UnderCover Presents Black Sabbath's Paranoid
Saturday, May 19, 2012
Better than: Trying to hold a conversation with Ozzy Osbourne.
There are a few reasons Ozzy Osbourne would bite the head off UnderCover Presents' live version of Black Sabbath's Paranoid. For one thing, there's a time and a place for breath meditation, and a Black Sabbath tribute concert ain't it. Saturday night at The Independent, in the latest installment of the approximately quarterly project, more than 50 Bay Area musicians took on Black Sabbath's second and arguably greatest record. The project gathers local performers to reinvent, re-record, and perform an iconic album under the guidance of a local guest music director, in this case bass clarinet player and composer Cornelius Boots (whose version executive producer Lyz Luke introduced as "one of the most demanding" in UnderCover's short history).
It wasn't for lack of talent that most of the ensembles -- performing in genres like world fusion, avant-prog, and chamber-core -- failed to capture the essence of the pioneering heavy metal band. There were interesting moments, such as a deliriously eerie dreamy apocalyptic folk intro to "Iron Man" by Charming Hostess. But the whole show didn't feel cohesive, the pauses between sets were irritatingly long (except when you left to move your car for Bay to Breakers street closures and walked back 20 minutes later to find you hadn't missed anything), and there was certainly no journey to the underworld. At least not the one you bought a ticket to. It's also worth noting that a metal show without a mosh-pit misses the mark. Sure, nobody was expecting it to get too crazy. After all, the eclectic musical stylings of the contributing artists were well advertised. But no mosh-pit? No headbanging? No devil horn hand signals? No way! If Ozzy were there, he would have gurgled "oy at ure ullshit aaaghhh ussies!" And so did we.
In 1970, the Vietnam War was just past its peak, and Paranoid was released in September with the lead track "War Pigs." At the time it could have been construed as a controversial anti-war statement. Forty-two years later, the Extra Action Marching Band (featuring Robin Coomer on vocals) performed it with go-go dancers in sequined bras and panties, trumpets strapped to machine guns, and lots of choreography. It was Vietnam War, the Musical. It was an ambitious performance and surely meant to be a showstopper, but because of the offensively long Apocalypse Now-style intro, at a certain point you just wanted it to stop: Okay, those spotlights are supposed to be helicopters, got it. Oh no, here they come again. And again. I think they already played this gun effect. Is there time to get another drink?
Paranoid is a 42-minute album and it took over three hours to cough up. This is too bad for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the most true-to-Sabbath performances came at the end. Uriah Duffy, The Memorials, and Jeremy Von Epp's dub metal rendition of "Paranoid" came with a warning from Duffy via an introductory video. He mentioned the verbatim covers of "Paranoid" that bands such as Metallica, Green Day, and Megadeth have delivered, and said this was "something that would make an anal retentive diehard fan of Sabbath really angry." Fair enough. Remember when Jada Pinkett Smith had a metal band? That band was more metal than this band. As seemed to be a pattern over the course of the concert, the instrumentals were quite good but the singers failed to wail. (On a side note, the prerecorded album sounds a lot better than the live performances did Saturday.) The exceptions and most true-to-Sabbath performances came on the vocals of "Electric Funeral" by Sabbaticus Rex & the Axe-Wielders of Chaos (despite being an intuitive avant world progressive rock interpretation), and "Rat Salad," with almost too-fast-to-believe drumming from Moe! Staiano of Surplus 1980.
UnderCover Presents is a mixed bag. Despite how you feel about the outcome of each group they tribute (past concerts have recreated albums from the Pixies and the Velvet Underground & Nico), it's worth moving onto the next if the last try didn't suit you. We don't think the prince of darkness would approve of Saturday's show. It wasn't dark, doomy, or chew-the-head-off-a-bat-shit crazy enough. Folk might suit this project better. Luckily Joni Mitchell's, Blue is up next.
Overheard: Guy 1: "I'm so much more metal than you." Guy 2: "I have to agree."
1. War Pigs (chaotic mania featuring siren song)
Artist: Extra Action Marching Band ft. Robin Coomer (Loop!Station)
2. Paranoid (dub metal)
Artist: Uriah Duffy, The Memorials & Jeremy Von Epp
3. Planet Caravan (world fusion)
4. Iron Man (dreamy apocalyptic folk)
Artist: Charming Hostess
5. Electric Funeral (intuitive avant world progressive rock)
Artist: Sabbaticus Rex & the Axe-Wielders of Chaos
6. Hand of Doom (lightning thunder jet rock)
Artist: Tiger Honey Pot w/ Max Baloian ft. Barbara Byers
7. Rat Salad (percussive post-punk)
Artist: Surplus 1980
8. Fairies Wear Boots (avant-prog chamber-core)