Text & Photos: Bobby Cochran
It’s a special kind of feeling when a band you know and love is breaking through and pushing themselves to the next level. Oakland doom outfit King Woman are doing just that – having signed to Relapse Records late last year, releasing their debut LP Created In The Image Of Suffering last week, and will soon be embarking on a US and European tour in support of that record. Tonight’s show was King Woman’s official record release celebration, and their crushing set to a sold-out crowd at Oakland’s Starlight Lounge was a magnificent declaration of intention; the world will soon know who they are.
Opening the show were Oakland duo Petheaven, comprised of singer/guitarist Anya Taylor and drummer Zoe Stiller. Ethereal and deep, alternating between gorgeously melodic and angrily dissonant, Taylor’s voice somewhat reminiscent of a soulful Lisa Gerrard, and her guitar work both sensitive and powerful. Their evocative, echoing sound, thundering and dirge-like and at times chaotic and dark, filled the hall and kept the audience at rapt attention.
They were followed by another local act, Unconditional Arms, a five piece post-rock outfit who clearly take a page from the Explosions In The Sky playbook but strive to make it their own in new and interesting ways. Young and insistent, their swirling and complex triple guitar work creates an interesting counterbalance to the dark simplicity of Petheaven. Post Rock has its formulas, and Unconditional Arms didn’t stray far from the path, but they clearly inhabit and own the music they write and perform, and it was awesome to see a band make such a committed musical statement.
King Woman then took the stage that was so clearly theirs from the very beginning. Opening with the moody, bombastic “Shame,” followed by the crushing “Entwined,” vocalist Kristina Esfandiari’s husky, insistent voice bellowed as she paced, then dropped to her knees and pressed the words out like so many exorcised demons. Her connection to the audience is immediate and intense, and by the third song “Burn” from the Doubt EP, she’s off the stage and down on the floor with them, on her knees, incanting and moving like a captive wraith.
Though Kristina is the frontwoman and focus of attention much of the time, the undeniable power coming from Bassist Peter Arensdorf, guitarist Colin Gallagher, and drummer Joseph Raygoza is the foundation of this beautiful monster called KingWoman, and without them it just wouldn’t be. Detonating through one formidable song after another, including “Shame” and “Utopia” from the new album, and “King Of Swords” and “Wrong” from their debut EP, the band surged forward with supreme volume and purpose. They topped the night off with a surprisingly excellent version of The Stone Roses “I Wanna Be Adored,” half-time and doomy but with all the catchiness of the original.
Though they’ve been around for a few years, this is clearly a new beginning for King Woman. Purposeful and unequivocally powerful as an ensemble, delivering heavy music that is so clearly their own, ready to take on the world, whether it’s ready or not.