Live Review: YOB and Dark Castle in Manhattan, 07.13.11

I can’t remember the last time I felt so glad to be in the city. With Batillus opening for them (who I unfortunately missed) at Le Poisson Rouge on the venerated and expensive Village stretch of Bleecker Street, YOB and Dark Castle each stormed through a monstrously doomed set of riff-based communion. The sharing of drummer Rob Shaffer only added to the sense of camaraderie and community, and though it was some of the heaviest, darkest, thickest tonality I’ve heard in a live setting this year, I couldn’t help but smile, and by no means was I the only one.

Hard to know what to say about this kind of night without getting bogged down in hyperbole, because even the next afternoon, I still feel charged up from it — and while we’re talking about after effects, my ears are also still ringing (or at least the left one; the right doesn’t so much do that anymore) — but it was like everything came together. Dark Castle have already released one of 2011’s most complex albums, and YOB‘s Atma has yet to leave my CD player since going in. Both bands have an obvious and spiritual connection to their music, and last night, it was like they stood on stage and held their arms out and invited everyone else in. Who wouldn’t go?

Le Poisson Rouge is a medium-size room. Not a bar (though there is one), but not a bigger venue. Short ceiling, but I knew from seeing Shrinebuilder there in 2009 that that would only mean the sound had no choice but to pummel your skull. I’d never seen Dark Castle before, which is kind of hard to believe considering how much they tour, but I knew enough from hearing Surrender to all Life Beyond Form that I didn’t want to miss them now. Following a sushi dinner with The Patient Mrs., I made my way to Bleecker and got in a bit before they went on.

One thing about Dark Castle — and I consider it an admirable thing about them — is it’s just the two of them on stage. The recently-interviewed Stevie Floyd on guitar and vocals and double-duty trooper of the night Rob Shaffer on drums. Where on Surrender to all Life Beyond Form, the songs are filled out by the synth/Moog/noise contributions of producer Sanford Parker and several guest vocalists, including YOB‘s own Mike Scheidt, that kind of thing just can’t be replicated in a live setting without excessive sampling or time spent in front of a laptop and not actually playing the songs.

I won’t say one approach is better or worse than the other, because when it came down to the material itself last night, Dark Castle killed it. The sound may not have been as full as on the record, but “Surrender to all Life Beyond Form” was one of the highlights of the show, and the rawer feel was a big part of why. That Floyd and Shaffer would be on the same page in their presence isn’t necessarily surprising — because, again, they tour all the time — but the power in their delivery was readily apparent and picked up most if not all of the slack in the noise department. Even without YOB following, it would have been well worth the trip for their set alone.

But YOB was following, and having seen them before at the Planet Caravan fest in North Carolina, I had some idea of what to expect. I parked myself up front while they were setting up and stayed there for most of their show, which — and I say this with all the nerdy glee I can muster — was amazing. It’s not that you listen to those records and think to yourself, “Wow, I bet this band sucks live,” but until you actually see it, until you actually feel the rumble of Scheidt‘s guitar and of Aaron Reiseberg‘s bass. Scheidt played with a full stack of Emperor cabs behind him and neither Reiseberg nor Shaffer (filling the role of Travis Foster for the tour) were lacking in volume or presence. It being YOB‘s first time in New York in more than half a decade — oh, the story I could tell you about the show they did at the Pyramid way back when — as a fan, I wanted everything to sound perfect, and it did.

They opened with “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived, an album the influence of which is only beginning to be felt six years after its release. Immediately, the crowd was on board, fists were raised, toasts were made, and heads — including my own — banged with abandon for the neck stiffness that might ensue this morning. I pulled my earplugs out. Worth it. “Quantum Mystic” led into “Prepare the Ground,” the opener from Atma, and that in turn to “Burning the Altar” from 2009’s The Great Cessation. One imagines that with a couple more albums under their belt, YOB will be able to do a full set of nothing but the killer tracks they start their records with. Certainly it was a welcome opening trio and a half-hour well spent. The crowd pressed and shifted and stumbled and loved it and I did likewise. I haven’t seen a set with that kind of impact since Neurosis at Roadburn.

Their ethereal space elements showed up in “The Great Cessation,” the titular closer of the album, which followed Atma‘s title cut — a little more complicated than the opener and thus not as immediately grasped by the audience who doesn’t have the record yet — and YOB shifted the tone of the show from planetary aural crush to dark matter drift. That album was my favorite of 2009, but I still feel like I got a new appreciation for “The Great Cessation” hearing it live. Reiseberg and Shaffer ran into some trouble during one of its drawn-out, patient instrumental passages, but were able to recovery swiftly enough. I don’t think anyone was about to complain, anyway.

For a finale, Scheidt called Floyd up to the stage for a scathing rendition of “Grasping Air” from The Unreal Never Lived, and (if I remember correctly; I might have this order wrong and if I do, I hope someone will correct me) rounded out the night with “Ball of Molten Lead” from 2004’s The Illusion of Motion. Considering the mass of pulp that YOB had by then beaten Le Poisson Rouge into, I can’t think of a more fitting conclusion. Like the rest of the show, I was just really, really glad to have been there to see it.

It’s a rare performance that pulls you out of everything else, that commands not only full attention, but a kind of dedication to it. When YOB finished, I felt like I’d been to the end of the universe and back. I don’t want to make it more than it was, because what it was was enough. If you were there, you know, and if not, hopefully next time you’ll find out.

More pics after the jump. As always, click any photo to enlarge.

Dark Castle


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5 Responses to “Live Review: YOB and Dark Castle in Manhattan, 07.13.11”

  1. mwk says:

    Great write-up. I totally share your response and am still totally pumped by how awesome everything came together. It makes want to stay in NYC.

  2. greenskeeper says:

    “It’s New York, so here’s your squiggly picture.” – HA!!

    Great show. It always feel like it’s a holiday when YOB comes to town, perma-grin and all.

  3. It was a fabulous show. Yob’s live show has never left me wanting.

  4. Skillit says:

    “They opened with “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived, an album the influence of which is only beginning to be felt six years after its release. Immediately, the crowd was on board, fists were raised, toasts were made, and heads — including my own — banged with abandon for the neck stiffness that might ensue this morning. I pulled my earplugs out. Worth it.”

    great writing

  5. Ryno says:

    ^^^Every time I hear Quantum Mystic, I see that clip in my head from them playing Roadburn and I get fucking chills. Even thinking about that song gives me goosebumps. Will be seeing them FINALLY for the first time in August and I can’t remember the last show that I was so geeked about.

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