Earth / Gnod @ Gorilla, Manchester 15/08/2014

Earth - Euro Tour 2014

Tonight I was flying solo, minus my usual wingman due to Thee Shaman being elsewhere and a proposed replacement falling through due to illness, so apologies for the lack of photos. I took a few with my iPhone but, well, my photography skills go a long way toward explaining why I’m a writer so you’ll just have to either use your imaginations or else hope that I manage to write a vivid enough account of the evening that my very words manage to evoke the visual aspect of watching a couple of excellent bands…..

This was my first time in the smaller room at nearby – like, ten minutes’ walk from my flat – venue Gorilla and it gets a great big thumbs up from me – great sound, sensible layout that means the stage is visible from anywhere in the room and a wall full of vintage turquoise-painted electrical panels, complete with knobs, dials and gauges, strikingly situated right behind the stage itself. Très chic indeed.

The second pleasant surprise of the evening was that the opening act tonight were local astronauts Gnod, a band whom I always enjoy, despite – or perhaps because of – never being entirely sure exactly what permutation of this freewheeling collective we’re going to get, or exactly what kind of sound they’ll be making.

So it was that this evening the band were already in session as I entered the room and I could espy three silhouettes hunched over various beknobbed devices, one hairy guitarist and a saxophonist – a first for my own Gnod live experience – all given a shadowy countenance by the lack of stage lights. Instead, the onstage light was provided by an ever-warping kaleidoscopic back projection that morphed between psychedelic fractals and fractured and mirrored jellyfish in a molten stream of twisting imagery flickering and strobing across and behind the figures onstage.

Musically, the last couple of times I’ve seen Gnod they’ve leaned ever further into electronic sounds and tonight was no exception as the core of their sound tonight was a melange of choppy throbbing drone, insectile delayed chitter and stabbing percussive bass notes, woven through with treated saxophone. The ambience conjured was a mutation of that dark twilit feel conjured by The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Ulver circa Perdition City, but with less of the moody jazz influence, if you can imagine such a thing.

Somewhere in the churning soup of sound there was a guitar and monstrously heavily treated vocals but they were totally subsumed into the amorphous whole, with only the sinuous, sobbing sax really peeking out from under the warped drone. Toward the end of their set – I couldn’t tell you how long they played for as time seemed to flex and bend around them – one of the hunched buttonpushers also whipped out a saxophone and the two horns traded screaming joyous cries that smashed through and wove around the slowly evolving churn of the rest of the band. I was put firmly in mind of an electronic take on Kevin Martin’s much-missed God or Southern arsequake enthusiasts Terminal Cheesecake – which is surely no bad thing at all.

It was a shame that Gnod had to end, but we still had yet to have the main event and if Gnod had continued on the path they were unravelling there’d have been no-one in the audience without an unfurled cerebral cortex left to enjoy Earth without twitching, dribbling and phasing between multiversal branes willy-nilly.

Now, the last time I saw Earth was back in early 2011, when they were touring in support of their – to my ears – unfocused and meandering Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1 album at the unwelcoming Islington Mill in Salford. Yet despite liking neither that album or its sequel – Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 2 – they completely delivered in the live environment, which should really to have been expected, seeing as how they’ve impressed me greatly every time I’ve seen them.

Tonight was about as impressive as I’ve seen them yet and they were playing as a trio!

No Lori Goldston on cello or Steve Moore on trombone and keys, just Dylan Carlson on guitar, Adrienne Davies on drums and longtime live bassist Don McGreevy.

Forthcoming tenth album – tenth! Unbelieveable! How time flies – Primitive And Deadly has been referred to by Carlson as a heavier, more hard-rock style record and based upon the evidence of the new material aired tonight I can definitely feel that. The sound was thick, punchy and hefty and the riffs were definitely very much in evidence – as was the Rainbow patch on the back of Carlson’s cut-off denim.

After a cursory greeting and the explanation that tonight’s set would be made up of a couple of new tunes and some oldies, Earth kicked into Badger’s Bane, a brand new track and an unusual choice of opener due to the fact that it only appears on the fourth side of the vinyl version of Primitive And Deadly, so won’t be heard by everybody. Oddness of choice aside, it was superb – a distillation of everything great about this latter-day model of Earth. It oozed out of the speakers like sweet molasses with Davies providing perfectly measured, precise beats and McGreevy’s ridiculously warm tone filling the air around Carlson’s thick and chewy guitar chords and trills. Everything sounded rustic, ornate and arcane.

The venue’s sound, incidentally, was fantastic for both bands, with every note of Earth‘s performance in particular, clearly audible and perfectly articulated.

Speaking of badgers, by the way, you could be forgiven for thinking one had taken up residence on Carlson’s face, so luxurious and streaked was his muttonchop sideburn/beard combo. He looks every bit the regal backwoods statesman of downer rock.

I must confess that I am bad with remembering instrumental song-titles, so cannot bloody remember what was played second, but I can tell you with a degree of authority that the third track tonight was Old Black, the opening track from Angels of Darkness, Demons Of Light 1, which sounded substantially better to my ears in the live arena, again, than the recorded version.

Following that was another new one, There Is A Serpent Coming, a dark, dissonant number that sent shivers up and down my spine and, I believe, will feature the vocals of Mark Lanegan in its recorded version. Or not. I could be wrong. Either way I loved it. Moving from the darkness and into something a little lighter, the band shifted into a rather long and meandering number that I couldn’t quite place, but reminded me in parts of Robin Trower’s Bridge Of Sighs and had a number of false endings.

Next up was another new one that I didn’t catch the name of but that had a chugging rhythm and some ornate parts that really put me in mind of a heavily drugged Thin Lizzy. Again, it was great and I liked it very much.  All of this new material was making me very anxious to hear the new album, and they actually had vinyl copies for sale with them tonight, even though it’s not due out until early September, but, alas, I am a working stiff and payday wasn’t for another week, so I had to leave it. Dagnabbit.

The closing number tonight was a very early track and, as I said earlier, I’m bad with titles but I want to say it was A Bureaucratic Desire For Revenge, so I’ll go with that.  Listened to in its recorded form, it’s hard to imagine it being the same band that I was hearing this evening, but the way it was delivered allowed it to slot right in with everything else around it and to work so, so well. It was great that Carlson can still recognise the value of those early numbers and show willing to delve so far back into his catalogue – there’s many that wouldn’t.

And so, that was that. Earth made being so damn good look like the most natural thing in the world, having such a natural rapport between the three musicians onstage and playing exclusively within their own strengths, and Gnod turned my synapses into pudding.

The bands were on top form, the venue was great, the crowd was healthy and, hell, you can’t really ask for more than that can you?

Scribed by: Paul Robertson