Photos by: Charlie Homo
The second show of a two-night run has a strange vibe. The excitement from the debut performance is gone, and you can see it on the faces of the merch girls and the security guards — they know what to expect. So too do the repeat attenders, and there were plenty there Monday night at the Regency Ballroom, arching their eyebrows and delivering guarded prognostications of stoner metal destruction.
The weeknight bill was slightly superior. Former Bay denizens Black Cobra kicked things off with sludgy fury, taking advantage of the venue’s potent P.A., which never met a volume it didn’t like. Already one of the loudest two-man bands in existence, the duo (comprised of guitarist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafael Martinez) leaned heavily on their record Chronomega, taking advantage of the extra wattage as they pummeled the audience into submission. Set up towards the front of the stage, their proximity was an agreeably intimate introduction to a heavily-attended concert hall throwdown.
Oakland’s Saviours stormed the stage next, fresh off an Ozzfest run that introduced a nation of festival-goers to the metal party, East Bay style. While the band’s live show is as energetic as ever, an ever-increasing experience and confidence is apparent in their playing. Drummer Scott Batiste stays deep in the pocket, even when playing at frenetic tempos, and the give-and-take between the instruments seemed more assured, even leading to a clever drum and bass interlude in the middle of an otherwise adrenalized tune.
Relatively new members Sonny Reinhardt (guitar) and Chris Grande (bass) seem like they’ve been there forever, with the former enjoying an abundantly harmonious partnership with singer/guitarist Austin Barber, whose between-song banter is still hilariously unintelligible. At the end of their set, Saviours unveiled a new song, “Dixie Dieway” — judging from its mid-tempo swagger and Southern-fried song title, the band’s love affair with 70’s hard rock (which influenced much of 2010’s Accelerated Living) has continued unabated.
Once Saviours had gone forth into the night, the expectation that ensued was palpable. Hundreds of hands cupped hundreds of flames, and meticulously thick smokables all over the audience metamorphosed from orange glows into curling tendrils, preparing for Sleep. A cheer went up as a man in an astronaut suit ambled across the stage, holding a guitar as if he were about to sound-check it. The Marijuanaut, the band’s mascot of sorts, was to appear at regular intervals throughout the performance. At one point, a lit joint gleamed from within the bulbous glass of his helmet.
The band took the stage in silhouette, led by the majestic expanse of guitarist Matt Pike’s beer belly. Launching into the intro from “Dopesmoker,” their seminal 63-minute song/album, the enveloping fuzz of Sleep’s amplified excess hit the audience like a rock slide. Mammoth riffs slowly transmogrified into “Holy Mountain,” title track of their 1993 album, and bassist Al Cisneros’ vocals surfaced, his distinctive chant-like delivery abetting the already pseudo-religious atmosphere.
Drummer Jason Roeder (also of Neurosis) is a new addition to the fold, but his performance gave no hint of that fact. Leaning into his bike-tire-sized crashes and linking up with Cisneros’ languidly propulsive bass lines, the skinsman was impeccable all night, though his deployment of percussionist tactics like clip-on tambourine jingles, brushes, and hand-drumming was a little puzzling. The entire band pulled off an impressive balancing act, allowing the techniques they’ve learned since break-up in 1995 to improve the sound, without dulling it’s wild-eyed, Sabbath-worshiping rawness. Pike’s soloing seemed impossibly fluid — just when you thought he couldn’t hammer anything more on, he did.
The Iommian intro to “Dragonaut” wound the crowd even more tightly around the trio’s little finger, and over the course of the set they ripped through the entirety of Holy Mountain, albeit in a different order. Thanks to the Regency’s giant projection screen, the reverie was accompanied by an arsenal of appropriately mind-blowing visuals, underscoring the band’s seismic sound with found footage of imploding galaxies, solar storms, snowy peaks, and imperious ice floes.
Doomy riff followed doomy riff, and the band’s deliberate, thunderous groove never abated, demonstrating impressive stamina. The encore was comprised of two rarities, “Antarcticus Thawed” and “Cultivator,” labyrinthine epics that showed-the band in all their long-form, down-tuned glory. If anyone had any doubts about how a bloodshot-eyed trio from the San Jose suburbs acquired such a reputation, or about how they kept even after a 15-year hiatus, they were pulverized into so much mental dust. The only thing left to do was stagger home.