By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Celebrated early ’90s noise-rock band Cherubs has been back together making music since 2014, but Friday will mark the band’s first return visit to San Francisco in over 25 years when they play the Bottom of the Hill.
While the group only managed two proper albums during their brief initial existence — plus a posthumous compilation of singles and rarities — the caustic, cathartic music made by Cherubs cast a long shadow. Founded in the musical hotbed of Austin, Texas, in 1991 by former Ed Hall drummer Kevin Whitley (who switched to guitar and vocals), bassist/singer Owen McMahon and drummer Brent Prager, the trio established a furious, hectic sound that nodded to established contemporaries like the Jesus Lizard, Unsane and Cows but still managed to tuck away some catchy melodies amid the noise.
Before they had even played in public, the trio was signed to local label Trance Syndicate Records, an imprint run by Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey. In 1992, the band issued its debut album Icing to solid reviews, even garnering airplay for the single “Pink Party Dessert” by legendary BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel while Cherubs made a name for themselves with live shows played at clubs around Austin and abroad.
The band released a handful of singles for Trance Syndicate and other labels before returning to the studio to track their sophomore effort. Inspired by the overdose death of a friend, their second album Heroin Man featured grim artwork and equally dark subject matter that matched the violent, distorted sludge of the music. Sadly, a fight between band members led to the trio splitting up just prior to the 1994 release of the record that would help solidify Cherubs’ reputation as one of the great bands of the era that came to an end far too soon.
Trance Syndicate would eventually put out a compilation of rare tracks and outtakes called Short of Popular in 1996, but there was little reason to think Cherubs would be heard from again. After the band dissolved, members would leave Austin and the music industry behind them, though McMahon had a stint as the touring bass player for Butthole Surfers during the mid-1990s. But the legend of the band would grow as people shared music from the increasingly rare copies of the Cherubs’ albums. Original copies of the band’s
It wasn’t until circumstances brought the three musicians back to the Texas town after 2010 that members seriously considered a reunion, spurred by a revival of interest in noise-rock both from modern bands citing Cherubs as an influence and successful revival tours by the Jesus Lizard and that band’s Austin-based predecessor Scratch Acid. Spurred by the 2013 tribute album Everybody’s Dead Before They Leave and covers by newer acts like Red Fang, Cherubs reconvened and recorded their first new songs in over two decades for their Brutal Panda Records effort 2 Ynfynyty that was issued to universal praise in 2015.
Packed with brutal, tuneful tracks like pummeling opener “Sandy on the Beach” and “Evil May Acre,” the album confirmed that, despite the intervening years, Cherubs had lost none of their visceral power and knack for mixing sludgy noise with indelible hooks. Though the band did not tour extensively, Cherubs managed a number of brief jaunts and festival appearances. The band would release the Fist in the Air EP in 2016, followed by limited vinyl reissues of Heroin Man and Short of Popular last year. This past spring, the trio announced it had signed a new deal with noted metal label Relapse Records and issued their latest collection Immaculada High this past summer to another round of well-deserved critical accolades.
The band makes a long overdue Bay Area appearance this Friday, headlining the Bottom of the Hill to showcase songs from that blistering Relapse release. Also appearing will be Cherubs’ current tour partners Low Dose, a quartet that features all three former members of the late, lamented Philadelphia noise-punk crew Fight Amp teaming up with vocalist/guitarist Itarya Rosenberg (ex-Legendary Divorce). Oakland punk duo Shutups opens the show. On Saturday, Cherubs and Low Dose will play the Blue Lamp in Sacramento.
Cherubs with Low Dose and Shutups
Friday, Oct. 4, 8:30 p.m. $15
Bottom of the Hill