Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar Sludge It Out at Mr. Smalls Pittsburgh

It must be the muck deep in the Mississippi River that makes for such wonderful sludge metal. Kirk Windstein of Crowbar and Pepper Keenan both live in NOLA and maybe they dip their guitars in the magic of that place to get such murky sounds or they have truly conspired with the ancient Voodoo of the area to become two of the best riff masters of the modern era. However they found the formula matters not, just that they keep doing it for the fans. Thursday, February 21, 2019, in a mid-sized club called “Mr. Smalls”, both guitarists put on a show to be remembered for the ages.

Crowbar can trace their roots all the way back to 1988 when hair metal was still the king of the airwaves and MTV. The one constant of the band has been guitarist and vocalist Kirk Windstein. Kirk is as powerful as he looks on stage with his long beard, gruff NOLA/Cajun accent coming through at times, and the ever-present shorts and hat. Offstage, he is one of the kindest and most mild-mannered gentlemen you will ever come across.

His band, although at times rotating members such as Rex Brown (Pantera) and Jimmy Bower (EyeHateGod), maintain that perfect balance needed to keep a band like Crowbar relevant and natural. Guitarist Matt Brunson has been doing just that since 2009 and drummer Tommy Buckley since 2005. Bassist Todd Strange recently retired from touring so live he is replaced by Shane Wesley. These four guys put forth a sound that is equal jet plane engine underwater and a Bob Marley sized joint laced with Nyquil. It’s that slow groove and the hooks that grab you by the nuts and just pushes them up into your stomach, in other words, it is pure power that takes it’s time to wreak havoc on you, thus inflicting maximum damage.

Playing roughly eight songs from their catalog, Crowbar was amazing as they captivated the crowd and Kirk went about genuinely thanking the audience for their support. Each time the band comes to Pittsburgh (which has been a lot lately, so keep it up) they never disappoint. Playing songs like “All I Had (I Gave),” “The Cemetary Angels,” “To Carry The Load,” and “Like Broken Glass”, Kirk and company definitely set the tone, especially when they launched into “Planets Collide” which was just absolutely brilliant.

If you are fans of these bands, then you know their members are often, for lack of a better term, incestuous in nature with the combination of many other NOLA associated and Sludge Metal bands. Lead singer and guitar player of Corrosion of Conformity, Pepper Keenan, who was a member of DOWN with Phil Anselmo of PanteraJimmy Bower of EyehategodKirk Windstein and Todd Strange of Crowbar. That line-up has changed a bit as well, but Keenan remains in the band as it is on hiatus. Corrosion of Conformity had made a name for themselves in the punk community since 1982, but it really was not until Pepper joined in 1989 and then sang a few songs that their metal days started making a huge impact. Even though COC went on a hiatus from 2006 t0 2010, the return of Keenan to the flock has generated the metal loyal to once again come out to see the legendary outfit in droves.

Keenan was in a great mood Thursday night and it certainly showed in his playing and audience interaction. Pepper is an intense dude and he can surprise you with a quick laugh or put you in your place in a heartbeat. His guitar playing is on otherworldly levels when it comes to eliciting an emotional response. Obviously, this is not in a Clapton sort of sense, but he is a riff creator on par with the likes of Iommi who he certainly has gained a ton of influence. Mike Dean (bass) and guitarist Woody Weatherman, of course, fit perfectly with Keenan and each member gives their own unique punch and presence to their sound. Drummer and founding member Reed Mullin was once again absent on this tour (a huge bummer) but he has a more than adequate fill-in with his drum tech John Green. Corrosion continues to put out killer music at the top of their game, especially with the latest release, No Cross No Crown (2018).

It was great to see COC play a full set (look for the setlist in the pix below). Of special note would be their ability to not only pull from Sabbath and Black Flag, but throw in that bit of southern rock a la .38 Special and of course Skynard. They stay true to their sound and keep throwing twists in to keep it interesting. With crushing songs like “Wiseblood,” “Vote With A Bullet,” and “Albatross” you cannot go wrong with anything on their menu. Throw a little “Paranoid” into the mix and now you get cake and ice cream.

All pix AWelding photo © 2019