Live: SunnO))) and Earth Smoke Out at the Masons at Brooklyn Masonic Temple
SunnO))), Earth, Pelican, Eagle Twin, Brooklyn Masonic Temple, September 22
"Thanks to the Masons for letting us use their building" - Dylan Carlson, Earth
SunnO))) photo by that.turtle
You should know the deal for these Southern Lord shows by now: oppressively loud doom metal riffs, guys in robes, limited edition posters, tote bags, slip mats, 180 gram vinyl, smoke machines, Mongolian throat singing as between-band music, seven amp stacks, a mile-long guest list (I spotted Matthew Barney and Yoko Ono). So the real novelty this time out is the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, billed by the promoters as "the loudest room in New York." The Temple is already a mystical place before you add the five hours of sitting in a rickety seat and the windowless hotbox effect of a steamy crowd. The balcony vibrates when, like, Jose Gonzalez plays in there. So how would wave after wave of suffocating doom feel? Here's a quick rundown:
Eagle Twin: A gentle seat-rumble--not unlike like sitting on a vibrator--which occasionally moves up to your cheekbones.
Pelican: A dull throb that starts in the armrest and penetrates your hands. It's a physical relief when they finish, like stepping out of a bumpy cab ride.
Earth: A gentle, fingertip-light wave. Some physical revulsion for especially icky guitar feedback.
SunnO))): A motorcycle-ride vibration that starts at the base of the spine and climbs toward to the head, where it slowly evolves into a headache. Some mildly enjoyable but ultimately unpleasant tickling. Annoying twitch in nose and ear canal, even with earplugs. Dull drone after returning home, even after using proper hearing protection.
The echo chamber that is the Masonic Temple did wonders for slow, hypnotic doom riffs, but didn't exactly do drummers any favors. Eagle Twin's spasmodic Tyler Smith made an impressive show of whacking like a caveman, raising his sticks as high as possible before kicking his kit's ass. But he couldn't outplay the enormous amps of frontman Gentry Densley, who certainly looked like he was playing in a rock band, though he mostly stuck to coaxing unholy slime and inhuman drones from his guitar. Truly monumental sound from just two dudes: Think Big Business minus anything cute or fun.
Pelican returned from the shadow of their gloomy City Of Echoes somewhat happier and--dare I say--funkier? Their set--heavy on grooves and drones--certainly earned the gentle headbanging and booming applause it received, though crowd didn't exactly cut loose during the two mosh-ready avian openers. They clearly wanted something more meditative.
From the second Earth hit the stage to do their Neurosis Dude Ranch prairie metal, a giant weed cloud wafted from the floor. Slow, deliberate drummer Adrienne Davies telegraphed every punch as the whole band slowly lurched on. Someone shouted out "Let's kick it up a notch," to which Carlson replied, "You're at the wrong show." The crowd was pumped anyway. They cheered lustily for an as-yet-untitled new song, and hooted as the band broke down their gear. Dudes had to leave before midnight to make room for the two-hour SunnO))) marathon--an endurance test for even the most loyal fans.
SunnO))) brought nothing if not drama, spending the first 20 minutes of their set offstage, filling the entire room with a comically dense, mucky screen of burnt-hair-smelling smoke. For the next two hours there would be essentially nothing to watch--Were they even on stage? Are they in robes or just rocking their pajamas? People happily took pictures of a cloud anyway.
When the band finally emerged (I assume) from the 20-minute smokescreen of ambience, they unleashed a guitar woosh loud enough to crack the foundation. At forty minutes in, a vague figure emerged--Mayhem's Atilla Csihar. He opened with a version of Monoliths And Dimensions's "Agartha," a fantastic Vincent Price-style tale about being lost at sea, punctuating it with a growling solo and some concussive throat-booms. After a quick costume change, Csihar emerged again in a mirror ball suit--somewhere between Voltron, Gwar, the Donnie Darko bunny, and Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase. With laser-pointer claws. A set-ending third costume took the form of a big armless potato bug. Joke all you want, but SunnO)))'s intense stage presence and attention to detail are paying off. This is the fourth SunnO))) show I've seen in New York and the first where more than half the audience actually made it to the end. At 2 a.m. on a work night, no less.