I always thought Sleep was one of those bands that I would just never get to see, like Zeppelin, or the real Guns ‘n’ Roses. The members disbanded in 1995, fed up with the intractability of their label, London Records, which refused to release Dopesmoker, the band’s hour-long stoner metal odyssey of an album — the sort of artistic endeavor that the phrase “magnum opus” was invented to describe.
The members moved on to other projects — guitarist Matt Pike to High on Fire; bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Haikus to Om. For fans of the doom genre, even for those who had the opportunity to see the band in its heyday, Sleep entered the realm of myth, its progress hastened by a brief lifespan and the mind-bending, uncompromising nature of its final creative act. Exerting a powerful influence from beyond the grave, its specter hung benevolently over future fuzzed-out efforts like a particularly tenacious bong hit. Acolytes were initiated into the cult, their ignorance of the band’s seminal work greeted with innumerable half-exasperated, half-excited shouts of “Duuuuuude!”
Sleep began in the garages of Silicon Valley, lurching out of San Jose with two albums (Volume One and Volume Two) that pre-dated their classic trio line-up. 1992’s Holy Mountain was a triumph of demented Sabbath-worship and St. Vitus-style madness, establishing the band’s burgeoning renown and greasing the wheels for their ultimately unsuccessful deal with London. Combining Pike’s explosive riffing, Cisneros’ hypnotic bass lines and incantatory vocals, and Haikus behind-the-beat stomp, the album was praised to the rafters. A cover of “Snowblind” for an Earache Records Sabbath tribute album won opprobrium from the Prince of Fuckin’ Darkness himself.
Fourteen years after the Sleep’s untimely dissolution, the band were coaxed back onto the stage, proving that there are no longer any certainties when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll resurrection, though Slash and Axl putting their differences aside is probably even less likely than John Bonham rising unbidden from the grave. Two one-off reunion sets at the 2009 All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Minehead, UK gave a generation of metal fans hope, and their wildest dreams came true when Cisneros’ announced that the band (with Neurosis‘ Scott Roeder filling in for Haikus) would be playing a slew of U.S. dates throughout September, 2010.
Nearly two decades after the release of Holy Mountain, those days are finally here. Sleep is appearing for two nights at the Regency Ballroom, promising to play their groundbreaking record in its entirety, along with stretches of Dopesmoker. Joined on Sunday, 9/12 by Thrones (solo project of ex-Melvins bassist Joe Preston) and on Monday, 9/13 by fellow Bay natives Saviours and Black Cobra, the legendary trio is poised to further augment the stature of its already towering reputation. Weak eardrums, poorly-constructed foundations, and un-smoked bowls are all in trouble.
w/ Saviours, Black Cobra
Both days 8pm, $21
The Regency Ballroom
1290 Sutter St., SF
Check back in this space after the show for a full review, replete with photos!