Probably the most unusual show I have seen in a long while.
First of all, I had never been to The Frequency.
If you’ve never been there, believe me when I tell you that it is the smallest venue I have seen music in. It’s one of those downtown buildings that is longer than it is wide. There is a bar in front, then a short hallway and the stage in the back. I’m guessing room for 200-300 people tightly packed? Small. Except for the emergency exit stairwell, the stage was the full width of the area.
The stage area is well used and Droids Attack (opening band) gear containers were just sitting over against the wall where fans were standing.
There was a drum set in the back corner of the room by the little room that held the soundboard. There was a bit of a backstage, I could see another drumset back there too, but it wasn’t like a luxury suite for the band before the show. This place is no frills, but I’m not really sure it needs them. It’s the kind of place that I can see Black Flag playing, and I do not mean that as an insult.
At the outset I realized that as the room filled up, I was the most brightly dressed patron in my khaki shorts and blue Nirvana shirt. It wasn’t like I was afraid of getting beat up over it, I just noticed I may have looked out of place. Like the guy wearing the Hawaiian shirt at the Christmas party. It filled up fast as it approached showtime so I maneuvered to the stage right front corner under the precariously hanging speakers under the skylights.
This was a good spot and there was a slight cool breeze from somewhere heading down the stairs to the exit door, which was good because it was HOT in there. I had a place to set my beer, to lean, and a good vantage point for pictures. Perfect. It was also a good landmark for Otis to find me when he arrived.
Droids Attacks got up onstage nonchalantly, picked up their instruments and BOOM. It was on. They wailed nonstop for 30 minutes. I was literally sad when it was over. These guys were hands down awesome. My earplugs (mandatory policy I blame Dick Dale for, ha ha) worked well enough to keep deafness at bay without ruining the sound. I walked the thin line between taking pictures and documenting vs just watching and listening. For me they are both important. Brad Van the guitarist didn’t stay still long enough for me to get many good pics, but there were a few.
Now, in my day this kind of music was just called Metal. These days there are all types of sub-genres and I have seen these guys described as Stoner Rock. Whatever you want to call it, it was heavy, but not growly death metal. It was just solid metal. When their done too soon set was over, all the gear was packed and taken out via the emergency exit right past me. I grabbed a setlist, mainly to see what songs they played since I didn’t know any titles.
I knew their vinyl was in sale in the hallway area and I decided then and there to get some.
The stage makeover was quick and the next band Holy Sons came up and soundchecked. The lead guitarist wondered about their choice of house music he heard overhead and made a face as he caught my eye. “Not your taste?” I shouted to him. He laughed and said, “It’s been a really weird day man”. Then some Pink Floyd came on and he played along a bit, then the house music went down and in no time were into the first song. It was heavy too, but had quiet sections interspersed. The guitar sound was very reverb filled and his voice was smooth. It was good stuff.
Halfway through they quieted it down with some slower more ballady stuff. The drummer asked mid-show that if anyone had a drum key with them and could he borrow it. Of course there was a guy. Later they announced that they didn’t know anyone in Madison, and if anyone had some floor space, they were nice boys. Aside from not knowing anyone here, they almost didn’t make it because their car blew up. They bought a van and were able to catch up to the tour. They ended with a few more heavy songs and during their set I moved from the corner to closer to center stage.
Otis, who had arrived for Holy Sons but waited to get to me at band switchover found me and we staked our claim at the front for Earth. Gear was switched out and the guitarist for Earth came onstage and started soundcheck. Although I am always careful to not use flash I managed to take a shot of him checking and the flash went off.
I shut it off and took more without it. Before Earth started the guitarist Dylan Carlson announced that he didn’t care if anyone recorded the show or took pictures, but NO flash please because he has a medical condition. I triple checked each time I took a shot after that.
At one point someone off on the side did take a flash picture and the bass player mouthed
“NO FLASH!!” with a look on his face that left no room for debate. That was the last flash that was seen.
So… Earth. Why was I there seeing them? How did I know about Earth? The beginning of this story starts at Strictly Discs. My first visit there I was in the basement looking at the used vinyl and they started playing over the store speakers this s l o w bass heavy deep droning melody. It was almost dirge-like, but I found myself digging it. The only way I can describe it is a Black Sabbath instrumental played on a slower than normal speed. The reverb and bass and drone guitar all worked together perfectly. When I got upstairs to check out I asked who there were playing. The guy at the counter showed me the CD “The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull”. Over the next few days I checked out their other releases on Spotify and was impressed. I included “The Bees Made Honey In The Lion’s Skull” in an exchange with Otis and recently he informed me that Earth was coming to Madison. I had to see this band. So tickets were bought, paid for and printed shortly thereafter.
They opened with “A Serpent Is Coming”.
There are vocals on the album, but there was none this night. The drone and bass was booming and washing over me and at first I was I hate to admit it, a bit amused by the whole thing. Dylan leaned over his guitar and made the tiniest notes reverberate and shiver through the place and occasionally had his back to the crowd to use the feedback from the amps.
Every so often he would raise his guitar up high like an offering and once threw the devil horns. Everything was s l o w.
Then after the first visuals were absorbed I started really listening intently. It occurred to me that even though the pace of the songs were so slow, the band was tight on the changes. There were no miscues and the iterations of the melody was complex. The drone and fury started growing on me like the album had. I was ashamed of my judgement of the visuals. The music was fantastic.
The drummer Adrienne was keeping the beat with a fluid theatrical long arms and high reach style that was fun to watch. I would think that the slow pace would be hard for a drummer. You would really have to pay attention and know the song intimately since the changes were so subtle. Same for the bass, staying on this seeming underspeed timing must be no picnic.
I took our picture, dark and grainy, but this was our “we were here” shot.
The crowd was against all reason silent and only moved in a sway or head bob in their respective spots. It was surreal. Everyone was hypnotized by the wall of sound that was being laid down.
That is until the violent hair flipper (there is one in some form or another at every show) started buffeting me with hair. At first I just felt the occasional breeze on the back of my neck as she shook her head and hair behind me. Soon however she was inching forward and I started getting hair whipped. I turned a few times with a prepared look, but she was only interested in clutching her PBR and keeping time with the music with her hair attack. Eventually I deftly guided her to my spot and I dropped back so that she would be in front of me. This way at least I could see it coming.
Earth was impressive. The music was fantastic and I fell under their spell live just like the albums. Great show.
As I passed the merch table I knew exactly what I wanted. It was a Droids Attack limited edition of 500 on white vinyl!
and I got the whole band to sign it.
and there was a matching CD inside too. The white vinyl is awesome.
As we left, Dylan from Earth was outside having a smoke alone on the corner. We stopped over and thanked him for a great show. He shook hands and thanked us for coming. I love it when musicians are approachable and nice. He’s just a guy playing his guitar and making music in a band.
You gotta love live music.
Great show everyone!