Backup Planet & Gang of Thieves 3.1.18
Asheville Music Hall
Words by Caleb Calhoun
Photos by J. Scott Shrader
“Would you find the road with me?” -Backup Planet, The Road
It’s a small world after all. One day you have some friggin’ high school kid screaming at you from the parking lot, asking about the tv suspended from climbing ropes on your apartment porch, and a decade later you are following his band around the country, losing yourself in his music more than any other live act going.
Tonight Backup Planet (along with their bassist and my good friend Blake Gallant) are at Asheville Music Hall, and despite headlining Brooklyn Bowl on 4/20, being invited back to Summer Camp, and melting minds coast to coast over one of the heaviest schedules of any touring band, the place is looking a little sparse.
I chalk it up to Asheville specific first-world problems... which other city under 100,000 could you be up against Chris Jacobs, Railroad Earth, and Roosevelt Collier on a Thursday night? Nonetheless I am having trouble believing that BP, with Vermont’s own foremost funk bangers, Gang of Thieves opening, isn’t freaking packed.
Alas the metal edge has been slow to take in this grass-heavy, jam-based scene of ours, and even as EDM is making a run true rock is still often, to our chagrin, ignored. But for those who were there, this isn’t the kind of thing you can ignore any longer. Pop-based grooves layered over true funk, dripping with hair-metal and diving into tier two, and at times even tier three jams, this is something that isn’t happening anywhere else.
Gang of Thieves takes the stage at 10:00 PM sharp and I can immediately see why Backup Planet loves these guys so much. It’s a heavy groove and it’s got me, and everyone else, moving immediately. By the time the second song draws to a close the area in front of the stage is getting packed. They jam through about an hour and fifteen minutes of music, keeping us all bouncing and shaking the entire time.
Then it’s on. Backup Planet, who have some pretty deep roots in this town, come out with a smoking version of "Pull Up the Blinds," one of their older classics in a nod to the OG quality of the fans in the front row. The interplay between Gavin Donati’s guitar and Ben Cooper’s keys is fantastic and they detour their way through the bridge, taking their time, leading us down little pathways without ever getting lost. Keeping with the old school theme they push straight into "The Road," another classic and the first time in the evening (there will be more) that it occurs to me that it is literally raining guitar.
They push through a few more songs including "Be Love" before taking a short break to allow everyone to catch their breath for a few minutes. Four songs in and clocking an hour of music already, this is Backup Planet at their road-driven, improvisational best. Always difficult to describe, I find myself fumbling for words on the set break.
The energy, the raw virtuosic power of this band can be a bit overwhelming. Occasional notes of Frampton or Zappa or Pantera float by but there is never enough of any comparison to actually latch on to, no, BP’s music is exquisite in it’s restlessness, never hanging on the hook too long, never letting the audience get too comfortable.
In some ways I imagine it feels a little like seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers at a small club in LA in the early 90’s - this sound that is bigger than the room, this easily decipherable edge and unmistakable lead guitar that tells you that you are watching the evolution of rock and roll take place directly in front of you.
About four minutes into "D-Earth" they head into the bridge, and we all know that tonight they are gonna stretch that shit out. They take us down, into some thick, inky blackness, ripples forming in the glasses of beer on the edge of the stage each time Gallant plucks the low end. They tease dropping back into the chorus repeatedly and dismissively, the hook coming back in some hollow distant echo of the original riff. They make you want the musical resolve more than anything else in the world, but they refuse to give it to you.
And now the darkness has been splintered by the instruments of it’s very construction and the tone is rising, rising, ever rising. This can no longer be considered a song in any conventional sense of the word, no, this is a high speed car chase and we are all in the back of their funk-machine flying headlong into the fierce, orange sun.
Finally they drop back in to the chorus, allowing the entire venue to finally take a breath once again. Then, without so much as a four beat break this conscienceless and sadistic band dives into a soul-shaking, heavy-handed (in a good way) "Choppin’ Wood>Hammer>Choppin’ Wood." The crowd is screaming along with every word, fighting through the exhaustion, stumbling a bit, but dancing nonetheless. The energy from the stage has buoyed us, Backup Planet is treating this show as if it were sold out, holding nothing back, bringing an intense professionalism to what they do.
Finally, fighting that damn clock, they finish the set. No time for an encore, not even a short one. BP has taken every minute allotted to them and left an entire audience walking out the door, collecting the bits of their brain that have been blasted around the entire venue.