There’s no doubt in my mind that when 2013 is over, this will have been one of its best shows. Out from Oregon prior to sequestering themselves to write a new album, YOB joined forces with Hull and Bezoar for the first of a two-night stay at the St. Vitus bar. It was Sunday as well — and I know the mystique of weeknight shows is that everybody acts like they don’t have to get up the next morning because rock and roll means more when it’s painful — but man oh man, whatever assault and battery I may have inflicted on myself, my neck, my hearing and my ongoing semi-conscious waking state, it was worth it. And not just to have my bald spot show up headbanging down front on those unARTigNYC videos, but you know, for the music, dude.
It was one of those front-to-back nights. They don’t come along all that often, where you can show up to a venue and rest assured that everything you see is going to blow your ass out of the room — without literally doing so, lest you miss a minute of the righteousness. The St. Vitus was sold out for the night, and it was through the much-appreciated grace of Bezoar that I was able to get into the show at all. Having seen an impressive couple of their gigs over the last few months (see here and here), you’re damn right I was showing up early so as not to let their frequently bizarre invocations and riffly conjuring pass me by. I dig that band more the more I see them, and I plan on seeing them more.
The more I see them, however, the clearer the picture becomes about what it is that I enjoy so much. It’s the blend. Their ability to play one influence off another and tip the balance at a moment’s notice between echoey ’90s art rock, visceral doom and scathing extreme metal. Aside from drummer Justin Sherrell‘s fluidity in fast or slow tempos, guitarist Tyler Villard‘s periodic bouts of shred-itis and bassist/vocalist Sara Villard‘s enviable rumbling tone and un-postured vocal ethereality, there’s the course of a given song itself, genre-free and off and running — now at an gallop, now a lurching crash — that nabs the attention and renders moot the bookmaking on what might come next. Factor in the sheer attention-deficit nature of what they’re playing, they almost can’t help but be fun to watch.
For Bezoar, it was a good night to make a lasting impression, and they did precisely that, settling into a groove here and there throughout complex compositions as Tyler‘s variable riffing through a steady hand provided the foundation on which Justin and Sara enacted sped-up post-metal churn, blackened squibblies belted into doomed time-change, ignoring the improbability of it all working as Tyler plucked out a purposefully strange sub-blues lead to somehow answer back. The song about Jim Jones doesn’t have a name yet. I asked Sara afterwards if I could call it “The Song about Jim Jones,” and she said it was cool, so yeah, they played that. Closed with it, in fact, as the new lighting at the St. Vitus bar flickered around the early rush of the cut, which will presumably (hopefully) surface on their next full-length, due sometime this year.
They’ve begun to click as a band on stage, which made them a suitable fit alongside fellow Brooklynites Hull in representing the borough’s heavy creative set. I was up front, but by the time Bezoar had finished, the room was all but packed. Hull aren’t exactly lacking in draw on their own, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, but what occurred to me watching them open for YOB was the same thing that occurs to me almost every time I’m lucky enough to see them, and it’s just how much I absolutely take them for granted. It shames me to say it, because I try not to — their last album, 2011′s Beyond the Lightless Sky (review here), I loved and still keep on my person at most times in my trusty CD wallet, but when it comes to seeing them live, I’m way too blase about it. “Oh, I’ll catch them whenever,” or wait for a night like this to come along when they’re on a bill with someone I can’t miss like YOB, or maybe EyeHateGod.
To wit, this was my first time seeing Hull since guitarist Drew Mack left and they embarked on a new era as a double-guitar four-piece last fall. The change was notable, but it’s not like they went from two guitars to one or one to none. The real kicker was how overwhelmingly heavy they were, guitarist Nick Palmirotto and bassist Seanbryant Dunn splitting vocal duties as they sprinted masterfully through the tense thrashing of “Earth from Water” from the last record, hitting the point of no return for payoff largess and ignoring the signs on their way to cliffdiving doom slowdown. Lead guitarist Carmine Laietta, far off to the right and largely in the dark, tore into the stops of the open solo section given thrust by Jeff Stieber‘s kick drum. How had I let it go so long since the last time I saw Hull?
Like the openers, they also had yet-unreleased material which they used as a follow-up for the massive apex of “Earth from Water” and the chugging heft of “Architect” from 2009′s Sole Lord, mentioning after the fact that the song was new in an “oh by the way” kind of fashion. The central method — create tension, release tension, rebuild and dismantle — seemed roughly the same as ever, and Hull‘s ability to turn a churning riff on its head is nothing short of world class, though it was the extended “Viking Funeral” that made the closing statement of their set, parts weaving out in movements over the course of 15-plus minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I remember when they put out that EP in 2007. I spent a lot of time dorking out over that track.A lot. And I appreciate it when a band doesn’t forget their earlier accomplishments in favor of indulging more recent efforts.
But here’s the thing: It’s only an indulgence if the more recent efforts are in any way weaker than the earlier accomplishments, and Hull‘s aren’t. So much as I was thrilled to hear the undulating riff of “Viking Funeral,” I’m not entirely sure I would’ve taken it over “Fire Vein” or “False Priest” (oh hell, both) from Beyond the Lightless Sky. Perhaps it’s not something they do every show and save for special occasions which something like supporting YOB most definitely is, but there’s so much depth to what they do now that I think it’s worthy of highlighting, however epic their first outing may have been. It’s not a complaint, exactly — that is, “Viking Funeral” kicks ass and we all know it — I just also think the Beyond the Lightless Sky material could just as easily have provided the peak Hull were carrying across in closing out their set.
In any case, they destroyed in a manner befitting what was still to come once YOB took the stage, drummer Travis Foster emerging first from the crowd, then bassist Aaron Rieseberg, then finally guitarist/vocalist Mike Scheidt. There was a bit of a delay as Scheidt had to run and grab a vocal mic, but they were sharing Hull‘s gear, so it wasn’t that long before YOB got going, with “Kosmos” from 2005′s The Unreal Never Lived serving as an entry point to their consuming, space-quaking tonality. A band I once thought I’d never have the chance to see live, I’ve caught a handful of YOB shows in the years since they resumed their ascent with 2009′s The Great Cessation — Manhattan, Roadburn, Roadburn, Brooklyn — and have had few experiences as life-affirming in a concert setting. I mean that. I knew I’d only get to see them this one of the two nights they were at the Vitus bar (the next night, Sea of Bones and Batillus opened), so I did my best to make the most of it. You never know when next they’ll come back, if at all.
And while I took a second to pause and wonder, if I lived in Oregon, would I take YOB for granted the way I do with Hull, I soon enough had my face torn off and handed to me. When they finished “Kosmos,” someone in the crowd shouted “play anything!” and they answered with the soft opening strains of “Catharsis.” At first, I didn’t believe it, but Scheidt, his eyes closed, slowly rocking back and forth, kept it going and gradually, the song built to its full breadth, Foster and Rieseberg joining in the long journey to the initial verse. At one point, I looked down on the stage and there was my right earplug, but if it’s any indication as to how loud the band actually were, I don’t think I’d have known it was missing if I hadn’t actually seen it there. The slow rise of “Catharsis” to the chorus, “The tyranny/Built upon our philosophies/Not for me in solitude again,” indeed lived up to the title of the song, the middle chugs and Scheidt‘s echoing deathly growls — somehow not at all in conflict with the psychedelic-shamanistic delivery through which they were metered out — leading to the extended, ultra-slow plod, crashing, lumbering, chaotic. I stood and watched myself be dismantled by it, piece by piece, broken apart and put together the right way at last.
The final movement of the song, its faster rush, swirls to an Olympus Mons of a culmination before cutting off, and though it’s impossible to me to think of anything following that — perhaps because “Catharsis” closes the record of the same name, which turns 10 this year, or perhaps because it’s the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard — but YOB weren’t long in breaking into The Illusion of Motion‘s “Grasping Air,” the rolling groove of which launched on a sea of nodding and banging heads. Not moshing exactly, but there was a crowd push. Maybe it was moshing. I don’t know. I ignored it, and frankly, was so mentally and spiritually gone by the time they got there that it didn’t matter. I didn’t care. It’s been a while since the last time I was subsumed enough into a performance that I felt that way. The religious call it communion. I was just glad to be in the room.
Rieseberg‘s bass swell under Scheidt‘s solo for “Grasping Air” was steady enough to hold up the walls of the place, and in the stop before the last slowdown, Scheidt let out a high-pitched shriek off mic but still picked up by it that was both jarring and awesome at the same time. The finger-picked opening of “Adrift in the Ocean,” which closed 2011′s Atma (review here), made for a somber moment complemented by Foster‘s cymbal washes and the rumbling bass, but there was still energy left in the band when they moved into the faster core of the percussive build and takeoff, and that energy only built over the stretch, cleaner vocals wailing out in the verse en route to one of the most infectious chorus hooks YOB has ever written, taking the universe personally in a way few lyricists would dare, speaking in images that show more than they say.
A long instrumental push begun with seething whispers — led to the mounting final build, cut off suddenly but to which Scheidt added a last slow strum on his guitar. That was to be the end of the set proper, but they added “Burning the Altar” from The Great Cessation to finish an “encore” and as one of YOB‘s several strong album-openers, it made a great closer to their first night at the St. Vitus bar. I was dizzy by the time they were done, but gathered my camera bag, which I’d put on the floor in front of me, and made my way out. It must have been almost one in the morning? Something like that. I don’t know. I was home before two, which was earlier than the night before, the whole world having that “congratulations, you’ve just done serious damage to your hearing” tin-can sound for the next 36 or so hours. At least when it’s gone I won’t be able to say I wasted it.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading as always.