St Vitus@ Northumbria University, March 15 2013

These days, any old band are referred to as ‘legends’. Released a moderately successful album 20 years ago? You’re legends – at least according to record company marketing bumph.

Saint Vitus, however, are truly worthy of the term. The grizzled Americans are the real deal: in doom circles, arguably only Black Sabbath are more revered as founding fathers of the genre. And that’s saying something. 

So to witness the quartet produce a performance of such magnificence as last night’s show, in a small venue in a provincial British city, was something very special indeed. An ‘I was there’ moment for the North East’s doom metal acolytes, who were enraptured by David Chandler’s seismic guitar tone, in awe of Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich’s distinctive, age-defying vocals and possessed by Henry Vasquez and Mark Adams’ hypnotic rhythms.

And to see the band take the time to chat to fans, sign autographs, pose for pictures – and in Chandler’s case, line up a few shots – was dreamland.

Openers Mos Generator were never going to eclipse Vitus, then. But the Seattle trio’s warm, stoner vibe was certainly welcome, a sunny prelude before the headliners brought their thunder.

And what thunder it was: from the opening chords of Blessed Night, to closer Born Too Late, wave after wave of quaking, foundation crumbling doom crashed through the venue, redefining the meaning of ‘heavy’ in their wake.

Tracks from 2012’s ‘comeback’ album, Lillie F-65, including the mountainous Let Them Fall, blended seamlessly with (much) earlier material such as the trill-laden, trance inducing I Bleed Black, from 1990’s V.  And while there may have been 17 years between 1995’s Die Healing and last year’s effort – and more than two decades since the end of the first Wino era, you wouldn’t have noticed it from this performance.

Fifty two-year-old Weinrich, staring into the crowd and leading from the front, has never lacked in vocal talent, but it was still heartening to hear him deliver with such class and conviction, while founder member Chandler was animated and engaging throughout.

Bearded and bandana-clad, the six stringer looks like a Vietnam vet who’s seen some serious shit, and his effortless switching between tight, controlled riffing and wild chaotic solos – reminiscent of his one time tour partner and label boss, Greg Ginn – was jaw dropping. The fact that the quartet can transform Thirsty And Miserable, a punk rock rager by Ginn’s Black Flag (and first covered by Vitus in 1987) into the skulking, granite groove produced last night, shows just how plugged in they are to doom’s dymamics.

Like the playful cries of “play faster hippies” yelled by one audience member, pleas to the band to “come back soon” might not be answered in reality – they’ve not exactly been prolific on the touring front, after all. But should Saint Vitus never return to Tyneside, at least this show will live long in the memory.

Richard Holmes