I had driven back from New Jersey during the day — most of it, anyway — with the knowledge that I wanted to see Queen Elephantine at O’Brien’s last night. I knew I’d be tired as crap, but figured it’d be worth it because somehow it had gotten to be like half a decade since I last saw the band, in Maryland at the first benefit for Evil Fanny. Hard to believe so much time had passed. Particularly in light of having missed their Boston show last fall with It’s Not Night: It’s Space, Olde Growth and Keefshovel and having very much dug 2013′s Scarab full-length (review here), it was long overdue.
Boston acts Glacier and Slow Mover opened the show. I didn’t get there in time to see Glacier, but Somerville’s Slow Mover were just about to get started when I walked in and established a pretty wide stylistic breadth once they got going, the dual-vocal/guitar four-piece (plus snare strobe!) culling elements from noise rock, post-hardcore and post-metal, stoner rock and even a bit of black metal and making it sound raw and cohesive without being overly thought out. They had their self-titled on vinyl at the merch table, but I was light on funds. Still, cool stuff, sounded like it was working on a multi-tier solidification process. Easy to hear where they could turn into something devastatingly heavy, though as a moniker, Slow Mover does little to describe the actual ethic of their playing, which was more varied in pace than they’d apparently have one believe.
Last year when Insect Ark, aka Dana Schecter of Bee and Flower, released the Long Arms EP, I kind of dabbled in checking it out, but I was looking forward to seeing how her noisy experimentalism translated live. First of all I’ll say that any heavy band in Brooklyn would be lucky to have her as their bassist, but that was really just part of what she brought to the table — quite literally two tables, set up on the stage — at O’Brien’s. With a pedal steel in front of her, bass strapped on, a sampler, other noisemakers and mixing board on the side, a laptop further over and amps behind, Insect Ark was both stylistically complex and viscerally loud. For each piece she set an initial bed of noise, hit a programmed beat on the laptop and then added pedal steel and bass as dictated by the song, winding up with a heavy wash that only got more and more furious as the set went on, whether she was walking into the crowd with her bass or assaulting the strings of the pedal steel with a slide on the other end to get the most noise for each strum.
I won’t lie, I was dragging ass by then. It was a long day on I-95 and I was at the show by myself, but it had been the chance to see Queen Elephantine that had pulled me off the couch and away from the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the first place, so I wasn’t going to let it go. I took a minute, went outside, called The Patient Mrs. and got my head together to see the Providence, Rhode Island, experimental doom outfit, led by guitarist Indrayudh “Indy” Shome and featuring drummer Matt Couto of Elder and the aforementioned Keefshovel for the night alongside bassist Mat Becker, who shared a mic with Shome for the chanting vocals of the two extended pieces they played.
That’s right, two songs. When you’re Queen Elephantine and your songs run upwards of 20 minutes at a clip, you can do that kind of thing if you so choose, and I guess on a night where they stripped so far down from their usual current incarnation — I’ve seen recent pictures of a five-piece lineup and I don’t think there’s really a limit when people start showing up — you can do a set of two songs and have it work. Call it playing to their minimal side if you want, either way, Queen Elephantine wanted nothing for sonic presence or fullness save where they wanted to want for it, and were able to conjure vivid atmospherics even with the reduced personnel. Becker took a spoken word part in the middle of the first song — “The Search for the Deathless State” from 2008′s Kailash — and they settled into a fervent build across both that and “Chariot in Solemn Procession,” the latter taken from 2008′s Yatra EP and rounding out with an undulating groove made all the more insistent through Couto‘s drumming.
You could see when he clicked with Becker and Shome in the pacing. Initially he seemed to be pulling fast, but they smoothed out over the course of their time and ultimately, whether it was droned to oblivion or crushingly doomed, Queen Elephantine satisfied vigorously. I thought it was cool as hell, and similar to hearing Scarab and thinking the band was coming into a sound of their own after years of directional experimentation, I got the same impression in their confidence on stage. A loop of tanpura drone behind further filled out the sound behind them, only to be swallowed up by louder parts and reemerge here and there, staying on for a while after they brought their last song to its crashing conclusion.
Thursday night in Allston seemed like a fun time for hip cats, but I’m never been fun or hip, so I darted surreptitiously back to my car and headed back to my little slice of the Commonwealth. Beat as I was, I was glad to have shown up and I resolved more or less immediately not to let it go so long until next time.
More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.