Live Review: Roadburn 2016, Day 4
Day four of Roadburn is half afterparty, half culmination. The crowd has thinned, and those that remain all have a glazed over look in their eyes. Two of the five stages have shut down, leaving a smaller selection of bands, and thus more incentive to relax and reflect on the madness of the three days prior. While wandering through vacant streets of Tilburg before noon, I tried to make sense of my first Roadburn. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was the miles of separation from my comfort zone, or maybe just exhaustion from so much music, but Roadburn avoided easy analysis. Day 3 was certainly the festival’s culmination, day four was its surreal aftermath. I floated through the festival grounds as if through a dream, absorbing the last of its performances and tethering my hold on reality through a numerical breakdown of its sights and sounds. In the words of the barefoot hasher that stood behind me in line for food tokens, “everything makes sense now, except for the stuff that doesn’t.”
Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness is very much a product of its time. During the waning days of the CD as the dominant format, plenty of prog minded metal bands were experimenting with single tracks that would last the duration of the disk. This was a pretty logical evolution of the “side long epic” that was so popular among ’70s prog rock groups. 20 minutes on a side of vinyl is a far more reasonable length than the 70+ plus allowed on CD, so it’s no surprise that bands would often go to desperate measures to fill time. Green Carnation were no different in 2002. There’s a solid 20 minutes where Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness flows smoothly from motif to motif, setting the stage for could have potentially been a pretty cool album. Too bad they immediately proceed to lose the plot and get side tracked by non-sequitur world music interludes and disconnected riffs that referenced but fail to build on the material of the first third. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the album worked much better in person. The sections that felt like filler on record worked as an exhibition of Green Carnation’s musicianship, and released from the pressure of being a singular artistic statement, the album functioned like a soundcloud mix, moving from one pleasing batch of melodies to another and keeping the audience’s heads nodding in approval throughout.
Blind Idiot God
It’s weird what you get patriotic about when traveling abroad. Maybe it was just that it was the last day before my flight back to the states, but something about Blind Idiot God’s set made me homesick. Not to get overly sentimental, but the band’s mix of free jazz, dub, and no-wave struck me as distinctly American. At no point in the band’s set could I tell if they were improvising or were playing music that was meticulously composed to resemble improvised music. Regardless of the process, the results were challenging and compelling. The band quickly tossed conventional harmony out the window, and during a newer song dispensed with the idea of steady rhythm in favor of a disorienting lurch that emulated the ending of an arena rock song stretched out for over four minutes. The crowd, still firmly in Sunday hangover mode, noticeably perked up when Blind Idiot God switched gears and played their more dub-leaning material, letting drum hit echo and abandoning their caustic distortion for a soft chime.
A quick apology is in order. While I was not enamored with Jérôme Siegelaer’s Redesign, his visual accompaniment for Jakob was superb. Like Redesign it was built from a series of overlapping images and looped footage, but the focus on natural settings added textural depth to the projections. Siegelaer’s work was also a perfect fit for Jakob’s hard edged post rock. Like the images behind them, Jakob’s music is based on interlocking patterns. Their bassist and drummer stayed glued together, gradually building intensity through syncopation while guitarist Jeff Boyle hovered over them in a shimmering haze. Finally, the band would snap into unison and the entire main stage shook. In a festival that spent four days beating the living shit out of your ears, no one came close to being as loud as Jakob. This was no empty calorie volume either, their muscle was devoid of water weight. Post rock gets a lot of flak for being sentimental and overwrought, but there was nothing saccharine or cheesy about Jakob’s set.
Another set that primarily appealed to the hungover crowd. Ecstatic Vision can’t be accused of half-assing it. They played in front of a tie-dye backdrop, added flute and saxophone to their instrumentation when needed, and urged the crowd not to “kill the vibe.” In lesser hands this could have felt like pandering, but Ecstatic Vision played well enough to avoid self-parody. Still, after two lengthy excursions of space rock excess, I needed a break. Cool band if you’re into this sort of thing, not for everyone.
There is a thin line between consistency and monotony and Amenra sat just on the right side of that line. The word that springs to mind when watching Amenra is “professional.” This band’s approach to post-metal is deadly serious and not one detail of the performance was out of place. The heavy parts were bone-grindingly heavy, the softer parts ominous, their attire all black and crisp. At no point in their set did Amenra change their approach, from note one they painted exclusively in black and white. This works well when you’re trying to bum people, but the problem with black and white is that they are only two colors. For as effective and consistent as Amenra were, this set lacked some of the boldness of their acoustic performance the day prior.
(This is neither here nor there, but watching a band in tight, matching black shirts do synchronized headbanging while footage of a woman wandering alone through nature played in the background gave me Attack Attack flashbacks. This isn’t so much a knock on the band as it is a knock on my associative memory)
Neurosis have always held strong to the notion that their newest album is their best album. This hasn’t always been true, of course; their career has gone through minor dips and peaks like anyone else’s. But seeing them live you understand why they’re so steadfast in this belief. While the quality of their songs has not always trended upwards, their newer material sounds significantly better live. The lows are lower, the textures denser, the samples pop more, and their crescendos impact with all the more drama. By the same token, the band’s earliest songs fell flat in a live setting, partially because of how inappropriate they felt in the boomy halls of 013 and partially because the novelty of hearing Neurosis reach that far back into their past had worn off, but mostly because the band has so clearly outgrown the material. The further into the future the set moved, including a stop for two songs from Through Silver In Blood, the more vital their performance felt. Even a missed cue from Scott Kelly couldn’t undercut the sheer power of “Under The Waves,” and the lush arrangements of “No River To Take Me Home” worked far better in person than on Eye Of Every Storm.
There is one song that deflates this theory of perpetual improvement however. When it comes to the live setting, no Neurosis song is better than “The Doorway,” and the band knows this. Besides “Locust Star,” this song is about as close as the band has come to having an anthem, and they saved it for last on Sunday night. Once “The Doorway” reached its shuddering climax it was clear that no amount of nuance and restraint can match the power and singularity of the RIFF. The half tempo, asymmetrical monster that hits three quarters into the song belongs in the Riff Smithsonian. It might be the band’s crowning achievement, and it puts all attempts to emulate the band’s still to shame. There is no topping it, and once the house lights came up it was hard to justify watching anything else. With four days worth of mileage on my feet and ears (and a very early flight the next morning) I stumbled back to Stadscamping.
Roadburn By The Numbers:
Days of music: 4
Bands seen: 26
Albums played in their entirety: 4
White people with dreads: 38
Crust punks: 6
People who walked out during Diamanda Galas’s first song: 32
People who walked immediately after Diamanda Galas’s first song: 50+
Liters of Smoke Machine Fuel used: Innumerable, but less than the liters of alcohol consumed
Drinks turned down: 3
Blunts lit in the crowd: 9
Orange Amps: 8
Guitars that seemed to be in standard tuning: 2
Different nationalities of the people I spoke to: 12
Hours of sleep over four days: 26
Apologies for only speaking English: 3
Cappuccinos consumed: 5
Most Jane Doe faces on a single person: 3
Church Organs: 1
Tiny John Lennon Sunglasses: 7
Times I heard the phrase “I only like their old stuff”: 6 (twice by me)
Times the phrase “I only like their old stuff” was said in a different language: 666+