After releasing their first new studio music in over a decade last month, Oakland’s Sleep headed out on a quick tour this week. With their other projects taking up much of their time, random gigging has been the band’s calling card since their reunion in 2009. Known for their slow, heavily downtuned sound and their reliance on interplay between the members of the trio, the group has a strong reputation as a live act, which they sought to bring to Boston’s House of Blues last Sunday night.
Opening the evening’s performance were Earthless, a trio from San Diego who, on this particular evening, brought along J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame, though he was billed as a member of his side project Heavy Blanket. While the group also plays jam-heavy hard rock music, its sound leans closer to an instrumental Jimi Hendrix than Sleep’s many Black Sabbath influences. Even though Earthless’ set lasted a full forty-five minutes, they only played a single song, the normally twenty-one minute Sonic Prayer from 2007’s Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky. While Mascis and Isaiah Mitchell traded endless guitar solos, the band’s rhythm section kept up a remarkably steady beat in spite of playing so long without a single break in the song. The show was nearly upset when Mitchell experienced technical difficulties with what appeared to be his amplifier, but Mascis covered for him while a road crew members fiddled with the equipment until it worked again. If Eathless comes to your town, make a point of seeing them.
After a fifteen-minute break, a smoke machine (let’s assume) behind Sleep’s equipment started up and slowly covered the stage with a light fog. The band’s set built slowly from the beginning, starting with Matt Pike’s guitar and going up with the rhythm section. Al Cisneros seemed to move as if the music were passing out of him, standing in one corner and calmly playing his instrument, locked into a trance of some sort. Pike on the other hand played as if the music were tearing through him, wandering all over his spot on the stage and making eye contact with the audience on occasion. Drummer Jason Roeder kept the band’s slow, sludgy pace without a single hitch for the entire two-hour set. Stage banter was kept to a minimum, mainly to acknowledge the audience and the beginning and the end of the show. Singing was also kept to a minimum. While Sleep’s sound is already light on vocals, the extended nature of the songs and the occasional moments of improvisation meant that Cisernos’ vocals took up very little of the evening.
The band’s set ran through their most famous material, and a few tunes that haven’t actually received studio releases yet. The majority of the set was devoted to the band’s breakthrough Holy Mountain; roughly a third of the legendary Dopesmoker was performed – obviously, playing an entire hour-long song would’ve been difficult for any band, but they confidently droned past the twenty-minute mark before moving on. The Clarity made its first live appearance since it surfaced through Adult Swim’s singles program last month, sounding even better in a live environment. As the band ran through the set, songs seemed to run together just a bit, but it fit this type of music well.
The current Sleep tour only lasts until the end of this week. The band will be making stops on the East Coast in New York and Philadelphia before they head to Chicago for two shows and California over the weekend. A tour through Australia has been announced for this December, so if you happen to live or find yourself down under then you should definitely see them. Having honed their abilities not only together but with their own separate bands, the band is now a ridiculously powerful live act that shouldn’t be missed.