ISIS, JESU, ZOZOBRA Bring Harmonic Tremors To SF!
Posted by Molli Fire on Sunday, 15April07
concert review of ISIS, Jesu, and Zozobra at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, CA on April 6th, 2007
by Molli Fire
San Francisco is rocked by earthquakes regularly – tremors that rattle the china, or knock a picture off the wall are often shrugged off and forgotten 20 minutes later. This might explain why residents were indifferent to a bump in seismic activity last Friday when ISIS, Jesu, and Zozobra installed a wall of guitar amps that made the ground tremble. Neighbors can blame these 3 bands for the Seismic Sludge Metal rumbling from amps turned up to 5.5 (Richter). Their booking agent was wise to secure Bimbo’s 365 Club for the epic event – one of the few venues large enough, comfortable enough, and loud enough to showcase three heavyweight bands. With Jesu and ISIS, their music history alone would crush the floorboards of a lesser club. Add Zozobra to the stage, and the show would have moved to the basement. Bimbo’s delivered a solid, high quality show in style.
I am super impressed by Zozobra. They could easily be headlining their own tour, but they were an ideal choice for initiating this occasion. They displayed a horde of talent and powerful command of superbly written songs. the night started with frontman and founder Caleb Scofield, appearing solo. He greeted the room with a lovely melody that he plucked from the strings of a red guitar. When he sang, it was dark, yet gentle, almost a serenade. A few moments into this ballad, the rest of the band came out and he switched the guitar for a bass. The other two guitarists flanked Scofield on stage. Both are lean, with just enough hair to cover their faces. The entire time they played, they were grinning and rocking their heads wildly. They looked very similar, almost like twins, which provided me with a stereoscopic view of iconic guitar thrashing. The three men commanded the front of the stage, headbanging powerfully and enthusiastically, occasionally synchronized by a unified strum across 17 tense strings. I felt hypnotized by the timeless guitar stances “the twins” mirrored as they sustained a restless sonic assault. Zozobra created layer after layer of harmonic tremors that rippled through the wooden dance floor, which caused the crowd to sway like skyscrapers on heaving foundations. The guitarist on Scofield’s left deftly worked a nice range of pedal effects – psychedelic tremeloes hung in the air long after the string had been silenced, a repeat/reverse combo twisted melodies into meandering snakes that doubled back over their own tracks. The guitars seamlessly complimented the rolling explosions and fierce pummelings of the drums. The ricochet of drumming resembled an avalanche with perfect rhythm, almost belying the human element at its source. Zozobra rocked so hard as an opening band, that i thought maybe they had just stolen the show!
Zozobra tuned their guitars between songs, then shredded hard enough to wrench the strings into new keys again. In fact, all three bands refined the listening experience by adjusting the tuning of their guitars many times during each set. Most did this without delay, taking turns with tuning or playing something simple as interlude music. Unfortunately, this did not hold true for the wait in between bands. It seemed to take way longer than necessary for Jesu and ISIS to appear on stage. Don’t get me wrong, i do understand the dynamics of breaking down and setting up, especially for the soundguy who has to reset all the levels on the mixer for every microphone pointed at every drum, amp, and singer. It still took a long time beyond that. (And why does every venue since the dawn of time play the most unrelated, inappropriate intermission music over the house speakers?)
Jesu was next, led by Justin Broadrick (formerly of Napalm Death and Godflesh). Broadrick had worked out a great set for this tour : he used his laptop to integrate an occasional piano melody, or extra guitar effects, or – for one song – rapid fire kick drum action (a la Mayhem). Not at the expense of the live drummer, however, who was wicked!! He accented the machine gun rhythm with impeccably timed staccato hits on the cymbals and snare. From what i have previously read, he is Danny Walker of Intronaut, filling in for Jesu’s regular drummer, Ted Parsons. Walker plays drums in exactly my favorite style – the cymbals are used to accent and release the energy raised, rather than a constant trigger of sustained sound. I am pretty sure that he had the spring on the snare drum loose so that it did not create the typical noise, but was more like the tight marching drum once used in battle. This, sometimes combined with a rapid fire beat on the low tom at the beginning of each measure, created a feeling of heading into a tribal war. On top of everything, the guy had mad skills and his timing was flawless during the entire set. This more than compensated for the brief technical difficulties experienced by other sections of the band. Dave Cochrane, the stoic bass player, has done many collaborations with Broadrick and is covering for Jesu’s Diarmuid Dalton during this tour. Unfortunately, he encountered a series of problems with the bass amp when it began cutting out of the soundsystem. He fell off a song or two, but the interaction actually seemed to loosen him up a bit. He played more confidently and seemed to have more fun once everything was working properly. All three musicians displayed class and a good rapport, as well as technical skill. Despite this, however, i couldn’t help feel like Jesu was really just Broadrick, and the others were simply jamming along with him. Which was pretty much the case, but i didn’t want to actually feel it.
Bimbo’s 365 Club
Bimbo’s 365 Club is huge inside – much bigger than Slim’s, Cafe Du Nord, or Bottom of the Hill – and on this night, it was packed with metal fans. Aahhh, but the nice thing about Bimbo’s is that it maintains a comfortable environment, even when a show, like this one, is sold out. According to the club’s website, “packed” is somewhere between 6-700 people! Many decades ago, someone planned its building and interior with the definition of “ample” as their blueprint. The stage had room enough for 3 bands’ drum kits, stacks of guitar amps/cabs, 3 synthesizers on stands, and still ample room to rock. The main room is vast, with tall ceilings and plenty of ventilation. It looked like everyone in the audience had a good view of the stage, and interaction with the bands felt close and intimate. The decor is luxe and elegant, in the style of a 1940’s dinner club, and the waitresses are a bit punk rock with their black fishnets and crowd maneuvering skills. Bimbo’s 365 Club is one of the most enjoyable places in SF to see a show, especially a loud metal show. The 6-700 people in attendance comprised a good mix of metal fans – i noticed veterans as well as new faces in the crowd. Some crews that i haven’t seen at a show in SF since the 3 Days of Darkness hosted Khanate, Thrones, and Graves At Sea, in 2004. Some of the younger faces in the crowd were likely due to Bimbo’s admittance of 18-21 year olds.
Finally, after another long wait between bands, ISIS appeared. They immediately annihilated the intermission atmosphere, proving absolutely that it had been worth the 30 minute wait and the lifetime of anticipation spent by those who came to be initiated into live, loud sludge metal, exacted by masters of the craft. ISIS thrashed even harder than i have come to expect from sludge metal bands enjoying their 10th year of performing together. The 4 guitarists rejected the hypnotizing effect of synchronized movements that Zozobra had wielded, in favor of thrashing individually, each to a different aspect of the music. Sometimes bending completely over the guitar they gripped, then snapping backwards to stare at the ceiling, never relenting on the strings they were punishing. This added a striking visual dissonance that superbly matched the music’s innate discord. Sounds forged in minor keys and draped in distortion only to be fragmented by the battling pulses of the drums, the cymbals, and the synths that delayed and decayed at doomed intervals. This frenzy made it impossible to capture a clear photo of the whole band at once. You can see in my photos that some moved so quickly as to leave a trail of places they had been! B.C. Meyer (i believe) switched between atmospheric synthesizers and grinding guitar, headbanging and thrashing equally on both instruments. ISIS played a fair amount older material, from Celestial, Red Sea, and Mosquito Control, which made me VERY happy. I stopped listening to ISIS when they released Panopticon in 2004 because i prefer their earlier sound – uncompromisingly heavy atmospheric sludge metal. To my ears, Panopticon sounded too smoothed out, polished; in other words, too commercial, and devoid of the grit i felt was at the soul of earlier work. However, on stage in 2007, the occasional “weak” song merely provided enough contrast for the band to show off just how heavy their usual sound is. And heavy is something that ISIS owned at this show. They hit some songs so hard that it weighed down your own head, until you were facing your own soul, and then lifted it high with distorted upsweeps, until you gazed above the room, to where the melodies were scattering into the depths of space. At times, the pummeling beats could elevate your strong arm into the air, and cinch your hand into devil’s horns. An enthusiastic display of solidarity grew within the crowd, gaining strength with each attack on silence. I actually heard some fans singing along. Well, not really singing, more like growling. It was the first time i noticed anyone growling along to songs at a metal show. Whenever ISIS would delve into the quieter, more melodic parts, the crowd would cheer, or scream the band’s name, as if some just couldn’t handle the sudden release from crushing bar chords.
The show inspired me greatly – this was the kind of show that justifies going out, and raises the excitement about what the future holds for music. The minute that i got home, i ripped the plastic off my new Celestial double vinyl to see what colours i got (the album has been repressed at least twice recently, each batch offering a different blend of marbled inks). Next, i lifted my shining black guitar from its furry grey coffin and played everything i had heard that night. That is my definition of a great show.
This entry was posted on Sunday, 15April07 at 11:54 and is filed under +Greatest Hits+, bass, doom, guitar, metal, music, noise, photos, review, SF, shows, sludge metal, vinyl, writ. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.