Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pain Of Mind

Neurosis / Sleep / Vhöl
The Regency, San Francisco
March 4, 2016

It's funny that The Bay Area is revered for its Thrash Metal history but there's another era here that was just as influential on the generation of Metal that came after the Thrash scene that gave the world bands like Neurosis and Sleep.  Echoing what Metallica did a few years back, local heroes and icons Neurosis celebrated their 30th Anniversary with 3 sold out hometown shows featuring support from bands who have been their friends and comrades over the years.  The magnitude of this event was simply shown by how many people traveled from out of state and from far and wide to attend.  Tonight's opening night bill was the most epic and the most symbolic of the band's Bay Area roots with their brothers Al and Matt of Sleep (with Jason Neurosis now on drums of course) and Vhöl, a band featuring veteran musicians from such beloved bands as Ludicra, Hammers Of Misfortune, and Yob.

I've known Neurosis for around 25 of their 30 years and they are a very important band to me... Not only because of their music and vision.. but because I spent a good amount of time with them in those early years.. Hearing early demos of what was to become the Souls At Zero album at Steve VonTill's house in San Jose after he served the first vegan meal I'd ever had (here in the 21st Century neither one of us is vegan).  Going on tour with them a couple of times including a legendary night of debauchery and mayhem in Tijuana, Mexico.  Watching the Metal mainstream via OzzFest try to assimilate them and Neurosis deciding not to go towards that light but instead building an independent empire for themselves.  Neurosis is one of the few "old" bands who still blows my mind and reminds me of the mayhem I experienced seeing them with smelly crusties at random shitty venues and pizza parlors back in the days long before The Internet.  According to the Umlaut Archives tonight was around my 25th Neurosis show. 

Before the gig I stopped at a work function to celebrate the opening of a new store.  I had a good but brief time with my new co-workers over complimentary Lagunitas... and with cool stuff like this hanging on the walls around us:

Then I made a polite early exit and made my way across town to The Big Rock Show.
In surgically precise fashion I found a parking space across the street from the venue and inside it was old school style gathering of the tribe.  Many old friends from far and near.  It was good to see that kid who used to work at Tower Records in Mountain View who always wanted to talk about Black Sabbath with us... and who would bring his bass to work so he could practice on his breaks.. and then who formed a band which we thought was adorable.. and then he told us about the band and how the band was called Sleep.. and then he grew up, grew a beard, and became an icon.

It's a reassuring thing to bro-hug Al every couple of years.. our Stoner Rock Tiny Dancer.

It was a big deal to me that Vhöl were on the bill.  I believe tonight was only their 10th show ever and the 2nd time I've seen them... and their most recent sophomore album is a revelation.  Obviously I was initially drawn to them because the band is made up of members of some of my favorite bands like Ludicra and Yob.. but the new album is a diverse hammer of progressive punk-tinged volume that translated well onstage.  While members of the band disagreed with me when I saw them after their set I honestly thought they killed it.  So there.

[Underwhelming photo courtesy of Umlaut's iPhone]

As much as tonight was about celebrating Neurosis, honesty compels me to say that Sleep owned this Friday night for me.   I think it had to do with them playing a rare support role and lumbering onstage to deliver their riffage in honor of their old friends.  ‘Dragonaut’ live never gets old.  It’s still weird that Sleep are now like the sage old wise men.  It seems like only yesterday they were those young and precocious weed smoke infused scamps.  Sleep played all of the (bong) hits and it was trippy watching them be an opening band again.. in a great way of course.

[Underwhelming photo courtesy of Umlaut's iPhone]

It was undoubtedly a huge moment for Neurosis to kick off their 30th year celebration in front of a sold out and rabid hometown audience.  The guys appeared onstage like a black fog off San Francisco Bay and launched into ‘Lost’ which I believe they had not played live in almost 17 years. Damn..  but as fanboy great as that was the set took a complete u-turn back to the future as they dropped nostalgia bombs from the Pain Of Mind album onto the hometown crowd.  Songs that had not been played in 20+ years lifted the event to another level.

When The Regency is sold out and packed it's possibly the most uncomfortable sweaty venue in The Bay Area... which only added to the dense sensory atmosphere.  There are some who lament that Neurosis have abandoned the visual side of their live shows.. and I get that.. because it's what made them the "Pink Floyd" of the dark underground.  I miss that aspect of the band's creativity to a certain extent... but now as the years continue to march on I think it's more appropriate that the band uses their music and audio aura to immerse a crowd.  You cannot be lazy at a Neurosis show now.  You're either paying attention or you should not be there.  I was almost brought to tears when they launched into the vintage strain of 'Takeahnase' and their equally vintage cover of Joy Division's 'Day Of The Lords' rang even truer now.   When it was all said and done.. 13 songs.. 2 hours.. and 30 years came back around full circle for Night 1 of this 3-night hometown stand.  The other nights just weren't in the cards for Umlaut and I was fine with that because this was the bill I "needed" to see and I'm glad I did.

Since I no longer work in the merch biz I didn't do a merch audit; change is good.  However, the merch line was hella long all night but the event screenprint was only $20.  On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called me fag.  In hindsight I realize it's not very common to follow a band for 20 or 30 years of your life.  For Neurosis to still be around and completely relevant and with their integrity intact is something to behold.  No seed will grow of this barren Earth, like, forever, man..