Thursday, January 20, 2011

Souls At Zero

Neurosis / Yob / USX
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
January 15, 2011

It's taken me a good 3 days and nights to try and get my head around what Neurosis unleashed on San Francisco last weekend. This was the first epic bill of 2011 and definitely THE hottest ticket in the city last week; Neurosis’ first hometown area shows in over 3 years (!). Tickets for these sold out shows were posted on Craigslist for $150 - $200 each! WTF... but given the magnitude of this weekend I wasn’t that surprised Capitalism reared its opportunistic head. I was stoked to be seeing The Bay Area's legendary sons of darkness again since I have a long history with them dating back 20 (!) years. Neurosis were basically THE soundtrack when I first started Umlaut as a xeroxed fanzine back in the early-90's. Click HERE to read something about those crazy, crusty days.

San Francisco - 1993
(From the Umlaut Archives)

USX (aka U.S. Christmas): USX caught me off guard by how good they were... I've seen their name before but, to be honest, I thought it was one of the lamer band names around. However, seeing the band and hearing their songs made me remember that sometimes you can't always tell a book by its cover. USX has one of the more eclectic lineups (vox / guitar, 2 drummers, bass, multi-instrumentalist, violinist, and guitar) and they generated some attention grabbing music that was more Classic Rock than anything to my ears. Their 40 minutes onstage won me over... and that doesn't happen very often because I'm a jaded mofo. I made a note to arrive early the following night and pay closer attention to USX from their opening note.

Yob: Having Yob on this bill ratcheted things up 100x… To be honest, my anticipation was higher to see Yob than it was for the headliners. Yob treads the same trail laid down by Sleep, but they manage to blaze their own way on that sacred volume path. As expected, The Beast from The Northwest were unbelievably heavy and laid waste to the land in the short time they were onstage. For some reason the band only played an abbreviated 3-song set that lasted all of 30 minutes… which wasn’t nearly enough time. However, because Yob plays live about as often as a Sasquatch sighting, their short time in San Francisco was still a landmark event.

Neurosis: I’m having a very difficult time trying to put the 2011 Neurosis live experience into words; it’s an all out assault on the ears, eyes, and (if you’re down front) body. There are very few bands who can legitimately be called a force of nature and it's not bullshit... and Neurosis is one of those few. As I mentioned earlier, I've been following the band for 20 (!) years and it's frightening how they seem more like a living breathing beast onstage rather than simply a band of 5 musicians and a visual artist... Neurosis are not unlike the Balrog in Lord Of The Rings.

Seriously... and, yes, I'm a dork for referencing The Lord of The Rings.

According to the Umlaut Archives this was my 19th Neurosis show. The men of darkness walked onstage and started the slow and crushingly dramatic intro to 'Through Silver In Blood'... which is one of the greatest Metal songs ever written IMO. That initial 5 minutes of having the music build… and build… and build until the song fully detonated is a live music moment that I can’t imagine being equaled for me this year. I’d forgotten how powerful Neurosis is onstage as they deliver their inspirational message of enlightenment rooted in despair and conflict via the 3 distinctive voices of Steve, Scott, and Dave. Within minutes I was reeling from how Neurosis could give my jaded mofo mind a shift in perspective and make me see things new again even after all these years. I was blind and now can see (again)... although my hearing is a little less now... but that's the trade off.

For almost 2 hours the band assaulted the senses and souls of the 600 humans in the room... Ambient sounds filled the air between songs before another song detonated. Neurosis onstage are a seamless audio and visual presentation; a full on sensory assault that is profoundly crushing and cerebral. A numbing version of 'Locust Star' kind of changed my life all over again as the band performed it with an astonishing amount of bile; I was caught off guard by how the band can still muster and project so much anger after all these years. A force of Nature... maybe even beyond Nature. The nature themes of many of the visuals (trees... wolves..) also made for a nice mental contrast to the urban filth just outside the venue’s door on the streets of The Tenderloin. For those who care, tonight's setlist:

• Through Silver And Blood
• At The End Of The Road
• The Doorway
• [new song]
• Given To The Rising
• [new song]
• Locust Star
• Water Is Not Enough
• Distill
• Stones From The Sky

I was blown away how seeing Neurosis live again could make me feel like my mind was being cleansed and reset; I felt profoundly connected to *something* again. Also, here in the 21st Century, it's hard for me to remember that this is the same band that I used to see in venues like pizza parlors...

(Photo by Umlaut)

I took that photo at a show in Orange County, California at Spanky's Pizza. Neurosis live visuals back in April 1992 with their former visual artist Adam Kendall... Long before laptops and DVDs.. A bicycle wheel with colored film attached to a movie projector to turn it.. slides.. a milk crate.. blocks of wood. Neurosis have come a LONG way.

A huge THANKS to TLB for helping me get into this sold out show! On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Click HERE to see SF Sludge's pics from the night! Then 24 hours later it was.....

Neurosis / Saviours / USX
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco

January 16, 2011

Originally I kind of wasn't planning to attend the second night.. but after the mind altering, life affirming experience of the first night it was Carpe Diem time; seize the fucking day, man. Life is too short to pass on experiences just because you're tired... and leaping back into the Neurosis abattoir again was the best thing I could have done.

USX (aka U.S. Christmas): Following their excellent set the night before, I made sure that we arrived early to see all of USX's set. Because I'm a jaded mofo it's not often that a band catches my attention and I was looking forward to picking apart what I liked about USX while seeing them again. As their set unfolded before me again I was struck by how they wouldn't be out of place opening for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds with their hybrid of North Carolina mountain music and retro Psychedelic Rock. I was fascinated watching all 7 of their parts (guitar / vox, multi-instrumentalist, violin, 2 drums, bass, guitar) working together like the parts of a clock... Tick tock ticking out their hypnotic volume. USX are a tricky band to define so I'm just going to say that since the show I've bought most of their recorded material... to study... and pick apart.

Saviours: Seeing the Saviours on this bill was like watching Motörhead open for Pink Floyd... but it totally worked. The Saviours brand of NOWBHM-influenced Classic Metal washed away all of my mental grime and prepared my ears and psyche for the Neurosis assault that was to follow. Plus, seeing a "To-Cool-For-The-School" hipster girl get a beer spilled on her by the crowd action as the band started 'Acid Hand' made me laugh out loud. She was bummed... but she should have known better. Rookie. The local boys played a SOLID set and it was my first time seeing them with new bassist Carson, who joins his Saviours bandmate Austin and Matt Pike in the "Band Dudes From Oakland Who Don't Wear Shirts Onstage" Club.

During the stage changeover I found myself up in the boxseats chatting with old friends and ended up staying in that lookout position for Neurosis' set (THANKS Todd).

Neurosis: The set tonight had a different pace than the previous night; it was more deliberate... slower... on its path through the darkness. The song selection ebbed and flowed between quieter cerebral to the blasting cerebral more profoundly than the previous night. The highlight was having my mind blown when the intro to 'The Web' (from the Souls At Zero album) announced the band unleashing that song... HOLY SHIT! Hearing and seeing that song played again felt like the past 20 (!) years of my life were being sucked into a vortex to land on top of me as I sat there in the balcony. Also, is 'The Web' the only Metal song to sample dialogue from a Star Trek episode? I think so ("Eternal bloodlust... Eternal warfare." - J.T. Kirk).

From my vantage point I became completely hypnotized watching the scene below me play out... From the ferocious audio / visual violence of the band to the human waves as the crowd action matched the rhythm of the band's beautiful violence. I thought my ribs were starting to ache from the memory of all of those Neurosis shows from long ago when I was down front getting hammered by elbows, feet, fists, and bodies. Time travel through volume.

After another 2 hours of catharsis, Neurosis closed their homecoming with 'Through Silver And Blood', which they had opened with the night before... which gave the weekend a sense of coming full circle and giving it closure. Nicely done, lads. Those Neurosis boys... always thinking. Oh, who else noticed that Scott was flying his East Bay Oakland Raiders colors onstage tonight by wearing his #87 - Dave Casper jersey? Cute. The Geeks shall inherit The Earth. For those who care, tonight's setlist:

• At The End Of The Road
• The Web
• Given To The Rising
• Burn
• A Season In The Sky
• [new song]
• Water Is Not Enough
• [new song]
• Fear And Sickness
• Through Silver And Blood

According to the Umlaut Archives this was my 20th Neurosis show. 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 Neurosis' music into your head it’s like looking into a black tinted mirror that reflects back on yourself. Is that weird? Oh well… Only darkness has the power.It was a stunning 2 nights of Neurosis.... completely amazing... I know it's another cliché, but it really is CRAZY how time flies, man.

I was so moved and blown away by these shows that I bought a merch item from every band. If you bought one of every Neurosis merch item you would have paid around $250 (I think). On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. After only 16 days into this year I've already reconnected with two of my favorite bands from the 20th Century: Melvins and now Neurosis. The more things change the more they stay the same, man. Trivia: This Neurosis band photo was taken at the Great American Music Hall:

Click HERE to see Photo Ray's shots from the night!