Sunn O
Earth
The Bendal Interlude

Roadkill, Liverpool

13/2/06

 

Bit of a quiet gigs spell recently meant looking forward to this, but also in the knowledge that this was going to be an experience and not just a diversion.The two American headline bands have legendary status in the field of colossal noise production, pretty much defining the drone rock genre. A bastardised offspring of the early heavy vibes laid down by Black Sabbath (Earth was also their previous name), itís been taken to the nth degree of slowness and cranked up to 11. Put it this way, there wasnít going to be much dancing going on.

 

The huge black tour bus looked a bit incongruous outside what turned out to be a relatively small club up by the cathedrals.That said, given recent poor attendances in Liverpool, the place filled up very well and there was a good atmosphere.The ominous, looming wall of rag tag amps and cabs at the back of the stage impressed

 

Despite being only 5 minutes late for the doors time on the ticket, locals The Bendal Interlude were already on the foot high stage at the back of the club.No, Iíve no idea what the name means, any clues?On first impression they struck with extremity, reverbed/delayed screamed vocals washing over heavy distorted instruments, but quickly became evident they had a filthy stoner groove going along too, in the vein of Fu Manchu or Nebula.Some excellent powerful drumming picked up the pace to something thrashier at times but still super-heavy, they also interspersed the songs with some entertaining samples.Good stuff all round

 

The club showed its impractical side with the changeovers between bands, there being no backstage, just the front and sides.So a lot of to-ing and fro-ing later and Earth are ready.Slowly building sampled vibes, initially minimalist cymbal fills from the lady drummer.The guitarist begins the gradual picking through a chord, clear sharp notes, repeated, drawn out, subtly backed by excellently Derek Smalls moustachioed bass player.The last ingredient in the mix is a trombone, played at full stretch for long, deep blasts, the player also swaps to moog every now and again.The sum of the parts is drifting, atmospheric waves, small changes in the structure every now and again that donít allow it to be boring.Thereís also plenty of time for some watchers to get down with the vibe by skinning up repeatedly, the air is pungent.It has to be said that they are much lighter than I expected or their classic early ď2Ē album which is all I have (70+ minutes, three songs, the last one featuring one note) though Iíd heard indications of their progression.Now feel they enter into barren territory more akin to God Speed! You Black Emperor or later Neurosis, or the haunting trippy-ness of Twin Peaksí Red Room, itís still a fantastic achievement in exercises upon a riff.They play for a solid, solid hour, and are warmly applauded.


 

After the awkward changeover and checking Sunn O come off stage (canít go back, remember) and the smoke machines (onstage) go into overdrive, a fog barely illuminated by the red glow of the lights. Again, keyboard vibes herald the beginnings but these are delivered at a pretty instantly wincing volume level, this is more like it. They have described themselves as ďan Earth tribute bandĒ so maybe this is what they too sounded like back in the day.Then, ushered by some dome-headed freak a procession of black cowled monks of apocalyptic noise aka Sunn O make their way through the crowd back to the stage and commence adding to the phenomenal volume.I am positioned some 4 or 5 feet from the PA, donít think it would be any easier elsewhere, and it is the most incredible aural experience.Two guitars and two moogs is all it is, but the chronically distorted, downtuned, feedback avalanche is at the same time horrifying and beautiful, I laugh out loud at the insanity.†† The riffs extend to about 4 notes in this first ďsongĒ, the frequencies are deliberately f**king with your body ( a lot probably pumped out by what seem to be 2 x 2 x 24Ē speakers by the moogs), vibrating your nose, your cerebellum, your shoulder (how precise is that?), your lungs, your guts (fortunately Iíd had a dump earlier), your balls (should you have them), your feet, in turn.Some times feeling that your skin is shaking loose, sonic leprosy. ††The band have plenty of time between notes to grasp at the air with clawed hands, or thump in time to pulsing loops, there is a great sense of the theatrical. The band repeatedly disappear with more smoke action and doubt that a single camera phone gets a clear image. Anyway, one half an hour later, the tune has descended into a fractured, painfully stabbing entity and the monk accompanies the vocalist Malefic to the stage.Heís black metal face painted up and gives that a hint of that angle to the band.†† The vocals are unsurprisingly a hoarse repeated scream, just another layer of violent noise, Iím surprised to see people pretending/trying to sing along.The onslaught goes on and on, unbroken, unrelenting, is it a good thing that you canít have gone deaf because youíre still hurting?At times Iím also reminded of some of the white noise of Atari Teenage riot or brutal industrial like Skin Chamber, itís all explosive excess.Eventually, well over an hour later the instruments are dropped and the musicians go into throes of demonically possessed ecstasy in front of their altars/standing stones of amps.The plug is pulled and the silence is not deafening, but a weight is taken off all the same.

 

Huge appreciation from the ďsurvivorsĒ, an incredible experience everyone should partake of.The weak will run scared within 2 minutes, the normal will give it 20 before leaving with a wry smile and a disbelieving shake of the head, the plain wrong will love every minute.

 

Again, as at Jesu, spotted lightweights with earplugs, pah.Interesting to read recently that Pete Townsend blames his hearing loss not on playing live at record breaking decibels with The Who but on all the time wearing headphones in the studio.So is the risk greater here or for all those the shutting themselves of in the world of i-pod?Iím past caring, once had to hang on to the front of pa speakers to keep them upright while stage-divers flew off the top whilst working at a Sick Of It All gig just round the corner from here at The Picket, and though I may have to second guess what people say in pubs over background music I have compensated by acquiring drug-induced paranoia that lets me clearly hear things which may or not exist.

 

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