November 10, 2019
Over the weekend, Houston played host to one of the most unique and memorable music festivals in the city’s history. And hey, there was also Foamhenge at Karbach Brewery. In absolutely no way did this third annual beer-soaked rock fest hold a candle to the trampling crowds, celebrity star power, or sheer Instagrammable madness of Travis Scott’s Astroworld the day before. But it did boast a bizarrely eclectic lineup, better beer, and a giant fucking inflatable Hopadillo. For the city’s beer-bellied rockers over 30 (like, well over 30), Foamhenge was the only festival that mattered last weekend.
To be sure, the beer played a large role, and folks got started as early as they were allowed to. It wasn’t much past noon on an absolutely gorgeous day at the brewery when the festivities kicked off with the violently frenetic blasting of Narcotic Wasteland, the speedy death metal band led by former Nile frontman Dallas Toler-Wade.
While the group sounded furiously tight and certainly got some hair whipping around from the early attendees, it wasn’t exactly a preview of things to come. Foamhenge had a little something for metalheads of every stripe, from death to thrash to classic ‘80s stuff and whatever the hell you call High on Fire.
Basically, it was kind of a weird day. But if fans discovered they didn’t completely love a particular act, they could always head over and guzzle suds and watch football in the brewery’s outdoor biergarten area. That’s certainly what I did during the second act, hard-rockin’ ‘70s survivors Pat Travers Band. Hey, the Venn diagram of fan crossover between beer, heavy metal, and NFL football is pretty much a perfect circle. No shame in indulging in a little of each.
The afternoon weather really couldn’t have been more perfect for the set from Power Trip, a favorite of mine. Wild circle-pit action broke out for the hardcore heroes’ new song, “Hornet’s Nest,” which was followed by the devastating double-stack of “Executioner’s Tax” and “Soul Sacrifice.”
When Power Trip plays, it’s usually almost as much fun to watch the crowd as it is to watch the band. It was a beautiful day in the sun for spin-kicks on the concrete. I felt pretty old watching the athletic moshing of the younger dudes, but then I felt young again looking around at all the concert t-shirts people were wearing. Y&T. King’s X. W.A.S.P. and a whole bunch more ‘80s groups. Young or old, everybody put on their favorite band shirt for the fest—entire families topped with black.
Except Matt Pike. I’m honestly not sure if the High on Fire frontman actually owns any shirts. Power Trip is a hard act to follow, especially in Texas. But the Grammy-winning Oakland trio were more than up for the challenge. High on Fire are kind of a metal genre unto themselves. They’re not really thrash metal, although they play fast. They’re not really stoner or doom metal, despite Pike’s past work with stoned icons Sleep. The closest comparison is perhaps the pure, chugging power of Motorhead. On songs like the incredible “Snakes for the Divine,” High on Fire comes barreling at you like a homicidal locomotive, billowing a pungent and malevolent fog out of its smokestack.
“I like you, Houston,” Pike told the crowd. “Time to smoke weed.” Those were the only words he said that I understood. They were all I needed to understand. High on Fire is great.
From there, we continued our trip back through time together at the brewery. God bless ‘em, the last couple acts of the evening can hardly be considered anything but legacy acts. German metal meisters Accept have had more than 20 people come and go from the band since its formation in the late ‘70s, but whoever those people were up there on stage in front of the Accept banner seemed to be having a good time. They sounded good, too—tight and well-rehearsed on their thundering mid-tempo chuggers.
The only song I knew going in was the set-closer, “Balls to the Walls”—not the deepest song ever written, perhaps. But the band is still releasing new music like “Life’s a Bitch,” and it fit right in with what I presumed must have been older stuff, such as “Midnight Mover.” The twirling drumsticks and synchronized stage moves were a little dated, but they still worked. Accept are battle-hardened veterans of many campaigns at this point, and they remain a force on stage.
The headline act was arguably the most famous, if not the most musically talented. It’s hard to come up with an backhanded compliment that hasn’t already been lobbed at Ace Frehley over his many decades in the music biz, and even if the critical scorn comes easy, it’s hard to escape. His singing voice (and make no mistake, Ace is the lead singer in his band) can most charitably be described as “passable,” and the ultra-simplistic power-chord rhythms that comprise his songs often sound like the work of a guy who’s been playing guitar for six weeks, not 50 years.
Still, there’s no denying people love the guy. KISS T-shirts were in full effect all day, and the onetime Space Ace is not without his charms. He’s a got a great “Ain’t I a stinker?” Bronx accent, and he can still uncork a wicked Gibson solo on command. I suppose it’s no great revelation to tell you that Ace is at his best when he closes his mouth and lets his fingers do the talking, but his nimble hands most certainly do enliven third-rate KISS songs like “Hard Times” and “Watchin’ You.” The KISS freaks loved it. The rest of us applauded politely.
Karbach, for their part, did a hell of a job with the festival. There were tons of staff on hand, and they were all friendly and accommodating. Despite a couple technical difficulties here and there, the sound was great all day, and there was plenty of shade, seating, and beer. During Ace’s set, a staffer walked through the crowd passing out free bottles of water. Aside from a pretty lackluster paper-mache Stonehench triptych, it was a top-notch, well-run event—even with the weird mishmash of styles and eras on stage.
Astroworld, it wasn’t. But Foamhenge was a fun event, even without Kylie Jenner in the front row. With a little more ambition, it could become a premier music fest in Houston—given the competition, anyway. Even with a little less ambition, there’s still plenty of beer.
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Personal Bias: I’m a Love Street guy at heart.
The Crowd: Really, really thirsty.
Overheard in the Crowd: “Excuse me, sir, where’d you get that beer? And where’d you get that sandwich?”
Random Notebook Dump: Monday’s comin’ early this week.