I caught the light at just the right time as I was leaving the house to see Neurosis at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple, and it wound up being one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen in my humble river valley. Five minutes earlier or five minutes later and I’d have missed it. I took a picture before I got in the car and before I was up the hill out, felt the need to stop the car in the middle of the street and grab another on my phone. Right place, right time.
The show itself was the same deal. I made it to Brooklyn in what I actually consider a record 85 minutes, and got to the Masonic Temple in time to stand with the early part of the line for a little over an hour. When doors opened, I headed immediately to the merch table, around which the 10 or so people in front of me on line also swarmed, and then made my way to the front, where I planted. For the night. I got a spot in front of one of the speakers and remained there for the night, through openers Carlos Giffoni and James Plotkin & Tim Wyskida and for the whole of Neurosis‘ 90-plus-minute set. So once more, right place, right time.
Giffoni has collaborated with the likes of Merzbow and Thurston Moore, and both Plotkin and Wyskida were in Khanate (though one might more readily recognize Plotkin‘s name as preceded with the phrase “Mastered By,” as a constant stream of albums seem to be), so I expected a barrage of noise and that’s pretty much what both parties delivered. Working on a foldout table across a range of modular synths and manipulators, Giffoni assaulted the early arrivals with a wash of static, beeps, bloops and beats. Plotkin & Wyskida were, relatively speaking, more traditional, with the former running loops on his guitar through a Sunn Beta Bass amp and Wyskida peppering and accenting the improv creations on drums.
It would be a stretch to draw a line between what they were doing and Khanate, but had Alan Dubin taken the stage to start screaming, it might have resulted in a less sparse version of some of the same psychological dysfunction. Hardly a thrilling stage show, but it worked for what it was, and set the course for the evening’s volume level, which would only increase when Neurosis actually took the stage. Masonic Temple gave out free earplugs, if that’s any indicator. I don’t remember if they did the same when Sleep played in 2010, but it was the right call, anyway.
There had been some word lamenting the lack of Josh Graham‘s visuals behind and around the band while they played, and I get where that’s coming from, but really, the once every two, three or four years I might get to see Neurosis do a show, I’m there for the music and the visceral, affecting sounds blasting full bore from the stage. I didn’t feel like anything was missing watching them. Quite the opposite. As a fan, it was interesting to see them play with lights on, and made the songs seem even rawer in their presentation than they otherwise might, which for a set sandwiched by “Eye” and “Locust Star,” both from 1996′s Through Silver in Blood, worked to their benefit.
As expected, the still-fresh 2012 release, Honor Found in Decay (review here), featured heavily, and rightly so. One wouldn’t expect to trod out “the hits” — like Scott Kelly or Steve Von Till is going to stand at the mic and go, “How’s everyone feelin’ tonight? Here’s one off Souls at Zero!” — and in fact, neither of them said a word to the crowd the whole night. They began “Eye” without ceremony and ended “Locust Star” in the same, albeit noisier, fashion, with the only real direct contact between band and audience being from drummer Jason Roeder, who clasped his hands and bowed his head in a gesture of thanks on his way off stage. That might have seemed strange to anyone who’d never seen the band before, but it’s how they do, and again, without the visuals, it made even more sense. All there was, was the music, the performance. That’s what you get.
The would-be asterisk point to make here is that Neurosis put more of themselves physically and emotionally into their performance than any band I’ve ever watched on a stage. As influential as their recorded output has been, their live show — immediately made a special occasion for how infrequently one might occur — is entirely their own, and however inhuman(e) the audio might seem upon receipt, their delivery is almost painfully human. This goes to the core of the most prevalent misconception about Neurosis and why no post-metal act in their wake has been able to capture the same sort of power: It’s them.
Whether it’s Dave Edwardson running in circles like a madman, throwing his bass around his body and jumping on mic for an occasional growl that wouldn’t be out of place over Napalm Death at their most classic, or synth/sample specialist Noah Landis swaying to the noise and looking like his head is about to explode with every keystroke, the steady presence of Roeder behind, Kelly‘s grimaced screaming and rhythmic shoulder-banging contortions or Von Till‘s weathered expressiveness in his vocals and guitar, these moments, “cherished and driven,” are wholly their own. It wouldn’t work with anyone else.
Following Honor Found in Decay‘s explosive “My Heart for Deliverance,” the slowly creeping “At the End of the Road” from 2007′s Given to the Rising and the title-track of 1999′s Times of Grace made for a fitting pair, the former rife with a mounting intensity and the latter paying it off with thrust that even Giffoni‘s low-end pulsations had done little to presage. I wanted to pay particular attention to Landis, whose contributions to the latest album were a standout element throughout, and the tension brought to the drones between songs and within them proved likewise to be a key and previously underappreciated factor in the live experience.
Since most of what Neurosis puts on their albums is captured as live as possible, the arrangement and mix of their stage show is roughly the same. I remember seeing them at Philly’s TLA in 2004, watching “Burn” from that year’s The Eye of Every Storm and saying, “Perfect,” out loud when it was over. It may or may not have been, but either way, I had the order wrong. It’s the records capturing the live show, not the live show mirroring the records. They didn’t play anything off The Eye of Every Storm this time through at the Masonic Temple, returning to Given to the Rising after “Times of Grace” for the bleak and agonizing “Distill (Watching the Swarm)” – Roeder‘s drums here were a highlight driving the enveloping churn — before the quiet opening of “At the Well” from the new album brought Von Till to the fore vocally.
By then, I’d lost track of time. If you had told me they’d been on for 15 minutes, I’d have believed it, but they were about halfway through their set by the end of “At the Well,” as Von Till and Kelly traded off lead vocal parts and came together periodically. “The Tide” from 2001′s A Sun that Never Sets was a surprise inclusion and something else I couldn’t recall ever seeing them play before along with “Times of Grace,” but its slow build wasn’t out of place between “At the Well” and Honor Found in Decay opener “We all Rage in Gold,” which probably had the most straightforward groove of the night, centered around a strong riff and memorable verse from Kelly, delivered with pull-your-earplugs-out passion.
Landis once again took the lead with the foreboding intro section of “Bleeding the Pigs,” which Von Till used as a bed for tense guitar and more subdued initial vocals before the second half launched into extended pummel enough to justify the song’s position as centerpiece and a high point of Honor Found in Decay, soon brought back to ground by “Given to the Rising,” Kelly leading through the beginning progression into darker ethereal terrain. I’d been keeping tabs with the setlist by the side of Landis‘ setup, so I knew they were almost done and that only earth, sky and “Locust Star” remained. Every now and again, the press of the crowd (I hadn’t turned around in about two hours, but at some point the room filled up to sold-out capacity) was enough to push me into the speaker placed in front of the stage, but I wasn’t going to leave that spot.
When they finished “Given to the Rising,” I put my camera down and just watched “Locust Star.” It was a conscious decision in an attempt to put as little as possible between myself and the song. Like leaving when I did, waiting at the door, the earplugs and getting up front, this too was the right choice. The ringing tones at the start, Roeder‘s drums behind the contemplative guitar, it all exploded about a minute in and there was no turning back. Compared to some of Neurosis‘ compositions over the course of their career, “Locust Star” is a blip at under six minutes, but what they pack into that time has made it one of their most lasting works. If nothing else, the Through Silver in Blood track made for a fitting summation of the set preceding, with Edwardson‘s bass holding powerful sway amid Kelly‘s vocals, the ferociousness of the chorus, the sheer aural push and the sudden stop. The lights stayed low for a couple minutes after they were done, as though the venue itself wasn’t sure the show was actually over.
Likewise, at first I was unwilling to move. Roeder expressed his thanks after everyone else had gone and before long the house lights were up. Before longer, I was outside, and before longest, leaving Brooklyn, relieved, smiling. I’d been anxious before the show, but all the things I worried about not working out exactly as I’d hoped did, and that tension was no match for Neurosis‘ sonic assault. That’s why some people go to church. All the more appropriate the show happened at a temple.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.