Thursday, December 23, 2010

Lost In A Forest

Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
December 22, 2010

"I need to see a Metal show." It was with those words that I ended my last post in this space after being underwhelmed by a certain Hippie Classic Rock band. Thankfully I only had to wait 3 days for Metal to center me again.

Prior to the show I *had to* attend my work’s fancy Holiday dinner at the always excellent Slanted Door. After the celebration I sped over to the Great American and I knew it was going to be a perfect night when I scored a parking space just around the corner from the venue. After a quick stop at Will Call to get my ticket I walked inside a mere 15 minutes or so before Agalloch’s smoke machine started up onstage. My apologies to Dispirit and Allerseelen for missing their sets completely.

As I chatted with friends in the minutes before the headliner came onstage, I felt my body starting to fall into a food coma from my massive dinner. Oh man… I leaned back against the front of the soundboard for a bit while attempting to hold up my end of conversations… and I managed to fight off the coma de food. Note to self: A big dinner and a 750ml bottle of Bière de Miel (Umlaut’s favorite Belgian honey beer) is not the best thing before a big Rock Show in a crowded and hot room.

Agalloch's latest album is arguably the most lauded Metal album of the year, from being raved about on NPR (!) to being named Decibel magazine's Album of the Year as well as topping many other "Best of 2010" lists. All of this well-deserved attention paid off as the 600 capacity Great American was sold out. Pretty crazy because I think the last time Agalloch visited San Francisco was 4 years ago at the bar-sized Elbo Room.

Agalloch's brand of Metal is elegant in the same way that a hand-crafted edged weapon is elegant. I read a recent negative review of their new album that complained Agalloch "take too long to make their point". I'd like to mention that the source of that review has raved about Jarhead favorites Hatebreed in the past. Whatever… Agalloch are the Metal equivalent of being lost in the woods as darkness falls and you only have a stale Clif Bar and a half empty book of matches with you. What will you do… What will you do..

Darkness fell inside the Great American as smoke filled the stage accompanied by the new album's intro track 'They Escaped the Weight of Darkness'. As the symbolic water sounds of the intro track faded the band lit a torch with the opening song 'Into the Painted Grey' and Agalloch proceeded to lead the crowd down a path that was barely visible... but easy to follow if you let yourself sink into the volume.

(Photo courtesy of Sensory Abuse)

Agalloch get inside my head with their profound hybrid of Metal aesthetics, Post Punk dynamics, and Prog / Folk elements. As the set unfolded I kept doing mental double takes over the sounds that the band’s virtuoso guitarists John Haughm and Don Anderson weaved... and their volume path as laid down by the solid 5-string bottom end of Jason Walton and the mighty Aesop Dekker on drums (He of Ludicra fame and who also spawned the mighty Crud Wizard!) was just as compelling. Agalloch do not bludgeon their audience but instead slowly drowns them… preferably in the cold waters of a mountain stream as a bull elk drinks indifferently nearby. Your lungs fill with cold, cold water as your eardrums implode.

An older favorite 'Limbs' segued into my favorite song of 2010: 'The Watcher's Monolith' (aka The best Death Metal song The Cure never wrote..). Stunningly great. My favorite bands are those who make me confront my inner darkness in order to appreciate them. It's not something "normal" people want to do, but without darkness there is no light... etc.. cliché.. etc.. If you’re willing to make an effort to weave Agalloch’s music into your head it’s like looking into a black tinted mirror that reflects back on yourself. Is that weird? Oh well… I think I saw some Hatebreed CDs over there in the bargain bin. Only darkness has the power.

(Photo courtesy of Sensory Abuse)

It was a stunning set.... completely amazing... and some of the best 100 minutes I've spent appreciating a band onstage all year. It was one of those shows that was life-affirming... and I was extra careful crossing Polk Street afterwards because it would have been a total buzz kill to get hit by a car after this show.

If you bought one of every available Agalloch merch item you would have paid $100; evidently they only had size SMALL shirts left! DIY Metal needs a real merch company running things for them sometimes... Just saying. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag. While I was at the show there was a drive-by shooting less than 1/2 mile from Casa de Umlaut: 3 dead, 4 wounded related to local Hispanic gangs. Happy Birthday Jesus!

Full Moon Metal
(Photo courtesy of Sensory Abuse

Click HERE for Photo Ray's shots from the night!