Indie, surf, electro, garage, punk ... there’s not a lot of sub-genre-less rock around lately, and the term rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t really mean much anymore.
From the moment Dax Riggs stepped on to the stage at Red Room, it was clear the word “roll” didn’t even apply. Riggs was pure rock—guitars and riffs and howls channeled via a greasy-haired miscreant with balls so big they could have been hanging out of his pant legs. But eyes closed and amp cranked, the Austin-based former frontman for Acid Bath and Deadboy And The Elephantmen barely even moved. He was too completely lost in his performance.
It didn’t surprise me at all to later read an interview in which Riggs alluded heavily to the ethereal, referring to himself as a “practicing magician,” and saying his future had already been written on his palm. That sort of delivery generally only comes about as a result of either copious drug use or sitting down next to Nietzsche and staring deep into the abyss.
But Riggs wasn’t the only one in a trance. The giant sound rippling through the room was enchanting. The audience crowded the stage, caught up in the pulsing waves of overdrive beneath the tremolo moan of Riggs’ voice. If he had pulled out a flute and a cobra-filled basket, it wouldn’t have been a surprise.
Though there are more accurate but obscure references, comparatively, the darkness of Riggs’ tone and riffs were reminiscent of Black Sabbath, but more stripped down and less tech. Instead of the proto-metal riffs of Tony Iommi and Sabbath’s lengthy and complex arrangements, Riggs evoked the vacuous desolation endemic to Sabbath’s overall feel in three-minute epics. Had Sabbath been a ’90s Seattle grunge band, it may well have sounded like Dax Riggs.
Later, listening to some of Riggs’ recordings, the addition of keyboards and ballads opened his sound up like a mournful elegy to the sky as the songs morphed seamlessly from soft existential laments into fearsome roars of distortion. Riggs’ artist profile on his label, Fat Possum, doesn’t exaggerate when it says he “sounds like voodoo.”
Riggs didn’t talk much while onstage. Nor did his band. But they didn’t need to. It was all in the music.
Sub-genres can be great, opening up new possibilities of sonic experience. But sometimes it’s best just to rock. Sometimes it’s best to can the B.S. and let the listener be swept up in the sound like a tornado: a savage howling force of nature that can take you away to a magical place if you just let it.