Monday, January 05, 2015

A Sun That Never Sets

Neurosis / Tragedy / Author & Punisher / Kowloon Walled City
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
December 30, 2014

At this point in Umlaut's life, there are actually a few bands that I've shockingly been following for almost half of my life.. which for you keeping score at home means at least 25 years.  Hope I die before I get old..  Anyway, Neurosis is one of those bands.  It's been profound watching them evolve from playing pizza parlors and warehouses into the elder statesmen and volume icons they are here in the 21st Century.  Trippy, man.  I remember when they were hardcore vegans.  I also remember when they started eating meat again.  Full circle shit, man.

[Photos from the Umlaut Archives]

Top photo:  Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly with the xeroxed Umlaut Issue #2 'zine at Brave New World (R.I.P.), San Francisco circa 1992.   Bottom photo:  Neurosis visuals equipment on tour in 1992 at Spanky's Pizza (!), Orange County, California.

In what's turning into sort of an annual tradition, Neurosis closed out another year with hometown shows (tonight and a New Year's Eve shindig).  Considering that 2/5 of the band now lives out of state and this is about as heartwarming a gesture as you should expect from these dark lords.  Combined with the fact that several old friends who I rarely see in person were also in attendance and it made me glad I had ventured out on this very cold and windy San Francisco night.

I arrived early enough to catch the last part of the opening set by locals Kowloon Walled City.  I've seen the band a couple of times over the past several years and I will admit I wasn't really a fan early on... but they've won me over since then.. although I didn't think tonight was one of the better performances that I've seen by them.  Do I sound like a dick?  If so... sorry.. I honestly didn't mean to.. Anyway...

Next up was the one-man metal shop class come to life that is Author & Punisher.  I was only familiar with A&P by name only but my friend filled me in how it's the work of industrial artist Tristan Stone who made all of the harrowing equipment himself.  Honesty is my only excuse:  I can't imagine anyone listening to A&P at home or in their car.  It's like watching and listening to a drill press... but in a live setting A&P are kind of hypnotic.  My only smart ass suggestion is that it would be, like, totally cool if he manufactured trinkets during the show with the equipment (like maybe those souvenir pressed pennies..) to give out or sell after his set.  Just saying..  Anyway...

The final support act tonight was Tragedy.. and I knew absolutely nothing about them although the members looked like they've probably been to Gilman St... although the Interwebs informed me they're based in Portland.  I did not mind their Punky ways at all.. Anway...

Neurosis are probably the only band who can still turn my head inside out and affect me in the same way as they did in the 20th Century.  Their dark energy has matured and fermented into something that I find positive in a foamy dark way.  It creates a vacuum in my psyche that also pushes my mind out.  Hmm... Does that sound like Hippie Shit? 

I realized early in the set that, although this was around my 30th Neurosis show (dating back to 1991 or so), it was the first time I'd seen them headline a show without their once trademark visuals.  For the newbies:  The band jettisoned the visual side of their live performances in favor of a stripped down vision... and it completely works.  Back in the day the band's visuals were pretty cutting edge and relied on analog equipment like a slide projector and colored film placed on a bicycle rim turned by a film projector (see the photo I posted here).  Fast forward to the 21st Century and any half baked "artist" can "create" a "visual presentation" and use it with their "band" via their laptop.  Technology has ruined so many things by making them too easy, man.  I think Neurosis realized this and took themselves back to their roots... bloody roots:  Sound.. volume.. words.. music.

Opening with the appropriate 'At The End Of The Road' the set hit an early peak with the now vintage maelstrom 'Eye' coming early in the set... but the night's thematic heart came during 'Distill' for me.  It burned.. Tonight was possibly the most understated Neurosis set I've ever seen.  The energy level was a slow simmering darkness instead of the manic heated boiling madness of other shows I've witnessed.  It was mind bending for me in a different way than the past.  It was just an example of how this band can communicate differently within their own realm.  A slow burn destroys as effectively as a flash fire.  Closing the set with the constricting beauty of 'My Heart For Deliverance' (my favorite recent Neurosis song) was beyond perfect.

I didn't do a merch audit.. but I did drop $5 for a Neurosis patch and it was cool that their merch guy said how much he liked Murder In The Front Row.  Right on, man!  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me a fag.  In between bands there was a Von Till dog pile with some other dudes who I've known for 20+ years and who I first saw Neurosis with back in the hazy Red Hook-drinking days:

It was a brief but special moment.  This was also my final gig of 2014.. which was also the 10th (!!) year I've been ranting in this "blog".  Crazy, man.  The more things change.. the more they stay the same... sometimes. Let's see what 2015 brings...