On the one hand, this was a long damn way to go for little reward that I couldn't've gotten over the bridge in Salem. On the other hand, I did get AA's new demo, the band made some of their costs back, and this rather pitiful and annoying excuse for a festival got a touch of class, some good music, and an actual crowd watching at least one of the bands.
Thanks to a car pool put together for the traveling support, I headed down to Southbridge with a bunch of other fans, finally getting to see this venue, which has been rumored about for like a year or so. The drive down wasn't too difficult, just long as all hell; as has been remarked in other posts peripherally mentioning this place, it is practically in freakin Connecticut, and thus, for the kind of venue it is and the bands who normally end up booked into it, way too far from the North Shore to be worth my while.
Finding the venue wasn't tough, and going in was pretty much a joke; tickets barely checked, I guess on the supposition that anyone who actually showed up only did so because they'd heard about this from a band, and bought a ticket from them -- and anytime you've got bands doing ticket sales, it's likely a p2p show, and the organizers can thus let people in basically for free, since they've made their money off the bands up front. Yes, it's bullshit, but that's why people don't like p2p shows and support them as little as they can get away with. When we got in, there was a fairly crummy radio-rock band playing in the bar that Autumn Above was going to do their set in, so after a few minutes I went over to the other bar to see if there was someone playing there, and if so, if they were any better. There was a middle-of-the-road jazz combo on stage, and they were decent if largely uninteresting. At this point, I was glad that I'd come down here on a ten-dollar ticket with friends rather than for Testament or Obituary in the past.
The setup of the individual bars that provide the two stages!!!1!one is pretty simple, on the lines of Harper's Ferry or the Middle East if they were designed by someone with their eyes screwed in backwards and a disturbed concept of usable space. The industrial heritage of the building is readily apparent with the long halls, but the stages are placed rather poorly in them, maybe due to the short supply of usable exits. Each room, on its own, has a useful capacity similar to Ralph's or Jerky's, but might have more if they were better arranged.
Eventually, after a lot of beer, popcorn, and subpar music, Autumn Above started setting up, and the "traveling support" formed up as well; partly because any band is always better seen front and center than over some weirdly-sited bar with the Red Sox game on, and partly to suggest to any of the other people (mostly other bands, and a few hangers-on) that this was a band that was worth watching front and center.
Autumn Above [6/7]
The band also did their part, putting out a strong set that even if you didn't come down with them, was definitely worth watching from up front. Like on Sunday, they started with the heavier songs first, kicking off with "Trail of Roses" and going sort of backwards...well, backwards enough to do "Burn With Me"/"Autumn Lullabye" before switching gears into "Heaven Without"/"My Everything Above" and closing -- since several of the songs mentioned so far are comfortably over eight minutes, and they only had about an hour set -- with their Opeth break (Chris has called it "Screwdriver" twice now, but I'll wait for official release before making the band's decisions for them) into "Skydiver", which now closes with a fairly developed Opeth break of its own. From about the middle of the set on, people not affiliated with the band also joined up with the crowd, hopefully getting into the music and, regardless, cluttering up the lines of sight for the festival photogs and videographers who based on prior samples were pretty used to getting right on top of the bands they were shooting without a lot of difficulty. Not so here. The performance was more solid than superlative, but a lot of this, I think, came down to technical stuff; Tone had some problems getting his sound right playing through the club's bass amp, and since we were standing ahead of the PA, what vocals we got were mostly coming out of the monitors. Good stuff, and, considering the carpool setup, worth going down to freakin Connecticut for, but a few other good bands would have made the trip substantially easier to take.
Unfortunately, that was out of the band's control, and solely on the festival's. When the next band finished setting up, and proved to be pretend-reggae instead of punk, which might have been cool, it was about time to split. (The other option, on the other stage, was a nine-man ska band complete with porkpie hats and checkered belts. Did we step through a time-portal to 1995, and if so, is there any way to get to Sweden and keep Jon Nodtveit from going completely insane in prison?) First, though, we made sure to get the promised free CDs from Jim, which turned out to be a new demo; three songs that depending on perspective are either "the rest of To The Inferno" or the seeds of a new record resolving the story; we'll likely have to wait and see on that front. Regardless, it's pretty cool stuff, more progressive and contemplative than a lot of their current material, but there's also signs that if this is the first part of a new disc, there'll be plenty of the fast-picking leads and crunching palm-muted rhythm guitars that we've become accustomed to.
The trip back was long, and not too arduous; I'd've stopped for gas and coffee had I been driving, but even without it all worked out ok, despite the distance involved. Any Texans or people from other sparsely populated regions are probably scoffing at the grousing about going only two hours to a show, but this close to Boston, there is such a variety of show choices and decent venues that to some people, going out to Worcester, barely 75 miles away, is a long stretch not worth it save for arena shows. I'm not one of them, but since I'm not really into hardcore -- with the stages raised barely eight inches, this is pretty much an ideal HXC venue -- it's going to be difficult justifying going to freakin Connecticut to see bands here that will likely be playing in New Hampshire (much closer) as well.