Stones From The Sky…
Neurosis/Sumac at St. Vitus Bar
For lack of a better statement – I pity the rest of you living in North America right now. Not out of spite or looking down my nose and thinking, “Well, I live in New York City, where the fuck do you live?” In fact, I’m on the down-swing of the love-hate relationship that is living here. The reason I pity the rest of you is for one pure and simple fact: I had the chance to see Neurosis not once, but twice in two days. I’m sure most of you are aware that Neurosis is on tour right now, with Sumac and The Brothers of the Sonic Cloth supporting them. Their most extensive tour in fifteen years. Just like everyone else, when they announced this tour, my head almost exploded. So after the devastation that was unleashed on the Warsaw in Greenpoint, Brooklyn the other night, Neurosis announced that they, alongside Sumac, would be appearing at Saint Vitus the following night for an early set. With tickets going on sale at ten in the morning Monday, I pushed my hangover aside, got out of bed and fumbled for my debit card in order to insure that I was there.
I’ve seen a number of shows at Saint Vitus over the last five years, and at this point, when two bands of this magnitude play, you know it’s going to be a special night. There’s a difference between seeing a show at a large venue, where the band is elevated by a huge stage and out of reach, and seeing one at place that is so much more intimate and personal. Especially when you consider both Sumac’s and Neurosis’ own individual sounds, and how they play out in the live setting. To say that seeing this in person at this venue would be the show of the summer, for me is an understatement. And this is coming from the guy who saw Severed Head of State destroy The Acheron a few weeks ago.
I had the good fortune to review Sumac’s debut album The Deal earlier this year. With the well-deserved attention and reviews they received, I was excited to see them again, this time even more up close. Sumac is a different beast when compared Aaron Turner’s other projects. While they definitely have that whole thinking-man’s-metal vibe to them, they’re definitely a more primal, stripped-down-to-the-bare-bones project. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s been years since I’ve seen this man perform with any of his projects. Not for lack of interest, but more of wrong time, wrong place. So it seemed to make sense that it was time for me to jump back into his world and new project for another round of whiplash-inducing music.
Sumac took to the stage a little after 8 pm and announced their arrival with the song “Thorn In The Lion’s Paw.” It’s always interesting to see a band live their first time in this city, even more so with their collective reputation in tow. Everyone seemed receptive to Sumac’s sound. With heads nodding along and bodies rocking back and forth to the massive noise that blared out of the amps. Turner looked on point, but then again, the dude has been doing this for years. But more importantly, he looked like he was enjoying it.
One of the factors that had me so intrigued by Sumac originally was Baptists’ drummer Nick Yacyshyn, who joined forces with Turner. So when the opening chords of “Hollow King” were struck, I instantly moved forward to catch a better glimpse of this octopus-like musician. And hot damn, I wasn’t disappointed by any of his display behind the drums. To say that this dude is a fucking beast is a massive understatement to his skills. “Hollow King” showcases Yacyshyn perfectly during the half-way point of the song. As the songs breaks down, feedback filled the venue while Nick stunned everyone in attendance with his chops. Even more so when Turner comes roaring back in with a colossal riff that set the tone for not only the rest of their set, but the night as well.
“Blights Angel” and “The Deal” rounded out the rest of Sumac’s set, which is pretty much the meat of their first release. It was awesome to see these dudes drop their sonic hammer onto the crowd. And for their first venture into NYC, the crowd was incredibly receptive to them. As much as I enjoyed their performance at the Warsaw, I gained a greater appreciation for the band as result of this show. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on these monsters over the course of their existence and I’m very, very much anticipating new material to revealed hopefully sometime soon.
As the lights went out and Neurosis stepped forward, one could almost grasp the feeling of excitement straight out of the air. For a brief second, everyone in attendance held their breath. That is, until a thick New York accent voice boomed out, “Holy shit! This is about to happen! I’ve seen this band twenty times and I just want to say thank you so much for playing this show!” His comment cut across the venue like a surgeon’s scalpel. A round of laughter and clapping echoed across the room. But just as quick as this moment occurred, it ended. Because everyone knew that as a group, we were about to have a game-changing performance unleashed upon us. The heavy clanking of industrial machinery exploded out of the speakers, which were positioned above the stage like guardian angels, and it quickly became apparent what song they were unveiling. The heavy, rhythmic thumping that issued forth from the floor toms announced that “Through Silver and Blood” would be the band’s opening statement for this show. Scott Kelly stepped forward in all his bestial glory and barked forth the opening lyrics that have become genetically imprinted into my DNA and soul.
The fallout from their opening salvo left the room in utter captivation. And with the noise-filled segments that played between each song, it was almost a barbaric form of torture having to wait and see what song was next. The opening crunch of “The Doorway” played its way straight into my heart, heightened by the explosive head-butt of Scott Kelly against his microphone that cut his forehead open, resulting in a tiny line of blood that ran between his eyes. I’ve seen him do this before in previous shows and I wondered just how calloused his forehead has become after thirty-plus years of this abuse. But I mean, whatever ritualistic, cathartic acts this man – and the band itself – has to perform in order to continue down their path, please by all means, keep it up.
The all too familiar bassline from “Times of Grace” crawled its way over the shell-shocked crowd. I mean, really, just how abusive were they planning on getting tonight? As much as I love this band, every ounce of my being was being destroyed by how intense the set-list had been so far. I’m not meaning to complain, because up until this point everything had been beyond my expectations. But shit. This was getting really intense. Almost as if the sensed a need to change the mood and head into a different direction, Neurosis moved into the opening of “The Tide,” one of their most defining songs. The crowd sang along as expected to this emotionally heavy opening before they catapulted the audience into the still to this day fantastically heavy segment. I’ve never gotten bored of seeing them play this song live because of its weight and meaning to me, personally, so seeing it in the live setting at Vitus was beyond special.
Continuing on the same route of delving into their more nuanced and emotionally deep songs, Neurosis dropped an absolutely breathtaking display with “My Heart For Deliverance” and “At The Well.” The latter song actually had me teetering on the edge of utter sadness and reflecting on the years that have gone by. It takes a special kind of band to pull this off. To actually capture your heart in the live setting and pull at it till the strings attached are taut and frayed. In all honestly, there has really only been one other band that I’ve seen live before capable of doing that to me. And that band was Fugazi. So ah, yeah. That should pretty much sum up how intense hearing these two songs live were for me.
As I pulled myself back together from the emotional voyage that I just embarked upon, Noah Landis continued to fill the gap of time between songs with his always impressive sampling and work behind the keyboard. And then it happened. With the soft rumble of drums and bass, “Locust Star” slowly began to descend up the audience. As this infamous song explodes, hands flew up into the air as if we were all the poor, lost damned souls in Hell yearning to escape. When I first got into Neurosis, I always said that if I actually see them play this song live, that I would explode. Well, I’ve seen them now play it three times live and fuck, it’s always a consistent battery of such raw, anger. It never gets old for me, nor for I think any true fan of this band.
At this point in the show, I knew things were wrapping up, sadly. It had been an amazing experience, but the one question that as about to be answered was what song were they going to close with? The set that they had played the previous night and tonight was a steady mix of some of their best material (do they have any bad material?) As the sound of a bell rolled its way across the venue, I smirked secretly to myself, realizing that they were going to drop “Stones From The Sky” as the final song. A perfect ending to a flawless set. One that again backed up my opinion that Neurosis are absolutely, hands down, one of the most majestic bands extreme music has seen. At this point in their career, I can say that they’ve transcended beyond being single individuals that make great music when placed in a room together. They’re a goddamn institution. This performance at Vitus only cemented their already huge legacy. If you’ve yet to see this band, get your shit together. If you have tickets for the upcoming dates, prepare yourself.