Review: Yawning Man ‘Live At Giant Rock’

It’s a testament to just how effective a virus to the human race is, that when confronted with a global pandemic which shuts down the prime source of artists connecting with their audience, the live show, we have adapted once again. Technology has born the advent of the streaming show, any warnings of screen time or the sterile nature of watching a band through a screen has been jettisoned in favour of just getting hold of some facsimile of a damn gig these days.

Yawning Man 'Live At Giant Rock'

Having seen a couple of these over the course of the first lockdown, it’s been an okay experience, but sometimes watching a band on stage raging or rocking, whilst you sit in front of a smart device, possibly alone, doesn’t always inspire a better experience, than listening to the artist via your favoured method.

So enter Gary Arce and Yawning Man, his ever enduring experimental desert rock band, who can proudly boast influencing artists that would go on to become Kyuss and the stoner rock scene beyond. Rather than get up on stage and ply their wares, they’ve used this opportunity to realise a dream of some twenty years, by creating a cinematic experience that sees the band perform against the back drop of the Giant Rock in Southern California’s Mojave Desert.

This speaks to the very nature of the genesis of the scene where bands would turn up to parties, fire up the (Mondo) generator and rip their unique brand of instrumental magic, that owes as much to the jaw dropping surroundings as it does to potent weed and the creative minds of the bands.

Despite the space, and set outside, this is not a socially distanced concert, but according to the band it’s a performance inspired by the spirit of Pink Floyd’s Live At Pompeii. The band playing isolated by the elements, their sound carried by the wind to the rocks, cacti and swirling sand. Released in a variety of formats including black vinyl, coloured vinyl, CD digipak and the usual download, the pick of the bunch however has to be the DVD, but before I get on to that, I have to talk about the music.

Hands down, in my opinion, one of the most underrated, or at least under recognised bands of all time, Yawning Man make music that is nothing short of magical. Gary Arce is one of the most incredible talents on the guitar, his vision and ability to create mesmerising, psychedelic surf rock surpasses the lazy stoner/desert rock tag, as it ebbs and flows like the passing of time erodes the surroundings.

This live performance was captured as the band wrapped up their touring commitments in May 2020 and features Arce’s evergreen companions, Mario Lalli on bass and Bill Stinson on drums. Comprising of 4 tracks (and Space Finger as a bonus on the CD) of magic that only this band can create.

Only a band such as this, in fact only this band, could take such a defining setting and deliver not only a flawless musical experience, but capture a truly magical moment…

Starting with Tumbleweeds In The Snow, the band move glacially into the lush layers of sound as they build and release tension through dense, atmospheric layers. It’s difficult to really break down this progressive, experimental, instrumental type of music in a traditional ‘Song X does this, Song Y does that’ kind of review. Yawning Man make music that captures or inspires a feeling, music to listen to that takes you out of your body and into an audio submersion tank, as such, regardless of which track is playing, everything seems to flow together with a considered symbiosis.

Tumbleweeds…opens with plaintive notes, almost like whale song overdubbed by the sound of gentle washing waves. The rich guitar sound builds like a sun rising on a summer’s day and as the band work through this laidback opener, it’s deceptive how muscular and taught the rhythm section is; Lalli’s powerful bass and Stinson’s drumming, minimal when required and deft when called upon, build a platform that allows Arce to depress his creativity and wring incredible songs from his instrument.

The Last Summer’s Eve is moodier and downbeat in comparison, but no less powerful as it works through, and plays with motifs, feeding back on ideas and shooting off in tangents but never losing momentum. Nazi Synthesizeris a cold sounding name for another beautiful track. Continuing the slight sombre feel, there’s an urgency in the low key vibe which can get overlooked in the lush, warm guitar tones that form the base of the track, before it spirals off into swirling, dizzying progressive heights.

Blowhole Sunrise returns to more playful, reflective narrative that tells a story without words as Arce experiments with the effects pedals to wring all manner of unconventional sounds from his instrument. Bonus track Space Finger is a pure space rock workout, a worthy addition to round out the CD version, and a good excuse to own, just so you can hear more of Yawning Man’s beautiful music.

Music aside, this is a live concert performance and the accompanying DVD release is worth every penny and every eye drinking second. The fifty plus minute ‘concert’ was captured by videographer Sam Grant, via a multitude of static, handheld cameras and drones. Painstakingly blended together with cinematic shots of the incredible scenery, that inspired not only the band, but Native Americans, UFO Researchers, Scientists, climbers and sight seers from all over the world. Some of these (climbers, not UFOs) can be spotted in the distance as the band, lost in the music, work through the set leaving Grant to create the visual spectacle.

It’s frustrating to be caught in ‘the pandemic era’, at the time of writing I have not seen a live band since February and as I stated at the top of the review, sometimes a live streamed performance isn’t really a worthy substitute, but here, Yawning Man have avoided this pitfall by creating a simply stunning piece of art that surpasses the tawdry description of the current condition.

Only a band such as this, in fact only this band, could take such a defining setting and deliver not only a flawless musical experience, but capture a truly magical moment.

Label: Heavy Psych Sounds
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden