Baroness & Earthling
Photo by Grayson Haver Currin
Local 506, Chapel Hill
Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015
Last night at Local 506, as soon as Virginia’s Earthling sounded the final note of an excellent opening set
, two human rivers collided: The first emptied out of the club’s rear music room and headed toward the exit, either for the bathroom, the bar or the unseasonably balmy outdoors for a cigarette (or vape?) break. An opposing river aimed the other way, moving from the 506’s brightly lit antechamber into the space the others had left. People jarred into each other and jostled for position, accidentally bumped chests or shoulders and apologized. For the return of Baroness, a former Georgia band that played the Triangle early and often during its salad days, it was just going to be that kind of night—crowded, hot, wonderful.
Before the show, many of us were confused as to why Baroness had elected to play Local 506, a club that holds only 225 people.
In 2012, Baroness appeared to be on ascendant course into metal-and-rock crossover, having condensed the baroque metal of a few great, early EPs and LPs into the sharp songs of the opus, Yellow & Green
. They seemed like rock stars in waiting. But a horrific bus accident in England
derailed those plans. There were broken bones and canceled tours, what-might-have-beens and what-will-never-bes. Two members left, and leader John Baizley had to rebuild the band while rebuilding his body, too. So why, after the long wait and three days from the release of the rather staggering comeback LP Purple
, had Baroness gone small rather than large, forcing folks to beg for tickets online and in the line outside last night’s show?
As soon as the set started, though, it became abundantly clear why Baroness had opted for the classic underplay: They wanted to be up close to their crowd, breathing the same humid air as their biggest fans (because this was a tough ticket to get) and able to hear the room shouting back the words of “Isak” or “Take My Bones Away.” As soon as the band walked onstage, the room went electric, letting out a series loud roar. The members picked up on the energy, smiles beaming back into the room and Baizley throwing up his fists and holding his guitar high above his head before he’d even played a note. It was an unspoken—for now, at least—acknowledgement of mutual appreciation.
The set never lost that positive luster, either. Baroness pushed through material both old and new but played it all with the same gusto, as if unleashing a massive and unified force from a single source. The crowd got quiet and reverent during pensive introductions and meditative instrumentals and shouted back roaring hooks in complete solidarity. Crowdsurfing and moshing were abundant; when Baizley remarked that Baroness wasn’t accustomed to that sort of stuff anymore, the crowd responded by simply offering more of it. Outside of major pop shows in arenas and amphitheaters, I’ve never seen an act and an audience share such unmitigated positivity during the span of a single performance.
Late in the set, when Baizley chugged a bottle of water that had been sitting on his amplifier and crushed it in his hand as he drank, someone near the back of the room yelled, “That’s impressive!” Someone else answered, “Aquafina,” prompting a series of bottled water heckles from the crowd—“Fiji!” “Crystal Geyser!” “Natural Springs!”—that caused the frontman to double over in laughter. Somehow, the room seemed like a passel of old friends sharing inside jokes between a set of great songs, both played with and received in absolute conviction.
I like Yellow & Green
, Baroness’ last two albums, but I don’t love them the same way I love Red
. Last night at Local 506, it didn’t matter. There were two other rivers, so to speak—a band that seemed genuinely eager and inspired to play again and a crowd that was ecstatic to have them there, to have them up close and, really, to have them at all. The rendezvous made for a perfect 90 minutes—totally uplifting and affirming. It was nice to be there.