Photo Credit: Mauricio Alvarado
The resurgence of doom and stoner metal has thrust the at-times insular and oft-ignored sub-genre into the vanguard of the modern metal scene. With promising acts like Pallbearer and King Woman treading new ground and long-running stalwarts like Electric Wizard and The Sword still holding strong, the genre is in rare form. It should not come as a shock to learn that this has resulted in an upswell of interest in one of the most influential forebearers of the genre, Sleep.
Despite the fact that the band has not released new material in over a decade and a half, the San Jose trio had no problem selling out not one, but two performances at The Fonda in Hollywood. It didn’t hurt that the openers are a legendary act in their own right – Washington band Melvins. With only one security checkpoint the lines grew to tremendous lengths; by the time 9:15 rolled around and the openers were scheduled to take the stage, the mass of metal-heads formed a line running clear down Gower Street, wrapping the corner along Selma Avenue. Luckily, Melvins started a bit late, allowing as many fans as possible to witness their magnificent hour-long set.
Performing as a trio, Melvins’ set was a healthy mix of covers and originals. With Buzz Osbourne’s gravity-defying quaff swaying to-and-fro, the band offered doom-y, off-the-wall takes on Alice Cooper’s “Halo of Flies,” the Beatles classic “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” a rarely heard Malfunkshun song, “With Yo’ Heart (Not Yo’ Hands)” and a Green River classic “Leech.” With the solid rhythmic bedrock of drummer Dale Crover and bassist Steven Shane McDonald, the band stuck to a set of straightforward stoner metal, sidestepping their more experimental leanings in favor of bludgeoning riffage. The crowd responded in kind, with the area in front of the stage turning into a swirling mass of fist-pumping bodies. Other songs played during the set were “Onions Make the Milk Taste Bad,” “Eye Flys” and “AMAZON.”
After a brief intermission, it appeared Sleep were ready to take the stage. Crackling communiqués were broadcast over the loudspeakers and the anticipation from the crowd was palpable. Fifteen minutes later (though it felt like an eternity) one of the disembodied speakers finally declared “the eagle has landed” and the curtain lifted ever-so-slowly for an hour-plus of slow-motion Sabbath worship care of a shirtless (as always) guitarist Matt Pike, bassist/vocalist Al Ciscneros and drummer Jason Roeder.
Unlike the voluminous output of the Melvins, Sleep has a comparably limited amount of material from which to cull their set. The band started what would turn out to be a mesmerizing, entrancing performance with one of their most iconic songs, “Dragonaut.” The opening track of their 1992 sophomore effort Holy Mountain, it is a song that set the template for the stoner metal explosion of the mid-90s. The band touched on several other beloved sludge anthems, including “Holy Mountain,” “Cultivator,” “From Beyond” and of course, “Dopesmoker,” a song/album that eventually led to the dissolution of Sleep – taking a glass-half-full approach though, the break-up led to two incredible groups in their own right, Om and High on Fire.
While there were some logistical hiccups to start the show, the first night of this Melvins/Sleep extravaganza got off to an explosive start. Between the choice covers of Melvins and the transcendent work of Sleep, this was a show that every discerning metal-lover had to be at. Sleep prove why they, along with Kyuss, came to define the sludgy genres of stoner and doom metal. A tour-de-force, this is the kind of performance that is well worth waiting in an endless line on a chilly Los Angeles night.
Onions Make the Milk Taste Bad
The Bloated Pope
I Want to Hold Your Hand
Mr. Rip Off
Halo of Flies
The Kicking Machine
With Yo’ Heart, Not Yo’ Hands