Live: Bidding Isis A Fond Farewell At Webster Hall, Alongside The Ever-Unflappable Melvins
Isis earlier this month, letting it all go.
Friday, June 18
Farewell tours are weird, the celebratory nature of live rock being counteracted by the knowledge that this will never happen again; the listener can frequently walk away feeling weirdly hollow, as though the experience was somehow lessened by its unrepeatability. After 13 years and five albums (plus several EPs, a half-dozen or so live discs, a DVD, and dozens of austere/dignified T-shirts), the revered post-metal quintet Isis are calling it quits; their current U.S. tour is their final run of live dates. Their Friday night show at Webster Hall, which was followed by a Music Hall of Williamsburg gig Saturday night, was a concise summary of their artistic achievement--in effect, a final report on the work of the last decade-plus.
They launched the set with "Threshold of Transformation," the final track from 2009's Wavering Radiant. The drums were almost absurdly reverb-ed; live performance seems to bring out their prog-rock side, without the songs ever actually stretching. They sounded like Pink Floyd. Even the mammoth riff of "Collapse and Crush" (from their first album, 2000's Godflesh-besotted Celestial), couldn't break the numbed, drifting feel. If it wasn't for vocalist Aaron Turner's occasional roars, the seven-song set, which touched on their entire discography (two tracks each from Wavering Radiant and 2004's Panopticon, one each from Celestial, 2002's Oceanic, and 2006's In the Absence of Truth), would have been pure Gothic post-punk. The dominant bandmember wasn't Turner, but bassist Jeff Caxide, who seemed intent on turning every song into a cover of the Cure's "Fascination Street."
It's possible to have two drummers and still be rhythmically flaccid; the Grateful Dead managed it for decades. Not the Melvins, who've had both Dale Crover and Coady Willis behind side-by-side kits since 2006. Their set, which began and ended with taped music (the theme from Blazing Saddles and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," respectively), was one long, floor-shaking drum solo, with guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne (wearing what looked like an ankle-length robe with a turtleneck) and bassist Jared Warren (gladiator tunic and cape) throwing riffs and howls into the thunder here and there. Their set began with a death-march cover of Flipper's antiwar anthem "Sacrifice," then continued through an hour or so of mostly songs from their last three albums, all of which feature the four-piece/two-drummer lineup. Among the highlights were "The Water Glass," a military-cadence chant wedded to a huge, Led Zeppelin-esque riff, and "Pig House," which featured a surf-guitar break--both came from the brand-new The Bride Screamed Murder.
The first band of the night was Bay Area power trio Totimoshi, who played on the Melvins' equipment and served as their roadies. Guitarist/singer Tony Laureano has a rough, clenched voice like a Latino Scott "Wino" Weinrich, with a guitar tone that's somewhere between Helmet and Hendrix. He and bassist Meg Castellanos create a loose, bluesy groove, with drummer Chris Fugitt hammering the floor into place beneath them. Two of their six songs were instrumentals; the rest could easily have been, too, because the riff and the groove were what it was all about.