LIVE REVIEW: Sunn O))), Jesse Sykes With Phil Wandscher & Bill Herzog @ Boiler Shop, Newcastle (27.03.24) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Choosing a low-key, largely pretty hushed country folk trio as support for a veritable sonic apocalypse might seem like a strange move but it works like a dream. First off, Jesse Sykes and her long-time collaborators are great, their slo-core melancholic songs richly rewarding, with nods to bands like The Walkabouts, Low and – when the tremolo kicks in especially – Cowboy Junkies. There’s a ‘bar room band in a Lynch movie’ feel to much of their set and the occasional moment of discordance that feels like a tease or a premonition. Also, perhaps O’Malley and Anderson surmised this kind of sound would serve as a palate-cleanser, a way of focusing minds before what happens next. And it’s to the credit of the crowd – a pleasing mix of metal heads, Wire readers and the merely curious – that they’re received with open-minded attention and plenty of applause. Metal heads are genuinely one of the most open-minded of audiences.

The amp-henge on the stage – 10 stacks for two guitars – tells its own story, and Sunn O))) come laden with hype and mythology. The loudest band ever? Brown notes and punters passing out? They also come with the kind of doom trappings – grimmrobes, The Claw, Kerrang!-friendly artwork – that can detract from their reputation as SERIOUS MUSIC in certain circles. But fuck that, it’s all part of the experience and it’s better to fully buy into it all than respond with disdain or snark. Anyway, it’s hard to resist what happens next.

Time becomes stretchy when you’re immersed in music that’s all about duration and repetition, but for what I guess is the first hour or so, it’s a powerful distillation of what Sunn O))) have been doing for two decades, riffs drawn out at glacial speed and at maximum volume, with churning low end. At one point there’s a burst of aching, creaking noise that sounded like it must have done when that oil tanker scraped into the sides of the Suez Canal. The light show is simple but remarkably effective, working with the dry ice to create a wall of purple through which you catch the odd glimpse of a cowled head, a guitar neck, a hand raised before a riff.  But then it just fucking explodes. Riffs like atoms splitting, like glaciers collapsing into the sea, like planets being born. Magnificently loud but crystal clear (full credit to whoever sorted that out!), organ-vibrating and pupil-jiggling, wave after wave of glorious noise. The last 20 minutes – again, I’m guessing – is as good as anything I’ve seen in 40 years of going to gigs, an utterly joyful, cathartic, unifying, cleansing experience made me and many of the people around me grin all over our stupid, wide-eyed faces.
All hail The Claw.

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