By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Along with fellow late ’80s and early ’90s East Coast heavyweights Monster Magnet and Palm Desert heroes Kyuss, Southern California quartet Fu Manchu helped foster the down-tuned, psychedelic style of heavy stoner rock that rose to popularity during the 1990s and remains influential to this day.
While the Orange County band got it’s start in the mid-1980s as a hardcore punk outfit called Virulence, a number of personnel changes would lead to a shift in sound that incorporated elements of classic rock, metal and proto punk that nodded to everything from Hendrix and Black Sabbath to Blue Cheer and the Stooges. With longtime guitarist Scott Hill taking over on lead vocals shortly after the band changed it’s name to Fu Manchu and released it’s first single in 1990. Hill quickly developed into a commanding frontman, leading the group through the recording of several more singles before they produced their debut album No One Rides For Free in 1994.
Fittingly issued on Bong Load Records, the recording showcase the fiery early line-up featuring longtime drummer Ruben Romano, bassist Mark Abshire and lead guitarist Eddie Glass. While Abshire would be replaced by Brad Davis by the time the group tracked it’s follow-up album Daredevil, Fu Manchu’s nearly constant touring paid off when the band hit it’s stride with the 1996 release of In Search Of…, the band’s first for new label Mammoth Records.
Powered by the enormous fuzzed-out riffs of Hill and Glass on catchy songs like “Asphalt Risin'” and “Regal Beagle,” the album still stands as a bonafide classic of the genre. Though Glass and Romano would depart acrimoniously, reconnecting with Abshire to start the equally potent if more heavily psychedelic power trio Nebula, Fu Manchu landed on its feet with the addition of monster drummer Brant Bjork (who had helped found Kyuss in addition to producing No One Rides For Free) and new guitarist Bob Balch.
The new line-up continued the band’s hit streak into the next century on such fan favorites The Action Is Go, King of the Road and California Crossing. Even after Bjork vacated the drum chair to focus on his own prolific solo career with new drummer Scott Reeder taking over in 2001, Fu Manchu has remained a consistent live draw with tours promoting both new material and the anniversaries of some of the quartet’s classic efforts from the ’90s.
The band’s current tour celebrates their latest acclaimed release, the mammoth riff salvo Clone of the Universe that the band put out on Fu Manchu’s own At the Dojo imprint last spring. While the first half of the album is made up of the kind of tuneful, pulverizing tracks that have become the group’s stock in trade, the second half is filled by the epic 18-minute mostly instrumental epic “Il Mostro Atomico” that features special guest, Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson.
For this return to the Bay Area, Fu Manchu will be joined by regular touring partner and veteran power trio Mos Generator. A force on the Northwestern heavy music scene since the late ’80s, veteran multi-instrumentalist Tony Reed has been leading his current band for nearly two decades.
Though focused on music from an early age, Reed didn’t start playing music and recording his own songs until his early teens growing up in Port Arthur, WA. An omnivorous taste in a wide variety of sounds found him absorbing everything from ’70s classic rock and prog to more modern metal and punk, all of which combined to inform his early band projects, leading up to his first long-term group, Twelve Thirty Dreamtime.
Twisting together strands of SST-informed punk and melodic alternative rock, Reed and a rhythm section made up of Scooter Haslip on bass and Shawn Johnson on drums would build a loyal local cult of fans over the course of a decade, even though they only managed to release a single studio album in 1998. During their existence, Reed also participated in other bands, playing drums and bass in Doug Martsch’s pre-Built To Spill band Treepeople in the early ’90s and drums in the pop-punk band Goodbye Harry a few years later.
After the demise of Twelve Thirty Dreamtime, Reed and his old rhythm section began to get together to play music steeped more in a ’70s hard-rock vein heavily indebted to Black Sabbath. The trio eventually emerged as Mos Generator in 2000, recording a steady output of albums, EPs and split releases that showcased Reed’s knack for catchy yet pulverizing tunes while avoiding the common stoner-rock pitfall of simply recycling Tony Iommi’s riffs. Over the course of the next decade plus, Reed would also found like-minded heavy rock outfit Stone Axe and collaborate on Saint Vitus drummer Henry Valdez’s side project Blood on the Sun, earning him more accolades for his songwriting acumen and ferocious guitar playing.
While Mos Generator would go on hiatus for a few years, the band resurfaced with Reed supported by a new rhythm section featuring bassist Sean Booth and drummer Jono Garrett for the 2014 release Electric Mountain Majesty. Since then, Reed has if anything ramped up his already prolific output, issuing a slew of releases with the band in addition to an impressive string of cover songs with the band paying tribute to well-known inspirations (King Crimson, Van Halen and Kiss) as well as solo recordings of tunes by more obscure touchstones like Boomerang, Highway Robbery and Necromandus featured on his acclaimed collection The Lost Chronicles of Heavy Rock, Vol. 1 that the musician offered up for free download.
A passionate player who literally wears his influences on his sleeves (one arm is inked with the cover of Black Sabbath’s debut album, the other with the cover of In the Court of the Crimson King), the self-professed studio rat has also been recognized for his keen ear and hired for mixing and mastering duties by the likes of doom icons Saint Vitus and rising heavy rock crews including Gozu, Mothership, Red Wizard and Alunah. This past May, Mos Generator released its latest effort and third for Listenable Records entitled Shadowlands. Hailed by some critics as the trio’s most accomplished to date, Shadowlands is likely to end up on plenty of “best of” lists at the end of 2018. The Great American Music Hall hosts this summit of modern hard rock giants on the evening of Election Day.
Fu Manchu with Mos Generator
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m. $16-$18
The Great American Music Hall