Review: A Sampling of Stoner Rock at the Empty Bottle

Thursday night at the Empty Bottle was an enticing sampler of rock and roll. Each of the four bands had their own flavor, but the night’s theme was straight up rock music—all fun, zero bull.

Local act Tight Night opened with high energy and aggression that was slightly reminiscent of old school punk acts with a dash of hardcore influences. The five-piece had a notably full sound with layered guitars shredding over frenetic drum beats and thrashing screams.

Atlanta’s Dead Now brought the southern hospitality, beckoning the crowd to move closer to the stage. And everyone who did was in for a treat. Short but sweet, their set was drenched with heavy, sludgey grooves and crunchy riffs that blended elements of Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and even jazz. Drummer Bobby Theberge’s free flowing energy and tight, syncopated style was akin to the great Mitch Mitchell and a complete delight to watch. Bassist Andrew Elstner’s fuzzy tone was thick and rounded out their sound with incredible timing in harmony with Derek Schulz’s soaring vocals.

It’d be easy to simply classify them as stoner or psychedelic rock, but their performance demonstrated a uniqueness and complexity to the otherwise straightforward sound with creative progressions and whiplash tempo changes.

Surprisingly, Big Business had relatively big shoes to fill following the surprise southern favorites from Dead Now and preceding Red Fang. Frontman Jared Warren and drummer Coady Willis exuded a level of talent that is rare to see live in such an intimate setting. Warren is downright captivating with his powerful voice and dynamic style of playing bass while Willis consistently brings precision and intensity to every song. Despite this, the set felt a bit stripped down as they chose a more ambient and raw presentation of the anticipated tracks that fans were clamoring to hear live. 

Perhaps it was the wear and tear of touring, but the vocals (particularly on “Lonely Lyle”) fell flat and and seemed like Warren was struggling to project. Nevertheless, it was still an enjoyable set, although there were quite a few murmurs from the crowd about how “different” and “weird” they sounded. I’d like to think of it as more of a slight detour – meandering away from the familiar roads of the studio versions. And for those that were along for that ride, it proved to be an exceptional experience.

The pace of the evening moved along fairly quickly with Red Fang taking the stage just a short while after Big Business. The hype for the veterans was real, and the already sold-out show was completely packed, pushing me back towards the bar. After being told I was blocking a fire exit lane, I finally settled near a burly man with a mullet who yelled, “Free Bird!” fulfilling the rock concert requirements of jest and inebriation.

As expected, Red Fang crowned the evening with a loud and rambunctious bang, delivering on infectious stoner grooves and sweeping licks. Just like the previous three bands, Red Fang proved that they were more than just a “stoner rock” band, sprinkling elements of uptempo punk and progressive synth sounds that were an absolute delight. They came out confident and with the sole purpose for everyone to have a good time. And by the time they were done, there definitely weren’t any calls to “Free Bird”—just a satisfied crowd full of the melting pot of sounds of a tried and true genre.

Photos by Joseph Griffin.

Jennifer Roger
Jennifer Roger