Harvey Milk, Black Skies, Pontiak

Local 506, Chapel Hill

Friday, Feb. 27

Harvey Milk is a band to feel live more than see: Sure ,the unassuming trio, in its old jeans and novelty T-shirts (singer/guitarist Creston Spiers’ read “Lord of the Strings”), was animated and personable on stage Friday, cracking smiles and spreading surprising affability from its Local 506 pulpit.

But it was hardly a visual spectacle. Then the music started, and it became clear why Black Skies frontman Kevin Clark, amid a tuning break, hurried his bandmates along: “Come on, we’ve got a show to see.” His sentiment echoed that of a growing audience, all eager to hear Harvey Milk.

For a full hour, the Athens-born weird-metal institution trudged its way through a career-spanning set. A few hundred headsall nodding involuntarily to the band’s deep, rumbling pulsecast their eyes to the stage. Chests rattled with the force of the amplifiers. The tandem of Harvey Milk’s down-tuned, start-stop sturm und drang and frontman Creston Spiers’ cavernous moan mines blues and drone, creating an impossibly weighty sound, a baptism in tone and volume. Milk’s deliberate pacing and loud-quiet-silent-louder dynamic made its performancesave for cuts from The Pleaser, which Spiers declared “our rock album”hard to describe as a rock show. The structural elements of the songs didn’t fit the norm. Still, the feeling was the same.

The tar-thick heaviness of Harvey Milk proved an ideal counterpoint to Pontiak, who opened. The Virginia trio’s psychedelic overtones lent a spaciousness and melodicism to its sludgy riffs without sacrificing heft.

If Harvey Milk were a glacier, slow, monolithic and uncompromising, Pontiak proved the groundwater beneath it, more fluid and prone to directional shifts. Both, though, seemed to have developed organically from atavistic elements, existing seemingly as they would in any era.

The same could not be said of local openers Black Skies, whose midtempo heavy metalsomething akin to High on Fire’s more straighforward materialoffered plenty of glimpses at potential, but relied more on a highly kinetic stage presence from Clark. While certainly enjoyable, the set felt rushed and a bit misplaced.

Against the slow-moving, supremely heavy Harvey Milk, Black Skies feels like a punk band riding its riffs for three or four minutes before hurrying off to the next one. But, as Clark publicly admitted, they just wanted to see Harvey Milkjust like the rest of us.