Wednesday, May 27, 2009
by: Juliet Elliot
by: Juliet Elliot
by: Juliet Elliot
I've been trying for a week now to put in to sane words the interview I had with Chris Haikus of AsbestosDeath, Sleep, and Om but I have failed miserably so far. Time to move on to the good shit. Sleep. In fact, to the best stuff. When it all boils down, all of the money, bullshit, time, planning, re-planning, having to sell shit, and stressing was worth it for the little over 3 hours I spent standing in front of this band as they reunited for an all too brief moment to make some of the most relentless, powerful sound I have ever experienced. I've seen a lot of goddamn shows in my days, but I'm having a hard time thinking of many that compete with Sleep.
Before I start on the show, I need to give you a little background on where this was being held. In the UK, this company called Butlins runs this completely surreal, totally fucking weird "holiday camps that are something along the lines of part disneyworld, part shopping mall, part Hogans Heroes style prisoner of war camp, part big brother is watching you, part poor chavs who hate themselves and their families, and all, 100% fucking creepy. It's in the middle of fucking nowhere, is huge, is basically totally cut off from the rest of the world, and is swimming with asshole security/staff people. Stressful.
That being said, we had this amazing caravan/trailer thingy and everyone was just hanging out the whole time in one big group, bands, kids there really was no divide. Everyone stayed in the same kinds of houses and hung out at the same bars/places and shit was generally a lot of fun. I went there by myself to meet up with my friends Juliet Elliot, Posy Dixon, Tiger Reid, and the many Steves (aka Steve Bliss, Steve Lovvers, and Jim and Alex Demora who were also called Steve for the weekend. Don't ask.) Dayo and Adam and about 1000 other people were around as well. Shit was epic, no lie.
Anyways, back to the show, after getting warmed up on Friday night with Electric Wizard (more on that soon) and the Jesus Lizard on Saturday, a bunch of us were going out of our minds with anticipation. Basically, Sleep was the reason I sold my Sunn Model T, 2 bikes, and ate salad for weeks at a time. Shit was my goal, my purpose, and my reason for flying half way around the world. Fuck am I glad I did.
The first thing to note is that my camera batter charger went totally missing during travel and my 2nd battery didn't actually charge so there really aren't that many good pictures taken by Juliet or me (well actually, I didn't get to take any... Fuckin' camera...) but you really can't understand what it was like watching set up happen. When the Jesus Lizard went off stage with their one half stack, drum kit, and bass amp we were expecting a couple of amps and some drums. What was built in front of us was something more akin to the fucking gates of Babylon if Babylon's gates were made out of Orange, Marshall, and Ampeg amps. Seriously, the wall of sound was probably 7' tall by about 15-20' wide. Like seriously there were something along the lines of 6-10 amps for 2 fucking people. Somewhat daunting to say the least. On top of that, the place was fucking expectedly packed. Like to the gills. People were there from all over. I met dudes from Finland, Colorado, Poland, California, and even saw some dudes from Japan I think. It was pretty berzerk. Aside from all the fanboy, starstruck anticipation bullshit of just being in the room, ATP had this great, kinda ridiculous dynamic of half the crowd being the Andrew W.K., !!!, indie dance kids while the other half were die hard Doom fanatics. As you might have guessed, Sleep dragged the freaks out of the woodwork and the doom crowd was out in force.
When Matt, Al, and Chris finally walked out on stage, strapped it all on, and hit that first chord shit went off. Playing through most of Holy Mountain with bits and pieces of Jerusalem, the whole crowd immediately hit the same vibe. It was really funny at the moment but I can honestly say that this is the first show I've ever been to in which more (and by more I mean almost everyone in the crowd) was singing along to the riffs instead of the lyrics. Looking around I saw literally hundreds of heshers banging their fucking skulls out screaming along to "DUN DUHN DAH NAH NUH NAH NAH NEH NAH NEH NAH NEH NUUUHN" as opposed to:
"Ride the dragon
toward the crimson eye
Flap the wings under Mars red sky
The reptile pushes itself out into space
Leaving behind, the human race"
In fact, I can honestly say that as someone who's listened to Holy Mountain about 1000 times I had no idea what the lyrics other than "Ride the Dragon on the Crimson Sky" were but you can bet your ass I have that opening riff permanently embedded in my brain.
The other thing I immediately noticed was how happy, calm, and fucking tight the band was. To my eyes and ears, Sleep had never stopped playing together. They were on point from start to finish, the songs felt natural, unstrained and most of all, you could feel that the boys were just happy to be up there doing what they do best. Even though Matt and Al have their own great projects going on for years, seeing them onstage with Chris, you could tell that this was a long overdue but unrushed kind of homecoming. A weird, freaky, far from home, fucked up one, but a homecoming nonetheless. And while Al and Matt definitely were amazing to watch and totally killed it, watching Chris was really a fucking highlight. He's always been one of my favorite drummers to listen to. Super consistent, always right on time but never forced, heavy as fuck but not overpowering. The perfect blend with Al's vox and bass and Matt's supreme riffage.
It was also a really cool experience to compare High on Fire Matt from Scion Rock Fest a couple of Months ago to Sleep Matt now. Even when he's not on the mic he's still a commanding presence on the stage. For fucks sake, the dude is a commanding presence everywhere he goes man. Matt Pike, for those not lucky enough to have met him yet, is one big motherfucker. Physically and personalitywise. Dude takes up the room. Al and Chris are a little more reserved, a little quieter, a little mellower, but you can hear Matt cracking jokes from across the fucking town man. That attitude definitely carried over into his playing. He sounded like a fucking vengeful god returning to Earth. It was a sight to behold.
Holding it all down though was the heart and soul of the band, Al Cisneros. According to Chris, Al was really the chief riffsmith of Sleep. Each member contributed their own stuff but it was really Al who would come to the table and lay out the jam. Off to stage right, he held that shit down like the keystone in the arch of doom. Driving shit when it needed more weight, dropping it out when it didn't and keeping it flowing with his signature if not somewhat matured vocals that definitely show the influence of a couple of years in OM. That's not to say he was a fucking monk chanting away in the dark, there's still mad growl there, but it actually feels like his sense of rhythm is even better now (if that's even possible).
Well... even if that's somewhat of an exaggeration, I can tell you one thing, the fuckers were all loud enough to make up for any flaws, that's for fucking sure. My then newly and now life long friends LeAnn & Larson from Florida & Louisiana respectively, who look like this:
had the fortunate/unfortunate experience of getting caught in just the right spot where the super super low frequencies from the instruments and the PA collided and it was actually so loud and so low LeAnn fucking threw up. Apparently according to one of the sound dudes, the band was hitting "illegal" notes, i.e. the notes that police broadcast at loud volumes into unruly crowds that have a depressing and nauseating effect on the victims. Fuck dude, if that ain't heavy, nothing is.
The highlight of the night was definitely when, for the encore they came back on an played a newly finished 15 year old song called Antarctica's Thaw which was written write around the time of Dopesmoker. Live, the song came in at somewhere around 10-15 minutes and definitely showed a lot of similarities to parts of Jerusalem and Sonic Titan. As a given it was slow and heavy as shit but it was cool to see a glimpse into the direction the band would have moved in had they stayed together. It definitely gives a good picture of where OM came from, though not High on Fire as much.
The second night was much of the same and just as amazing. Again they went with mostly repeats from Holy Mountain but mixed in some other pieces of Jerusalem again (although no Proceed the Weedian this time... bummer.) I could write a whole 'nother hyperbolic fragment of mindscreed about that night too but it'd really just be the same thing over again. That thing would be Sleep are, were, and will always be fucking rock gods. No doubt.
In the words of Lucas, "Sleep review: uh, they were fucking as fucking awesome you would think they would be. Times Two"