Live Music: Sleep @ Polaris in Philadelphia, 9/7/10

Written by Concert Reviews, Music

This past Tuesday marked my first metal show in ages. With a kid and a wife who likes pop and country music, getting out to metal gigs just doesn’t happen that often. And on top of things, the old man is in sleeping by 11 these days and that’s on the days I don’t pass out on the couch at 9:30. So in reality I need sleep more than anything else. Get it, I need “sleep” and the band I went to see is Sleep. Shit folks, I have plenty more where that came from.

I had never been to Polaris before, but this ballroom in the middle of the Philadelphia ghetto was an interesting place to see a metal show. Mirrored walls, love booths lining the sides, disco balls hanging from the ceiling and if you dared have a beer you couldn’t get closer than 50 ft. away from the stage, but I really don’t need to go deaf anyway.

Iron Man was first up and with that name, you know the influence already. Initially when I told my buddy that they looked old, I didn’t know they’ve been around since the late ‘80s originally starting as a Sabbath cover band. Their output over the years has only consisted of four albums with three different lead singers.

They came out blasting the doom metal with new singer Joe Donnelly sounding ever so slightly like Ozzy. They are a good start to the night musically but not really as tight as they should be. And Donnelly isn’t much of a front man. The vocals were fine but the stage antics were lame. Eight times he asked the crowd some variant of “are we having fun?”, he balanced a water bottle on his head, passed a mic over the crowd during a guitar solo (what am I supposed to do, hum along?) bowed down at the guitarist and at the end of the show said to some dude in the audience, “Unless you’re a chick you can’t fuck me, f*g boy” and then walked off stage. Awkward! I don’t know if he was trying to funny, but it didn’t come off that way at all. Not really the time to be a bigoted douchebag. Time to find yet another frontman?

Next up was A Storm of Light, led by Josh Graham who also plays in legendary doom outfit Neurosis. While decent, their six to ten minute opuses only allowed them to play five, maybe six tunes as the opening act. They weren’t quite as gripping at their latest record Forgive Us Our Trespasses made them out to be. Their brand of doom was dark and gloomy but many of the vocalless parts went nowhere. What I remember the most is the female singer providing back-up vocals. She stood at the right side of the stage, the only person in the place wearing white and didn’t move once. And if she was singing I don’t think anyone had a clue. It was the most bizarre thing to watch this statue supposedly contributing. Hope she wasn’t making the same cut as everyone else.

After a half hour break or so, Sleep wake up from their hibernation (see, there’s another one) and are led on stage by the bare-chested, tattoo covered Matt Pike and him and singer/bassist Al Cisneros begin the opening riff to “Dopesmoker”. The repetitive guitar and bass only slow riffage lasts for a good 10 minutes or so before the greatest thing in the world happens – Pike hits a pedal and the wall of fucking sound that emanated from their amps was glorious. I swear to Christ that everyone in the world should have whatever it is that allows Sleep to go from mellow to face-melting with the touch of a button – the metal equivalent of the Staples easy button.

The power of just Pike’s guitar, Cisneros’ bass and Jason Roeder from Neurosis on drums is hard to really grasp unless you were there. “Loud” doesn’t describe it. “Powerful” is a total understatement. “Mind-Numbing”, “Ear-Spliting”, “Fucking Crazy” – these are better terms but still don’t convey the message just right. I could feel the ground moving underneath me probably trying to scramble and find some earplugs and the bass riffs, no matter where you were standing just reverberated throughout my whole body.

The majority of what they played was from their legendary Sleep’s Holy Mountain disc from 1993 and although by the end I could have sworn they played “Holy Mountain” about five times, “Dragonaut”, “The Druid” and “Inside the Sun” were definitely in there.

For a band that hasn’t been together in ages and playing with a new drummer they were remarkably tight and all three of them seemed like they were genuinely having a great time with the gig. Matt Pike was his usual self, showing off his crazy guitar skills to the audience on all parts of the stage and Cisneros’ was headbanging with the rest of us.

The only weird part of the show was about a 10-minute break in the middle with Pike walking off stage and Cisneros and Roeder playing something so low that it was barely audible. I don’t know if this was part of the show or Pike was getting a blow job back stage but you could hear the crowd getting restless. It did kind of provide me a minute to get my bearings back though. Of course that all stopped when Pike walked back on stage and turned it up to 11 again.

Overall, Sleep was fucking killer and who knows what the future holds for them, so if you get a chance they are well worth your time and money and be prepared for one of the loudest fucking things you’ve ever heard.

Check out “Dragonaut”, complete with Al ready to kick some ass after a half dozen people surfed their way to the stage.

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