A live shot of Caustic Casanova from 2019, courtesy of the band.
w/ Enemy of Magic and Van Buren
I think I first saw Caustic Casanova open for Kylesa, which makes a lot of sense. Both bands have a remarkable practice of male and female vocalists (in this case, the bassist and drummer, respectively) in tandem over aggressive metal riffs and punchy drums. Much like Kylesa, their unison calls ring like proverbs, like prophecy, like the chorus in a Classical Greek drama—omniscient, matter-of-fact, and uncomfortably truthful.
Since then, I make a point of seeing them each time they pass through town. In part, it’s because they are a joy to watch. This is a band that appears to love every minute of what they are doing. They came through St. Louis as a three-piece, with the reedy Jake Kimberley swaying on guitar across from Francis Beringer, who hopped nimbly from one foot to the other, as if tamping his basslines into the ground. Completing the back corner of the triangle was Stefanie Zaenker on drums, who alternated between singing into the mic off her left side and raising her right drumstick in the air before a mighty crash, like a cartoon pitcher winding up on the mound.
More than that, they put this joy to task, functioning as a tight-knit unit, glancing over guitar necks and cymbals to precisely coordinate their carefully orchestrated frenzy. Once upon a time, I had the good fortune to see Mike Patton’s spectacular project Fantômas perform live, and what stuck with me was the precision of communication necessary to pull off such intricate and fast-moving compositions. You can see and hear that type of coordination here. As a listener, it’s thrilling. You’re never quite sure where the sound is going next, but you have complete confidence that they do. Caustic Casanova weaves together churning strings and frenetic tap-dancing drums, reminding of me of the good old days of early Mastodon, plunging forward with a sense of inertia that entrances. I love a band that keeps me on my toes.
Otherwise, it’s hard to put this band into a single box. Their sound cherry picks some choice examples of prog, psych, and metal and pulls one trick out of their pocket after another. After a previous show, I lurked around the merch table to gush about the guitar accents reminding me of Adrian Belew in King Crimson. Sometimes, they lay down the deepest thrumming bass below the screamiest guitar. Other times, it’s a melodic bass groove and spacey guitar, similar to Les Claypool and his collaborators. The evening’s closer, “No Sky July,” nods to “Southbound Pachyderm,” a favorite of Claypool’s recent partner, Sean Lennon. And like any doom metal worth their salt, there’s a healthy dose of Sabbath stoner rock strewn throughout.
I’ve seen them twice now at our gem of a dive bar, The Sinkhole. It sets the perfect scene for the band. The mural backdrop almost matches the vibrant color and style of the amazing artwork accompanying their latest album, God How I Envy the Deaf. And the immense volume bouncing off the walls wraps around you like a sonic blanket (if you forget your earplugs, you should buy some at the bar), perfect for the wending reverb of epic and largely instrumental new songs Caustic Casanova brought on this tour.
A sparse but dedicated (and mostly masked) crowd included some faces I remember from the last show as well as some of the band’s hometown support who travelled for this tour stop. Sandwiching Caustic Casanova were local acts Enemy of Magic (bringing some old school Clutch and hardcore Nails vibes) and the forebodingly sludgy Van Buren, both worth following in their own right.
As much as I would love to see Caustic Casanova garner the larger following they deserve, I won’t be sad to see them again in their native environment: standing on the floor, a too-cheery-colored pit of thorns behind them, familiar faces before them, and all of us screaming along with the final refrain to “Show Some Shame,” which I’ve channeled too many times to be healthy—”Doomed / We are doomed”—all with smizing eyes above our masks. Feels good to have you back, folks. Please come again soon. | Courtney Dowdall