I met DIY concert promoter and American Icon Records owner Jonathon Galyon at a festival in Austin a couple years ago. I was a wide-eyed journalist new to the world of music festivals, and Jonny was still an upstart promoter at the time, booking his first big bill shows and festivals. Our respective paths, though different, intertwined. We’ve been friends ever since, and I’ve followed Galyon’s progress as he’s booked bigger shows, from Fourth of July adventures to unofficial SXSW metal parties that threaten to undo the corporate charade that Southby has become. Jonny’s motto: “Elevate the underground.” It’s the same motto I stand by as a music writer. So, when he announced American Icon’s North West Hesh Fest at Dante’s in Portland — featuring Pentagram, Dead Moon, and YOB — I felt an obligation to travel westward to witness this celebration of heavy rock ‘n’ roll.
My nerves were shot from travel when I arrived at Dante’s. Two blazing torches surrounded the entrance. It was a large, single-room venue with two facing bars, go-go dancer platforms, and a conveniently connected pizza stand. Jonny greeted me but soon disappeared to take care of important promoter shit. It was a Thursday. Pentagram, fresh off the release of Curious Volume, were about to embark on a tour, and in order for them to play Hesh Fest, it had to be on a Thursday. RidingEasy Records’ Sons of Huns and Electric Citizen were the support. You couldn’t find a better heavy bill anywhere else in the world.
For the next three and a half hours, I battled my jet lag with massive fucking riffs. The hometown boys in Sons of Huns brought a Metallica-esque combo of thrash and melody, running through their latest record, While Sleeping Stay Awake. It was a pleasure hearing tight renditions of the songs live after my time spent reviewing the album earlier this year. Guitarist Pete Hughes was extra cheerful — his resting riff-face was a beaming smile — and the set felt loose without coming off as half-assed or lazy (considering the band has played its fair share of PDX shows).
The crowd was close to capacity by the time Electric Citizen went on. Frontwoman Laura Dolan was wearing a skin-tight, black leather one-piece, looking like a cross between Barbarella and Catwoman. After catching them in May at Psycho CA, I knew I’d be in for a lively set of riffing, theatrical heavy psych. Ever the expressive performer, Dolan worked the crowd, strutting about the stage, tossing her hair, and slinging her voice around Ross Dolan’s riffs. It was an overtly sexual performance, though tasteful … classy, even. The band played the majority of their Sateen record and were especially tight on this night.
Finally, it was Pentagram’s turn. The band was in a noticeably good mood, and Bobby Liebling appeared healthy and aware, rocking a pair of youth-sized black tights and a glistening green jacket. The past couple times I’ve seen Pentagram, Liebling was erratic, and it was hard to understand what he said between songs. That was not the case at Hesh Fest. Crowd-pleasing classics like “Forever My Queen”, “20 Buck Spin”, and “Be Forewarned” worked the now-drunk audience into a fervor as Liebling seduced his way about the stage, playing air guitar and wagging his snake-like tongue. I struggled to shoot as the pit tectonically shifted to Greg Turley’s bass riffs. The new album cuts sounded great, even if the crowd wasn’t as familiar with them.
After Pentagram’s last song, all I could think about was sleep. It was a draining first day. I crashed out at the hotel.
Click ahead for Day II coverage.