell and drummer Nick Heller punched out “classic rock” patterns of The Who and Stones with their own originality and fervor.

Sasquatch has always been a heavy-hitter in our book. With the release of their third record Sasquatch III have nailed down their retro-rock groove. From the ode to Robin Trower in “Pull Me Under” to the record’s monster opening track “Get Out Of Here,” the LA-trio breathe deep from the fumes of ‘70s thunder rock. Keith Gibb’s guitar is thick and wooly, a sound he attributes to a newly acquired guitar pedal on loan from Monster Magnet. The Foghat-inspired “Walking Shoes” kept the joint jumping before they explored some of their denser moments with “The Judge” and “What Have You Done?” from Sasquatch II. Thankfully “Knuckle Down” from the debut made it into the set as that was the track that sold us on these forest dwellers. Legendary stoner icons Solace cast their spell on the fully packed house with sheer moments of brilliance. Uncompromising and intensely heavy, the NYC four-piece filled each song with massive riffs as they pounded out sonic majesty.

It was difficult to hold back the thrill and excitement that surrounded the House of Broken Promises as they stormed the stage. With only one record Using The Useless, the LA-based power-trio have already become a huge hit. Formed from the ashes of stoner band Unida, the group has blossomed into a great hard rock outfit with funky grooves and blazing guitar. The riff-heavy “The Hurt (Paid My Dues),” out on video and currently playing on MTV, has certainly upped the band’s profile. Live, the bass-sexy “Obey The Snake,” grinding “Physco Plex” and COC-styled “Blister” hit like an MMA fighter in the bullring. Tongue-wagging guitarist Arthur Seay, bassist Eddie Plascenda and drummer Mike Cancino ripped through their entire 50-minute record, sweating thunder and spitting metal - a true glory to behold. Austin’s own Dixie Witch finished off the night with barn burning versions of “Set The Speed,” the hammering “S.O.L.” and southern-fried “Out In The Cold” from their new opus Smoke & Mirrors. Yes, it may seem like Small Stone only sign burly trios with beards but, man they all kick serious ass!

Website: Small Stone Records