By: Rob Batchelor

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Support: Black Spirituals | website

The Oobleck, Birmingham | February 21, 2015

In less than a year since opening, the Oobleck has become a great little venue nestled cosily into the Custard Factory complex. A nice room in the trendiest part of one of the top ten cities in the world (according to The Rough Guide travel handbook) means that the venue gets its fair share of musical heavyweights passing through, Earth being one of my personal favourites. Seeing them in a 350 capacity standing venue is technically the closest you can get to having a magical experience this side of a shaman’s tent in Brazil, but it’s not all about them. Let’s leave them for the minute. We’ll get back to them, don’t worry.

The Don McGreevy & Rogier Smal Duo seemed unassuming enough, taking their seats and starting without much fuss, but what followed was a satisfying hybrid of post-free jazz-sounding guitar and frenetic drumming that gradually coalesced and found itself in surprising ways before falling apart again. It was a joyous racket and got really frantic towards the end, with McGreevy throwing his best thrashy riffs against Smal’s insane drumming, who looked like he was playing in self defence against the kit, attacking it from every angle. Black Spirituals, by contrast, sounded less like a battle between players and more like a two man offensive against the audience, challenging them with their brand of improvised power electronics. I’m a big fan of any Mysterious Table of Wires, and the one hauled around by Black Spirituals certainly did the job, turning the humble guitar into all parts of a broken feedback orchestra which created an overpowering melange of distortion, punched through by drumming that managed to be both high impact and louche at the same time, relaxed somehow amidst the cacophony. They made it look effortless, and it was great.

Earth’s majesty has proven, year on year and album on album, completely undimmed. They’re untouchable at this point and after the release of their masterful double album Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light in 2011/2012 and 2014’s Primitive and Deadly, they also seem to be in a period of creative fecundity. Each new album pushes the band forward, moulding them and making them better every time, while also informing everything that’s gone before it – the more metallic sound of Primitive and Deadly acts as a prism through which the band now plays older material, giving The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull a heavier chug, and making Old Black less countrified desert drone into something much doomier. The new material sat well amongst the older songs, surprisingly so, as you pick up on things that link all the work together. For example, Ourboros is Broken was used to segue into the new material towards the end of the gig – they might have blown an amp or two during the set, but that’s what happens when there’s this many riffs – they dealt with it, quickly switched some gear around and carried on.

I’d never quite grasped how theatrical the band were from listening to their records, but seeing them live gives them that new dimension – Dylan Carlson posing and acting like the god of guitar throughout chiming well with Adrienne Davis’ drumming, which involves her not just hitting the drums slowly, but moving her entire body in literal slow motion, like a snake being charmed into playing the drums. Seeing them right there, in front of you, added this whole new aspect to the band for me, which I didn’t expect. Their style allows them to build up so much momentum through each song that when it finally finishes, there’s a sense of genuine catharsis, which is amplified when there’s 350 people in the room with you.

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