I think it’s pretty fair to say that I wasn’t expecting a support act quite like Daniel Higgs. Having read up since, he’s an ex-member of an influential folk act called Lungfish, and looked initially like he may be as old as the total age of the members of Neurosis, and looking a little like Santa Claus on his day off. Rather marvellously described by Dischord Records as an “Interdimensional Song-Seamstress and Corpse-Dancer of the Mystic Crags”, this is space age (or space cadet) folk music, not exactly of this world and not, perhaps, what the crowd wanted in some cases. If you put the time in, his sparse, acoustic songs were actually intriguing, and his between-song banter hilarious. His set was also notable for running ten minutes over time, and the first time I’ve ever seen a member of the headline band come onstage and tap someone on the shoulder to remind them that it’s time to finish! The closing cover of Somewhere Over The Rainbow was mightily odd, too…
So what of Neurosis, then? Their first appearance in London in a few years, and my first time seeing them live, having somehow passed up a number of opportunities in the past to see them (including their show with Jarboe a good few years back. Yes, I’ve been kicking myself for not getting a ticket for that).
As they came onstage, it was clear that this was a serious show. No pleasantries – indeed not a single word uttered from the band all night, not that I expected any – just getting down to business straight away. And this was done slowly, in the long, drawn out intro to At The End Of The Road, that consists of little more than ambient drones, one repeated guitar refrain, and a slow, heavy drum rhythm as a doomy portent of what was to come…before the song exploded into life without warning, twin vocalists/guitarists Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly seemingly locked in eternal battle with their guitars as they delivered riff after punishing riff, as the huge screen behind them showed equally dark, oppressive imagery.
At The End of the Road
Given To The Rising
Water Is Not Enough
Distil (Watching The Swarm)
Stones From The Sky
Through Silver In Blood
Things took a while to get going – with songs lasting ten minutes or more in most cases, this is hardly surprising – but once they did…oh my. They were like some heavy, powerful train that simply needs to build up a head of steam, each song all the more powerful than the last. And that momentum was keenly aided by keyboardist Noah Landis, clearly a vital element of the band, offering sonic assistance on every song, accentuating the low-end, adding atmosphere, and also providing linkages between each song that resulted in barely a single moment of silence through the whole gig.
Amidst some mightily unexpected old stuff, what appeared to be a couple of new tracks, and about half of the last album Given To The Rising, there were perhaps some predictable highlights. All of the early momentum appeared to be geared towards building up enough fury and rage to unleash an absolutely titanic Locust Star, but while most bands would save such an outburst – and let’s be honest, it’s one of their most-loved and best songs – for the close, this was only halfway. Incredibly, things got better after this.
How? The gig climaxed with the funeral tolls heralding the apocalyptic, doomy blues-metal of Stones From The Sky (the roar from the crowd as the bells tolled suggested I wasn’t the only one overjoyed to hear this), and just as I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better than that, the set finale was a lengthy, jaw-dropping run-through of the tribal fury of Through Silver In Blood, Opening with Jason Roeder and Steve Von Till absolutely pounding out a monstrous tribal rhythm, it closed with those two and Scott Kelly playing out the same rhythm with an urgency normally unheard in Neurosis songs. Silence finally descended before the applause kicked in at the end – a short, stunned silence from the crowd. It really was that good.
This was a true live experience. Immersing oneself in the mighty rhythms, the imagery, and the atmosphere, when I returned to reality after an hour and three-quarters it was with reluctance. Needless to say, it was worth the extra few year’s wait.