This is no exaggeration: there was a moment when Kevin McKeown moved so quickly between the strobe lights that I screamed like a jump-out scene in a horror movie had just gotten me good. He was way over on the left side of the stage and then one flash of light later, he was centimeters away shredding – on his late-90s seafoam green Epiphone Casino guitar, at that moment – in a state of intense focus beneath his dripping dark hair. McKeown wasn’t just dashing around quickly as he tore through his solos, but bending backwards until he hit the ground, using Eric Owen’s bass drum as a diving board, and leaping so high in the air that it wasn’t even clear where he might land. And if you know Black Pistol Fire, you know he wasn’t even doing anything especially crazy; that’s just what he does. That’s how they put on a show.
The Brooklyn audience was in a pleasant mood early on; right before Black Pistol Fire, fellow Austin-based rocker Emily Wolfe played an impressive eight-song set that got them moving. Her seasoned guitar work and full vocals were on fire on songs from her new self-titled debut – plus a sick cover of Motörhead’s “Ace Of Spades” that had many in the room shouting along. “Ooh. I’ve been waiting to come to New York for so long,” she told everyone pressed up against the stage at MHOW. Wolfe’s solos were well backed by her band and really sizzled, and she did a great job satiating Brooklyn before the much-loved headliners. Some fans up front even scrambled to tear her setlist off the stage for a souvenir.
When Black Pistol Fire walked on in the dark, Owen was shirtless before he’d touched the drums, and McKeown looked like he was already figuring out ways to escape the intimate stage. Clearly holding nothing back, the Austin-based duo (originally from Toronto, Canada) cooked up their trademark brew of hardened blues rock, which always sounds inexplicably bigger and wilder than just two people. They’re a band we’ve loved covering over the years, because, as much as you can trust they’ll put on a savage set, you never know how it’s all going to go down. Adding to the suspense, it was such a pitch-black show at MHOW that sometimes the droplets of McKeown’s sweat hitting your skin were the first thing you felt before you realized he was right by your face – or flying over your head.
Black Pistol Fire treated their surprisingly-moshy Brooklyn fans to a heavy setlist including some of their very best stuff. The friends (since kindergarten) have been good and busy over the years; their discography already has too many favorites to fit into one show. But they lit the fuse with none other than “Suffocation Blues,” one of their biggest oh-fuck-wow songs, and one that began with Owen beating up his set in the crowd-pleasing storm of motion made up of his ever-blurry sticks and long hair. The irresistibly-unwinding “Lost Cause” made an early appearance too and really made the Brooklyn crowd freak out. “Speak of the Devil” – in which McKeown sings “You won’t see me cry!” in his husky blues-rock timbre – made excellent use of his Placid Audio Copperphone mic, sounding fantastic even before he started triggering suggestive whistles and squeals with his solo. As McKeown ripped through it ferociously – having switched to his pelham blue Gibson Firebird – he pushed one of his crazy backbends so far that he was abruptly lying flat on the stage. Then he began kicking the air as if there was an upside-down bike floating over his body.
After fans initiated an extended chant of “Eric! Eric! Eric!” in praise of the drummer’s evocative sound, the seasoned pair dove into “Bully.” McKeown hardly even bothered to “Ohh-oh, oh-oh oh-oh,” because the crowd was covering that part so loudly all the way through, which often made him smile between expressions of satisfaction. We learned just how cool recently-released single “Level” sounds live (very), and even heard some brand new songs from Black Pistol Fire’s forthcoming album (learn more about it in our pre-show interview, coming soon to P&W). We also got to see them whip up “Run Rabbit Run” with pure-rock prowess, McKeown harnessing the energy of Owen’s raging drums and crashing symbols as he crushed the song’s catchy verses and licks. All the while, his body twisted and thrusted like the rock and roll had possessed him. The beautiful noises they produced melted together like wax as they somehow covered all of the parts of a much larger band.
“You know I don’t take enough time to do this once in a while, so I’ll do it,” said McKeown. “I just want to say how grateful we are that people come out and dig what we do. Thank you so much. We started out playing in Eric’s mom’s basement…and we were playing shit like…” he started playing Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” and cracking up, Owen joining in on both fronts as the crowd squealed. “I can’t remember!” McKeown said when they actually reached the lyrics, laughter filling the room along with his. “Something about an icebox – something like that. Anyway, long story short,” he said at his usual auctioneer speed. “We’re insanely grateful that we get to do this, make music, and that you all dig it. Thank-ya-so-much!”
Black Pistol Fire even treated Brooklyn to their awesome cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” which they teased with the first verse of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” delivered in McKeown’s rugged, rapid style. It was only when fans were begging for that encore – in a sweaty, desperate burst of screams – that Owen snuck up to the mic to reveal that it was McKeown’s birthday pretty soon, getting the crowd to wish him a happy one on the count of three. The guitarist brushed off all the cheering with a big grin and responded with, “I’m getting too old for this shit!” Not likely at all based upon that crowd dive, and the air McKeown got while taking flight from Owen’s drum set.
Dragging his mic across his strings and grinding it into the frets, McKeown abused his guitar with a rapturous look in his eyes before tossing his pick out into the crowd. Before they both disappeared, Owen followed suit and gave away his battered Vic Firth MS1 Corpsmaster (marching snare) drumsticks. I can attest that one of them is safely preserved, though after that show, you can’t touch it without making the splintered hickory disintegrate a little bit more each time.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley