notes from the coast: Sleep at The Wiltern, L.A.

Were the metal gods pissed at me last month? First I miss out on grind/crust legends Doom as the show gets moved far away and my buddy shows up way too late for us to go. Then it turns out we could’ve gone to see Nails instead, which I found out about the next morning. Next I miss Dax Riggs on my birthday because he came on WAY earlier than he should’ve and finally Hate Eternal and Origin play on a night that I’m working late….

Well apparently the metal gods have begun reparations as they presented me with stoner/doom legends Sleep at The Wiltern this past Sunday and there was NO WAY I was gonna miss this. My first stroke of luck was clicking on the link that asked me if I would like to know more about some opening band called Premonition 13. Boy was I glad I did!

Premonition 13 is the newest band featuring Scott “Wino” Weinrich on guitar/vocals, Jim Karow on guitar/vocals, Matthew Clark on drums, and Brian Daniloski on bass. As far as doom metal goes there is no one more legendary than Wino. If you don’t know the name then you need to do your metal homework. His work alone in St. Vitus, The Obsessed and Spirit Caravan have already earned him a life sized statue carved out of gold in the doom section of the Pantheon of Metal. He’s like Tony Iommi‘s long lost biker brother. And that’s not even including his work in bands like The Hidden Hand, Place of Skulls, supergroup Shrinebuilder etc…

As the show started, soothing guitar swells filled the concert hall and gracefully welcomed the entering crowd. Moments later classic Wino guitar riffs spewed forth as opener B.E.A.U.T.Y. sounded the doom bell. Midway through the song came the heavy, yet majestic Wino moment you always know is coming, that moment when he lets the heavy riffs ring out while that gravelly whiskey tinged voice soars melodically over them, the kind of moment where you raise your horns, lift your head to the sky and yell out “Fuck Yeah!”. After that I knew I was in for a treat. Some of the others I dug were the classic doom of La Hechicera de la Jeringa, up tempo rocker Switchouse, the anthemic, Neil Young-like Modern Man sung by Jim, and tribal closer Peyote Road.

Having never heard them before, I thought the new band lay somewhere between the classic doom sounds of The Obsessed and the more psychedelic sounds of The Hidden Hand with some St. Vitus heft sprinkled in between. Their performance was great and I got to see Wino shred on the guitar, something I didn’t get to see when I saw St. Vitus earlier this year, and although Premonition 13 is not gonna stop the world in its tracks, it’s very much classic Wino and I can’t wait to wrap my ears around new album 13 and some brand new riffs from the legend.

As for the next band, let me first say, I never GOT Harvey Milk. Not the famed SF gay politician mind you, but the highly regarded alterna/sludge band out of Athens, Georgia. I came to their party very late in the game, my first experience being 2008‘s Life, the Best Game in Town and to be quite honest, didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. After a couple of listens, I found I really didn’t enjoy this cd, the songs were very dis-jointed, schizophrenic and slooow and I just didn’t GET it. Not to say that a number of bands I listen to aren’t just like that either, but for whatever reason I just didn’t enjoy them. Needless to say I wasn’t thrilled to see them on the bill…

That’s what makes it so hard to understand why I actually enjoyed their performance. A lot. In fact, to say I enjoyed their performance would be a major understatement. These guys sounded nothing like what I expected, it was an ear opening experience. They were heavy, tight, and energetic and they had me banging my head in serious approval. As I was unfamiliar with their songs I can’t tell you which ones I enjoyed the most but even though a lot of their music is slow and brooding, their talent and unique sound are undeniable. What I heard in their songs was the slow, brutal drone of early Swans mixed with heavy Melvins riffs, the manic/depressive dynamics of any Steve Albini project (Big Black, Rapeman, Shellac, etc…) all done with some Clutch groove. After witnessing tonight’s performance I finally GOT Harvey Milk, and I have to say I walked away very impressed, at least live. I may not be the biggest Harvey Milk fan, even after tonight, but I will certainly go back and pay Life and some of their other works some well deserved attention. And after that? Well, you just never know…

Now we’re all aware the 90’s were a big metal wasteland here in the US with the onset of grunge exterminating metal like the bubonic plague. But there was one band and one man that helped me get through that dark period; the band, seminal stoner/doom legends Sleep; the man, my metal hero, Matt Pike. He’s not the best technical guitarist around, nor the flashiest, and he’s certainly not the prettiest. But what he is, is a sweaty, nasty, dirty, meaty metal riff embodied in the form of a man, and he’s the heart of the Sleep sound. When Holy Mountain came out, it was the first time I’d ever heard the term stoner/doom metal, and with legendary metal brother Al Cisneros in tow, they helped carry me through the dark depths of despair and kept my metal faith alive while simultaneously redefining my definition of “heavy” metal. Although Matt and Al would go on to bigger and better things with High on Fire and Om respectively, it’s always been their first metal baby that holds a special place in my heart.

There’s only one thing you should expect at a Sleep show and that’s the power and the glory of the all-mighty metal riff. Well, that and smoke. Last year at their reunion show at the Regency Grand Ballroom in SF, the air was so thick with smoke my friend got sick from it. You could barely see the stage, not to mention the serious contact high, so I was looking forward to seeing them sober (relatively). This time around smoke was at a minimum and behind the band I could see a screen with images of rockets launching into outer space, astronauts and cosmonauts soaring past solar flares leaping out from the sun, giant comets flying past massive planets. Then the images would change into exploding underwater volcanoes erupting deep beneath the ocean and on to the coldest, desolate icy plains where massive glaciers lumbered across the earth, carving gigantic paths into the rock and grinding up the stone beneath it to dust. What’s the purpose you ask? Well besides the obvious, it tells us non-smokers that Sleep is the perfect soundtrack to witnessing all the heaviest shit you can possibly imagine (high or not).

Re-formed with Nuerosis drummer Jason Roeder, the band crushed everyone’s head right off the bat with the mighty opening riffs to Dopesmoker. The bass and drum combo of Al and Jason shook the whole foundation of the Wiltern with their seismic beatdown while Matt ripped off massive riff after massive riff throwing everyone into a metal seizure. Breaking down the hourlong song Dopesmoker into parts, to be revisited later in the show, was much appreciated as it left a lot of time to hit all the classics and more. From bluesy banger Dragonaut and the stoner battle cry of The Druid, to the majestic trudging Holy Mountain and epic doom crawler From Beyond, the band had never sounded heavier or tighter than they did Sunday night. Some may complain that Sleep are not as fast and furious as High on Fire, and they’d be right, but Sleep are a different beast entirely and should be treated as such. If you want to feel the metal riffs pulsating through your bones, reverberating through your skull, and oozing out your every pore then you need to see this legendary band if you get the chance. This is metal at it’s most primal, no bullshit, no pretense, no ego, just pure metal bliss. I can only pray to the metal gods that maybe there will be another Sleep album sometime in the future. After all, they still owe me for missing out on seeing Dax Riggs….