Limewire vs SUNN O)))
Posted: Sep 24, 2009
Sunn O))) at Brooklyn Masonic Temple, NYC 9/22/09
Countless shows spent standing around tables piled with miscellaneous electronics and pedals while some bearded dude bobs over them making disjointed noise has made me leary of seeing any band with even a tangential connection to anything that might be considered “experimental.” Sorry, but I have a short attention span and listen to punk rock, so if your performance isn’t trying, at least a little bit, to keep me interested, I won’t be. This made me nervous to see Sunn O))), an experimental drone metal band who put out one of my favorite albums of the year, the aptly titled Monoliths & Dimensions. Sunn O)))’s music (the O))) is silent) play dense and heavy guitar riffs at a glacial pace, and their live shows are known for dense room-filling fog, towering amps, mysterious cloaked figures, and unbearable volume. To me, the uninitiated, sounds interesting, but not especially exciting.
Sunn O)))’s headlining set at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple last night (could there be a more appropriate venue?), completely lived up to the band’s reputation, and yet they amounted to so much more than that. Before Sunn O))) took the stage, Mongolian chants emanated from the PA and smoke machines slowly filled the hot room with a dense atmosphere. I joked with my companion that the band wouldn’t start to play until the massive space was completely full, but by the time Sunn O))) took the stage 20 minutes had passed and fog had rendered half the crowd invisible.
Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson, the core of Sunn O))), eventually emerged, taking their places in front of a literal wall of amps, and began to fill the room with riffs as dense as the smoke emanating from their machines. Soon legendary death metal vocalist Attila Csihar appeared, dressed in a dark robe to match his accompanists, and Sunn O))) delved into “Agartha,” the first song on Monoliths. While band proceeded to lumber through the rest of the album, with O’Malley and Anderson laying down expert sonic assault, Csihar rose as the real star of the show. His vocal range, from banshee whale to demonic bellow, was unbelievable, and his costume changes, the first to a mirror-covered armadillo-like suit with laser pointer fingers and then to some kind of bondage tree-being, were a source of sustained awe.
The other star of the show was, of course, volume. Loudest show of my life. No question. Not only were my bones shaking and my gut totally busted, but I felt my clothes ripple and my nostrils flare. Seriously. If it weren’t for ear plugs I probably wouldn’t be able to hear the clacking of my own keyboard right now. This, though, isn’t novelty, or a badge of honor that reads, “I experienced Sunn O))) and lived to hear another day.” As any musician will attest, playing music is a physical experience, by which I don’t mean tactile sensation, or the action of playing, but the feeling of playing. Great music comes from the body, the instrument merely a medium for that expression, and the source of the most engaging of live performances. Sunn O))), with their amps turned up way past 666, offer this elusive sensation to their audience, in a real physical form: stomach rumbling, ribs rattling, and face melting. For a band that seemingly does so little on stage, Sunn O))) managed to play one of the best shows I’ve seen all year; totally not boring.