Cheyenne Saloon, Aug. 25

It’s nearly impossible to growl and smile at the same time, but Chad Smith came damn close to pulling it off. There was no mistaking the good time Hemlock’s founding front man/bassist was having as he engaged the crowd—tugging his dreadlocks out to each side, pounding his fist on his chest, bulging his eyes out and pogoing up and down—and the audience reciprocated with some high-energy cheer of its own.

The show was a homecoming for Smith and brother/drummer Brian, who formed Hemlock in Henderson in ’93 while still in high school, and family and friends made up a large portion of the audience. Now based in Iowa, Hemlock has established themselves as perhaps the hardest-working band in underground metal, and their relentless touring has tightened their performances.

Even during a 75-minute set filled with intense, abrasive songs such as “Kill the Orthodox,” “Desire to Kill” and “Kill Your Children,” the vibe was quite joyous and lighthearted. The crushing groove of “Beautality” incited communal head-banging and slam-dancing in the pit as guitarists Jezy Ward and Aaron Cobb delivered fiery riffs while thrashing about the stage, and Chad Smith rallied the crowd to join him in shouting out the cynical chorus of “No Money No Love.”

After ending with the chugging fury of “Jacob’s Ladder,” Chad Smith stood at the front of the stage drenched in sweat as he thanked everyone in attendance. With a monthlong European tour on deck for the band, coming home was the perfect send-off. The grin on Smith’s face told as much. ★★★☆☆

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