9/23/09 - Blackened Music Series at Brooklyn Masonic Temple
Sunno))), Earth, Pelican, Eagle Twin
I had a twinge of hesitation going to the temple last night. I'd seen Sunno))) play before and hadn't listened to their records since, so affected had I been by the singular force of their live show. Going to see them a second time I was wary of having my experiences dulled by repetition. I considered myself more hyped for the rare occasion to see Earth live. The Brooklyn Masonic Temple is a complete no-brainer for hosting deafening demonry - a hulking Fort Greene fortress replete with black wood doors and red trim, strange chandeliers, and no sound limitations. After a set of competent if formulaic math-metal from Pelican, we were treated to Earth, who opened with the opiate majesty of "Miami Morning Coming Down." The beer guy was ecstatic. "I used to live in Miami!" he exclaimed, handing me a Budweiser. "I was a cokehead in Miami, this was my theme song!"
Having done their time as an earbleeding drone outfit, Earth is now a doom-country group. Little wonder that an earlier album, "Hex: Or Printing In the Infernal Method" is supposedly inspired by the novel Blood Meridian, as the doom-country sound feels very close in spirit to Cormac McCarthy's metaphysically desolate, elemental westerns. Led by Dylan Carlson, the quartet has perfected a playing style which derives its narcotic power from an almost impossible slowness, taking John Fahey-style melancholic guitar licks and dragging them out as if they're echoing across an infinite Texas plain in the dark.
Then something unpleasant happened: Earth stopped playing. Whoever the tenth-level puppetmaster is who runs things at the Masonic temple, he/she apparently is a set-time stickler, so despite all manner of enthusiastic applause and catcalls from the crowd, Carlson and crew did not return. Surprising and frustrating.
Which equally characterizes the first ten minutes of sunno)))'s show. Which opened with smoke filling every nook in the shadowy hall, until the sweaty horde of metal bros were bathed in an eerie purgatorial mist. An off-stage loop played: a low thump of Olympian proportions followed by some scattered metallic clatter. This went on for an insanely long time, without the band appearing on stage. The crowd became restless, it screamed, it clapped, it lost its cool. It seemed like maybe the band would never show.
Which was exactly the point where the show began to make sense to me. At the moment when I stopped expecting anything to happen, and took this impossibly long show-intro as a thing in itself. And saw the moment as an end in itself: the looming bass drum loop, the eerie mist with a crowd of shadows, the sauna-like heat, all gathered facing in the stage, caught up in fevered anticipation without release. It was more like appreciating a sculpture, or a room-installation art piece, much like works by artists like Olafur Eliasson or James Turrell, that stage some micrological material change on a grand scale, so that you become attuned to shifts in light, or sound, or temperature.
The title of Eliasson's exhibition last year for PS1, "Take Your Time," would be a good sunno))) slogan as well. Experienced live, their music is so elementally sludgey that there's little point almost in listening to it like a song or composition, it's more like a phenomenon unto itself, not headed in any particular direction. Sunno))) are thus like the first heavy metal art project.
But their show isn't just all high-brow drone-capades, at least not anymore. These days, additional instruments and a bigger concert budget have resulted in a kind of dadaist update of Wagner. The group did everything possible not to play a concert but stage an event, with over-the-top grandeur straight outta Bayreuth.
I took to the upper level seating area to take in the show. Unlike the endless sea of churning drone I had witnessed during their last concert, Sunno))) had put together a kind of futuristic drone-opera, with movements, ranging from lightning-rod guitar feedback bursts to solo demon groan to almost-pretty horn sections, and characters on stage, who emerged from the impenetrable mist to mime on stage. There's a definite goofball metal-show theatricality that was being played with, but like certain metal music cliches, like pummelling riffs, the band had taken this stage-show theatricality, like you'd see at Gwar or Kiss or Priest, stripped it down to its skeleton and then displayed this skeleton in full-scale minimalist-maximalist overload. Towards the end of the set I went outside and found several of my friends chilling on the curb. Turns out no one else had seen the most over-the-top show element of all: a ten-foot Robocop kabuki demon, of glistening steel, who had emerged to, I am not making this up, shoot red LCD lasers in a grid-formation into the crowd. Then we had diner food and I got lost for a brief spell, sometime around 3am, making my way from clinton street back to flushing, past the navy yards, through the winding streets of Hasidia, and finally to withers and manhattan.