It was drag night and Crushed brought the octane when they blew the doors off Joe's Grotto for the celebration of their new release, My Machine. David Ellefson's F5 paved the road for this five-piece from Phoenix to make way for their original blend of rock, metal and ... er ... belly dancing? BURN RUBBER BOYS!
Crushed: Live In Concert
By Mary Ellen Gustafson
Photos by Melody Hudson
Popular Phoenix rock club Joe's Grotto recently played host to the CD release party for the new album
My Machine by long time local favorites, Crushed. I've known the band for about 10 years now and brought the whole local GR staff along for what promised to be an exciting night. When we arrived, the club was packed and you could hear the buzz of conversation even above the loud, piped-in music playing as the first opening band broke down their set in preparation for world famous powerhouse rock/metal band
F5 due to take the stage next. David Ellefson caught up with me to let me know F5 had a surprise planned for the audience during their set when they opened for Crushed, which may have partially explained some of the famous rockers I spotted throughout the club. Check out my F5 article to read about their killer set!
However, Crushed had a surprise of their own to wow the audience before they ever sang a note! The band took the stage and immediately moved to the back as the lights went dark and this sort of spacy music with many
"flavors" from East Indian to Hawaiian to Middle Eastern to musical styles I can't think of words to describe, but with a very definite beat, poured from the speakers. A disembodied voice chanted
"Your time has come to shake the universe..." as spotlights shone down on the area in front of the stage where the Bedouin Tribe, a troupe of belly dancers, appeared in elaborate costumes with gorgeous sequined flower headpieces, black arm covers, columns of bracelets, beautiful rings and eyes heavily made up. They began a slow, elaborate dance almost completely concentrated on arm movements, head movements and facial expressions in perfect sync.
A fifth dancer, dressed all in black with her long hair flowing free, appeared in front of the others as they continued their precise movements in the background. She produced two large curved swords and began to dance with the swords slicing through the air as she moved her whole body in, out and around until she placed both swords on her head and continued to dance a most intricate belly dance with them balanced there. This woman, Kaya, was
awesome as she bent over backwards, dancing from a standing position straight down to her knees and then onto the floor and back up without ever moving those swords on her head. When she finally removed them, there was a collective
"Aaaahhh" from the dead silent crowd as they let out the breath they'd been holding during her entire performance.
The Bedouin Tribe
Wild applause broke out as everyone thought the dancing was over. But, Kaya wasn't quite finished with us yet. She crossed the swords in front of her, turned to the side and began to bend backwards as she balanced the swords on her belly, then continued to dance with graceful arm and shoulder movements, lowering her head and shoulders to the floor as her knees began to bend further and further until her lower legs were bent backwards and she was lying flat on her back. Slowly she began to raise her body from the floor, still dancing with these huge curved swords across her belly until she was almost completely upright, then grabbed the swords and moved back into the line with the rest of the dancers. This time the audience really went wild with applause, whistles and screams as the whole line of dancers did a slow, undulating turn in a circle and then backed up toward the stage. The spot lights went out, the stage lights came up, Crushed was in place and picked up the notes of the recorded music that had been playing during the dance, then slammed in to the heavy intro to
It's been quite a while since I've heard Crushed play live, but it only took a moment to remind me what a great live band they are and why I used to hit as many of their live gigs as I could. They've always been a metal band, but their music has changed and matured. Heavy metal songs, like
"Nocturnal," are much heavier than they used to be and the addition of Harry McCaleb to the line up has really filled out the sound with both his guitar and keyboard work.
Mark Lauer's vocals are more raw and edgy, although he's lost none of his ability to carry a perfect melody, something that has always been an integral part of what makes this band outstanding. Jeff Garten still plays one of the smallest drum kits I've seen on a stage in ages, yet produces an outstanding drum line, accompanied by the polished bass line of Michael Brown. Mike Halland's guitar work was even more impressive than it used to be and all of the above make up the Crushed signature sound. These guys are a great band to watch, mainly because you can tell they're comfortable with each other, totally into the music and want the audience to feel welcome in their world while they're on that stage.
As I mentioned, "Nocturnal" was, for the most part, a seriously heavy song that's very bass and drum driven with a lot of low note guitar work, but it has a few lighter melodic moments in the chorus, a really cool guitar bridge with some tricky tempo change ups and then ends with a fade echo of the last note of the instrumentals. Crushed is not a band into epic length songs (most average between 3 – 4 minutes), and they kept the pace moving right along during their set, playing over the applause and whistles coming from the audience.
The next song, called "Sky Is Curved," was a new tune of a more rock style than metal. Opening with a strong drum and bass line, Mark started his vocal while standing up on the drum stand before jumping down and moving to the front of the stage. This was a great song with a lot of imagery in the lyrics:
"I look for you in clouds of people/ . . . You and I will fly . . ." The instrumental bridge was on the down low and made for a great contrast to the verses in the song. Again it was fairly short, but very well received.
"A Game Of You" leaned more toward nu-metal with a fast, heavy drum beat and a repetitive guitar note backing the opening vocal that blasted into the growled chorus. Full on head banging came from Mike Halland as he played the guitar, while Mark strutted around the stage, giving the song way more attitude than the CD displays and Harry's spacey keyboard bridge put a unique spin on this rather unusual and very short song.
The band immediately followed up with another new song, "Sugar Glider," this time relying on some great guitar work to kick off the intro before the percussion joined in and then they traded back and forth. I have to admit I was more interested in hearing the song than taking notes and had trouble making out the lyrics, but the instrumentals were more high speed than the vocal parts and this number was all about the musicianship of the band members. The instrumentals were tight and there was a great bridge between the vocals as well. It was a song I'd like to hear again, so here's hoping it's scheduled for the next Crushed release!
A cover of "Reptile," originally by The Church, was up next and I was very impressed by the Crushed version of the song. Outstanding guitar work from both Mike Halland and Harry McCaleb carried the upper register, while the spot on drum and bass line from Jeff Garten and Michael Brown drove the song home from beginning to end. Mark Lauer's vocal sounded like the song was written for him and his little echo twists registered just enough to make things more interesting. I've heard some pretty terrible covers from some major bands at live gigs in the past several months, but this one restored my faith in a live band having the ability to actually make a cover sound better than the original. Props to Crushed on that one!
The music finally stopped for more than a few seconds and the audience got their chance to get in some real applause and cheers for the band. Mark stepped up to the mic for a few minutes to thank everyone for coming out to their
"much delayed" CD release party and thanked F5 for playing with them that night. Then he strapped on his big red guitar and the band was off and running again to Harry's keyboard repeater that led into
"What Kind Of Life," followed by the rest of the band.
This song sounded really well rounded with the addition of Mark's rhythm guitar and the keyboards.
If I had to categorize it I'd call it hard rock with a metal edge. This is one of my personal favorites from the new album, because it has great guitar work, style changes, tempo change ups, interesting lyrics and a killer percussion line throughout.
It sounded even better live with the addition of a few extras, like the repeater at the beginning; Michael, Mark
and Mike H. playing together at the front of the stage off each other and really putting that full guitar/rhythm/bass sound behind the verse and especially the chorus and bridge; Jeff Garten's kind of off tempo one note bass drum emphasis and really special cymbal and hi-hat work to the forefront and then the fade off of the other instruments until it was just Mark's vocal and Jeff's cymbal winding the song down to their last note that faded off into an echo. This was an extremely well executed song, the band looked like they were having a great time and the crowd was totally into it as well.
"Leaving" started with a totally rockin' intro, but the key left no doubt this wasn't a happy rock song and the vocals were done with an echo mic, which made the song sound even more mysterious. Another personal favorite, this tune makes great use of the musical talent of all the band members and has a lot of tricky change ups in tempo and key, especially by the guitars through the extended instrumental bridge. The lyrics could sound ordinary:
"What If I Don't Care/ What If I Can't Deny/ What If I Don't Go/ No one Can Say Goodbye . . .," but the way they're woven into the music truly brings out the angst in those simple phrases, as does the fact the pace of the song slows down as it progresses and just fades away at the end.
For the uninitiated, songs by Crushed have a lot going on in every one of them and it takes a few listens to catch all the nuances and extras they throw in during a short period of time. If I hadn't been really familiar with the album prior to attending this live gig, I would never have caught a lot of the small changes they made during the show compared to how they sound on the new CD. Writing things down when I catch them helps too!
The next song has been part of Crushed's live shows for as long as I can remember, although the version they played at this gig had been overhauled and was much heavier than the last time I heard it. Another cover,
"Brimstone In A Barren Land" originally by Danielle Dax, let me know as soon as I heard the first notes this one would be good and the band most definitely did
Crushed (l-r): Harry McCaleb, Michael Brown, Mark Lauer, Jeff
Garten, Mike Halland
Starting with a three guitar intro soon joined by the percussion section, Mark carried a much heavier vocal and there was a lot of intricate guitar work going on during this song. Usually Jeff's drumming isn't overly obvious, but it's pretty much necessary during this number and he kept a spot on beat running all the way through. Somebody once told me you will never have a successful band without a fantastic drummer and a great vocalist. Luckily Crushed has both and
they carried the tune to a super heavy, complicated instrumental conclusion making it sound better than ever. The crowd really loved this one and threw their horns while making some major noise.
"Further Down," my all time favorite Crushed song, was up next and I just sat there and soaked it up. With its haunting melody, driving bass/low down guitar line, changes in key and tempo, terrific vocal, outstanding guitar bridge by Mike H. and Mark, great drumming, cool lyrics, etc. it gave me chills. I didn't even pay attention to the rest of the audience except the people in front of me, which weren't many since I was right up front, but the people around me gave them resounding applause just like I did. At least in my opinion, this song was
Winding up their set was the song that's also the first video made from My Machine,
"Hovering." Being the other super heavy song from the new album, the bass and drum line drive this song, along with the rhythm guitar in the lower registers. While Mark was singing the verses he wasn't playing his guitar, but he picked it up and joined the instrumentals during the choruses. This was another song that showcased the musicianship of all the band members. Mike Halland was adding strategically placed guitar work that went from spacey emphasis to total enhancement of the instrumental portions of the song. Michael Brown and Jeff Garten seriously drove this song from beginning to end, while rhythm and fuzz guitar from Mark, Harry and Mike H. really made the song sound huge.
The VERY small area in front of the stage was filled with people pointing at the stage in time with the music and really getting into it, many of them clutching a copy of the CD waiting to get it autographed by the band when they finished playing. Very beat driven, the song definitely grows on you with every listen (I like it more every time) and you notice more about it, like the tricky use of echo mics and harmonies. This was a good song to end their set with, because it left you wanting more as it came to its abrupt conclusion. Mark said a quick
"Good Night! and Thank You!" and the band exited the stage.
All in all it was a great night. The band put on a super performance and I was happy to get see they had a new album and were playing out again. They may have changed their sound somewhat from when I used to catch their live gigs, but it was a change for the better. I even had the chance to renew old acquaintances and catch up on what everybody was doing these days besides with the band, which is always a golden opportunity when people lose touch for one reason or another.
If you happen to live in the Southwest, or more importantly the Phoenix area, you can catch Crushed as part of the
"Hyperactive Conference and Music Festival" in Albuquerque, NM on 05/19/07 at "The District," where they're scheduled to play at 10:00 p.m. They're also scheduled to play on 05/25/07 at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, AZ, 06/16/07 at Joe's Grotto in Phoenix, AZ and 08/18/07 at Chaser's in Scottsdale, AZ. I highly recommend seeing them live if you have the chance!