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LIVE REPORT: Pentagram
Tristan Bath , September 11th, 2014 07:53

Heading to The Garage in Islington, London, Tristan Bath enjoys a night with the "street Sabbath"

Photo by Metal Chris

On the street, the leather jackets, dodgy beards, sleeveless denim jackets and matted long hair steadily grow in frequency with every minute's walk towards Highbury corner. Pentagram are in town, which means Bobby Liebling's faithful flock are to gather at The Garage, in what is an increasingly fringe ritual in the city of London: the metal gig. The legend of Pentagram adds particular weight to the occasion, pushing the band's fans into rapturous shrieking, fist-pumping joy at even the slightest whiff of singer Bobby Liebling's presence. Beside having been around for a very, very long time, Pentagram are a very modern phenomenon.

Though word of mouth undoubtedly pushed up the numbers in the audience, it's technology, and the internet that've not only revived the dormant Pentagram, but propelled them from local fringe legends back in Virginia, to internationally renowned touring act. It all attests to the gentle power of Last Days Here, the 2011 documentary detailing the story of friends (and fans) of troubled, drug-addicted Pentagram main man, Bobby Liebling, helping him sort out his life, get back to music, and realise the never-reached potential of Pentagram. Besides being a pretty eye-wateringly beautiful tale of dedication, friendship and selfless support from Liebling's long-suffering friends and family, the movie shoved Pentagram's sizeable body of anthemic proto-metal tunes before an eager listening audience. Tunes like 'Sign Of The Wolf', '20 Buck Spin' and 'Be Forewarned' are simply impossibly good rock songs, combining the heaviness of Sabbath with a distinctly seventies power pop melodicism. The audience don't grimace - they grin - and every chorus is met with hundreds of voices singing along at the top of their lungs.

Bobby Liebling's current band comprise Greg Turley and Sean Saley on bass and drums (both of whom, my friend declares, "look like Fred Durst...or undercover cops trying to look like Fred Durst") and one of Liebling's longest serving collaborators, powerhouse guitarist Rick Griffin. Griffin's been playing with Pentagram since the early 80s, writing and co-writing much of the belated first Pentagram album put out in '85, and dropping in and out the band ever since. Liebling's got the most draw, but Rick Griffin is the keystone to Pentagram's live success. Dwarfing the skinny Liebling, Griffin chugs out every riff effortlessly, metal gurning his way through every tune, and contributing face melting solos of bluesy shred into almost every tune. The back and forth between Liebling's antics and Griffin's six-string histrionics keep Pentagram's dozen or so songs in the same doomy format from stifling, and the higher-energy, thrashier tunes penned by Griffin during the 80s such as 'Relentless' (most of Liebling's finer songs still date back to the early-70s) provide some of the gig's most synchronised headbanging from all in attendance.

The second Liebling steps out on stage, the room pretty much explodes. After all these years he's still wearing the same effeminate shirts, still staggering under the power of the rock, and still blessed with that same incredible voice - part Ozzy, part siren, part hobo. Seconds into the Griffin-penned opener, 'Too Late', Liebling's already acting the man possessed, bulging out his eyes demonically, making love to that mic stand like a lifer at a conjugal visit. Picking from the killer Pentagram catalogue - and throwing in a new song for good measure - it's a masterful set. They know what we want, and come back out for an encore of 'Be Forewarned' and '20 Buck Spin'. The former's a real fucking epic, undoubtedly Pentagram's greatest legacy, and with the knowledge of Liebling's documented troubles, the take no prisoner lyrics fully hit home like no other could pull off: "Lord I've lived on the dark side of the moon / And I've been to the heart of the sun / I've gone to bed with many ladies / Killed many men, before my sixteenth year was done". The near-funky riffage of '20 Buck Spin' twists the most archetypal sort of Black Sabbath tune into something more swaggeringly American, living up to the band's original remit as a 'street Sabbath'.

The best thing about the gig is the same thing as every metal gig - it's the people. From the overcrowded queue for the merch stand, to the omnipresent sign of the horn, to the actual chants of "Pentagram! Pentagram!" after they head off stage before the encore, these are real fans. No other crowd really believe in the power of the music quite so much as the metalheads, and it's exhilarating. Every riff is met with a "yeah!", every chorus with a singalong, and every solo with eyes shut in reverence. They couldn't be more excited if Freddie Mercury came back from the dead and reunited Queen in their living room, and it gives the medium-sized Garage the powerful atmosphere of a sold out stadium. Metal is the last bastion with real faith and admiration in its heroes, and with living legends like Pentagram still putting on shows like these, it's easy to believe.