When a band have been through as much as Baroness, it’s tempting to examine everything they do in unnaturally forensic detail, looking for hidden meanings in every song or decision.
So when the intro music to this combustible live show turns out to be Basil Poledouris’ prologue from Conan The Barbarian, a 1982 film that starts with Nietzsche’s quote, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” it’s logical to assume the tour bus crash that so traumatised the band in 2012 still informs much of what they do today. This is borne out on new album Purple, a collection as uplifting as it is brutal, and one that almost screams catharsis. Tonight’s performance relies on it heavily – all nine tracks get an airing – while the stage lights change colour to reflect each particular song’s source.
The set follows a pattern throughout, with melancholy instrumental introductions followed by periods of ecstatic, explosive release as the riffs crank into gear. All the songs feel like they have a purpose, racing to triumphant, transcendent conclusions. Conversely, John Baizley’s between-song communication is almost introverted, the gaps punctuated by the occasional polite “thank you” and “glad to be here”. There’s no milking the moment – just momentum. This is a night with a fierce trajectory.
It’s also a set studded with highlights. Purple’s opening track Shock Me, which is euphoric enough to end most band’s live shows, is casually slotted in early. If I Have To Wake Up (Would You Stop The Rain?), a power ballad played out over scattergun jazz rhythms, is stunning. The epic, swelling Eula from the Yellow & Green album, with its eerily prescient ‘When my bones begin to break’ line, is both harrowing and exultant, while a thundering version of March To The Sea is almost intoxicatingly exciting.
Best of all is Chlorine & Wine. It starts off with some gently noodling, Mark Knopfler-esque guitar before slowly unwinding towards the stratosphere, transported aloft by Peter Adams’ delightfully Lizzy-tinged solos. There’s a palpable sense that the band’s brush with death has given them new life – or at least a greater appreciation of life itself – and that every moment onstage is one to be celebrated and savoured.
If there’s any criticism, it’s that it can sometimes get a little earnest amid all the jubilation – imagine a prog metal version of New Model Army bellowing out impassioned, chest-thumping prose – but it’s a tiny quibble, and any time Baizley’s lyrics threaten to get bogged down in sincerity, the music is on hand to provide a genuinely uplifting escape route. Defiant, dominant and full of heart.