Show Review: Wolfmother with Heartless Bastards and thenewno2 at The Fox Oakland, 11/23/2009

by Jonathan Pirro on November 24, 2009

then I let go of everything... into another dimension

then I let go of everything... into another dimension

The year is drawing to a close for everyone, including for Oakland’s historic Fox Theater. It seems only fitting that one of the biggest surprises and best new venues (OK, I’m biased, I work there, but if you’ve been there, you know what I mean) in the Bay Area should have some kind of colossal show to end the concert season. Something to go out with a bang, you know? As it just so happens, the Bay Area was greeted with an excellent one-two-three punch this evening, in the form of London rock troupe thenewno2 and Ohioan blues-rockers Heartless Bastards opening for the Australian arena-rock juggernaut that is Wolfmother.

I learned only AFTER the night had begun that thenewno2 is headed by Dhani Harrison, son of the deeply-missed Beatle, George; if his excellent performance style wasn’t the first indication of the association, his thick Liverpudlian accent was definitely the best clue. The band played an excellent set; I would say that their music could be described as “progressive” but that’s too much of a pigeonhole to leave them in. You had big, sweeping rock pieces, groovy blues breakdowns, and washes of electronica and samples swimming in their waves of sound. The one thing that was definitely true was that Harrison was a fireball of energy, leaping up and down in every song when he wasn’t shredding away at his guitar. Drummer Oliver Hecks was the second most noticeable figure in the band with his precision-strike rhythm and wild movements; the two ended up being catalysts for the rest of the band, and a good portion of the crowd, as well. [Editor’s note: Many commentors have informed us that the live drummer’s name is Frank Zummo.] The one thing I am certain of is that I presumed nothing about thenewno2, and they surprised me quite a bit — this seems to be a habit I am forming, lately…

Before the end of their set, thenewno2 were joined by the guitarist of Heartless Bastards — or, rather, the slide guitarist. He added an extra layer of wail to the band’s eerie, booming sound, before reappearing onstage with the rest of the Bastards. In contrast to the mega-oomph of the first band, Heartless Bastards had just enough dynamite to get things going, and then slowed it down to a beautifully-thundering pace. Comparisons can be drawn from them to The Black Keys, as well as to quite a few garage-rock bands of yesteryear, but again, I’m trying not to pigeonhole, here: they really held their own and played an excellent set. Singer Erika Wennerstrom led the band with her dusky, crooning voice, the kind of thing you’d expect to hear at a late-night jazz club — not from the vocal chords of a modest blues rocker. Like their fellow openers, Heartless Bastards were joined by a guest of their own: Dave Atkins, the drummer for Wolfmother. Another level of punch from their drums re-amped the energy level as the band closed their set, and the massive white banner displaying a stylized “WM” dropped down at the back of the stage. The time had come for the Aussies to take the stage, and, well, blow it to pieces.

Once Wolfmother marched onto the stage, only a few short moments were spent with Andrew Stockdale wailing away on his guitar before the band kicked off their set with a riotous, frenzied performance of “Dimension,” which quickly turned into a monstrous jam battle between Stockdale and new rhythm guitarist Aidan Nemeth that jumped up and down on the volume scale. The floor of the Fox Theater swarmed to life, in the form of several violent mosh pits and a crowd bouncing up and down with glee. Following their opening number, the band headed straight into their new material, beginning with the title track of their second album, “Cosmic Egg;” the new work was met with as much, if not more, enthusiasm as that from their first record.

Despite the band’s nervous comments and quips about the beauty of the theater and being surprised about how long it had been since their last show in the Bay Area, their quiet modesty disappeared at the beginning of each song’s set of signature riffs. When they reached their second big single, “Woman,” another set of extended jams were carried out; this theme continued for quite a few of the songs from their eponymous debut. Stockdale, Nemeth, and keyboardist/bassist Ian Peres were absolutely alight with energy; when Stockdale wasn’t belting out words or melting the stage with his insane guitar solos, Peres could be found bouncing up and down on and around his keyboard, while Nemeth pinballed between the two as he ran back and forth across the stage.

There were two points in the show where the energy in the crowd — and onstage, of course — reached a point of near-insanity. The first was near the end of the set, with the band’s performance of “Apple Tree” from their debut; slightly different from the studio recording was the breakneck pace at which the fast sections of the song were performed, not to mention that the entire song was sped up AND jammed out. The only other point in the set that could garner that much energy a second time was — what else? — the final song of the encore, “Joker & The Thief,” their breakthrough hit. Stockdale drew out the intro at the pace of a despondent snail before whipping backwards and tearing into the opening riffs; once Atkins brought the drums into the mix, the crowd on the floor exploded into absolute mayhem, matched only by the antics of the band onstage as they finished their set with a glorious fervor.

When I first heard Wolfmother in — wow, really, Wikipedia? It can’t have been THAT long ago! — 2006, I was impressed and excited to hear a band that was bringing back an oft-passed-over-but-never-forgotten genre of rock: big, sweeping arena pieces in the gorgeously dark tone of drop D tuning. A friend describing them as “neo-Zeppelin” was also a fairly accurate description once I’d gotten a chance to wrap my head around Stockdale’s blistering, unrelenting voice. As they exploded over the radio and grew to have an astonishingly large fanbase — not to mention the founding members of the band besides Stockdale leaving before Cosmic Egg was completed/released — I was concerned that their live performance might not have the full scale of oomph that I knew their songs had. I was extremely glad to be proven wrong at the performance tonight. It was also a real treat to see Heartless Bastards and thenewno2, both of whom gave excellent performances — the assistance of other bandmates not withstanding — and were two of the most exciting openers I’ve seen all year at the Fox Theater. I hope that all three bands continue to burn the fire that I saw in them tonight — it’s so easily to lose it when you get too big.

Wolfmother's setlist

Wolfmother's setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Gordon Elgart November 24, 2009 at 7:55 am

I saw Wolfmother five times with the original lineup, and nobody could possibly replace Chris Ross, who is an absolute monster of a musician. That said, the “new guys” did well enough, and the band did seem to be a lot more into it than at the end of their touring on the previous record. I guess that’s why they “broke up” in the first place.

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Carly November 24, 2009 at 7:17 pm

i am a thenewno2 fan and you got a lot of your facts wrong on them: first of all: Dhani is NOT from Liverpool…his accent is an London accent and if very different from George’s. Secondly: Oli was not on tour with them at all their drummer’s name was Frank Zummo. Please get your facts right before you publish an article that thenewno2 fans and thenewno2 themselves can read

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ria November 24, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Just a quick note to let you know that Dhani is not from Liverpool, he does not have a ‘thick Liverpudlian accent’ (i think the writer assumed too much while thinking of his father), and the drummer was NOT Oliver Hecks – he was not on the tour. That was drummer Frank Zummo performing all of the pounding drum magic. I’m glad he liked the band tho – they are kickass!!

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Lauren November 24, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Just a few comments: Dhani is not from Liverpool and definitely does not have a Liverpudlian accent. Also, the drummer on tour with thenewno2 this time around was Frank Zummo. Glad you liked them though!!! They’re fantastic.

Sorry….as you can see the guys have very loyal fans 🙂

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Diane Machin November 24, 2009 at 7:33 pm

Dear Jonathan Pirro,

I am very Pleased that you liked thenewno2’s show, but your write up about the bands’ members is very erronious. Dhani Harrison actually has an Oxfordshire accent and not a thick Liverpudlian accent and so I am at a loss as to why you should think that this was a clue to his musical heritage.
Oli Hecks, is currently working on a film project and so is not available for this tour. Frank Zummo is thenewno2’s drummer for this tour.
On a positive note, I am glad that you thought their set was excellent. 🙂

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Carly November 24, 2009 at 7:53 pm

continuation on mine…glad to know that you liked them sorry we’re all hounding you but we are big fans of theirs

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Big Boog January 19, 2010 at 12:52 am

whatever Dhani’s accent was, his set was boring

Heartless bastards were great fun

Wolfmother kicked some serious ass on the Monday night

Great review!

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