Doing this write-up proved to be a harder task than I imagined. Between the personal stuff I had going on and the absolute butt-load of work and volunteering, I’ve had this nagging itch about the Jex Thoth show I saw – an itch I couldn’t define or put my finger on. Finally, last night as I sat to pen this report, itch be damned, I realized what it was that was nagging me. But, we’ll get to that later.
I don’t know how many of you reading this are familiar with Jex Thoth and/or enjoy the band’s work, but I’ll assume that, since you’re still reading, you have a certain amount of interest in how a Jex Thoth show would look and sound.
I can certainly tell you about that, but I’d like to start with a brief introduction on why I went to see her perform with zero previous knowledge or insight into the band’s performance history and reputation. The studio albums I owned were it for me as far as their deliverance of musical goods go.
The first time I heard Jex Thoth (thanks to the Last Rites community, who else?), I was blown away. The music had such remarkable energy; it had an innovative feel wrapped in an old soul while Jex’s vocals sounded mesmerizing, omnipresent and authoritative. The formula I like when it comes to music (seeing how my ears have been addicted to the substance for the better part of the last two decades) is quite clear: don’t give me something that isn’t truly yours, don’t give me more of your idols than you give me yourself, don’t give me faux inspiration and lego production, and for fuck’s sake don’t give me metalcore. If you can make music that is void of these things, I’m giving you my full attention, my money and my words.
The first, self titled Jex Thoth album gave me that formula and then some upon its release in 2008. Since this isn’t a review of that, but a mere introduction to a concert report, you can check out the critical thinkage on that matter here.
2011 marked the departure of Clay Ruby, the band’s keyboardist, and a lot of people quit on Jex Thoth on that point. (You have to understand, the keys on the first album are a huge part of the whole authentic feel Jex had in those days.) I patiently waited for the next CD to hit the virtual stores. In 2013 it finally came in Blood Moon Rise, and I spun it, twice or thrice, maybe. The hold, for me, was gone.
So, with that loving feeling of the first album I carried around, I came to see the show, remined of how, in fact, I’m glad and excited to go see them play. Two bands were playing as warm-ups, both okay, but with still a lot of time on their hands to find their own voice. (The formula annulled, free time for beer.)
When the Jex Thoth show started it was dark, and dark it stayed. The entire stage was staged (alliteration, anyone?) to look like a ceremony plateau for praying to old Wicca gods and Mother Nature. Filled with burning candles, with little or no electric lighting, it created an atmosphere of a keyhole view into a performance, a ritual, rather than a heavy metal concert. I was so cool with that.
They opened with “To Bury,” and I had to get really close to finally see the face of the voice that made such an impression on me in 2008. The reason why I couldn’t see Jex was because, well, it was really dark, and because she was squatting, with the microphone and her face buried in her hair. Her posture for most of the show remained in these non-standard poses, so she was mostly squatting, kneeling, hunching over, carrying candles around, and sitting on the floor.
Next was “The Divide.” Correctly executed, no complaints. Then came the hit song “Separated at Birth,” and the crowd (me included) got excited as kindergarten chocolate, and Jex ruled in her performance big time. At this point, I realized I was so preoccupied with HER: her presence, her unconventional stage postures, the candles, the dark… that I forgot to even glance at the rest of the band. Well, heck, what kind of a journalist am I? So I looked at the band, and observed and realized that, at least at this show, they served as Jex’s orchestra, with no real identity of their own. In other words, the band is hers; the identity that it carried is hers.
The following songs were yet again (other than a couple from the EPs) from Blood Moon Rise (“Keep Your Weeds,” “And the River Ran Dry”…), and as the show started to reach its end, you practically had the whole of Blood Moon Rise played, but not the one song that really stands out on that album, which is “The Places You Walk.” A poor choice I say. So, while all the numbers were correctly performed, and you couldn’t find one criticism if you tried, it wasn’t overly exhilarating either.
To conclude. Jex Thoth’s first album had all the bearings of freshness and uniqueness despite the fact that it used tried-and-true recipes of doom and psychedelia. With those two elements, you have so much room for expansion, experimentation and exploration, that you just need a bit of talent and chunk of vision to make it work. And it worked so well on that album. You had the moods, the jams, the keys, the spaciness and her mesmerizing vocals. You could not find those things on this concert. It was still a good show, mind you, a great show actually, but not if you measure it in Jex Thoth 2008 standards.
And, lastly, my nagging itch was this: I finally saw Jex Thoth play live and it didn’t live up to the monument she/they built on their self-titled debut.
Stay metal people. Take your vitamins.
[ALL IMAGES BY OWL]