Safety in numbness - Earth live, again - IN SEARCH OF SPACE #50

So today I saw Earth again. I’d seen them once before. I also interviewed Dylan Carlson. That’s right, me, some snotty blogger from der interweb managed to get an interview with the man who bought Kobain that shotgun. I hate to use that term to describe him and I bet he isn’t too keen on it neither, but to express in one sentence exactly what this man has meant to modern music, that one sure is a doozey. Without further bullshit from me, I’ll let you hear from the Ur-deity, Carlson. People on the tape are aforementioned rock royalty, me and Vee Nye, from whom we also get all this photography.
Let us know what you think. We’ll try and do more of those as soon and as often as possible. More bands ought to come to Scotland and ‘specially Edinburgh. Seriously kids, you’ll sell out, we’re keen for any tuneage here. Firstly let me give full praise to Caves, for a more sumptuously enjoyable and idiosyncratically balanced a venue you will not find in the Lothians. Many venues down the Cowgate that runs through the city like a mains circuit wire are dingy basements, perfect for sweating into and acoustically robust, refracting all the sound right off the concave roof and into your ears. Let me tell you kids, deafness is inevitable. Caves is different, and well named. Deep, cavernous and vast labyrinthine structures of the sort Lovecraft probably imagined in darkness wind their way impossibly far into the rock of Edinburgh deep below the ground; creating echoless vast skies of rock above any performer, two balconies look down upon Earth on a deep stage and the merch table is housed in an eerily blue dungeon. The greenroom is behind a sliding metal door that appears to weigh many tonnes. We arrive in daylight, interview is 5:30 and it doesn’t do to be late. And who creaks open the door to feed the cancer cells? Who is this wraith? dressed very much in civvies, a hat covering most of his hair and looking a lot smaller and less godlike than he appears towering over a crowd strapped with a guitar. In full country singer attire he is quite imposing in a worldly fashion, but in a tracksuit and with half of the trademark hair be-beanied, I almost didn’t recognise him. A second glance and gee fucking holy shit it’s Dylan fucking Carlson.

-background- A year ago I saw Earth, one of the greatest gigs of my life, the night after I saw Kyuss. I was supposed to interview Dylan Carlson then, but what with the gig being a basement and a stupid interview time during the support (Sabbath Assembly led by the sultry Jex Thoth too, wasn’t going to miss that) and not having a number, only an email address, I was having to miss half of Sabbath Assembly to make my way upstairs to send a desperate email. I did see him, he passed me on the stairs but I was much too pussy to stop him and introduce myself, I just stood, drunk and disoriented as he swept by. He owed me an interview and he paid up a year later, with dividends. I don’t blame Earth or the management or the tour guys or anybody but my own incompetence and meekness. Anyway, on with the story...

Holy fucking shit, it’s Dylan Carlson. Standing, not two feet away is him. The man who has all those Nirvana connections, who started drone metal and is responsible for the heaviest record ever pressed; all round cool guy, hypnotic voice and a rockin’ beard. We talk outside in what’s left of the daylight, he loves Scotland, has family from Fife and will be coming back at the end of the huge tour to spend some time in the north of England writing solo Scotch-English fairy songs. Certainly things ain’t anywhere near the same as the early nineties when the epic drones of this dude inspired the one and only Sunn O))). Nowadays he visually and spiritually connects more with the tradition of wandering men, finding many little places and empty arenas. A shamanic figure, still touring and releasing quicker than many other rackets out there. He is witty and urbane in a rural kinda way without any hint of pretension and is quite the same as he is on stage. Shy, retiring and quiet. He can’t seem to speak ill of anyone, of all the other acts that come up are spoken of with genuine love and enthusiasm; for Stephen O’Malley and Sunn O))) as well as those he supports (and indeed, who are working as support). Top chap Dylan Carlson. Y’all should check out the interview.

And that’s that. Out again. I resent having to do interviews before a gig, because what do you say to people? All the usual “you were great” statements can’t be used and have to be swapped out for “good luck” or “hope the set’s good” which I’ve always felt sound a little pessimistic. Oh well. Time to gather thoughts and work out the plan of attack. Time to regroup and come to terms with what just happened. Doing an interview is a fucking; no matter how long it actually was, it always seems to take either five seconds or ten years depending on how it went. You’re either fired out of a gun or squeezed out of a tube and neither is something from which one easily recovered. Usually there’s a cocktail of stupid emotions flowing, star-struckedness, worry, adrenaline, relief and a whole buncha others. Best to just cool that fire soldier, with some cold booze. On to the gig.

Opening for Earth is Ô Paon. One of the most startlingly effective and understated performances I have seen in many years. The quiet girl on stage, seemingly nervous, becomes a mad shoe-less monstrosity, all wild hair and teeth and possessed by horrors beyond human imagining. Curled up howling into the microphone, guitar secondary and filling all in the audience with a kind of sub-human dread that the person we are watching is quite insane. Like the spirit of a lost island girl, still clinging to those ideals but vengeful on a cold island night for being buried outside the parish land. For whole sections it seems like even the guitar is discarded, a mere affectation, the voice is where it’s at. Haunting and empty but not without beauty. The set reaches a really quite disturbing level of shrieking haunted hysteria, with the theatrical gestures of the soloist holding forth a stunning show. Go and see Ô Paon if you at all can, the live show is something spectacular. The records are worth checking out but the live show just captures a raw energy quite apart from the more refined stuff on the record. Much like Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead.

Mount Eerie has no place on this blog. Mostly it was tired post-Porcupine Tree dullness, notable only for the use of a twelve-string guitar. Occasional transitions into heaviness were welcome but too rare to avoid casting this act into the also-seen.

It was around this point in the concert I noticed the drunk stumbling idiot at the front. Some kinda chino-wearing twat who had rendered himself hilariously drunk to the point of pityability. If he didn’t instantly seem like the emo-fringe tribal-tat wanker that he evidently was, I’d almost have felt sorry for him for being spiked. He probably wasn’t spiked though, his tiny frame probably just had the same alcohol tolerance as a five year old girl. Drunk? Awesome! Stumbling wildly between trips like you’ve had your listening spiked with L.A.M.F.? Sweet! So drunk you can’t stand up because you’re too monumentally stupid to keep it in check? Idiocy personified. With any luck you got stomped and had to have your stomach pumped. Everyone in the front row would have been happy to do both of those. Thankfully your bad case of retardation proved terminal when you had to step out after falling onto the stage. You missed the Earth recital of Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull. You are currently on the same karmatic level as the man who turned down the Beatles. I hope you read this, realised what you missed and it ruins your life, thinking forever that drinking might cause you to miss something so you never drink again. Prick.

I bring him up only because once his disgusting spiritual foulness had departed, I reflected on his drunken semiconscious swaying, staggering, collapsing as an exact physical depiction of what was happening to me internally. Earth, particularly live and particularly in strong doses just... does something to me. I’ll be straight and say I preferred the early stuff when they became just digital dinosaurs stomping all over what we used to think was heavy. But their post-Hex stuff... it’s like all those dinosaurs have moved out of town to Alberta and become frozen in the rocks, dusty skeletons and you’re just lying there for thousands of years... unhooded unblinking empty eyes staring down the midday sun. Spiritually that’s a heavy thing to comprehend. It feels old, ancient and ever-present. Tunes are just the better tuning of a radio to your half-remembered past. And you wonder why Carlson called his band Earth? These are sounds hardwired into mother Gaia y’all and you better listen close because somewhere between the notes there lies the key.

And Earth appear. Four magnificent and careful elders come to guide us all, sonically through the channel of life and towards the true bliss. It goes without saying that the set is flawless. These cheerful nightfighers light up the arena in a way I’ve not seen since Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead. There are many things that make Earth close to my heart, they play instrumental rock, no vocals cluttering up things; there’s the quality and varied back-catalogue; the Nirvana connections. You may or may not have heard of them, but the band you love most definitely have. Rather like The Velvet Underground’s debut self-titled, only 10,000 people bought the original pressing, but they formed 10,000 bands. Dylan Carlson is a frontman to be reckoned with, carefully introducing each song and looking exactly like that ur-country singer jazz star he really has become. He plucks each note delicately, as if extracting it from the guitar.

The sound really is unchanged from those earlier records. Y’know how trees quietly growing can split rocks? That’s like Earth with their head-liquidating heaviness on what is ostensibly country music. Set-wise it’s a quality bag even playing the “quickest song you’ll ever hear us play” and finishing up the set with Bees Made Honey in the Lions Skull which is the clattering genius conclusion to Earth’s finest post-Hex album.

I’ll be honest here, and have a little confession. I wasn’t mad about Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1. I always thought of Earth as a band of spaces. Embodying emptiness. It was what they didn’t say, the notes they didn’t play that I found interesting. Earth 2: Special Low-Frequency Version is an hour and twenty minute gap. I thought with each successive album they’ve begun to fill in these gaps, fill out the holes that made their music interesting and Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1 pushed this a bit far, mostly the inclusion of Lori Goldstein’s cello which helped flesh out and elaborate on these unspoken ideas Earth had been trying to do. I still love it and spin the records but it has lost some of the purity of Earth 2. Of course, with their debut album, they’d done it. They had to switch it up because replicating that would get quickly tedious (Bull of Heaven, take note). I actually thought that Angels 2 was a bit of a return to form. Bringing back in a lot of the emptiness that had to typified Earth records, and negotiating and including the cello in a much more intelligent and subtle way.

The feeling of being at an Earth show is, perversely, the same feeling one feels when leaving earth. They don’t play like Sunn O))) or Kahnate or any of the bands their early work inspired to take up axes and play, it isn’t that punishing; Earth don’t open their set with a sonic frying pan to the jaw and challenge you to sit out the set. Like leaving gravity, the change is one that to observers is nothing but internally is extremely traumatic. As you leave gravity, your inner ear says to you well, shit boy, didn’t think you were that daft, you’ve just gone and walked off a cliff. Won’t be a minute now before you’re plastered against the scenery. There becomes a disconnect between what your eyes see and know to be true, and what your senses are telling you. He looks like a country singer! He’s melting your brain against the back of your skull. One of them has a cello! They’re more sonically destroying than a thousand trad-metal derivatives.

Putting this gig into words has been hard for me. Sorry. I haven’t really done Dylan Carlson justice for being such a righteous right-on figure and giving us some of his time, and I haven’t done the rest of the band and the acts right by communicating just what a life-enhancing show it really was. If you wasn’t there, you missed out big-time. You missed the kind of solid-stone rock that sets my heart a-flutter and drops all preconceptions down a flight of stairs. You missed the kind of stuff that can have you curled in a corner begging for it all to stop and loving every second of it. Losing your mind can be fun.

Written under duress by Steven. Photography by Vikki Nye.

Big thanks to Earth for coming to my town and bigger thanks to Dylan Carlson for some of his time.


Glen said...

Nice article, but I think you miss the point of Bull of Heaven. They are clearly being tedious to take the piss.

Given that they've created everything from post-rock to sludge metal to jazz to turntablism, they're a bit less tedious than a band like Earth, and a lot more talented than people give them credit for.

Plus, it's all free. Take note.

steven said...

Hey, thanks for your comment!

I don't listen to Bull of Heaven, I just know that songs that go on for weeks can't ever honestly be called 'good songs' in the same way that the world's largest pizza couldn't ever be called a good pizza. I understand they're mocking drone, but it is a genre I genuinely enjoy and it does just seem like an easy target for this kind of mockery. I can't comment on their talent, but it's the kind of gag that would be funny in an episode of South Park, but to forge an entire career around it seems kind of overdoing it to me.

Thanks for getting in touch!
Love on y'all.

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