Near the end of Earth's set, Dylan Carlson said, "This is the first song I ever wrote for Earth. It's called 'The Ouroboros is Broken.'" This probably came as a surprise to a lot of people because it is inarguably one of Earth's classic songs. The doom-laden, clipped guitar riff in the beginning of this live version progressed into that drawn out, shifting, sprawling, colossus of a song that evolves slowly and surely through distinct movements before coming to a crushing end. Steve Moore played his trombone instead of filling in the keyboard parts for an even more dreamy yet menacing treatment.
For a guy who has seen so much, been a part of so much and done so much in music, Dylan Carlson came off as a humble figure on stage and he gave himself up to the music with each song in a collective display of intuitive musicianship. The band started off the set with a new song, and the way Carlson's guitar sound shimmered out of the low end drone was not just beautiful but curious in how the sound could seemingly transform out of something that sounded completely different.
Adrienne Davies anticipated and partly guided the slow, inexorable rhythms of each song with perfect accents, drawn out in such a deliberative yet organic way while Don McGreevy's bass lines flowed smoothly underneath every song in a strong but never eruptive presence. This music didn't flare up so much as burn slowly. Moore's Hammond floated over the top of the music like he was John Paul Jones circa "No Quarter" himself.
"The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull" got a wildly enthusiastic response from various corners of the crowd. And Carlson told us it was only appropriate to play that song because this was the line-up that had played on the recording of the album of the same name. Carlson definitely went for some unconventional melodies, but what made his method so interesting was his peculiar but highly effective sculpting of feedback and his manipulation of that feedback to set the pace of the music.
Carlson would let the notes or chords ring out to the point where it would just feed back and break up, and then start to splinter. This technique, coupled with Carlson's way of creating a drone in the low end and then backing that up with a higher register micro-riff, proved a highly versatile way of making simple elements the building blocks of a surprising variety of sounds and dynamics.
Carlson told us one of the songs came out of one of his dreams that also included Bob Wills. "The result was 'Multiplicity of Doors,'" Carlson said. "It's a waltz, and you can dance to it." The set ended with "Tallahassee," and one person in the audience was excited for the song out of all proportions. But, to be fair, it was one of the best of the set. McGreevy played a bass line that was alternately floated over and flowed under the main melody in interesting ways.
The show would have been over with that, but the band graciously came back on stage and performed a new song attached to "Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light Part I." For twenty minutes, the band created a sonic narrative like a jazz composition but played at less than a quarter the speed.
The Kevin Costner Suicide Pact opened the show and ran through a fairly continuous stream of music. In the beginning, before most of the sounds were introduced and manipulated, the four guys were turning knobs and otherwise entering the raw guitar, bass and other noise that is used to generate an atmosphere that flows through like a circular current that each of the members of the band tweaks with effects in a chain controlled through one source.
The band played some new material as well as older numbers like the post-rock gone even more abstract and psychedelic "Decay," as well as "Savage Fucking Garden," with its percussive sound and pretty synth sequence treated so all the edges of the music are blurred out in favor of a soft, comforting haze of hypnotically-repeated melody. The band even played material from its latest album, My Hand Holding a Still Photograph of the Same Scene, with "Holdrakèta" and its vibrating intonation at the beginning of the song flowing seamlessly into a sea of samples of echoing voices and birds.
Tyler and Carson Pelo made sounds into microphones during another song that became the sound of an orchestra of frogs in a swap making sounds in staggered, scattered unison. Although there wasn't much movement on stage except for Carson Pelo bobbing his head like he was serving as a DJ part of the rest of the music, it was riveting and soothing and brightly gorgeous.
Stebmo, a duo comprised of Don McGreevy and Steve Moore, followed. The former played his bass and sat in a chair while the latter played both his Hammond and his trombone. Musically, it was this kind of, for lack of a better term, smooth free jazz. Some time after "Perfect Happiness," Moore said, "We're Stebmo, and we're playing in the middle of the sandwich of Kevin Costner and Earth and between those people and you. Sorry about that." "Those people" were all the people at the bar talking so loudly it was louder than the band at its loudest. But Moore was cool about all of it, and he chuckled any displeasure off and got back to playing the music.
The kind of experimental lounge jazz these two guys played sounded like the kind of thing Steely Dan would have listened to for inspiration before writing the material for Aja. The final song of the Stebmo set was called "Work," and Moore told us it was dedicated to the concept of the one minute work week -- surely an aspiration many of us can get behind.
Personal Bias: I've been wanting to see Earth for years, and never thought the opportunity would happen without traveling far away.
Random Detail: Throughout the show, the band seemed pleasantly surprised that the audience was as into the show as it was. Don McGreevy even said to his bandmates off microphone, "Great crowd!"
By the Way: Earth had this beautiful image that looked like a plate out of an illustrated book of mythology rendered as a drawing in white on a green shirt. But it was close to the end of the tour and the band only had smalls left -- in case you're in the next city and are thinking of buying a shirt.