Near-death experiences have often been labeled as the reason behind sudden shifts in artistic mindsets, philosophy, spiritual beliefs, and overall lifestyle changes. For the men of sludge-psych heroes Baroness, who experienced their own brush with the beyond in a horrific bus crash in Bath in 2012, it almost spelled out the end of the band, with founding member Allan Blickle and new bassist Matt Maggioni leaving the group after their recovery. Their frontman, John Dyer Baizley, thus had the incredible task of healing from his own injuries and also deciding what to do with the thunderous force that he had been helping to craft for half a decade. Miraculously, Baroness have returned, possibly even stronger than before, and their plight has not affected their egos whatsoever — they are genuinely as passionate and ferociously happy to be onstage as ever, and grateful for all who have come to see them.
While most of the crowd was at the Regency to witness the return of their psychedelic-metal heroes (it had been close to 8 years since Baroness’ last appearance in the Bay Area), I was also pleased to finally experience a live performance by Youth Code, an LA-based industrial duo that is as feral as they are minimalistic. While instrumental mastermind Ryan William George prowled over the bevy of synths and thrashed-together equipment, Sara Taylor was anything but static — there was barely a moment where she wasn’t in constant, furious motion. Her onstage presence is one of unparalleled ferocity, from her guttural, asphalt-laden vocals to her vicious leaps, kicks, headbutts, and fisticuffs to invisible enemies around her. Their low lighting and sparse stage setup belied the intensity of their performance, and they seemed to have definitely won many more fans by the end of their short set.
Aside from tearing through every single one of their songs, old and new, with brilliant precision, the most pleasing aspect of watching Baroness perform was beholding the sheer joy and childlike glee on Baizley’s face. Already very animated and wide-eyed, his emotive face was thrown into sharper relief by the constant massive grins and loud shots that he punctuated verse after verse with. Bathed in a haze of lights — which matched the colors of the respective albums that the songs appeared on — Baizley and his cohorts — guitarist Peter Adams and bass/keyboard player Nick Jost — held court for a massive set that chugged along with no signs of slowing down. The crowd alternated between a churning, writhing mass and stoic, somber faces, the latter paired with lighters held aloft for some of the more soulful anthems.
Despite their currently revered status among music critics — Baroness’ latest release, Purple, was on many best-of-the-year lists at the end of 2015 — the men onstage seemed far happier to be alive, full of vitality, and performing, than they were to be heavily lauded and held up on critical pedestals. Baizley was humble in all of his words, appreciatively thanking calls to play older songs rather than angrily dismissing or ignoring his hecklers outright. They greeted their onlookers with applause, cheers, shouts, and encouraging roars to sing along. The final sign-off of “Thank you, we are Baroness! Thanks for coming out!” also felt much less of high-and-mighty rockstar caliber than something as cold as a wave or nod; it’s the sort of thing you hear from opening acts encouraging early arrivals to see them again, and that same eagerness was omnipresent in Baroness’ show.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Baroness twice before their accident, when songs from Red (and, occasionally, Blue) were the only ones to grace their setlist, and each time was very enjoyable to behold, but this show was something entirely other. It’s true enough that the band had almost entirely changed over in its lineup, but the energy and conviction of Baroness was a remarkable transformation from days gone by. If you’d like to see a metal band that works tirelessly to stuff every possible ounce of strength into their studio and live performances — one that is full of vigor and pleasure at being able to offer their music to the world — do not miss Baroness for their next tour.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos are © 2016 Jonathan Pirro.