Sleep, Thrones: Regency Ballroom: San Francisco, CA
Where does this review actually begin? In the living room of the Hotblack Desiato House, gravity bong clutched in hand, declaring in a moment of rare lucidity that "Inside The Sun" is like, the fuckin' coolest shit ever? Rambling on and on about how only once every decade does a band come along that can follow the true path forged by Sabbath, and how the first band to do it was Witchfinder General, and the second was fuckin’ SLEEP dude (and the third is The Sword right? Right? Ummmm….)! Continuing on a tangent about how Sleep’s Holy Mountain is the best Black Sabbath album since Volume 4?
Does this review begin in a living room in South Philadelphia with some punk kids I just met, smoking endless shit weed until sunrise, listening to the Dopesmoker reissue on repeat? I’m not sure how to actually begin this review, but oh damn, I see it’s already begun. So let’s continue. Sleep was one of those longtime favorite bands that I knew of course I would never see live, it was an accepted fact. Matt Pike and Al Cisneros were happy with the respective directions of their new bands, and Chris Haikus was in the woods somewhere. High On Fire was throwing flaming boulders of molten rock down from the mountaintops, Om was gliding through the underworld with the ease of a collective meditative bird flock.
But then, like a cry from beyond, it was announced that the original lineup of Sleep would be reuniting to play the May 2009 All Tomorrow's Parties festival in the UK. Now, what do Sleep and Stonehenge have in common? They’re heavy and you have to go to England to see them. Not San Francisco? Not Oakland? Not San Jose, their tainted spawning grounds? What a slap in the face. Playing only for the Europeans and those who can jet set to the already expensive-ass festival. I briefly fantasized about going, but gave up. If I’m gonna fly to Europe it’s gonna be so my own band can tour! Some time later, Sleep finally announced it first U.S. dates, beginning with New York! What the fuck! Another slap in the face to the real Bay Area smokers (not that I believe I can be considered a real Bay Area Smoker, but there are a lot around here).
San Francisco dates were eventually announced, but they were to occur after Sleep had toured the rest of the country first! To what did we owe this grand misfortune? This oh so cosmic of kicks in the groin. And get this! Chris Haikus would no longer be performing in the band, the drummer of Neurosis would be handing the duties. As insulted as I felt, I immediately bought a ticket to the first San Francisco show announced at the Regency Ballroom. I might as well see it, right? And then the months rolled by. The show grew closer. One day at Soundwave Studios, me and Steve-O heard a Sleep song wafting down from upstairs. We went up to investigate if it was a stellar (and very loud) Sleep cover band, or the real thing. Unmistakably, it was actually Sleep practicing for their tour. The raw guitar assault of Pike, The weaving, undulating pulsating bass lines of Cisnernos. And hey, that Neurosis dude is nailing it pretty tight too. The excitement was coming. Some old magic was returning.
Finally, September 12th rolled around like a big fat conical spliff, and no, I wasn't having a pre-game ritual of listening to every Sleep album on multi-repeat, puffing smoke signals up to the lost riders in the sky figures of Justin Marler and Chris Haikus. Naw, I was kickin' it in the Haight with my 16 year old brother, whose probably a bigger Sleep fan than I'll ever be, chowin' cheap pizza and liberating such vinyl gems as Pagan Altar (which circumnavigationally hearkens back back to an earlier point in this yarn in which I mentioned contenders for the Black Sabbath torch bearer status, a strong contender against Witchfinder at the first ten year mark, indeed) from their dusty mausoleums. Then we caught up with our other brother and made it into the Regency Balls-Room with plenty o' time to spare.
Sleep shirts and posters appeared to be selling briskly, the posters soon to adorn the walls of a whole new generation of smokers, tokers and empty psychedelic revelation brokers, the new t-shirts soon to be the noble (and only) accoutrement to a moment of Winnie-The-Pooh-ing it down the dorm room hallway, weed crumbs in your beard, unfilled condom dangling from from flaccid member, shard of broken pipe glass in your foot, to be extracted momentarily, and hopefully discreetly, in the Four AM nightshadowed bathroom.
I had seen Thrones a few times before, obviously in much more intimate settings, and let it be known that though I will be the first one to walk out on a drummerless band with no thoughts of compassion or forgiveness, I do have a deep respect for Joe Preston, and I actually enjoy this project. Because I think he would have a drummer if he could! But he can't handle it, he can't handle people! Fuck, remember how he tried to be in High On Fire? But people and cities and partying don't seem to be his thing, and he needs to remain on his own wavelength up in Olympia to be truly creative, and let him, why don't you, because this (now) Ben Franklin resemblin' motherfucker is an oracle for our times, a piece of Amerikana, an elder statesman for something only he can understand, like perhaps Captain Beefheart (R.I.P.). And I couldn't tell you how many people were watching him in that giant room, or if they were captivated, or yawning or at the bar, because I was right up fucking front the whole time , but he seemed to work the large venue rather well for being only one dude on a big stage with only a guitar and a whole lotta noise to back him up.
It's nice when a group can not only own up to their influences, but own up to the flat out reverie of their heroes that we knew they worshiped anyway . The smiling portrait of Tony Iommi that adorned one of the new Sleep shirts, as well as the stage wall behind them said it all. The place was getting packed, and I was running into people I knew from all over the place, and all over my past too. Needless to say, I got HELLA stoned with some boneheads out on the floor. Time for Sleep!
They came crushing out with the quality tones and amplification that I'd only heard before from the two disjointed entities of High On Fire and Om. Pulverizing loudness, and when you get a sold out show at The Regency there's actually enough fatty tissue to absorb the waves of sound and make it it semi listenable. Sleep trundled through the classics of Holy Mountain and some of the more abstract odysseys of Dopesmoker/Jersusalem. I'm sure there are nerds (and websites) that can tell you exactly what the set list was, so I will instead talk about lots of funny stuff and drugs. Their weird slow version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Over The Mountain" had been forecasted, but was quite something to actually behold. All in all, they were flawlessly ripping it up on the music, and Jason Roeder left nothing to be desired. OK, how about another digression? This time to, as James Brown would say, "give the drummer some." I am all for giving the drummer some, and I actually believe everyone should the give the drummer a LOT: It may have sounded like I was being a little hard on Jason in the beginning of the review, and this is all completely in jest, because they probably couldn't have picked a better guy. Is there any other drummer who could claim to have come up through the late 80's/early 90's Bay Area scene, played for a monumentally heavy and wildly worldwide cult popular metal band and lived to tell about it? They got the right man. He's on their level, he's from their era, and gee-whiz, he's got more than one dimension to his playing!
Being in the audience of Sleep was a noteworthy experience unto it's self. The enthusiastic, almost feverish fervor of the faithful, their holy trinity returned, could not be contained, and ritualistic moshing broke out in the faster parts, and continued as a sustained undulating, pulsating, heaving Hiroshige style wave throughout the sermon. It was some combination of the messiah returning from his vision quest in the desert and the mother ship returning from space beyond. The masses of stoner humanity were bathed in the radiating light of their saviors, and sharing in these revelatory moments may be the closest some of us ever come to religion.