The Warlocks Leave Phil Wise and Johnny Cowering In Fear
To fully engage in the particular voodoo of the Warlocks, you must be high as a kite, or at least 8 feet tall. That’s the realization Phil Wise and I came to on Saturday night at Chicago’s Double Door, as we took in the Warlocks: bassist/vocalist Bobby Hecksher, four guitarists, two drummers, and enough drug-rock vibe to fuel the acid flashbacks of ten men.
I don’t want anything to do with the giant that stood in front of Wise and me. He made the music scarier, all Elvis-style sunglasses in the dark, smoky club. Onstage, the Warlocks whipped their mojo into a slowly boiling frenzy, with the woven sound of four guitar players nodding their heads along with their beat, committed to that moment in each song when the beat would break and the fuzz would fly right in. Each Warlocks number had this moment, this apex, when the song would kick open the doors of conference rooms nationwide and spill all over the tables inside. Let’s fog up some windows, baby. We’ve heard this sort of evil before – the Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, Spiritualized, even Brian Jonestown Massacre (which briefly featured Hecksher in their lineup). It’s not the new style by any means. But that doesn’t mean the band’s two drummers won’t make your head swim. Especially if your head resides 8 feet in the air, like the fellow in front of Phil and me.
It was crazy, and everyone around us knew it. The giant seemed nice enough. It’s just that, at that moment, inside that club, with the Warlocks freaking the fuzz onstage, this enormous, leather-clad longhair furthered the effect that the band laid out. It reminded me of Lollapalooza 1993, when Jane’s Addiction brought out the stiltwalking puppets for their encore. (Was it “Three Days”? Can’t remember…) As the spooky marionettes did their thing, Jane’s banged away in sonic freakout heaven. Which is a place that the Warlocks spend a fair amount of time.
On Saturday night, they transformed the Double Door creepy funhouse hall of mirrors. The Tallest Man In The World stood resolute, the drug-rock Gheorghe Muresan just digging the crazy beat of the band. I kept expecting a centaur to walk in and order an orange whip. Because even if you’re not on drugs, the Warlocks will still make you feel like you should be.
Imagine the middle section of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Add another Bonham, and cross your eyes so you see Jimmy Page in triple. Then put a thrift-store copy of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother on the turntable. Finally, invite the scary people that lurk on street corners in the bad part of your town over to drink all of your beer and grind cigarettes into your brand new chaise lounge. Do all of this, and you’re close to the vibe coming off of the Warlocks.
Phil Wise and I didn’t get a chance to ask our tall friend what he thought about the band Saturday night; we wondered if he knew that his presence at the show made it that much better for us. But as we left the club, dizzy, we imagined the guy walking home down the alley, Elvis shades still on in the dark. And we thought about the Warlocks, stopping their van at a truckstop somewhere out on I-80, piling out of it to buy Slim Jims and bottles of Jolt. You’ll run into the tall guy as he’s walking down the alley – your headlights will catch him and you’ll freak out for a second until you realize he’s just a guy, walking down the alley, being really tall. And the clerk at that truckstop, out on I-80? He’ll cower a bit when Hecksher and his merry men glide like ghouls into the bright lights of the store. He’ll feel safe only after that van’s taillights fade into the night. The Warlocks (and the tall guy) do that to you. They leave an afterimage; they leave tracks in your mind.