It had been a serious minute since my last visit to l’Escogriffe show bar in Montreal. While my rapidly aging grey matter can’t recall too many specifics, memories of shows at l’Esco invariably involved being squished up against my fellow music fans in the venue’s awesome yet confined space. So when I’d heard that l’Escogriffe had undergone renovations that involved increasing the venue’s capacity, I experienced conflicting emotions. Sure, it might be nice to take in a concert without feeling claustrophobic, but despite the sweaty uncomfortableness, there is something transcendental about seeing rad bands play in a small venue that’s packed the the gills. Would l’Esco’s new, larger incarnation somehow sully my enjoyment of the riff picnic laid out by Elder, King Buffalo and WhiteNails?
First off, while the venue’s interior was indeed larger, it’s not like the renovations magically transformed l’Esco into some giant, soulless corporate monstrosity. Second, the stellar line up meant that literally everyone and their stoner second cousin elected to attend, meaning the venue remained a tin of sardines, albeit a slightly larger tin with all the sardines wearing YOB and Pallbearer hoodies.
After grabbing a beer I squeezed my way into a tiny pocket of space near the extreme left of the stage just in time to catch Quebec City’s WhiteNails. The single, sustained rumbly note of the band’s opening made me think I was in store for some sludgy stoner doom or crawling post-metal, but the six-piece immediately dispelled any such notion by unleashing a barrage of meaty, brazen psych-stoner rock riffs. While fans of acts like Red Fang and Kyuss would certainly feel at home, WhiteNails’ take on the genre cuts a fresh trail. Bassist J.P. and drummer Maxx infused even the most doom-filled tracks with upbeat, intricate grooves, and lead singer Darcy’s dynamic, soulful vocals lent both grit and gravitas. The set was incredibly varied, ranging from full throttle fist-pumpers like “In my Blood” to the lurking, Sabbath-ian menace of “Brazen Bull.” And while the whole squad looked to be having a great time, no one in the whole room was quite on lead guitarist Danahé’s level; the guy was in constant, jubilant motion, all while laying down razor-sharp shredding.
As soon as King Buffalo began their set, it was abundantly clear that this trio hailing from Rochester, New York could not have selected a more perfect moniker. Contemplate the mighty buffalo; a gentle, stoic giant whose imposing size is tempered by a tranquil disposition. If these nearly-extinct ungulates had lived under a monarchy, it stands to reason that their leader would be both the heaviest and chillest of their kind, and thus a perfect representation of King Buffalo’s brand of bluesy psychedelia that sounds simultaneously colossal and serene. The at-capacity crowd stood transfixed through the enveloping haze of “Orion” and “Sleeps on A Vine,” songs that showcased both King Buffalo’s deft songwriting and impressive musicality. Drummer Scott Donaldson’s effortless, always in-pocket grooves are peppered with fills and flourishes that denote “I went to school for this shit” chops, but are always in service to the song. The all-encompassing atmosphere that bassist Dan Reynolds and guitarist Sean McVey are able to manifest suggests they have spent much of their time on this planet obsessing about how to make their instruments sound a certain way. This level of commitment to creating a particular vibe extended to the visual, as Reynolds used his phone to control the stage lighting throughout the set.
As l’Esco’s internal temperature would have allowed you to bake blueberry muffins on the bar, I stepped outside for an extended breather before wading back into the pressure cooker to catch headliners Elder. While the heat and alcohol were starting to give the crowd a languid disposition, the stunning, multifaceted beauty of opening tune “Sanctuary” re-centered our collective consciousness. The song travels effortlessly between burly, straightforward stoner riffage, ethereal, subdued post-rock, and epic, impossibly dense progressive psych, exploring seemingly endless variations on a central theme without ever feeling disjointed. Lead singer and guitarist Nick DiSalvo’s intermittent croon adds yet another texture to Elder’s music, and also acts to pull those in attendance back from the brink of the void. While bands like Sleep and the aforementioned YOB are able cast a similar trance over their respective audiences, Elder’s particular branch of magic is able to achieve the effect while allowing for a far greater range with respect to dynamics and tempo. Tracks like “The Falling Veil” crackled with an urgent vibrancy and even included the occasional NWOBHM-style lead run, all while remaining intensely hypnotic.
Bassist Jack Donovan thanked the crowd for the warm reception, especially as it was the band’s first time playing in Montreal. Elder will more than likely make their way back to Montreal in the near future, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their next gig takes place in an even bigger sardine tin.
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Stacy Basque
*edited by Kate Erickson