There was one ticket left when I arrived at the Great Scott in Allston to see Earth on tour supporting their new album, Primitive and Deadly. Much to the venue’s credit, the show was sold out but not oversold, Plenty warm up front, but in back by the end of the night one could claim some semblance of personal space if desired and still see Seattle’s droniest on stage. Doors were at nine with just two bands on the bill — Earth and fellow Seattleites King Dude opening — and it would be over an hour before anyone went on. So, if you were looking to drink or, say, stare at inane bullshit on your phone, there was plenty of time to do it.
In the studio, King Dude is a solo-project of Book of Black Earth guitarist/vocalist TJ Cowgill, but live he led a trio dressed in a look that might appear in a catalog as “Heartland Gestapo,” matching black button-downs with collar pins, black pants, short hair calling to mind Baptist righteousness and fascist regimentation as was likely the intent as they played in front of a backdrop of a painted-black and tattered American flag. The songs were Americana-derived neofolk, tales of fire and brimstone and drinking out of some alternate universe USA, guitar, keys, cello, drums. I’m not sure where Cowgill got his Southern accent, but he was enough of a charmer on stage to get two whiskys, one bought from the bar and a mini someone else had apparently snuck in. Well enough earned.
If you’ll permit me a minute to wax critical, one of the most respectable aspects of Earth‘s long tenure — their first demo surfaced in 1990 and but for a stretch between 1997-2003, they’ve been going since — is the relentlessness of their pursuit. Go see Earth for one album and then another and you’ll get two different shows. Guitarist Dylan Carlson, as the founder and driving force, has in the last decade built and continued to refine a legacy that seems no more solidified now than it was nine years ago when they released their landmark comeback full-length, Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method. It is a constant work in progress, shifting and remaking itself each time out. And perhaps because their music can be so raw — the repetition of riff cycles, steady drum plod of Adrienne Davies and the steadiness of their instrumental flow — that progression is all the more evocative and encompassing.
As they took the stage at the Great Scott, Carlson provided the news that Primitive and Deadly (review here), which came out Sept. 1 on Southern Lord, took only a week to become their highest-selling release to date. He thanked the crowd and then began the set with “Badger’s Bane” and “Even Hell has its Heroes” from that record, the album’s weightier production translating excellently live through Carlson‘s tone, Davies‘ swinging-arm march and the fills of bassist Don McGreevy, also of Master Musicians of Bukkake, who doesn’t play on the new full-length but took part in 2008’s The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (discussed here) and had no trouble making the parts his own or fitting in alongside Davies as the rhythmic complement to Carlson‘s swaying guitar work.
Of course, a major distinguishing factor of Primitive and Deadly is the inclusion of vocals — Mark Lanegan and Rabi Shabeen Qazi (Rose Windows) guest — and while he had a mic on stage for thanking the crowd, they kept “There is a Serpent Coming” instrumental, that song coming out of “Old Black” from 2011’s Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (review here) and moving into “The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull,” which Carlson noted was their prior highest-seller and especially popular with female fans. I wondered how or why that might be the case as Carlson, Davies and McGreevy continued their droneout, the groove of the older material hitting not quite as heavy as that of the newer, reminding that whatever weight might reside in their tones or evocations, Earth is still far from being a “metal” band.
The new album’s opener, “Torn by the Fox of the Crescent Moon” served as the first installment of a closing duo with “Ouroboros is Broken” as the finisher, Carlson noting that they were the band’s newest and oldest songs, respectively. They paired together well, with the latter being somewhere between the reinvented textures of its appearance on 2007’s Hibernaculum EP and the original from 1991’s Extra-Capsular Extraction. Whatever version it was, it made a rolling cap on a set that didn’t so much celebrate the entire scope of Earth‘s career — at some point, particularly as they’re hinging on their 25th year, one imagines a retrospective live set of one form or another will happen — but emphasized the vitality of the work they’re doing now, their continued relevance and expanding influence. Given the expanse of time they’ve covered and the years and decades their growth has encompassed, it’s even easier to appreciate the restlessness underlying their evolution and the irony that so much of their reputation is for the stillness in their material. Still maybe, but never stagnant.
I had no line of sight to Davies, but there are a couple more pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.