by Dave Segal
on Sat, Aug 8, 2009 at 4:25 PM
(Apologies for the lateness of this report. I am now just recovering from the punishment this show meted out.)
I’ve written about Earth so often in recent months that I can’t face another straightforward critique of this Seattle institution. So I spontaneously composed this free-associative string of fleeting thoughts that occurred to me during their set Thursday night Aug. 6 at Neumos. A transcription follows:
sexual frustration beer musk//implied violence power twang plod//methodical menace//methodrone precision//lumberjack languor//yogi heartbeat metallodrone//glower power//slo-mo decay dirge dispersion//19 miles of beard in the house
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Okay, on to Pelican. In recent years, Pelican have received substantial hype, which you should not believe. Live, they create a middling rumble, a gray trudge, a soporific shoegaze metal of lean beefiness. I felt extreme ambivalence about their set, which repeatedly hit mediocrity's bull’s-eye.
Time finally for Sunn O))). Fog everywhere, of course. Three robed figures—bassist Greg Anderson, guitarist Stephen O’Malley, and vocalist Atilla Csihar—move with sloooowwww ritualistic mannerisms. Bass frequencies emerge with a vengeance, rippling clothes, tendons, and molecules, and penetrating expensive earplugs. Rampant violations of body cavities commence. Even if you knew it was coming, the assault was shocking. I can’t push my plugs in far enough. My eardrums itch like crazy. “Ear rape!” you feel like shouting, but you’d go unheard. Dudes—most of very serious mien, most of whose beards could use a trim—outnumber women by about an 80/20 ratio. Testosterone simmers in the all-encompassing bass-sickness radiating from the stage.
Amid the obsidian-monolith grind, one can hear what sounds like the faint snarl and whorl of Vanilla Fudge’s Hammond B-3 organ emanating from the Pacific Ocean’s floor. This and Csihar’s guttural, grave voice were the only real diversions from the low-end bombardment O’Malley and Anderson sent from their guitar and bass. For 90 minutes, Sunn O))) steadfastly summoned tank-motor growls with hints of circular-saw embellishments. Csihar sporadically intoned deep, foreboding incantations that came across as a hybrid of Latin mass and Tuvan throat singing. “They look like they’re gonna burn a virgin,” a friend noted, and he had a point.
Besides one clown who was probably on his first acid trip (he repeatedly jumped around, shouted, and threw hand gestures while sporting the most blatant butt cleavage seen at a show in ages), most of the audience stood stock still, engrossed by Sunn O)))'s gargantuan, sepulchral borborygmus. The concert had the air of a purging ritual, but it was a bit static (understatement of the decade). Amid such monolithic dimensions, the slightest fluctuations in tone became monumental.
Sunn O))) don't really create metal, though they're commonly considered a metal band. Rather, they are minimalists who just happen to work with extreme frequencies while projecting an enveloping doom-laden vibe. Basically, they're closer in spirit to Folke Rabe, Phill Niblock, and La Monte Young than they are to your favorite hair-farming descendants of Black Sabbath.
By the last half hour, I had to constantly screw my earplugs deeper into my noggin to deal with the unbearable itching. This made it hard to maintain my worshipful stance in the temple of demonic frequencies, but I stuck it out to the end and left deafened and spiritually drained.
(Special shout-out to the lighting guru. Never thought fuchsia and periwinkle would enhance such heavy music.)