“You gotta see em live to really get it” is a phrase I hear all too often in reference to Sunn O))) (pronounced “sun”). While I could dig through albums from the last decade to try and make a counterargument (Looking at Altar, Monoliths & Dimensions, Black One), that time might as well be ancient history to the college-aged reader of today. With the newest release being the ever-slowly moving “Life Metal”, was this phrase true? Was I truly missing out on something that speakers and frightened neighbors can’t replace? Luckily for us, we were able to find out last Sunday.
In between each of the openers, Granada played Sleep’s “Dopesmoker”. If you were there for both openers, you even had the luxury of hearing the first half of Sleep’s “Dopesmoker” twice! I hadn’t thought about something like this happening since I can’t remember any venue opting for an hour long intermission song, but I wasn’t complaining. Papa M took the stage rather quietly with some sort of acoustic-electric guitar hybrid in his hands, and only one light bulb behind him to form a silhouette. We were brought some lush guitar loops, before being yanked away in the middle with a pounding drum machine beat that had droned on through the middle section of the performance. This eventually was pulled away for a softer ending, and return to the loops that defined the beginning of the set. I don’t think Papa M’s music is something I would have encountered on my own, yet I am glad to have found it in this context.
At this point anxiety had started to set in. This wall of amps is intimidating! Are my earplugs good enough? Just how much am I going to feel this music? Are they running Life Metal? As the stage darkened, glimmers of hooded men were seen entering the stage as a decently foggy Granada Theater started cheering in anticipation. Then came Sunn, and it was loud. The slow moving riffs mesmerized the crowd as fog periodically spewed out from the stage. “If you can see them, there’s not enough fog” I remember someone in the crowd saying. By these standards, the fog was sufficient. This is where I reveal myself as a fraud by stating that I couldn’t tell whether they had started on Novae or Aurora, yet in my defense, Sunn did a fantastic job on transitioning from track to track. Before I even knew it, the set was an hour in! Beyond the mesmerizing sound was the careful movements of Sunn. Almost every strum was telegraphed well in advance, with crowd members raising their fists in anticipation. A bottle of wine (presumably) was passed throughout the band members with the utmost grace, almost as a dance. They raised the bottle in the air before consumption, as if receiving the Eucharist.
If the waves of drone didn’t leave the viewer in a trance, the trombone that came out at this point just might have. A radiant light shined down on the lone trombone, laying out a beautiful piece over a slightly subdued wall of guitars. It was at this point that I realized that we haven’t had an ounce of silence from the stage, yet the show continued onwards. Towards the end, the fog had cleared up more, allowing us a better glimpse of Sunn O))) as a whole. More motions became telegraphed as the show droned on to its finish, only truly arriving once the signal was cut. A mighty applause was given to Sunn O))), as mighty as one could be after such a cleansing experience. My ears were sore, but not ringing! My jaw tension from nicotine withdrawal was drained out from the set. Does that mean that now I “really get it”? I understood it before, yet seeing it live was the definitive way to experience such a band.
I would heartily recommend seeing Sunn O))), and only have two suggestions for those who are planning to do so. Bring earplugs, and show up early if you plan on buying merch. The line for merchandise may have been the busiest one I’ve ever seen at a show.