A FLOOD IN THE DESERT
Yucca Tap Room is a rather small hole in the wall in Tempe, Arizona. To give you an idea of how tiny and unceremonious it is, I myself have played several shows there when I was in a band that nobody cared about years ago. The idea that a first-rate band like The Ocean was playing there on that same stage still kind of trips me out. Maybe it’s the cultural divide, maybe it’s the state of the industry, or maybe it’s a lack of metal fans in my area. I’m not sure why the show was there, but in hindsight, it was possibly the most ideal way to see them and I’m glad it happened that way.
Silver Snakes started at 7:45 to absolutely no introduction. They kicked off with a low, sludgey banger of a tune; mid-tempo and headnod-inducing, with the occasional melodic interjection. Even though I’d never heard them, I could see right away why they were on this tour. Their style gels with the other acts, but they have their own thing going. They tend to veer a little closer to post-rock than some of the other groups. Their metallic edges are softened a bit in comparison. A very quick six song set, with barely a word spoken to the crowd at all that wasn’t a lyric. I actually really appreciate bands that are calculated and methodical on stage like they were. Good band.
After a lengthy break, The Atlas Moth took the stage at 8:45. Cloaked in red stage lights, their particular brand of psychedelic post-metal felt immediately ominous in comparison to the opening act. Though the vocals were barely audible, they were clearly designed to take a backseat anyways. The spindly lead guitar wound its way over the top of the vocals, taking over much of the job of maintaining an interesting melody. Though not immediately apparent, the keys played a very important role in maintaining the aforementioned ominous tone while the guitars transitioned from chugging to droning.
During an especially dramatic song, there was a fan up front who would make these odd hand gestures to accompany the changes. He would slightly crouch and raise one hand with his fingers spread out but curling upwards, as if he were lifting a chalice, but the motion was quick and intense. I immediately likened it to a motion Voldemort would have made with his non-wand hand during a fight scene in the Harry Potter movies. Magical.
I noticed another noteworthy thing happen in the crowd during Moth’s set: somewhere after the second song, I scanned around the bar area and saw a surprisingly inconspicuous Robin Staps (of The Ocean) typing on his laptop and nodding his head. The two-room setup of the venue meant he could have remained lower-key on the other side, but he chose to show his support. I find that commendable.
Just before 10pm, Scale the Summit crashed in with frenetic layers of melody and harmony. It was a tremendous uplift when compared with the preceding groups. STS present a technical proficiency to be marvelled, and they are some of the most impressive musicians I’ve seen play in person – but, as jaw-dropping as they are technically, they are ultimately less captivating than the bands before them. Judging by the crowd going absolutely bananas, I’m aware I may have been alone in this, but they simply weren’t keeping my attention. I repeatedly found myself coming to, not quite certain how much of the song I’d missed as I was thinking about something else or just admiring my Guinness. Maybe that wasn’t their fault, but it wasn’t a great sign.
At precisely 11:22, a mere 8 minutes before the show was initially scheduled to end, The Ocean began their set. In front of a projected backdrop of aquatic scenery, the band set to work. Their ability to present a dichotomy of their own wonderment at one moment and a palpable aggression at the next was immediately put on display. Violent stabs of frenzied, panicky sounds cut through the dense bed of atmosphere that makes up a majority of their music.
Interestingly, their approach was so potent that the barmaid, previously unphased by any of the bands, could be seen shaking her body to the music. The drama those Germans conjured was hypnotic. There was apparently only two possible responses that night: reverent headbanging or complete capitulation. Many chose the latter, simply succumbing to the sounds coming from the stage. No-one could resist the band’s charms.
To someone like myself, admittedly ignorant of large portions of their catalog, that live show was a wakeup call. Their command of the crowd was nothing short of scary. I’m pretty sure that’s how cults are started. Simultaneously the most menacing and the most beautiful sounds of the night were heard during The Ocean’s set. Three songs in I was kicking myself for ignoring the band for as long as I had.
For Staps & Co, this show, after the 5000 mile journey to come to my little college town to captivate all of about 50 people, was likely either a bore or a less-than-ideal labor of love. Either way, after tonight, I’d be willing to bet that those of us lucky enough to see their set would gladly walk across the country and swim the Atlantic to see them do it again.