Musicfest Northwest Recap
Saturday, September 11
Alright, since there’s going to be a whole bunch of gushing and throwing around of words like ‘legendary’ and ‘awesome’ in the next few hundred that pour out of my dome, let’s get some other shit out of the way first. The Roseland is a piece of shit venue. It’s like watching a show in a damn high school gymnasium. The sound is alright, but the vibe is all off. No matter how awesome a show might be, the venue will always affect the overall vibe a little to the left or right… and Roseland is just… terrible.
Anyhow, that’s not the point really. It was Saturday. My great reward for surviving three days terrorizing Portland with the SRG crew was to arrive in the clutches of the Roseland Ballroom to witness the only NW appearance of a reunited Sleep. Yeah, Sleep. If you’ve managed to stay dry around the floods of ink and pixels lately about just how fucking awesome it is that Sleep has reunited for some shows, allow me to put it very succinctly for you. Sleep is, next to Kyuss and Black Sabbath, the most important stoner metal band of all time. More specifically, they completed the evolution of doom metal. Every time you listen to Goatsnake, Eagle Twin, Electric Wizard… thank Sleep.
This was not the complete original Sleep lineup, though. Drummer Chris Hakius retired from music altogether a few years ago so Neurosis’ Jason Roeder held down the kit and pulled it off with finesse. Hakius’ absence does not make the reunion any less authentic, because the important elements – that is, guitarist Matt Pike and bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros – were still present. Those two have been responsible for piles of kick ass metal in their post-Sleep tenures (High on Fire, Om, Shrinebuilder, Kalas) and seeing them share the stage was a doomer’s wet dream.
Wait, we must back up. Yob opened the show. They were great. They were heavy. They kept an anxious crowd well entertained and made a pile of new fans. Next was a solo set from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, whose acoustic-guitar ramblings are interesting enough by yourself on a rainy night but completely out of place on this particular night. The crowd was chatting through the set and Mr. Kelly got upset and acted like a diva bitch. You know what would have been awesome? Neurosis. Not fucking Scott Kelly. What the hell was he doing on that bill?! Ah, enough. The man is a borderline legend, he can do as he pleases.
Finally, amidst enthusiastic roars from the crowd, Sleep took the stage. Matt Pike unleashed a brutal drone of feedback that lasted for several minutes before Al and Jason joined in on what morphed into the opening chords to Sleep’s 70-minute opus, “Dopesmoker”. The air was charged and a suspicious haze began to drift over the crowd. Fifteen minutes of “Dopesmoker” eventually segued into the opening riff for “Sleep’s Holy Mountain” and the show was officially underway. The billing for this performance was “Sleep performs Holy Mountain in its entirety” so it was no surprise that the next hour was dedicated to this material.
The only complaint I have ever had about “Sleep’s Holy Mountain” is the album’s sound ain’t that great. I even have a vinyl reissue and it’s lacking sonically. Live, however, this shit blew the fucking roof off. It was tight and bowel-shaking and everything you want in a metal concert. Matt and Al improvised lengthy sections of the material and played well beyond their abilities of fifteen years ago when the album was recorded. Even though I was lambasting the Roseland earlier for being ghetto, the sound was fantastic and loud for Sleep. Everything was grooving and clicking like I could only hope, and as “Holy Mountain” reached its end the crowd was stunned, or stoned, or both.
Scott Kelly made another appearance on stage for a brief tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, playing “Mob Rules” with Sleep until Matt broke his guitar and walked off stage. I had very little time to wonder if that was that before he returned with a Les Paul locked and loaded and Sleep launched into another lengthy section of “Dopesmoker” before leaving the stage victorious.
The house lights came on and I stared wide-eyed at a crowd of similarly mesmerized people. We slowly poured back out onto the streets of Portland, knowing full well we had just witnessed a truly unique and incredible performance.
Matt Abrahamson contributes to the awesome blog Seattle Rock Guy, on which this review also appears.