Surviving Roadburn, Day Three: Relearning What Is Known
by JJ Koczan
Om @ Roadburn 2009 (Herr Hanz)
Saturday night I communed with The Riff.
That's not a joke. I was just drunk enough at just the right moment so that as Neurosis took an all-too-rare trip through their back catalog, I was taken somewhere, like a living out of body experience. They opened with "A Sun That Never Sets," and split the middle with "Stones From The Sky," and ended in a huge Steve Von Till/Scott Kelly/Jason Roeder drum barrage; it was almost too much for a human psyche to endure. Survival instinct kicked in. They played for an hour and a half and I felt years pass.
The day was long, but worth the effort. I got to 013 Popcentrum a couple minutes into Grails' set and was reminded of just how much I enjoy that band and why I keep buying their records every time they put one out. Having never seen them live before, I was glad to learn that they pull off every texture and nuance of their songs on stage with presence and conviction. When Neurot put out their first two records, I was into it, but didn't really understand, and though their albums have gotten incrementally better, now I feel like I really get it. They're well on their way to being geniuses.
Amenra was in the Green Room at the time, which was full of those seeking something more abrasive than Grails could offer. "Dark" is the first word that comes to mind in thinking about their sound. "Crushing" is the second. They had a little of the post-metal cadence in their rhythms, but they were onto something much more sinister, mood-wise. Heavy as hell, seriously.
Grey Daturas I unfortunately missed, but I caught Earth from up on the balcony of the main room and they literally put me to sleep. I actually fell asleep sitting up there on the floor. I guess, as far as Earth goes, that means they were good. I woke up about halfway through and went to check out A Storm Of Light in the Green Room, whose frontman Josh Graham was respectfully treading the path forged by the outfit for whom he does visuals. They have a lot in common with the current league of Neurosis worshippers, but the more basic approach to A Storm Of Light and the stripped down aesthetic in which the trio operates makes them at least somewhat unique among their peers.
It was time for a cup of coffee, which fortunately was available in the merch area (that place is magic, I'm telling you!) I grabbed an espresso out of the machine, bought a couple more records and headed back across the way to catch the end of Earth's set. They closed with a new song that didn't yet have a name -- Dylan Carlson said Southern Lord would be conducting focus groups for it -- and I managed to stay awake to enjoy it. Thanks, caffeine. Six Organs Of Admittance was a strange fit for the day, but as a fan, I was glad to see Ben Chasny on the bill. The Green Room was probably at its emptiest for their set, as both The Young Gods and Nadja were on at the same time, but the sweet acoustic psych-folk Chasny plays drew a decent number of people.
He played for half an hour or so and then got up to leave, only to come back to the stage less than a minute later saying he didn't realize he had another half-hour of set time. He filled another 15 minutes with a new song and two others from the last record, Shelter From The Ash, then split for real. Om would be on shortly, but I managed to catch a couple minutes of Canadian duo Nadja, whose drone was pretty much a given for the Beyond The Pale Festival (I guess they couldn't really call it "Neurosis Day," right?), but they drew well and did what they do. I'd expected to hear them through the wall while Six Organs played, but apparently the 013 has some decent soundproofing. Good on them.
Om played a new song, the title of which Al Cisneros mumbled into the mic and I didn't catch, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with vague spirituality and possibly drug use. I'd yet to see them with Grails' Emil Amos on drums -- pulling an intense double duty for the day -- and was surprised at how good they were. Scott Kelly, in the festival pre-hype, called them the heaviest band in the world, and while I think that's something of an overstatement, they kicked an inordinate amount of ass for two people, even if the clean bass tone does sometimes leave the songs sounding empty. Obviously that's on purpose. If they wanted to fill out the band, they'd probably hire another dude or two.
But again, it was all about Neurosis. They were the payoff. The only band to go over their set time, and when they were done, the place cleared out like somewhat had yelled "Fire!" in Dutch. Honestly, after that set, nothing else was necessary. Curious parties stuck around for Skullflower and the ultra-faithful stayed for Tribes Of Neurot, but for most, myself included, Neurosis closed the night. With such a chaotic release of energy, there was nothing left to do but go out and celebrate.
And so I did. Down on the short strip of bars about half a block from the venue I ran into the guys from Solace and we toasted the Garden State and drank Trappist ales until I don't even remember when, but I know I'm feeling it today. The Orange Goblin guys were there too, and I told Ben Ward in person that I thought his band killed everyone on Thursday and we shouted a chorus of "They Come Back," our glasses held high. What a fucking blast. I'm glad I remember what of it I do.
Today [Sunday] is the Afterburner portion of the fest, with Wino, Solace, Dead Man, Dyse and Bill Steer's [of Carcass] Firebird. As of now I don't have a pass for it [and it's sold out], so I'm not sure if I'm actually going to be able to get in and cover it. Solace said they'd help me out one way or another, but we'll see how it goes. Worse comes to worse, there were people selling tickets to the main fest on Thursday, so maybe I'll get lucky and someone will be out there trying to get rid of some for tonight. Otherwise it's back to Amsterdam and effectively the end of this trip. I'll hold all cornball reflection and sentimentality for the time being, but suffice it to say this has already been one of the coolest experiences of my life and one that has made me feel truly blessed. It had been kind of a rough year so far, but I think 2009 just had its highlight.
More tomorrow, one way or another.
Amenra "Razoreater" - Live at Roadburn
Om Live at Roadburn
Neurosis - "Given To The Rising" Live At Roadburn
Neurosis - "Water Is Not Enough" Live at Roadburn
Neurosis - "Through Silver In Blood" Live at Roadburn
Neurosis - "A Sun That Never Sets" Live At Roadburn
Earth Live at Roadburn
[as of this posting we still don't know if JJ made it into Day 4, but he'll be back with a wrap-up regardless. Stay tuned.]