Neurosis, November 25 at El Corazon (Seattle)
I've been willfully ignorant of Seattle concerts during my lifetime. While other Vancouverites head down there regularly for shows, I try to not to notice the fact that, say, Porcupine Tree might be playing there in a couple weeks. Friends of mine have their stories of going down to see King Diamond or Black Sabbath or Dream Theater, while I take in whatever shows I can see here and feel grateful that I don't live in Flin Flon (which, admittedly, is the City Built on Rock). But now that I have a passport burning a hole in my pocket and a belting travelling companion in fancylady, the idea of going to a gig in Seattle seemed not so risky and far-fetched. The news that Neurosis would be playing on a Saturday night in November put everything in motion. Conditions were perfect. We were going south.
Neurosis used to tour regularly. Smash and I saw them twice up here on the Through Silver in Blood and Times of Grace tours. Shortly after that, they semi-retired from touring to concentrate on their day jobs and raising their kids. In the meantime the band we went to see on a whim at the Town Pump (only to have our heads caved in) became one of the most influential bands in heavy music. As fearless pioneers who steered crusty hardcore towards territory claimed by Slint and Pink Floyd, they showed the way for dozens of bands fighting it out there today, from the majestic Isis to heavy-hitters like Mastodon.
Despite the decreased roadwork, the albums kept coming—A Sun That Never Sets (2001) and The Eye of Every Storm (2004) were both mammoth statements of slow-burning intensity. Clearly their retreat from the full-time rock life hadn't watered down their approach at all. The thought of them performing material from those two great albums was another powerful lure for me.
On this tour, they'd be playing just two shows in the Northwest (Seattle and Portland) before heading into the studio to record the next album. Neurot labelmates Grails opened for them at El Corazon with a set of instrumentals that used a lot of interesting Middle-Eastern sounding intervals and a good dose of twang. In fact, some of their material sounded like a rocked-up take on Earth's deathly & dessicated C&W style from their Hex... album. They also swapped instruments throughout their set; something I get a kick out of seeing. Good stuff, and they went over well.
When Neurosis play it's not so much a rock concert as a high-minded, gut-level cathartic ritual. Their songs have so much gravity; you can imagine them sweating over every nuance during their conception. Their live approach has the same ultra-premeditated feel. Every second is accounted for, and assigned a sound or visual for maximum impact. When songs end, prerecorded segues fill the space while the band retune. The projections behind the band show footage of wolf packs running in slow motion, time-lapse flowers blooming then rotting, or dead animals decaying. Gone are the days when their visuals guy used to set up his custom scaffold for the slide and film projectors and do everything "live"—now the images are all on DVD. "The Tide" opened the set, a song that nicely sums up the Neurosis aesthetic over the last decade with its sparse opening and slow buildup to the inevitable explosion of relentless riffage. "The Doorway" (from Times of Grace) followed immediately, upping the levels of chaos and unleashing one of the heaviest riffs in their catalogue—if you've heard the song you know the one. Pure devastation. The set included a couple new songs that fit right in with the likes of "Crawl Back In," "Left to Wander" and "From Where the Roots Run." As fancy noted, the club was way overcrowded (oversold?) and hot. This added to the intensity of the show, though. The band—by all accounts very nice guys—were utterly rabid. Scott Kelly, a man given to punctuating his vocals by headbutting the mike, was bleeding from the forehead by the end. There was no encore. The whole idea of Neurosis coming back onstage to perform some crowd-pleasing "hit" is laughable. That's the kind of ritual you get at any other show.