It may be a supremely difficult venue to reach if you’re coming from outside of Brooklyn, but St. Vitus Bar has earned its reputation as one of the best places to see a metal show in New York City. On Wednesday, October 21st, 2015, Savannah, Georgia’s own psychedelic sludge unit Kylesa became the latest headliner to further cement the St. Vitus experience as one of the most intimate ways to see established, signed independent acts in the metropolitan area.
Touring on the strength of their latest mammoth recording, Exhausting Fire, Kylesa have built their own rabid following over the years by hard work, dedication to the craft, and a growing discography of superb albums, each one better than the last. Fans were excited to see Laura Pleasants, Phillip Cope, and Carl McGinley come back in a headlining role for this tour, as evidenced by the tightly packed stage area before they even played a note.
St. Vitus is one of the few ‘barrier-less’ venues out there, allowing fans a glimpse of what goes into the set-up before a show begins. Dual drum-sets, a tradition for Kylesa since the Time Will Fuse Its Worth album in 2006, mirrored each other beneath the watchful cyclopean St. Vitus banner. Like two tanks side by side prepared for war, they stood guard as Laura Pleasants busily hooked up her myriad guitar pedals, the set-up resembling the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon by the time she was finished.
Beginning without fanfare of any sort, Pleasants led her bandmates in the spacey intro to “Unspoken” off of 2012’s serpentine Ultraviolet album. One slim black boot upon a pedal and the crunch sprouted from the amps, the riffs suffusing the bodies of those present in wafts of sound, infectious as laughter, intoxicating as wine. Behind her, the drummers pounded their rhythms in uncanny sync, as from there the band played the sterling “Moving Day” off of latest album Exhausting Fire. The microphone did not seem to be Phillip Cope’s friend tonight, as in addition to a flimsy mic stand that wouldn’t stay still, the sound took its time coming on. Eventually, his vocals came through and could be heard along with the rest of the instruments.
Despite these minor snafus, which bands of any professional caliber deal with night in and night out, Kylesa played a killer set that encompassed a great deal of their history. Reaching back to Static Tensions with a dreamy rendition of “Running Red,” the song offered some nice dual guitar action between Cope and Pleasants. “Lost and Confused” and the peerless “Shaping the Southern Sky” cranked up the new album proudly, the latter showing how far this band has come in the songwriting department. Pleasants’ ability to show off the more dulcet side of her larynx has helped transport Kylesa from noisy sludge to the more nuanced, expansive grace which pervades their latest releases.
Throughout the night, her silky smooth voice alongside her outstanding playing made it clear that Laura Pleasants should be ranked among the elite guitarists in extreme music today. The layers and sounds she teased from her instrument were simply a joy and a wonder to behold, as the pounding leads in the last half of “Shaping…” brought the house down.
In between the mesmerizing psychedelic parts, Kylesa is a devastatingly heavy outfit, their dynamic tension moving the plot seamlessly from spacey rhythms to a hard driving edge, many times eliciting a knot of slam dancing from the middle of the floor. “Tired Climb” from Spiral Shadow was one such song. The juxtaposition of Pleasant’s mild parts to Cope’s shouted gyration was the perfect sludge formula of rhythm and heaviness. At one point during the night Laura Pleasants dedicated the set to a lost friend, the simple emotion in her voice enough to bring swift lumps to many a throat. We’ve all been there, unfortunately.
Kylesa goes about their business with not a lot of talking to dismantle their atmosphere, but when one exuberant fan shouted “Get some, motherfucker” the band laughed in appreciation. The riled up Brooklyn crowd was indeed loving it. Thus the band could forget the harrows of the road and get lost for a while inside the magnificent cauldron of sound which they have forged.
After closing with “To Forget,” the band didn’t even pretend to leave the stage before a demanding din to play one more had them raising straps over their sweaty heads once again. With time for just one encore, they played “Said and Done” but left out “We’re Taking This.” A small gripe, but man it would have iced the night to hear that latter tune. Either way, Kylesa departed the stage amid a storm of shouted appreciation. Fans will count the days until this magical American band returns to the metro area for another batch of brutal psychedelia.
Photos by Anya Svirskaya review by Nicholas Franco