Harvey Milk/Ilsa/Oak/The Pilgrim

By Chris Dahlberg

Published on Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Harvey Milk has always been one of those bands that I’ve known about but never really listened to. The noise/experimental rock group first gained prominence in the early 1990’s and after three full length albums disbanded, only to return in 2006. Since that time they have been touring regularly and one of their latest stops was at the Ottobar in Baltimore, MD. I figured that one of the best ways to learn more about them and their material was to experience them live, so I headed out to check out the performance.

Joining Harvey Milk were three local bands, two of which I was already familiar with. However, the first band The Pilgrim was one I had not heard of before. From what I could tell all of the members in the group are involved with other acts in the local scene, as a number of them looked familiar. The Pilgrim is a psychedelic/heavy rock band from Baltimore that plays fairly lengthy songs and has some absolutely killer riffs. Their set was a great way to get the evening started off and the decent sized crowd that was beginning to form seemed to be eating up every groove that the instrumentalists had to offer. Lead singer Mis Zill has a great voice and is able to soar over the rest of the music in order to really grab your attention. The Pilgrim certainly seemed like a perfect fit for this type of show and the crowd certainly seemed to agree, and I was left not only wanting more but wondering why I hadn’t been exposed to them yet. It seems as though they’re playing fairly frequently as there are a couple of upcoming shows listed on their Facebook page (including an opening slot for Serpent Throne), so if you’re in the Baltimore/Washington DC area I’d recommend trying to check them out.

I had seen Oak a few weeks back opening for Earth, and they left a strong impression on me. Based on the chatter of the crowd it seems as though people tend to either have a favorable or negative impression of these guys with no in between, and this isn’t that surprising considering their drone influences and free-form nature (but I still dig them). As they took the stage, the singer asked the venue if they could turn the lights down until there was only light illuminating them and then launched into their set. The darkness definitely suits a band like Oak, as it gives the music the chance to watch over you and puts you into an altered state of mind. What I immediately noticed was that the group seems to adjust their set list to suit the particular show that they are on, as while the Earth show featured a number of drone interludes this set was almost all death/doom and the instrumentalists and vocalist did not let up their assault until they were finished. It was a hypnotic experience and it seemed as though the vocals were even more prominent this time around, despite the fact that the singer always keeps his back turned to the audience. Out of the two times I have seen Oak this one was my favorite as the extremely loud death/doom combination hit extremely hard and seems to have something different to offer with each performance.

Next up was Washington D.C.’s Ilsa, a death/doom/sludge band. I found their sophomore full length to be a heavy hitting release with some great riffs but it was admittedly a little repetitive, and I was looking forward to seeing how it translated live. Although Oak had given a fairly loud performance it seemed as though things went up another notch with Ilsa, as their noisy, chaotic riffs bounced around the room at a very high volume. The group’s recordings definitely reflect their live sound note for note as the riffs are rock solid and vocalist Orion screams and growls so strongly that one has to wonder how he doesn’t lose his voice immediately afterwards. While you can never predict how the crowd will react to a group, it seemed as though most of the people in attendance were into this band as there were plenty of people head banging to the music. While I still feel that the songs do sound a little similar to each other after an extended period of time, having the members of the band in front of you and feeding off their energy makes them feel a lot more interesting live. They aren’t my favorite local act just yet but they’ve got quite a bit of talent and as they continue to develop further it seems likely that they could become quite influential a little ways down the road. Ilsa’s been jumping on all sorts of different shows recently, from big venues to small basements, but I’m not sure if they’ve made it out of the Washington D.C./Baltimore area just yet so you may still have to be local to catch them live.

Finally it was time for Harvey Milk to take the stage, and while I hadn’t thought it was possible for the bands to get any louder it seems as though the volume had almost tripled from before. These guys play as loud as they can, and it reminded me of the time I saw Torche in Washington D.C. and was blown away by the volume. The best way to describe Harvey Milk is quirky and proficient and I’ll explain why that is. Quirky fits the group because not does vocalist/guitarist Creston Spiers take shots of whisky in between each song, and randomly gesture at the audience, but the other members all make fun of each other when there is downtime. But at the same time they still manage to give a hell of a performance, as once the band starts they might play for a good 20 minutes or so before they stop again. Their sound reminds me of a mix between slow, super heavy Melvins material and classic rock that has some groovy guitar solos and it was extremely fun to listen and watch them play. Admittedly it was a little hard to hear Creston Spiers sing at times and it seemed as though he was struggling to get all the notes out, but based on the couple of recorded songs I’ve heard from the group this seems as though it should be expected. There was a fairly large crowd gathered to watch them, and while it wasn’t a sold out show or anything it was proof that the band still has quite a bit of a cult following who eat up all of the riffs and quirkiness that Harvey Milk has to offer. They don’t seem like the kind of band that would be for everyone, so you may want to do what I did and look up a song or two first to see if you think they would be appealing. But I definitely left the Ottobar with a favorable impression, and it may be time to seek out some of their recorded material to see if it lives up to their live performance.


Harvey Milk- http://www.myspace.com/harveymilk
Ilsa- http://www.myspace.com/ilsadc
Oak- http://www.a389records.com
The Pilgrim- http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Pilgrim/330039242605

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