By Bobby Talamine
Let’s set the scene prior to Sunn O)) hitting the stage from the intimidating, the magnificent Rockefeller Chapel from the University of Chicago Hyde Park campus on a Monday night.
I wanted to arrive early to confirm credentials in photographing these makers of Drone and Doom, and when I arrive inside the cathedral, I encounter a class of sorts: 30 to 40 students all dressed in costumes from the time period of approximately 1490 AD, rehearsing a sort of Papal election from the Italian Renaissance, in which the students compete to elect a Pope, rose colored robes and all, heads covered with Galero’s, which are a broad brimmed hat with tasselated strings, which for the time period were worn by the clergy in the Catholic church.
Definitely standout and distinctive headgear, with also students in costume portraying historical figures of importance, from influential cardinals to world monarchs.
And this simulated conclave to pass this class happens to be inside the Rockefeller Chapel, just mere steps away from the gear and intimidating amps necessary for a Sunn O))) show.
Hard to take this all in, and soundcheck hasn’t even started yet, with roadies doing finishing touches on amplifiers and guitar pedals.
On top of that, just minutes before the doors open for the show, a storm is fast approaching, and once inside the chapel, a lightning show ensues, and if you catch the flash of a lightning bolt hitting the stained glass windows to the north- all I can say is something wicked this way comes, and it’s bigger than this thunderstorm.
I’m referring to the makers of Sunn O)) and its two core members: Stephen O’ Malley and Greg Anderson, who by might and will and a boatload of passion, have accepted and mightily have held their ground in all things Drone, all things Doom.
These guys- there’s no other way to put it- they challenge. They constantly push boundaries. I mean this sincerely.
This isn’t easy metal to comprehend.
It’s diverse, it’s punishing, it’s unrelenting.
Yes, their releases speak volumes in their cherished form of metal, but realistically, they still can’t hold up to their live performances.
Two separate and equal parts, that’s for sure, including Sunn O)))’s recent release- “Life Metal” engineered by none other than Chicago’s very own Steve Albini.
Unless you’re a high end audio hound, who can afford the ten grand or so to acquire the necessary amps and stereo cables and high end speakers to match the recorded listening experience required for said release: well then I give you kudos.
Or if you’re on a smaller budget, but want to splurge on quality and definitely not shiity headphones: again, a round of applause to you.
Still, most likely you will not match the sound of these guys performing live, especially in an acoustically mighty room such as the interior of the Rockefeller Chapel, with acoustics that are shock and awe, and a ceiling height that’s at a breathtaking 80 feet.
So there’s the conundrum of sorts, and even the band knows it.
The sensation you experience with these guys performing live, is not just in audio. You feel it- the sustained guitar crunch when minor or major chords are struck, a rumble and thump that hits your sternum, even without the use of percussion.
This is why it’s hard to replicate that experience at home, as much as you may try.
Stephen O’ Malley will tell you direct: “One of the challenges with our band has always been to match the recordings, that indistinguishable sound, and make it as vital as our live experience.”
You have to give them credit for trying, I tell ya.
As far as their performance on Monday night with added musicianship from longtime collaborator Tos Nieuwenhuizen on Moog, which just adds a breath of fresh air to the mix (always), and also the added flair of a trombone, and bass, the songs themselves clearly have a slow build and a life on their own, a downright meditative intensity that is hard to describe, and has to be experienced live and in person to be believed.
All songs played are stunning in scope, stunning in spirituality, embracing communion, not just between avid listener to band, but between band members as well.
What never gets old at a cherished Sunn O))) concert? Arms raised high with guitars in hand vertically, staying put in might of single note sustained, enveloped inevitably in mounds of fog, only to disappear for brief instances, and once the fog clears, there they are still, guitars raised vertically, still holding onto the sustained note.
Each and very time I witness this, my jaw hits the floor, knowing full well what Greg and Stephen mean in partnership, totally getting it, their brotherhood performing live, what they mean to each other, what they’ve created, a foundation of their life’s work, and the gifts that obviously come from this partnership.
A life affirming experience, what I witnessed on Monday night from the Rockefeller Chapel, and opener Papa M, who missed Friday’s show because of an illness, was a pleasant surprise with his ambient and instrumental guitar compositions, lit by a single white bulb for his entire performance: although making it incredibly hard to photograph him, still, I get the mood he was trying to convey, even sitting when playing, and facing the side of the stage throughout, and away from the audience.
For more on Sunn O))): chick here
For photos from the show, click here
Sunn O))) Setlist (Or an attempt there of:)
2. Troubled Air
5. (Song unkown)