When I admit that I spent much of the day waffling back and forth on whether or not to trek from my office in Jersey into Brooklyn to catch the London and Maryland Deathfest-bound YOB, Virginian cult doomers Cough and Mike Scheidt‘s opening solo set, I hope you’ll take it more as a sign of what the day was like than any wavering of affection for the doom involved. Perhaps too my experience the other night played some role in my ambivalence, but as soon as I parked right around the corner and strolled into The Bell House, I knew I’d made the right decision in showing up. Stuck in traffic on my way, I wound up right on time to watch YOB‘s own Scheidt get the night started with an acoustic set.
It was my first time at The Bell House, which was mostly empty when I got there. The room was wider than it was long — the bar up a few steps and off to the left side of the stage serving, among other things, Brooklyn Lager on draft for $6 — but though at times throughout the night it seemed like the sound had nowhere to go, Scheidt‘s acoustic material was subdued enough that it came through crisply and clearly, tracks from his forthcoming Thrill Jockey debut, Stay Awake, showing their freshness amid another that the guitarist/vocalist said was, “barely a song.”
Having seen Scheidt‘s solo set at Roadburn Day Three, I was relatively familiar with his onstage approach — calm, collected, sincere — and my chief observation remains the same now as it was just over a month ago: that Scheidt is really new to the acoustic form. A video was released this week for one of the album tracks and met with strong opinions on either side, but what some complained about is exactly what I find most exciting about the endeavor, which maintains some of YOB‘s psychedelic elements but obviously redrafts them into a new context. Where YOB has a well-established modus — most importantly so for Scheidt as the principle songwriter; a clear idea in his head of what the band sounds like — this doesn’t. Songs vary widely from one to the next, and it’s the exploratory nature of it that I’m most intrigued by.
Think of it like hearing a band’s first demo. There’s a rawness and an energy there that can never be duplicated again, and as cool and engaging as the tracks themselves might be, it’s almost as much about the potential as it is about their starting point. It’s the same with Scheidt‘s acoustic material. YOB‘s development is ongoing and they legitimately change from album to album, they’re doing so within a framework. Here, that framework isn’t set, and as long as Scheidt keeps an open mind with his songwriting methods — which I’d argue Stay Awake already shows he is — I think there’s a basic foundation there for something unique among the current bumper crop of doomer solo acoustic projects.
Cough followed not long after Scheidt left the stage to a much larger crowd than was present when he started. I’d seen them at SHoD last year, but it was especially interesting to watch them again having recently watched British doomers The Wounded Kings. The two acts shared space on the 2010 An Introduction to the Black Arts split on Forcefield Records, and it was surprising to hear in context just how much they actually have in common tonally. They take those tones in different directions within the overall context of doom — or if you want to be more specific, “post-Electric Wizard cult doom” — but it seemed an odd pairing to me when I reviewed the split, and actually it makes a lot of sense. Made me want to break out that vinyl.
The last Cough album, 2010′s Ritual Abuse (review here), was a broad reinterpretation of Electric Wizard‘s earlier abrasion, but watching Cough in Brooklyn, they seemed to be developing more of their own take. Maybe that’s just me trying to put a narrative to their progression — we’ll find out when they release their next album — but guitarist David Cisco‘s clean vocals behind bassist Parker Chandler‘s low-mixed screams added a budding sense of dynamics to their set that worked heavily in their favor. And if you have to take one word away from that last sentence, let it be “heavily,” because Cough are a fucking lurching beast. The formula is pretty simple — play slow, play loud and play through killer amps — but drummer Joseph Arcaro makes it, swinging his arms way above his head and crashing them down for each hit like he’s trying to puncture his drum heads and crack his cymbals. No doubt he often succeeds in doing just that.
They closed with “The Gates of Madness” from the Wounded Kings split, Cisco noting that they’d never played it live before. It was a 20-minute cut on that recording and probably the nastiest portion of their set, emphasizing sludge alongside the constant darkness of mood and tone, but they reveled suitably in the song’s horror-minded filth and ended with a mash of noise and feedback before cutting out and making way for YOB to unleash what turned out to be nearly two hours’ worth of material, ranging as far back as 2003′s Catharsis and finishing with a slew of tracks from last year’s monolithic Atma.
Should say something, though, that in that time YOB didn’t wear out their welcome in the slightest. Running through Hull‘s amps, it was almost like they played two sets, starting with (someone please correct me if I’m wrong) “Burning the Altar” from 2009′s The Great Cessation and sorting out some technical issues before harkening back to Catharsis for the highlight “Ether.” Part of me was hoping for the title-track of that album as well — I’ll be honest, part of me is always hoping for the title-track of that album — but instead, Scheidt, who was using Kevin Hufnagel of Dysrhythmia‘s guitar, bassist Aaron Reiseberg (also of Norska) and drummer Travis Foster gave the best rendition of “The Mental Tyrant” that I’ve ever seen. The galloping culmination was beyond epic, and of the several times I’ve seen them play the closer of 2005′s The Unreal Never Lived, this was the most raging and adrenaline-fueled. Maybe that sounds strange for a song that is at times painfully, unbelievably slow, but it’s true nonetheless.
“The Mental Tyrant” made for an appropriate break point between what I’ve been thinking of since as two sets. Scheidt announced they wouldn’t be doing an encore but were going to keep playing anyway. “How late do you want to be out?” he asked the crowd, who responded with cheers instead of numbers. Meshuggah and Baroness were also playing in Manhattan, and though I’m sure many would also be making the trek to Deathfest, the effect seemed to fill the room with those who really wanted to be there rather than diminish the draw. It thinned out some as the second portion of YOB‘s set progressed, but there was a genuine moshpit for Atma opener “Prepare the Ground,” and it was a thrill to see that kind of response as the music cut out and Scheidt held out his “Prepare!” just a little longer than on the record.
A thrill, but not really all that shocking. “Prepare the Ground” is probably the catchiest song YOB have ever written — at least up there with other strong album openers like “Quantum Mystic” from The Unreal Never Lived and “Ball of Molten Lead” from 2004′s The Illusion of Motion — and as the band’s profile has increased over the last couple years, that the audience would feel more kinship to the newer material is reasonable. I’d had a chuckle earlier in the set when Scheidt said something about playing old songs before starting “The Mental Tyrant,” realizing it’s been seven years now since that album came out. People were shouting requests all night, mostly for “Quantum Mystic” or “Ball of Molten Lead” from what I could hear, but the band made Atma the theme for their “encore,” running through “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore” and “Adrift in the Ocean,” which made for a fitting conclusion to a show no one was quite sure of when it would end, despite the two-song warning before “Upon the Sight of the Other Shore.”
Whether it’s true or not, it seemed like they extended the “Adrift in the Ocean” intro for some extra noodling, which made the percussive force that much more potent once the drums kicked in with more than cymbal washes. Scott Kelly adds percussion to the album version, but Foster did an excellent job filling out that space, and it was a dramatic finish to the night, the band looking genuinely exhausted by the time they were done. Perfectly understandable that they would be. I was, and all I did was stand there and bang my head.
Even with the extended set, it wasn’t especially late, but by the time I got back to Jersey, it was well after two and by the time I took out the recycling (there was a lot of it), past three, so I crashed out as soon as I could, well aware of the fatigue that would and has bled into today. Worth it. If you’re getting to see YOB as part of either I’ll be Your Mirror in London or the Maryland Deathfest this weekend, kudos. As I have every time I’ve seen them to date, I felt lucky to catch them in Brooklyn.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.
Tags: Brooklyn, Cough, Mike Scheidt, New York, Yob