KRISTONFEST in Bilbao. Needless to say that every single fan of the NOLA sludge scene has been eagerly awaiting this festival. How could I describe the vibe in a few words? Hmmm… The aim of this first edition of Kristonfest was to put together on stage three legendary – and closely related – US southern bands: DOWN, Corrosion Of Conformity and Eyehategod. As a bonus, a fourth band was invited to the party: renowned psych-doom Japanese combo Church Of Misery. Just perfect.
Bilbao, 18th of June 2011. Used to never-ending queues at venues, I’m very surprised to see only dozens of people waiting outside, knowing that there’s one hour left before the doors open. Spanish metalheads (or Basque metalheads at least) are never in a hurry. No need to hurry, then.
Gates open at 7:30 PM, we rush into the venue to get the best spot at the front row. SANTANA27 is a venue with two separate clubs and one bar on each side of the main hall. On my way to the merch stand, I meet EYEHATEGOD’s frontman Mike Williams, with whom I chatter about their performance at Hellfest the day before, Bilbao’s shitty weather and of course, his greatness. I ask him nicely to take the pose with me for a souvenir, which he accepts with his characteristic laid-back attitude. On my way back to the pit, I come across Kirk Windstein from DOWN who is casually hanging around with his dinner in hand. I come and shake his hand, then sounds out his mood with a few questions, just before taking a pic with the man best known as “The Beard Of Doom”. Sweetest dude ever.
Those exciting encounters would have barely been possible at an outdoor festival, and it’s mostly because we’re in a medium venue, that fans can see their idols hanging at the bar or elsewhere. Very cool.
CHURCH OF MISERY
The show starts furiously with Japanese band CHURCH OF MISERY. Let me tell you how things are going on right now : four long-haired dudes with bell-bottomed jeans taking over the stage, and delivering a monstrous doom filled with 70’s psychedelic madness. What with the fuzzy bass that flies into insane solos, their possessed and uncontrollable frontman, and the guitar-drums combo from Hell : being as close to Sabbath’ s spirit, CHURCH OF MISERY is definitely a top-shelf stoner band.
Even those who are not into this kind of old school psyche music are won over by CHURCH OF MISERY’s contagious craziness. The crowd is truly enthusiastic and an ovation greets the four berserkers’ performance. AWESOME.
A happy Jimmy Bower gets on stage to install his gear, closely followed by some pretty loaded Mike Williams. «We’re Eyehategod, we’re from New-Orleans» : the band delivers pure, dirty, booze-fueled sludge. Sweat is pouring and the crowd gets out of control.
On the left side of the stage, I see Phil Anselmo enjoying the gig with passion and cheerfully raising fists… When Sisterfucker’s main riff echoes through the place, Phil stands up and borrows Brian Patton’s guitar to deliver a pumped-up back-up performance, while the four other members are getting ecstatic. The whole audience goes hysterical and this excellent tune (one of my favorites) reveals its hottest flavor.
After going through the band members introduction, they play one last song and leave the stage. A southern bulldozer has just crushed everybody and it’s only the second band…
CORROSION OF CONFORMITY
Dozens of minutes later, we see Mike Dean showing up, quickly followed by Woody Weatherman and a smiling Reed Mullin. The show begins with “Animosity”, then goes on at full speed with a thrash/punk song, then another and another… To clarify things : I’m a huge fan of CORROSION OF CONFORMITY and a even bigger fan of the Pepper Keenan era. Not that I don’t dig Mike’s voice, bass player by trade, but his performance as a singer sounds slightly repetitive, and besides a few words in Spanish, he’s not really the most infectious dude on Earth. That said, fellow musician Pat Bruders (Down’s new bass player) is still enjoying the show from the side of the stage, quickly joined by his bandmates and particularly Pepper Keenan, who watches his former bandmates benevolently.
I feel something is going on backstage, Pepper and Phil are getting into a lively conversation backstage. Pepper vanishes to run up on stage and gratify us with his warm voice and saving screamings on “Holier”. But hey, what’s going on there ? Phil just took over Woodroe’s mic ! These guys are uncontrollable !
A sacred fire takes hold of both the musicians and the crowd, what is happening right now is awesome : Pepper and C.O.C jamming together, good ol’ days style ! He runs off the stage then pops up again with his own guitar, the crowd screams like mad, then the band delivers a superb and highly energetic “Senor Limpio”, followed by the awesome “Vote With A Bullet”. The past stopped by, back to the days when Pepper, Woody, and Mike used to kick asses with “Deliverance” and “Wiseblood” setlists… A great, southern, heavy moment that feels like a breath of fresh air in this way-too-thrashy setlist. “C.O.C !!! C.O.C !!!”
The time is coming and the crowd is getting crushed down on the barrier, while DOWN’s bearded roadies are preparing the stage. I see Pepper and Woodroe chatting backstage, after what he shows up at the barrier to take a few pics with the fans. Security comes in, it’s getting serious… Finally, DOWN gets on stage with Jimmy Bower at its head. Ovation. «Lysergik Funeral Procession» starts. The venue is fucking warm all of a sudden, because there’s no crescendo with Down : the five bros give everything they got, from the first second to the very last.
Our minds are blown by such a powerful, sweaty (a lot of sweat) and most of all enthusiastic performance. The complicity between the guys is an integral part of the show : you should see them fooling around, smiling mischievously to each other, Phil hazing Kirk, the guys laughing at Phil’s unique speeches… He even sings happy birthday to a fan, replacing her name with an erstaz of an unintelligible spanish word, which makes everyone burst laughing. They pace up and down the stage, spending most of their time playing on its edges. Rex Brown’s successor Pat Bruders is a real beast, even if he stays in the background, he’s nothing but great and more than stunning when he plays in front of us, FOR us. By the way, Phil introduces him as “available to the ladies” so that Pat would offer us a striptease on the occasion !
Despite the scheduled 10 initial tracks, DOWN (especially Phil) can’t help hanging on as long as possible, entertaining us with hilarious speeches, checking every items the fans are throwing on the stage, always likely to babble on anything. A Pantera shirt ? Bam ! A jam with the crowd on “Walk” ! The crowd singing “oléolé” ? Bam, a 3 minutes jam with Pepper & Kirk on these few notes. Pepper catches a t-shirt representing Kirk’s “Barba Del Doom” and there they go again, having fun. So yeah : DOWN is comprised of 5 long-time brothers, 200 % in adequacy, enjoying their time like hell, sharing each very second with their fans. Tonight we’re about a thousand of people at Santana 27 but we feel like home, as if we were Down’s guests. That’s the honor they do us.
Time for an encore, time for the powerful “Bury Me In Smoke”. Halfway through the song, C.O.C and Eyehategod members hit the stage and play in the shoes of DOWN. Fun, hugs, beer, headbang, warmth !!! This 2 hours gig ends on an intense giveaway of picks and items. When Jimmy realizes there’s nothing more to give, he starts to check out every corner of the stage to find some precious items to throw to the wolves we are. The members take the time to shake everyone’s hands down front, which is really heart-warming.
Lysergik Funeral Procession
New Orleans is a Dying Whore
Ghosts Along the Mississippi
Eyes of the South
Hail the Leaf
Bury Me in Smoke
(with members of Eyehategod and C.O.C.)
Well it’s the end of a huge indoor festival night, another proof that you don’t need to invite dozens of trendy bands to rock a crowd ! Put together four super talented bands that are leaders of their genre, and most of all long-time friends… and you’ll get an unforgettable show that will make you smile widely and enthrall for hours. I was lucky to meet Kirk Windstein again at the bar, he recognized me and gave me a warm hug and a big kiss on the cheek, whereas I was just about to congratulate him for the show. Then I had a very friendly chat (and another unexpected hug) with Pat Bruders who, I have to say, has truly earned his place among the band.
Thanks to Gorka and all Noise On Tour for the photo pass and for this incredible moment of music. Kristonfest forever in our minds…
Last modified: 11 February 2015