The Night Torche Blew Through Town

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Torche, Eagle Claw, Omotai
Rudyard’s British Pub
May 12, 2016

As the lightning crashed, the rain drizzled and the mosquitos buzzed about happily last Thursday night, it was hard to escape the notion that somewhere, up there in the thunderclouds, a terrible new Houston summer was being birthed. It’s only the middle of May, but all the signs are there: We’ve got a real ass-kicker of a season right over the horizon, gathering strength. And we’re going to need all the sno-cones and swimming pools we’ve got to survive it.

Or at least a bitchin’ soundtrack. It’s a tricky feat to produce music that conveys Houstonians’ devastating certainty about the arrival of summer as well as our irrationally upbeat attitude about it. Torche might be the only band that fits the bill. They’re heavy, but they’re also happy, and their sound owes as much to Sunny Day Real Estate as it does to Slayer. Amidst all the spectacular thunder and lightning last night, Torche fit right in.

So did the openers. Crushing local troupe Omotai was furiously noisy, as usual. Their buds from Austin, Eagle Claw, made the drive over as well, armed with low, roiling guitar riffs and soul-erasing triplet patterns on drummer Bart Butler’s titanic Ludwig kit. Heads banged for both bands in front of Rudyard’s little upstairs stage as folks continued to file in and drink up.

There was a jovial mood in the air as we waited for Torche to set up their gear, with a lot of smiles and backslapping going on. Torche isn’t for everybody — they’re awfully loud and heavy, after all. But a Torche concert isn’t the furious release that so many of the best heavy bands are capable of generating. Torche just makes people feel good. Call it heavy-metal mood music.

There’s no telling what people were calling it at Rudyard’s, because there was no chance of hearing them over the downtuned din. The pub’s PA system sounded slightly overmatched by Torche’s ridiculously low rumble, but the instrumentation could be heard well enough, and guitarists Steve Brooks and Andrew Elstner’s vocal harmonies were audible enough to sing along with up there. Most fans, though, were content to simply shut their eyes, bang their heads and pump their fists. As emotional as Torche’s music can be, their ever-present crunch appeals to a pretty primitive part of the brain.

The band’s older material alternated deliciously palm-muted riffs and absurdly low-frequency tremolo picking one minute with screaming, upbeat guitar licks the next. Bassist Jonathan Nunez was in the middle of all of it, holding down the group’s odd-time grooves and acting as a de facto front man. There was no chit-chat from the band between songs — they came to play, and they crammed as many tunes into their set as was physically possible.

The most energetic stuff came from their latest album, Restarter. The slow, intense slog of “Minions” led directly into the crackling, Jimmy Eat World pogoing of “Loose Men.” That one’s a favorite of mine, a song where Steve Brooks’s voice really shines. I could see his short-clipped Morrissey haircut over the dozens of heads in front of me, but I had to peep the large monitor on the wall to catch a glimpse of his mustache. Rudyard’s can make for some awfully cramped quarters for some of these touring acts.

Another standout from Restarter, “Annihilation Affair,” closed out the evening on a high note. Actually, all the notes were incredibly low, but I think you take my meaning. Butler pounded his drums with a tribal urgency as Brooks hopped into the crowd for an extended guitar freakout towards the end. I saw more than a few burly, bearded guys hug and jump up and down with excitement and glee. It really was precious. After the song rumbled to its conclusion, there was much hooting and hollering and T-shirt buying. Torche had paid us a visit, and now the weekend was damn near upon us.

In reality, we were another day closer to what promises to be a truly hellish summer. But still, maybe against all odds, we found ourselves feeling pretty good about it.

Personal Bias: Heavier than I look.

The Crowd: Metallic hipsters.

Overheard in the Crowd: “It’s kind of puppy dude-metal.”

Random Notebook Dump: Torche also played a hard-charging new number during their set, but I didn’t catch its name — if one was even offered. But maybe it won’t be too long before they drop a new slab of vinyl on our heads.  

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