Friday Night: Hell City Kings and Burn the Boats at Fitzgerald's

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Hell City Kings, Burn the Boats Fitzgerald's Januarary 4, 2013

Rocks Off was able to catch the middle chunk of American Fangs' record-release lineup, and while I didn't have a chance to see the headliners support their long-awaited release, Burn the Boats put on a strong enough show to make the quick trip to Fitzgerald's well worth it.

Heading back upstairs after barely missing The Wrong Ones, I found a far older crowd upstairs taking in Carry the Storm, with a marked age difference between the two.

Aligning with the Lamb of God crowd who pray nightly at the altar of Pantera much like the rest of us do with Black Sabbath, Carry the Storm falls very squarely into the "New American Heavy Metal" genre. It was still early, so the piecemeal crowd stood the prerequisite three feet apart, checkerboarded across the floor, silently nodding along their slow, steady headbangs of approval.

I had read that Friday would be lead singer Nick Koumbis' last hoorah with the band before stepping aside for a new vocalist, so I was interested to see how the show played out. Fitting timing, I suppose, because I walked in as the band officially wrapped their set.

"Fuck it. One more!" shouted Koumbis before launching into a cover of Pantera's "A New Level." The entire crowd recognized the song two bars in and became instantly more riled up. I have yet to see the old adage fail: If you want to incite a Texas crowd, play some Pan-fuckin-tera.

It's a fitting farewell, it seems, for this chapter of Carry the Storm.

That sickening scream that girders give in a building collapse -- that's what Burn the Boats vocalist Stevie Sims' opening howl sounded like. Having listened to the scattered recordings I found on social media, I wasn't fully prepared for this level of sonic assault. Owing to poor recordings, bad compression or maybe the band has simply improved this markedly, the few songs I found on ReverbNation simply don't do them any justice.

While the comparisons to bands like Kylesa and Mastodon remain, the band has a depth and cohesion that keep them from being regulated to also-ran status.

Around mid-set, as the crowd finally began to fill out, Burn the Boats hit their stride during "Lost at Sea." Sims' shirtless strutting and almost effortless barking vocals overlaid the chugging rhythm section, while guitarist Charles Sepulveda laid down a clever, noodling, sea-chantey-inspired assault.

During "Oedipus," the juxtaposition of bass player Floyd Willis' slaggy down-tuned bass and Sepulveda's far more streamlined seven-string style became readily apparent, and their respective Sword and Possessed T-shirts suddenly all the more fitting.

I had gotten tons of heads-up on Burn the Boats from friends in the past, and after a few near-misses at other shows.I'm happy to report the wait was worth it.

At going on nine years old, Hell City Kings are grandparents in Houston-scene years, and never was that idea more apparent than watching giddy members of The Wrong Ones climb on each other's shoulders in the crowd and sing along with Bill Fool. Burn the Boats stood stage right, equally enthralled.The sentiment permeated Friday's crowd; you got the feeling most of these people know each song by heart.

If you spend any time paying any attention at all to Houston music, you don't get a sense of permanence. The Hates aside, most Houston musicians seem content to treat their bands like an associate's degree, two years of haphazard attendance and done. HCK seems to soldier on, though.

Despite sharing members with myriad bands -- foremost being Christian Larson of Venomous Maximus, arguably -- the band pressed on, not even letting a member's not being in town stop the show, going so far as to perform as a three-piece at one point.

The Kings' brief set culminated with a cover of "Search and Destroy," with Sims and WIllis of Burn the Boats climbing onstage to help out. I got the idea that Hell City Kings probably know they are this scene's standard-bearers at this point. Houston isn't going anywhere, and neither are they.

Personal Bias: I wasn't aware I was covering this show while I was covering this show.

The Crowd: As varied as the bands on the bill. My girlfriend was enthralled by a guy who appeared to have taken a wrong turn on the way to a Brujeria show wearing a bandanna on his face, a snapback cap on his belt loop and two sweatshirts tied around the front of his waist.

Overheard In the Crowd: "That fat guy is so drunk he keeps running into inanimate objects. He's gonna hafta fight one of them soon."

Random Notebook Dump: The Wrong Ones are bringing legging jeans and Ramones jackets back from the grave The Dragons buried them in ten years ago.

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