Last night, the German band Samsara Blues Experiment brought their loud, heavy psychedelia to Auckland's Whammy Bar, the first of their New Zealand shows. With support from local band Bloodnut, and Hamilton’s Arc of Ascent. The night was loud and surprisingly groovy for a set of bands with such detuned instruments and slow-tempo doom influences.
Bloodnut began their set nervously, understandably given they were playing to a sparse Whammy on a Monday night. They packed a groove thanks to drummer Isaac Blake Tansley's tight drumming, and after facing some technical difficulties with their guitar sound, they picked up the pace. New song Clean Green Yeah Right blew the steadily growing crowd away and it became evident that not only could these guys really play, but that song had a killer riff.
Bloodnut tore through their set quickly, playing classic ginger Viking-themed songs such as Fire Giant; as well as songs from their 2017 album St. Ranga such as Red Dead Riders, a song about having “no business being cowboys;” and the song Burning Bush, for which the band asked Jessica Paton from the band Slumbug to join them on stage as a guest vocalist. Other highlights of Bloodnut’s set were moments where singer Doug McFarlane’s sense of humour showed through his lyricism. Their song The Space Orangutan about an ape God featured the great line: “Your imaginary deity is no more powerful than ours.”
After a short break and a steady stream of crowd continuing to fill the small venue, Arc of Ascent took to the stage. At this point you could film a L'Oreal commercial in here with all the Nordic Viking haircuts. The band wordlessly jumped into their set with effortless confidence. Feedback screamed from the monitor – pause - they turned to each other and subtly nodded. The feedback screamed again and they launched into their first song. I could feel the air hit my leg projected from the PA next to me with each drum hit. Mark McGeady hit those drums hard, that ride cymbal was not designed to be bashed but he made it sound so appealing. The Guitarist, Matt Cole-Baker, was calm and decided by contrast, his restrained solos drowned in reverb and filled out the band’s sound. Craig Williamson on bass and vocals was a nice balance between those two energies, he focused unmovingly while he sang, but grooved around when just on bass.
Williamson raised his hand on cue, causing more feedback to shoot from the guitar amp, the band seemed to use feedback as an instrument, as icing on the cake of their psychedelic stoner doom sound. At one point the drummer’s crash cymbal fell to the floor and no one was surprised.
Samsara Blues Experiment are a three piece – the third three-piece on this evening. The band was founded in 2007 by singer/guitarist Christian Peters, with Hans Eiselt playing bass guitar and Thomas Vedder on the drums. They play an eclectic but surprisingly cohesive mix of stoner rock, prog, psychedelic blues, Indian raga, folk music, and doom metal.
The Samsara Blues Experiment looked how their music sounded: Quirky, offbeat, but with a presence that was undeniable. Swirling white noise blew out of the PA and a hush fell over the still growing crowd – and they were off! When not yelling like Rammstein, Peters adopted a strangely poetic, almost spoken word style of singing that floated over the spacy sounds of their music. He showed a great mastery on his guitar, with Indian raga having a clear and interesting influence on the scales the band used. Midway through the third song, a guitar string broke, but Peters took it completely in stride and effortlessly bypassed every note he'd have to play on that string while soloing away.
Their next song began with the grooviest bass line and drum beat I've heard in years – which turned out to just be Eiselt and Vedder improvising while Christian restrung and tuned. Throughout their set it became clear how they wrote songs. They picked an idea – a riff, a groove – and built on it until you’re locked in, then they change it up. A sudden change of tempo, or time signature, or bursting into jungle drums. The crowd cheered, heads bobbing in unison. The German 3-piece played for an hour and a half.
Relentless, yet leaving so much space to breathe... Samsara Blues Experiment was one of the most entertaining performances I’ve seen in terms of pure musicianship.
Radio 13 thanks and credits Maisy McLeod-Riera for all the photographs in this article.