Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gathering Of The Tribe

Neurosis / Voivod / Yob
The Fox Theater, Oakland, California
November 17, 2012

"Show of the year."  

That was the thought that popped into my head when this gig was announced.  Given that Umlaut has had a couple of once in a lifetime shows in 2012, even I was taken aback by the thought.  However, more than any other band, Neurosis represents my own personal "crossover" that took place in my life back in the late 80's.  It was a time when I had grown disenchanted with the original Metal Scene but I was introduced to a whole new underground of bands rooted in the Punk scene.  One of those bands was Neurosis.  Having Voivod on the bill, one of the bands who directly influenced Neurosis, made this event even more profoundly full circle.

Tonight in Oakland was a one-off album release show for the new Neurosis epic Honor Found In Decay and one of only 2 shows the band will play this year.  It's been almost 2 years since Neurosis last played a hometown area show, but I can't remember the last time they played in Oakland.  According to the Umlaut Archives this was at least my 21st Neurosis show.  Friends and associates traveled from all over the country for this and it was pretty amazing to experience the gathering of the tribe come together.

Unfortunately, I was only able to catch around 1 1/2 songs of Yob's thundering 35 minute opening set.  I was distracted by other events that carried me down into the deepest bowels of the venue... literally.  One thing led to another and I found myself in the surreal and plush dressing room area that looked like a bizarre bomb shelter version of a hotel.  There were curtains and window treatments on the walls but obviously there were no windows behind them because we were, like, 2 stories underground! 

Geek Moment: Entering the Voivod dressing room and they were speaking to each other in French. As I gave copies of Murder In The Front Row to them Blacky asked "Who died in the front row?" and I said "We all did".  Away immediately said "Yes!" and told a story about when Voivod went to see G.B.H. and Blacky jumped in the pit because he didn't want to be intimidated by the punks... but he soon exited the pit with his nose smashed and bloody.  Then this happened:

 Killing Technology with Murder
[Photo courtesy of Photo Ray]
After this Metal Geek moment I was able to spend some quality time with Neurosis and some old friends from back in The Day.  I hadn't seen many of them in years and the reunion vibe made this one of the best evenings of the year.

 Weapons of Neurosis

Twenty years ago this guy had dreadlocks and my hair was at least 6 inches longer:

[Photo courtesy of Photo Ray]

When I was on tour with Neurosis in 1993 I awoke one morning in Seattle to the soothing sounds of Steve Von Till playing Mercyful Fate riffs on an acoustic guitar.  True story.  Good times.

I saw the resurrected Voivod a couple of years ago at Scion Fest in Ohio and in hindsight I wasn't sure if they were as great as I thought or if I had simply been caught up in the moment and wanted them to be great so I rationalized it.  For many Metalheads like myself, Voivod are a sacred band who were a mind-altering and mindblowing discovery and seeing them without Piggy (R.I.P.) is pretty emotional.  New guitarist Chewy seemed to fit in but I just wasn't sure once I got home.  I should not have had any doubts.

The anticipation before Voivod's return to a Bay Area stage was thick in the air, even backstage.  I've known Neurosis for over 20 years now and I've never seen them giddy like they were prior to Voivod walking upstairs to the stage.  Even a backstage appearance by former Voivod member Jason Newsted didn't seem that special.  No, Newsted did not join Voivod onstage..

As the industrial dirge intro of the song 'Voivod' steamed from the PA and the band walked onstage and launched into their anthem, I pushed my way past the casual fans up to the front. I then spent the duration of our heroes' 65 minute set banging my head standing beside old friends, some of whom I've known for 30 years.  We were all Teenage 80's Metalheads and Punks again.    

The 8-song set was a mind blowing cross section of material and included the new song 'Mechanical Mind' which fits right into the band's sonic armory perfectly.  The mighty Voivod closed their tremendous assault with a unbelievably hammering 'Tribal Convictions' followed by their cover of Pink Floyd's 'Astronomy Domine' dedicated to the late Piggy.  It's not often that raw emotions are touched by a Metal band onstage but that's exactly what happened on this night in Oakland.  Here in the 21st Century, with all of our convenient but dehumanizing technology, it was a healthy reminder that Voivod are still relevant and still speak to me.

[Photo courtesy of Taylor Keahey]

After the set, I staggered away from the stage towards the bar and ran into other friends and acquaintances in the crowd and we all had the same look on our faces:  Holy. Shit. Voivod.  It's beyond great to have them back!

After the transcendent Voivod performance I wasn't sure how I would react to Neurosis.  While Voivod inspired an outward reaction in me, Neurosis have always affected me in the opposite way.  Neurosis and their music draws me back into my own head.  The band's triumphant return to a hometown stage was emotional in the same victorious way that Voivod's had been.  When I spoke to some of the band members earlier none of us could remember the last time Neurosis had played a show in the 510 area code; the nearest we could figure was maybe 1992.  The stage of The Fox is only around 15 minutes away from Gilman St. where Neurosis first learned how to be a band all those years ago.  Finally they were back in the 510.  Full circle.  

[Photo courtesy of Taylor Keahey]

For 90 minutes the boys leveled their hometown.  The second salvo of the set was 'My Heart For Deliverance' off the new album.  It's a song that I've really gravitated towards and from that moment on I was blissfully sucked back into the world of Neurosis again.  The band had their standard visuals going on the screen behind the stage and I took advantage of my All Access to watch the set from a couple of different places around the venue.  Standing at stage right and watching Neurosis here in the 21st Century was an epiphany.   Over the course of their history Neurosis has developed into a band that's more a force of nature onstage than simply "a band".  Neurosis are an entity of rage, solitude, volume, and beauty. 

Neurosis are the most forward looking band that I follow; they do not dwell on nostalgia or past triumphs very often and their setlist reflected this.  Out of the 10 songs played only 1 dated from before 2000.  Neurosis are like a shark; always moving forward to stay alive.  For those who care their setlist was:
  • Distill (2007)
  • My Heart For Deliverance (2012)
  • At The End Of The Road (2007)
  • An Offering (2000)
  • Times Of Grace (1999)
  • At The Well (2012)
  • Left To Wander (2004)
  • We All Rage In Gold (2012)
  • Bleeding The Pigs (2012)
  • Given To The Rising (2007)
So many influential Metal bands have tried to shed their past triumphs and move forward creatively while not alienating themselves from what made them special to begin with..  So many seem to fall short and end up playing past heavy sets because their past ends up overshadowing their present.  Neurosis are not one of those bands.

As I said earlier, this was one of those amazing full circle nights.  The fact that Neurosis were able to bring Voivod from Canada for their special night was so huge.  For those paying attention, Voivod were the inspiration for much of what has become the Neurosis landscape.  This was a show that I will always remember; it was a perfect storm of bands, friends, and the moment.  Special thanks to Steve of CM for getting shit sorted and making it happen.

If you bought one of every Neurosis merch item you would have paid around $300.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.  It's been most of a week since this show and I'm still buzzing from it.  At the risk of sounding redundant I need to type this again:  Full. Circle.

Neurosis All Access:  Portland -1993 and Oakland - 2012