And Then They Were O

08/30/2014

I went to check out the Black Cobra Vipers Thursday night and when I noticed they weren’t on the marquee, I began to panic.  Did I get the dates wrong?  Had the show been canceled, due to calamity, or ineptitude at some level?

As it turned out, the Black Cobra Viper is extinct.  Two days ago, there were three left. Now, they’re O.

I get it. Black Cobra Vipers, to a degree, is a sophomoric name.  It reminds this reporter of basketball superstar Kobe Bryant–the Black Mamba. O’s lead singer/guitarist/ringleader Greg DiMartino and Kobe are both 6’6″, which is slightly notable.

Also, there’s another band from San Francisco called Black Cobra that apparently plays in a genre called sludge metal, which sounds disgusting. They’ve also been around a bit longer and look like they’ve seen some scuffles, so it was fair of the O boys to concede. Like when the Originals renamed themselves the New Originals, but then the Originals changed to the Regulars and the New Originals became the Thamesmen.  It takes time to find a name.

But why O?  Sure, it’s the fifteenth letter of the English alphabet. We inherited it from the Phoenicians for whom it meant “eye.” We use it in moments of joy or after a really good diss, such as “oh yeah” and “ohhhh,” respectively. It is associated with zero, the concept of nothing, and Oxygen, that element we breathe to live. It reminds this reporter of basketball superstar “Big O” Oscar Roberson, who is only 6’5″.

O is a three piece, with DiMartino, Julian Borrego (bass/falsetto vocals) and Rob Mills (drums). The Mills-Borrego rhythm section was tight as a fist and looked like they were having the time of their life. Borrego came on stage wrapped in a colorful blanket and shaggy-haired like he’d just stepped off a time-traveling VW bus, while Mills smacked the skins with precision and appeared to be mid-orgasm the entire time he was drumming–always giving us that O face.

And then there’s DiMartino, who brings the energy of a live James Brown or John Lennon without any of the girls’ urine stink. Not only does his voice–howling, crooning, pleading, growling–command your attention; he performs with the confidence and just the right amount of apathetic insanity any rock n’ roll showman worth his salt can provide. His frenetic guitar parts went all over the place in terms of dynamics and complexity and he played them with a rhythmic looseness that dragged or pushed the band in a way that suited the energy of the room.

O’s new material, mixed with Black Cobra Viper EP songs perfected over two years of touring, rocks harder and darker than before, perhaps symptomatic of the generational transition from “I’m earning my degree” to “oh fuck, what now?” I’ll mention here that the band was also deft at coming on stage wearing layers and shedding them as the show progressed–a nice visual touch.

All in all, O’s debut was an auspicious occasion. They are a young and talented bunch of musicians who write interesting songs and break hearts, and meanwhile I got to drink whiskey in a church. Props are deserved for The Chapel, which hosted O for a three week residency. The venue brought together the holy trinity of friendly staff, great sound and inventive lighting on Thursday night, while the Vestry next door provided all the $4 cans of Tecate and $18 salads my heart desired.

Photos by Gracie Malley