When: Sunday, February 17, 2013
Where: Emo's East, Austin, TX
By Van Darden (TX)
On Sunday night, five men took the Emo's East stage in semi-darkness. Then, as the lights came up -- and stayed up for the duration of their hour-twenty set -- they proceeded to systematically dismantle, atom by atom, the near-sellout crowd who had gathered to bear witness to their own mutual destruction.
There was no fire, no flame, no pyrotechnics or video screens, no projected images or superimposed videography. Other than a few carefully selected samples and the intermittent squall of feedback and ambient noise that separated songs, there were no extraneous elements. There was no light show. No lasers. They barely acknowledged the audience at all.
There was nothing conceded, no graces granted -- nothing at all, in fact, to distract from the deceptively workmanlike delivery of a purified sound stripped down to its basest elements.
While a no-frills rock concert wouldn't normally be enough to warrant such hyperbolic exhortation, the simple fact that these five men have recorded and performed for more than 25 years under the name Neurosis -- a name that has become almost synonymous with lush visual spectacle (provided until recently by artist Josh Graham) -- is enough to warrant the preceding three paragraphs.
In the glare of the white-hot and immobile house lights, the five men, each with far, far more than 40 miles of bad roads under their respective belts, proved in the most literal sense that they have nothing to hide: Each scar, each wrinkle, each missing tooth was on defiant display; each note, each beat delivered with hammer-striking-anvil clarity and force, utterly devoid of pretension or artifice; their surety of action and naked presentation marks of hard-won confidence.
It wasn't arrogance. It was utter dominance -- the kind that comes with a total mastery of craft.
Other, better writers can talk -- and have talked at length -- about what Neurosis means to them, or to the metal community at large. But the Neurosis of 2013 is traveling in new territory. Songs are turning inward, rather than raging out. Age and death are weighing heavier and heavier, and the stresses of the same are taking their toll. With this in mind, it shouldn't be a total surprise that they're stripping away every non-essential layer -- refining and reducing, rather than piling on and covering up.
And while it's impossible not to compare this older, bolder Neurosis to the decades-long, visually immersive spectacle that came before, the same violent, emotional metal catharsis they helped pioneer is just as humbling and revelatory today.
It may have taken 30 years for them to get there, but boy was it worth the wait.
Below is Sunday night's setlist, taken from Setlist.fm:
1. "Eye" - Through Silver in Blood, '96
2. "My Heart for Deliverance" - Honor Found in Decay, '12
3. "At the End of the Road" - Given to the Rising, '07
4. "Times of Grace" - Times of Grace, '99
5. "Distill (Watching the Swarm)" - Given to the Rising, '07
6. "At the Well" - Honor Found in Decay, '12
7. "The Tide" - A Sun That Never Sets, '01
8. "We All Rage in Gold" - Honor Found in Decay, '12
9. "Bleeding the Pigs" - Honor Found in Decay, '12
10. "Given to the Rising" - Given to the Rising, '07
11. "Locust Star" - Through Silver in Blood, '96