Review and photographs by Kirsten Ferguson. See more of Kirsten’s photos from this show here.
They were one of the best local bands of the past decade, but Saratoga County’s stoner-rock trio Small Axe has been mostly dormant since bassist Kelly Murphy and drummer Thom Hall relocated to Central New York a couple of years ago.
They returned last week at Valentine’s Music Hall, showing no signs of rustiness during a set that sounded like vintage Small Axe and included both unrecorded material and songs familiar to the faithful: murky, heavy-riffing tunes with easy-to-catch grooves like “Fight Song,” “Inner Ear,” “Garage Sale” and “My Goat.”
After forming in Buffalo in the early ‘90s, Small Axe went through several lineup-changes before settling on the current permutation, in which Murphy’s wailing vocals and heavy-metal style complement Hall’s hard-hitting drums and vocalist/guitarist D.J. Miller’s mysteriously poetic lyrics and effects-laden, fuzzed-out guitar.
Here’s hoping the group is back for good – or at least playing together a bit more semi-regularly.
Small Axe was bookended by a local band of burgeoning garage punkers, the Pistolwhips, and by the psychedelic noise-rock duo Century Plants, featuring multi-instrumentalists Ray Hare and Eric Hardiman.
Century Plants can shape-shift into any number of forms on any given night, but with the addition of drummer Phil Donnelly here (Hare and Hardiman’s jam-mate in the improvisational collective Burnt Hills), the sonic explorers put aside some of their more esoteric leanings during a hard-driving set of visceral art-rock.