Isis at Mesa Luna, November 17
The first band was unremarkable. They were thrashy and screamy and knocked mike stands around. I’ll give them an A for being into it and some kudos for getting through their set without anyone losing an eye.
These Arms Are Snakes from Seattle were in the middle slot, playing a spazzy set of whatevercore. The guitarist and bass player both doubled on keyboards—always an entertaining strategy. I heard Smash laugh heartily the first time they swung their guitars aside mid song and started parping away. Their singer had some good moves in the manner of Ian Curtis. I’d like to hear them on record because I couldn’t grasp much of what they were doing live.
Isis provided an elegant contrast to the previous auditory splatter. The fivesome have the patience and courage to explore ideas at a comprehensible pace, resulting in meticulous, relentless music that’s now moved beyond the obvious and overused Neurosis comparisons into Mogwai or Slint territory. That’s the conclusion I drew from their set anyway. They mostly played new songs from Panopticon, and at least one older number (“the beginning and the end“ from Oceanic). The crowd took to the new (and fairly demanding in terms of song length) material quite well, though “the beginning and the end” got a big cheer of recognition a split second after Isis charged into it. Backed by their Stonehenge-like bank of cabinets, they sounded commensurately huge, but having such a massive backline in a small venue overpowered the PA and drowned out Aaron Turner’s vocals. It didn’t detract from the gig though; the shifting musical atmospheres, the important component of Isis’s sound, were fully evident. The bassist was the most valuable player in the band, mainly for the simple yet rare feat of approaching his instrument as a bass in terms of playing and tone. The keyboards suffered the same fate as the vocals, though after hearing how subtly they’re used on Panopticon, it’s no wonder they got lost in the mix.