UC Theatre, Berkeley
October 29, 2023
Photos by Raymond Ahner
There are few bands in the metal world with as dynamic and broad of a sound as Baroness, who brought their high-energy music to the UC Theatre in Berkeley on Sunday night as part of their Sweet Oblivion Tour. While most metal bands are content to chug through heavily distorted guitar riffs, Baroness have a much broader sonic palette, with plenty of clean-toned guitar lines and melodic vocals.
This was clear during the opening song, “Last Word” from the band’s recently-released album Stone. The piece began with a couple of heavy distorted guitar riffs before opening up into a clean-toned verse with lead singer/guitarist John Baizley soaring over top, with plenty of interlocking guitar lines. Another aspect that sets Baroness apart are the backing vocals of lead guitarist Gina Gleason, who provides the perfect counterpoint to Baizley’s booming low-end.
Next up, Baroness ripped through one of their old classics in the form of “A Horse Called Golgotha” from their 2009 album Blue Record. The song began with a catchy guitar intro before opening up into a full-throated rocker anchored by drummer Sebastian Thomson’s frenetic beats and fills. It’s during these older songs that you can clearly tell how far Baizley has progressed as a vocalist, with his booming baritone having much more clarity and power than during the formative stages of the band in the mid-2000s.
A few songs later, the band brought out another new track, the multi-part epic “Beneath the Rose,” which began at breakneck speed before settling into a mid-tempo stomp over which Baizley belted out a spoken-word style verse before the song opened up into another soaring chorus. The song finished with a delicate twin-guitar harmony before picking up into a slamming outro that reprised the chugging riff from the song’s intro.
In between songs Baizley thanked the audience for the continued support and told stories about previous times the band had played in the Bay Area, including an early show at the infamous Richmond hardcore/metal venue The Burnt Ramen.
Another standout song from the show was the sprawling “Chlorine & Wine,” a 6-plus minute piece that began with some delicate keyboard work from bassist Nick Jost before the rest of the band came in with a stately melody, and then cranking up the distortion and the tempo. Eventually the song concluded with an epic dual-guitar solo from Gleason and Baizley, ending things on a high note.
To close out the main portion of their set, Baroness played one of their older songs, the sludgy groove of “Isak” from their debut record Red Album. With a seemingly-endless stream of catchy riffs stacked one on top of each other, the song built up to a furious conclusion as the band walked off stage, only to return a few minutes later for a two-song encore.
The encore consisted of the thunderous groove of “The Sweetest Curse” and the rollicking “Take My Bones Away,” two fan-favorite tracks that really got the crowd involved, with plenty of people taking to the mosh pit that had formed in the middle of the floor.
Baroness still remain one of the best live acts in the metal world, with their vast sonic palette working very well on stage. If Sunday night was any indication, things are just getting started for the band as they embark on another torrid touring schedule playing at a very high level.
Setlist: Last Word | A Horse Called Golgotha | March to the Sea | Beneath the Rose | Magnolia | War, Wisdom and Rhyme | Anodyne | Chlorine & Wine | Morningstar | Tourniquet | Shock Me | Isak || Encore || The Sweetest Curse | Take My Bones Away