Monday, March 14, 2011
Harvey Milk at Union Pool 3-13-11
Harvey Milk went on last night in the first of their three shows at Union Pool. Having listened to 'Courtesy and Goodwill...' since it was reissued on Chunklet I was wondering how this stuff would translate live.
First of all I now realize no matter how loud I dial it up at home, praying the dude next to me isn't home, this is meant to be heard at full volume with all of it's floor shaking rumbling and silences. Union Pool was the perfect place to be close enough to hear Creston's vocals when the droning cut out and he starts a verse sounding like Mark Lanegan, bluesy, deep and perpetually hoarse.
There's nothing like hearing the long drawn out tones from a single note of distortion held as long as possible, the bass not even being played anymore, it's just the cranked up hum of a cable, the sustained loop of a fraction of a note. That goes to another burst of distortion, barely a riff, two chords that wouldn't normally make sense together just because they're ne after the other now have to be considered in a sort of fractured melody. It's like hearing the beginning of the universe of rock, the big bang of metal, just emerging out nothingness.
It's a lesson in appreciating distortion, letting it take these huge breaths and then almost completely fading out, the entire performance is just as tension filled as the albums, always poised to take the sound into a full out technical meltdown, they seem to bide their time the entire hour, never pushing it over the cliff and giving into any number of the riffs and doom rhythms. It's literally impossible to follow, and just when they hit a repeatable groove for a minute, it's gone, they move on immediately into a new time signature.
They announced they were play 'Human Kindness' straight through and then play 'as long as we physically can as long as we don't have to play an encore.'
When he starts playing a distortion, feedback solo in 'I just want to go home' it has all the expression and inventiveness of the most experimental band. If you think anyone can play these two notes and wait long intervals between cymbal crashes, well - you are an idiot. The sheer training and rehearsal it must take to be able to not only technically and precisely execute these changes at this dirge tempo, but then to tame a loop of feedback into melodic tones? They aren't like anything else you're going to see or hear live.
They combine this amazing experimental drone sound with Preston's just end of the world vocal that isn't the usual indecipherable growling. He sings with the same power of the drone chords, slow, but with an intense theatricality. He's pushing himself again to that same place of creating these tracks, sometimes blending his vocals into a weird off harmony with the droning. As much as they push the dynamics of pure tempo, he does the same vocally. Everything dropping out to just his quiet, lonesome, actually nice singing and electric undistorted guitar. For a minute you forget the epic punishment that's been dominating the entire set, because it doesn't feel like it's about pushing extreme's, this is just their own idiosyncratic vision, from the very beginning.
I kept thinking of seeing the Swans recently and how much I'd heard about their live show, and Michael Gira, how it all started the same way, it was so outside of any box, not because they specifically combined genres of sound or some extreme, but for more than anything else...their pure originality. If the Swans started to point out where the thinking man's metal could go then Harvey Milk is almost writing the end of that chapter. They do this drone, sludge so well and with this history behind them, and the fact that their latest albums are maybe some of their best work, there's no end for them anytime soon.