O'Brother, Junius, The Tempest Warehouse Live March 11, 2012
Check out our slideshow from O'Brother and Junius last night.
Maybe it was the gloomy, chilly weather and maybe it was the scads of cold medicines we'd been taking all day, but Rocks Off found ourselves in a weird headspace on Sunday night. It was a very quiet evening; the whole city seemed to be asleep, preferring to stay warm and well clear of the nasty drizzle hanging in the air.
Dreary and isolating as conditions were, it was the perfect, sleepy night to experience O'Brother and Junius, two heavy (really heavy) rock acts with a taste for exploring the unknown boundaries of the unconscious mind.
Local openers The Tempest kicked off the rock at Warehouse Live on Sunday night with a high-energy set of thrashing metalcore, but there would be no windmill kicks on display in the audience. The small crowd that turned out Sunday night hadn't driven downtown to mosh.
Instead, the PA system in the Warehouse Live lounge temporarily became the city's largest pair of headphones as concertgoers allowed gentle currents of guitar distortion to wash over them, carrying them deep into Inner Space.
Entirely too many heavy bands these days have fallen in love with unintelligible grunting. Sure, screaming and growling certainly have their place in extreme rock, but Junius' singer/guitarist Joseph E. Martinez made it clear straight off the bat that this wouldn't be that kind of show.
He may have stayed partially hidden behind a bushy beard and sweatshirt hood, but Martinez sang out strong and clear, his voice floating like an inflatable life raft on a vast ocean of overdriven guitars.
As the Boston outfit delved into cuts from their Prosthetic Records debut, Reports From the Threshold of Death, rippling swells of distortion rolled together to great hypnotic effect. The squalls of noise on tracks like "Dance on Blood" recalled the music of White Pony-era Deftones and post-rock voyagers Jesu, inviting listeners to arch their backs and drift away painlessly on the currents.
The soft and dreamy potential of excruciatingly heavy rock was explored further by Junius' co-headliners, Atlanta's O'Brother. The band's Southern roots notwithstanding, their music has precisely jack shit in common with the roots-music forming the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou. O'Brother's musical roots don't stretch back nearly as far.
Instead, their sound is infused at its core with the music of '90s alternative acts like Smashing Pumpkins and the Pixies. Alterna-rock is just a starting point, however. The band's triple-guitar lineup allows it to expand and collapse the music's thickness and intensity dramatically, letting songs breathe and swell.
Dreams and sleep are a recurring theme in O'Brother's music. In the swirl of the subconscious, soft comforts and cascading terrors can coexist together interchangeably. The band takes this dynamic to the extreme, swinging from whispered sighs to metallic slabs.
Patient crescendo was a key element of making it work. Over and over again, dreamy guitar and vocal passages shifted organically into painful nightmares as O'Brother stacked distortion on top of more distortion in dense layers. Alt-rock tunes reminiscent of late-'90s Radiohead collapsed into sludgy breakdowns tailor-made to send Crowbar back to the drawing board.
In a set heavy with songs from the band's debut LP, Garden Window, singer/guitarist Tanner Merritt capably approximated Thom Yorke's falsetto wail during the suite's softer moments and edged convincingly into Kurt Cobain territory as the waves of punishing sound built, crested and crashed.
It was an impressive performance, considering that Merritt admitted he'd been surviving for weeks on a diet of Nyquil and Sudafed. Lyrically, he laid his existential worries bare onstage as the band obliged to pound them out of his skull with percussive force.
At one point near the end of the show, O'Brother managed to cram three drummers on to the stage, all bashing away at once. It was a primal, concussive blast that sent the curious few in attendance away dazed, deafened and determined to head home and explore a few dreams of their own before slapping the snooze bar on another Monday morning.
Personal Bias: Anybody know when Isis is reforming for a tour? We suddenly miss those guys.
The Crowd: A small clutch of thoughtful headbangers.
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Overheard In the Crowd: Not much. Most audience members stood listening in deferent silence while the bands played, applauding politely when appropriate. Not a devil horn in sight.
Random Notebook Dump: "Jimmy Page was a pussy. This guy's using a violin bow on his BASS!"