No SLEEP Til Brooklyn!

SLEEP's Stoner Caravan From Deep Space Arrives At The Masonic Temple

September 6 & 8, 2010

by Solomon G

Two sold out, capacity shows shook the foundations of Brooklyn, New York's Masonic Temple this past week when 'stoner' metal juggernaut, SLEEP, let loose their sonic tsunami upon the throngs of ardent fans who showed up in droves to witness the rare performance of 'Holy Mountain', SLEEP's first album, released in 1992. 

However, there were more than a few surprises interspersed throughout the set as well - beginning with the intro to their epic, single-track album 'Dopesmoker' (originally retitled and released by the trepidatious record company types at London as 'Jerusalem'). On both shows, guitarist, Matt Pike, rung the overpowering chordal riffs upon entering the stage to thunderous applause, presently joined by bassist Al Cisneros and erstwhile Neurosis drummer, the always excellent Jason Roeder (standing in for original drummer, Chris Hakius, who has chosen to discontinue touring on such a large scale for what by all reports are personal reasons). Even though this was a truncated version of 'Dopesmoker', it was not the last we would hear of that epic track during either performance.

[Note: If the setlist was any different during either show, I couldn't tell, as I was too busy thrashing about, banging my head, singing along and shouting at the top of my lungs throughout the show to take actual notes (taking notes is for squares, see - and Solomon G ain't no square!) Even if I had, they would have been wringing with sweat like the rest of my clothes at the end of each show, and thus rendered completely useless anyway, but I digress…SG]

The 'Holy Mountain' portion began, unlike the album, with the extra-dimensional mindfuck trippiness of the title track. It's hard to believe that SLEEP is a three-piece either on album or live, because the waves of tonal tumult are massive! Pelted with wash after wash of insane volume is a transcendent experience for the devout, and judging by the faces and actions of the audience on both evenings, we were all deep fans - either that or folks deep within the process of conversion. As Holy Mountain gave way to the brutally crushing riffage of The Druid, out came the sea of fists, rising and falling in unison to the beat of the music.

It was at this point where I noticed the changing attitudes of any curiosity seekers and/or newcomers to the scene I had surreptitiously noticed earlier, as there is no way possible to be physically unaffected by this music, live, at this volume - no fucking way - bobbing heads and glazed expressions all around: men, women, children, grandmas and grandpas - didn't matter! The hypno-groove of SLEEP's music is felt as well as it is heard. And any hold-outs were complete converts by the opening strains of Evil Gypsy/Solomon's Theme(!) washed over the heads of those in attendance. Also right around this point was the first of several astounding, spotlight solo jams by Pike. Matt Pike's style (at least within the context of SLEEP) is not to amaze with flashy technicality, but rather a blazing method of madly rhythmic rising and falling scalar patterns, interspersed with dizzyingly evil sounding, Iommi-style half-tone trills. The effect, as with much of their material in general, is highly engaging and hypnotic.

To my personal amazement, at this point in both shows, the capacity audience fell virtually silent as the band invited them to pay quiet attention to the bass and drums jam, Nain's Baptism (which apparently replaced Some Grass in this area of the album's program for these two shows). Words fail to explain the dynamism of this piece, played at this particular juncture in the show: SLEEP had wordlessly taken us from an overwhelming barrage of volume, directly into one of the quietest pieces of music from any band in any genre. Quiet, but not exactly placid or peaceful, the progression on this song is highly mysterious - borderline evil - sounding, and the screen projections at this point emphasized the feeling with a slow motion image of a Tombs Of The Blind Dead Templar-style grim reaper. As mentioned above, the audience, too, was very quiet: partly, I believe, because they were simply stunned.

Not too stunned to go right back into an ecstatic frenzy of riff-groovery at the opening strains of Aquarian, over the

course of which, we in the audience went from groove to absolute ape-shit for a slight return to 'Dopesmoker' and another amazing Pike solo, which dovetailed into a very cool version of Inside The Sun. For that track, though the live interpretation built up to an even more savage and wild conclusion than the album, Cisneros' delivered a more modulated and subdued vocal style - the overall effect of which was truly astounding. This proved the perfect crashing crescendo precursor to the climax and grand finale to come.

A word about Matt Pike: if you've ever seen this guy live, you get the sense that he's basically the same stoner kid that lives for this stuff as he was when they composed this material back in the early '90s; for the feedback of both the amplifiers as well as the audience. His enthusiasm is obvious as it is refreshing, and I wish every other metal musician would take note.

Now, I can't swear to it, but It strikes me that the particular song-order of these shows were very cleverly arranged to build up in tension and release for the ten-plus-minute show-stopper of the evening - From Beyond - and definitely by this time the audience was going off (I even noticed during the course of this number that there was a dude who looked just like Solomon G, standing in my shoes, punching with both fists at the sky, head back shouting out "FUUUCK YEEEAAAHHH…!!!" Repeatedly!)

After a truly rousing call for encores from the audiences on both nights, SLEEP returned to the stage with an air of triumphant humility and launched into their rendition of Ozzy's Over The Mountain, which I'm not sure really worked doom style, but maybe it was an inside joke. I do know I was just grateful for the opportunity to spend a little more time with SLEEP and didn't really care what cover they played - but that was just the lead-in for more 'Dopesmoker' and unreleased, hidden doom-stunner, Antarcticus Thawed.

I tell you, folks, for someone who never thought he'd witness SLEEP perform live, I was completely sandblasted to see them not once, but twice in one week! Perhaps there is hope that Matt and Al may reform once again to do a tour of 'Dopesmoker' proper (though it's almost too much to hope for to see Chris Hakius on tour with them as well, but, hey - stranger things have been known to happen!)

Here's to SLEEP - long may the Stoner Caravan bring thunder and lightning alive!

Some Youtube footage of the event: