The Rickety Old Shack

Live Show Review: Sleep — September 12th, 2019

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Initially disbanding in 1995, following a dispute with their label over the composition of their Dopesmoker record, Sleep returned to the fold in 2009 as mostly a live entity, only releasing a couple of new singles the over the next 9 years. My first introduction to the band was by way of the 2003 release of what is considered to be the 'official' version of the hour-long, single-track album. I didn't pay much attention to the group following their 2009 reunion, and their sudden release of 2018's The Sciences caught me — and pretty much everyone else — totally off guard. With the return of such a foundational doom / stoner metal band, followed by correctly acclaimed new record, I took the opportunity to see them live the second it presented itself.

Amusingly, the show took place on my old college campus — probably the last place I would have guessed I'd be going to see a stoner metal band. I had been there once or twice in the 14 years since I graduated, and it was to pick up some Magic: The Gathering stuff at the campus book store ~5 years ago. The theatre the show took place in was a whole new structure, but thankfully this was one of those rare times I didn't get lost or otherwise screw up the process of getting to a concert — instead I just tried to not think about how old the whole experience made me feel. The venue didn't allow alcohol outside of the 'bar' area, which was separate from the actual theatre room, which was annoying. I arrived just in time to hastily drink a beer and catch the opening band's set.

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Based out of Virginia, a band of 3 brothers known as Pontiak quickly set the mood for the rest of the show. They laid down a series of groovy, psych-rock jams that reminded me a lot of a free-wheeling take on Dozer's In The Tail Of A Comet. I was completely unfamiliar with the band prior to the show, and they took no time between songs to announce the names of what they were playing. Still, it was a solid 45 minutes of heavy, fuzzed out rock, bolstered by a thick, powerful bass presence. The guitars would alternate between playing in unison with the bass and veering off into trippy, effect-laden solos and noise interludes. The drums were impeccably tight and the rapport between the 3 brothers was noticeably strong.

Pontiak were really fun, and a really good opener to prime an audience for a band like Sleep. Their live setup was very minimalistic, not even using much in the way of pedals — and their drummer, Lain Carney, had a very compact 4-piece kit — but their playing was first rate. The venue sound was excellent as well; the snare drum tone was the best I think I've heard live - ever. The majority of the vocals were performed by all 3 members, in unison, which accentuated the spacey, haunting delivery style. I was really intrigued by this band and definitely need to hear more of their music.

Official Bandcamp:

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There was a half-hour break between Pontiak's opening set and the main attraction. This gave me exactly enough time to escape the theatre, drink another tallboy — at a pace bordering on unpleasant — and relieve myself. Sleep wasted no time, taking the stage and immediately waylaying the audience with an enormous wall of sound. The power of Al Cisneros' bass is something you need to experience to believe, his percussive style and wall of amps are powerful enough to rattle your bones. Matt Pike's guitar was equally massive sounding, although it did get lost in the mix a bit. This may have been due to my positioning, as I was pretty far from Pike who was stage right while I was on the left.

I'm not incredibly familiar with individual Sleep songs, but I believe they played "Sonic Titan" and "Giza Butler," both from The Sciences. I thought I recognised parts from Dopesmoker but I can't be certain; everything blended together so well. The band's live experience is best described as "hypnotic" — the intensity of the sound and the repetitive nature of the material is incredibly captivating. I find it difficult to classify the band as doom because the material is a bit too uptempo and features a lot more grooving rhythm passages than drones. The bulk of the set was instrumental, with sparse vocal passages and individual songs punctuated by solo bass runs.

My single complaint is that the band's set was only 1.5 hours, but that's minor. Everything sounded powerful and clear and not a second was wasted; I didn't figure stoner metal bands as having less stage banter than your average black metal troupe, but here we are. The show was great, even if it was likely the shortest gig I've ever attended, and I'm going to be revisiting The Sciences after this prompt.

Official website:

Overall, a another worthwhile show in the books. I'd love to see longer sets from both bands, ideally at a venue where I can drink while I get destroyed by a wall of Orange amps. Both Pontiak and Sleep complemented each other very well, making for a good show as a whole. I don't mind shows where there's a huge variance between bands, but this was a really good package of bands that write long, mesmerising songs that never once sounded tiresome or belaboured.

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—by Derek

Published: September 13th, 2019.