The Garage is open

Following a number of visits from the fire marshal, the Capitol Garage now can hold regular shows again, with a posted room capacity of 150. The small all-ages venue had been chafing under local laws, newly enforced in the wake of the Great White fire in Rhode Island that killed 99. Capitol Garage’s previous capacity, 84, included band members, guests, staff, security and concertgoers; a rigid enforcement of that number drove the cover charges up markedly.

Last Saturday’s Capitol Garage show marked the return of Sacramento’s Hella, along with Relapse Records act High On Fire, which played locally for the first time. The Bay Area-based trio just completed a short mini-tour with Motörhead and the Dwarves and is doing a couple of shows during May to keep its chops up.

From the opening “Nemesis” to the crushing closer, a cover of Venom’s “Witching Hour,” vocalist and guitarist Matt Pike proved exactly why High On Fire—just like his former sludge-rock band Sleep—has garnered fervent critical acclaim recently.

Most of the material was drawn from the band’s latest release, Surrounded by Thieves; High on Fire also played a new, unreleased track. During its interpretation of Celtic Frost’s “The Usurper,” introduced by Pike as a song for black-metal fans, it was hard to find an audience member without his or her teeth clenched, hands doing the universal metal “devil-horns” sign, or who wasn’t causing some kind of ruckus.

The rhythm section was no chump act, either. Drummer Des Kensel laid down a ferocious percussive undercurrent against bassist George Rice, which had virtually everyone in attendance headbanging in unison.

It wasn’t until the caffeine-injected set from Hella that the audience realized just how much energy it didn’t have. Drummer Zach Hill—whose long list of side projects includes work with Primus’ Les Claypool and members of Dillinger Escape Plan, Deerhoof and Team Sleep—made everyone tired just from watching the syncopated bass-drum patterns slamming headlong against his trashed amalgam of broken cymbals and guitarist Spencer Seim’s incessant guitar lines.

If the caliber of the night’s show was any indication of things to come, the all-ages Capitol Garage should assume its rightful place alongside such San Francisco staples as Bottom of the Hill and Slim’s in no time. Bands are stopping in the River City and drawing crowds once again without being hemmed in by the constraints of overzealous city officials. The Garage’s calendar is filled for May, June, July and beyond, so you have no reason to stay home.

Hella will release an EP on Suicide Squeeze on June 10, a reissue of the release already available on 12-inch vinyl, and High On Fire is preparing for a possible King Diamond tour and a new October release.