Narrow Head Hit Like A Comet At Oblivion Access

Andrea Escobar

Narrow Head Hit Like A Comet At Oblivion Access

Andrea Escobar

It’s hot. That’s all anyone can talk about. The second that you step outside in Austin this week, you feel like a used dishrag. The heat suffuses your entire being; it’s like a miasmic blob has swallowed you. A hot day in Texas is not exactly a stop-the-presses event, but even the people who live in Austin seem unmoored by the constant sauna-blast sensation of the current climate. That heat is not pleasant, but it has its upsides. In a hot enough room, full of enough moving bodies, a live show can start to feel like a psychotropic experience. And psychotropic experiences suit Narrow Head just fine.

Last night, on the first night of the Oblivion Access Festival, Texan shoegazers Narrow Head headlined an indoor bill of what I guess you could call Southern psychedelia. Austin doom-drone duo Deep Cross came off like a band formed specifically to remind the world that Lemmy used to be in Hawkwind; I thought they were awesome. Mississippi freaks MSPAINT played bugged-out synth-addled post-punk with hardcore intensity; my colleague Ryan Leas and I both fucking loved them. But the big draw was Narrow Head, a Houston band who plays a crucial role in the much-discussed heavy shoegaze boom.

Narrow Head are a big deal everywhere, but they seem to be an especially big deal in this neck of the woods. The band has been around for a solid decade, and they’re three albums deep into an impeccable discography. Narrow Head’s members have roots in metal and hardcore. They often share stages with hardcore bands, and frontman Jacob Duarte and drummer Carson Wilcox still play in Skourge, the Houston thrashers who put out one of this year’s most awesomely ugly albums. But Narrow Head’s sound is searching, contemplative, and sometimes actively pretty. They bang out towering riffs and hands-to-the-sky choruses, and they’re forthright about their influences: My Bloody Valentine, Swervedriver, the Smashing Pumpkins. In recent years, a whole Texan shoegaze scene has built up around Narrow Head’s example.

When you see Narrow Head live, the band’s lush textures are still there, but they’re only part of the show. In person, the heavy parts from Narrow Head records sound way, way heavier. Sometimes, their energetic riff-churn moves beyond Hum levels and into the Deftones zone. In certain moments, they move even deeper, into the Alice In Chains realm. The members of Narrow Head don’t seem too concerned about mystique; I’m pretty sure that three of the five members were wearing trucker hats through at least part of last night’s set. But when you’re jammed into a suffocatingly hot and crowded room, when they’re cranking out these riffs and abstract colored lights are shining on them, the Narrow Head guys start to look like titans.

Narrow Head rock. That might not be incisive criticism, but that’s my big takeaway from their live show. They’ve got big, sick riffs and bone-deep satisfying hooks, and they know how to set a room off. On record, Narrow Head’s tracks don’t come across as mosh music. In person, with guttural-blurt metallic backing vocals and rock-out codas that hit like hardcore breakdowns, the equation changes. Last night’s crowd didn’t exactly turn Narrow Head’s set into a Hatebreed show — it was too hot for all that — but it did get a pretty decent push-mosh situation going. It must be hazardous to stagedive for a band with this many effects pedals, but crowd chaos only caused one malfunction last night.

When Narrow Head show up, they come to play. At a multi-venue festival like Oblivion Access — even one that’s devoted to louder and cultier extreme-music outlier types — it can be tough to command a room. Even revived slowcore obsession Duster, playing their first-ever Texas show, had to deal with a certain level of conversational noise from the people at the back of the room who were only half-paying attention. That’s not a problem for Narrow Head. Narrow Head rock too hard for that.

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