Sunday, June 19, 2011
How Was Your Father's Day? You BBQ'D? Oh that's cool. Me? I SAW SLEEP FUCK UP A DIVE BAR IN WEST OAKLAND!
Everyone has those "once in a lifetime" show stories. The sort of shows that define an entire city's year in live music. The sort of random chances that come together that are on paper a horrible logistic idea, yet because "we look at danger and we laugh our heads off" (thanks Morrissey), they happen anyway. One of those events was tonight. Since it was so epic, I am going to try and tell it as a story. Here goes nothing.
Last night at 2am, after a having a time consuming, yet necessary conversation, I was feeling down and depressed. I was having all sorts of bad thoughts about where my life was going and what my next move was, when I picked up my phone to check my twitter accounts. I got a rather puzzling direct message from an old friend.
"Secret Sleep show at Eli's tomorrow. Confirm or deny?"
Eli's Mile High Club is a notorious West Oakland bar frequented by only the most ragged of humans. I love it because its a bar where friends go to get fucked up. I also have grown to hate because its a bar where friends go to get fucked up. You don't go there to meet random girls or guys to go home with, or to "make the scene". You go there to get wasted. I'm not saying that the clientele are rude, mean, or exclusive, or that if you are a newcomer, you aren't welcome. It's just not for lightweights. Recently, Eli's got their cabaret license and began putting on shows there. Good shows. Over the last few months, Saviours, Jello Biafra, One in the Chamber, Everything Must Go, Fracas, and many other up and coming bands as well as punk legends have graced the Eli's stage. Rikk Agnew, Lecherous Gaze, Alaric, Turbonegra, and Plan 9 all have shows at Eli's in the near future, making for may be the most rocking summer West Mac has seen in quite some time. As far as I've heard, the shows have gone well and the neighborhood (which can be a little rough) has been all right with the amount of foot traffic and noise created by the addition of shows to the usual rowdiness from West Oakland's most infamous watering hole.
Matt Pike, guitarist of Sleep and High On Fire, has been both an Eli's regular and employee over since the latest owners took it over, so the notion of a Matt Pike band playing Eli's wasn't completely unfathomable, and I knew Sleep was preparing for a run of shows in New York, Los Angeles, and Calgary begin this Wednesday and run through the weekend, but I still couldn't believe Sleep, one of the most influential stoner bands of all time, was going to bust out a secret show on a Sunday night at Eli's. So by my dumb perceived reality, and because it was 2AM and I wasn't about to start texting the world about whether or not this show was reality, I went with the easy answer:
"No fucking way. That wouldn't happen."
I woke up a few hours later to do Father's Day breakfast with my family, after which I was pleasantly surprised by a cell phone issue the required a new account. Most of the morning was spent in "radio silence", so I kept thinking that my hypothesis of a secret Sleep show being nothing more than gossip, hearsay, and/or rumor. Upon reupping my iPhone, I received a flurry of texts from my friends that all basically said "DUDE! SLEEP IS PLAYING ELI'S TONIGHT!"
Holy shit, it was really happening.
I texted my friend who hit me up on Twitter last night, letting him know I was incorrect regarding the legitimacy of the surprise show, then wondered whether or not I should go. I have a rather important medical appointment tomorrow. An appointment so critical that my mom was in town to accompany me for moral support and to ask questions I'm too stupid or scared to ask. Perhaps she wanted to see a movie and catch up when she got here? Or did I want to spend a bunch of time at a bar I could have rented a room in at certain points throughout the last four years? Was Eli's going to be a complete and utter nightmare/fire hazard as far as number of attendees was concerned? Legendary secret shows are chock full of awesome potential, however they can turn into logistical disasters at the slightest agitation, and the last thing I needed was to be stuck in a crowded, sweaty bar as some horrible, unexpected incident occurred. I was leaning more towards the "no" side when I got a text from a vegan straight edge friend of mine who was already there and telling me I was an idiot for passing this up. I came to my fucking senses. If my friend who had even less reason to be in a crowded bar could hang, I had no excuse to not go. I jumped in a car and bolted over to Eli's hoping I would still be able to get in.
As I parked the car down the street I noticed a small crowd outside the front door of the bar, but it was five people deep tops. I walked up, saw a few old friends, doled out some high fives and hugs, and was waved in and given a wristband by a friend of mine who happened to be working the door. One of the first people I saw as I made my entrance was the almighty Matt Pike, who gave me a giant bear hug as I walked by him. We shot the shit for a minute, I told him to break a leg, then walked over to my vegan straight edge friend and proceeded to catch up/discuss the awesomeness that was due to take place in mere moments. The lines for the bars were out of hand and I didn't feel much like drinking in the first place, so we headed to the front of the stage and camped out for what was going to undoubtedly be the Bay Area metal show of the summer.
The excitement in the air grew as 8PM approached, and finally the dudes took the stage,. With their backs to the crowd, guitars were tuned, then Pike began to make that familiar, hypnotic, heavy as fuck drone emanate out of two Soldano heads, a Blackstar head, and four Emperor cabs...
"Holy fucking shit, they're starting with "DOPESMOKER!"
I snapped pictures of the band while Pike played the riffs unaccompanied by the rest of the band, raising the tension so much that the only thing hanging in the air thicker than Matt Pike's thunderous guitar tone was an atmosphere of "sweatfog" and weed smoke permeating off the bodies crammed in front of the stage. Eventually, Pike reached that guitar climax, and in dropped the ground shaking bass of Al Cisneros and the crash/bang of Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder and the energy exploded into the room. Heads started banging, fists reached towards the sky, and the entire crowd collectively went "FUUUUUUUUUCCCCKKKK" in their heads as they began to rock their bodies in rhythm with the band.
Sleep opened their set with an abridged version of their 52 minute opus, "Dopesmoker", then blasted the crowd for an hour drawing heavily from songs off of Holy Mountain and Volume I. At one point, the heavy was too much for Eli's ancient electrical wiring, causing the circuit breaker to trip mid-song, which lead to a short break in the action as someone scrambled to reset the club's power. In what was by far the music nerd highlight of the night, the band picked back up in the exact spot they left off before the power grid became a victim of their ridiculous riffing.
Seeing Sleep was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I had never seen a crowd based on aesthetics and reputation, appeared to be one of the rowdiest ever assembled in Eli's (much less the world), focus so intently on the epic sounds pulsating from the stage. The sight of two hundred punks, stoners, metalheads, and hipsters enraptured by the wild, yet shamanistic hair whips and headbangs of Pike, Cisneros, and Roeder probably looked far more like an ancient tribal ritual than a heavy metal show in a dive bar. If it didn't look ritualistic, their was undoubtedly feel to the room one could describe as "nearly supernatural". No mosh pits. No spitting. No flying beverages. No heckles. No tough guy attitudes. The entire crowd gazed upon Sleep and reveled in what stood before them. It was more than just a metal show at a dive bar, it was fucking as profound as hearing a prophet delivering a message. These particular prophets were telling the world to smoke weed. Lots of it.
Here are some photos I took:
Sleep are gearing up for shows this weekend in New York, Los Angeles, and Calgary. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, get there early and be prepared for so much more than a metal show. If you live in the Bay Area, and you weren't at Eli's tonight, you missed the best show of the summer, and most likely of 2011. Long live Sleep. Proceed the Weedian Nazareth.