Even Hell Has Its Heroes

EARTH-BLACK-SPIRITUALS-live-Lo-fi-poster-2015earth / black spirituals                                                         The Custard Factory, Birmingham, Feb 21st

So that recent mix there is just about book-ended with a couple of old earth tunes because I’d just been to see them and here, eventually is a review about it.

Black Spirituals play a kind of improv noise/jazz thing, and it’s a fine old racket they make up to a point. Some impressive and enjoyable noises from the guitaring guy, some skittering, clattering and splashing from yer man behind the kit. I like a bit of jazz now and then don’t get me wrong, but the problem here is the lack of a heavy right foot pinning things down, the general resistance to rhythm or form of any kind in either of their playing, there’s no groove, there’s no contrast it’s just sound soup. Which is fine for a while because they make a tasty noise but it can also get boring pretty fast if you’re not as invested in the performance as the players.

Earth‘s mighty roar is a wholly different thing, requiring amazing discipline to maintain the repetition, the slowed pace, the intensity of it. They can do this, they’ve been on the road a good while now on this tour, there’s no faults in their playing. The recent album has apparently been their best-selling ever and has truly cemented their legendary status as doom/drone originators but the live experience of it is a curious one. I think this has more to do with my own relationship to their music than anything else though, it’s so meditative, so evocative of wild and wide open spaces that it feels oddly out of place in a packed rock show full of balding, beardy blokes in black. And the occasional, excitable, too loud hipster, seriously SHUT UP you twat. Turns out the human voice is the problem I’m having all round. The vocal contributions of Mark Lanegan and, to a lesser degree, Rabia Qazi on ‘Primitive and Deadly’ didn’t really work for me, they seem to suck the air and space out of the music, somehow flattening and diminishing it. You can see why it sounded a good idea, the slowly formed and elemental music, like a cave of stalagmites, with a singer who seems to be carved from the living rock. It seemed a perfect fit. Still, tonight the live version of ‘There Is A Serpent Coming’ is all the better for being freed from its vocal. Then there’s Dylan too, for a man who makes such huge music he’s pretty small. In stature and in girth having shed a lot of the post drugs bloat. In fact, with his sculpted whiskers and waistcoat there’s something Derek Smalls about him which just seems all sorts of wrong. It’s probably not helped by bassist Dan McGreavey being some beardy man mountain whose strings are as thick as suspension bridge cables. But it’s the voice, he speaks like Geddy Lee sings. That’s not so much the problem and it’s quite nice that he feels like talking to us and introducing the songs and all but again it’s speaking at all, that breaking of the powerful spell cast by the music, that’s not working out for me. During ‘Bees…’ Dylan blows his amp head and they have to bring out a back up “this is why we always have a spare” he jokes. Later on he blows that one too and they have to run out to the van to get the last one they have, it’s not helping the vague Spinal Tap vibe although it is also testimony to how hard they play. So, I should probably have got a good deal more drunk before kick off and I’d have been fine, because when you can brush aside these minor irritations Earth make a huge and transporting noise and long (and slowly) may they continue

dylan 0)))

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