support Beak> + Sabbath Assembly
author EW date 12/04/11 venue Scala, London, UK

One's dedication to gig-going can be sorely tested at times. After a gig the previous night, two horrid days at work and a Manchester United - Chelsea European tie on the same night, the temptation to give this one a miss was there… until I had yet another listen to "Restored To One", Sabbath Assembly's debut album from last year, and thought "Holy fuck! This will be incredible live!". On that front I was not wrong…

Sabbath Assembly

Their positioning as openers meant I broke from the personal norm and entered the venue shortly after doors, determined not to miss a moment of the entrancing psychedelic atmosphere SA have conjured up on record; eager too not to forego a glimpse of the beautiful Jessica Thoth, she also of her fantastic eponymous doom band. The simple, uncluttered sound of "Glory To The Gods Of The Highest", "Glory Hallelujah" and "Judge Of Mankind", just to name a few, allowed for not only a great rendition of the album tracks, but in my mind one of the best performances I have seen in some time.

While bassist, guitarist and drummer all performed diligently and with great passion, all attention was naturally focussed on Thoth; this lady has a depth and soul to her voice that would earn the vast recognition it deserves if the mainstream could tear themselves away from the diarrhoea in the charts cunningly disguised as music. The beautiful melodies and passages of "And The Phoenix Is Reborn" and "The Saints Shall Inherit The Earth" she performs with such an intensity it brings a total hush upon the wonderfully respectful audience in attendance, where periods of near silence in the music are returned with nay a squeak in their direction. My music knowledge, vast in some areas and lacking in others, does not extend so far as to be able to compare SA with any other artist; I'm sure there are some, but by God they'd have to be good to compare with this. Brilliant on record, even better live. Wonderful stuff.


Basically, there was no way Sabbath Assembly could be topped, so if you're here looking only to read about the best band of the night you are now free to leave. For the rest of you, Beak> were a totally new proposition for me, hereby confirming what a diverse and eclectic line-up this really was. Described as shoegaze on their Myspace, to these ears Beak> varied so much from song to song I was recalling post-metal, doom, Om-like tribal leanings and more than the odd moment of experimental electronic(a). Built around Geoff Barrow of experimental legends Portishead, their stagecraft could be justifiably described in more than one sense as terrible. Three members with Barrow sat in the middle on guitar, the drummer on a very low-rise kit stage left and a bassist on the right not overly keen on the business of standing either, resulted in the band sitting so low on stage that all but the front-row of the floor could not see them - I at nearly 190cm and on tip toes could only just catch a glimpse.

Naturally however I could not review the band based on metal's live principles of mass energy and movement, so some other basis for review was required, which was difficult in a set so varied and unacquainted with my usual tastes. I could not be sure how many in the crowd had prior awareness of the music of Beak> but the reaction they received certainly belied a warm appreciation of their cross-pollination of sounds that turned out to be, at worst, interesting, and never unpleasant to listen to. By that reckoning the performance of the West Country trio was a mild success; not bad for a band you can't see and have never heard of before.



The prospect of a live Earth experience has always filled me interest, as their minimalist, instrumental, droning, Americana-infused experimentation does not, on record, sound like a style readily transferrable to an engaging live experience. Gone are the days of a mere feedback-laden soundscape, the line-up these days of guitar/bass/cello/drums lends a more rounded feel to a set of songs which was taken largely from 2008's "The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull" newbie "Angel of Darkness, Demons of Light I", and one special dedication made to all the long-time fans with an airing of "Coda Maestoso in F(Flat) Minor" from 1996's "Pentastar".

What I've enjoyed most about Earth on record is the relaxing, spaced-out vibe which was just as much there in "Father Midnight" and "Old Black" up on stage, but maintaining interest and concentration for 60 minutes of such glacial movements began to take it's toll in the latter stages; when at once a certain young lady Thoth came and stood besides your dear scribe to check out the Seattle legends attention began to wane from the activities (minimal that they were) up ahead to those closer to home. Music as slow and droning as Earth's would not accept mass movement on stage but ultimately the static nature of Dylan Carlson & co resulted in a drawback to the total perception of my debut experience with the band. As with Carlson's humble and polite between-song dialogues, this performance was one lead by a man most down to, err, Earth, and happy with his lot it seems in life; but that extra impetus to push the show into the boundaries of greatness may just be a step to far for as long an the droning one-dimensionness remains the central cog in the machine. Still, much to enjoy for many reasons and a reaffirmation that a night need not contain heavy riffs, screams and blasts to be a positively successful one.


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