There was a lot of black clothing milling around outside of Koko about an hour before showtime. A vague queue formed and the venue security placed barriers around the punters who had decided to join the line that had about stretched to the Hope and Anchor by showtime. It was a strangely awkward queue, populated by people so used to being the only person in their particular social group who actually like Sunn O))) that they are unused to conversing about them in familiar terms, instead describing them as "sort-of a metal band, sort of" and leaving it at that.
I got in, bought a hoodie, and made my way to the barrier. I'm a barrier lurker, I admit it. I was looking at my new hoodie when I realised it was too big but, by the looks of the crowd at the merch stand, I'd probably lose my barrier place by the time I'd returned. Weighing the options in my mind, I decided to sacrifice my place at the barrier to change my hoodie for a smaller size. This turned out to be the best decision I'd make all night, because it pushed me onto the second balcony, with close bar access and, in case I got bored, a giant fucking disco ball to help me trip balls.
A wall of amps, like Stonehenge formed entirely of cabs and heads, stood on the stage in a large semi-circle. I counted twelve of them. A table of wires, synths, and samplers was in front, and after an hour and a bit of an odd selection of warm-up music - some dub, some French hip-hop - Nurse With Wound came out, stood at their noise table, and proceeded to blow the doors off the entire fucking venue. NWW are a band with a long history, and I thought I knew what to expect even though in truth I'd only listened to two very early albums, 'Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella' and 'To the Quiet Men from a Tiny Girl', which were released over thirty years ago, and to 'Simple Headphone Mind', their collab with Stereolab from the late nineties, so you can see my error.
While the same dark ambient style remained, the live sound was a long, violent jam between four (occasionally five) men who fully understood each other and what was required of them. They were a jam band, riffing on dark and disturbing sounds, and they were a completely unified noise machine. Their occasional vocalist, who looked and moved like Marc Almond in his heyday, performed poetry and blew menacingly into a kazoo (not something I'd ever thought possible) while describing broken relationships and who the fuck knows what else. It was fantastic, and what made it better was the occasional excursions from noise into full-blown cosmic rock, before dissolving back into noise again. NWW were FFT (fan-fucking-tastic).
Another hour, another pint, while NWW cleared their table out of the way. The wall of amps seemed more imposing now and, if the bloke next to me could stop enthusiastically banging the bannister with every gesture he made, I might be able to enjoy the show without sacrificing him to the night. The great thing about Sunn O))) is that the smoke machine that they turn on, at the beginning of the interlude, remains on for the entire show. This means that the venue is eventually completely filled with smoke, and you don't actually see the band members arrive onstage, or leave it when they're done. They just appear, then they are gone.
While some idiots in the audience try to take flash pictures while the smoke machine is on (flash, in a fog - can you imagine?), eventually they start to play and the whole room begins to vibrate, and doesn't stop until they stop playing an hour and a bit later. It seemed like there were some technical problems - the light show, though impressive, did occasionally result in panicked pointing and running by the blokes at the sound desk, and the PA did sort-of blow up, but overall the show was amazing. While not as loud as I was anticipating, my entire body was shaking with the pure volume on display.
The strangest thing about it was that I came to realise that I prefer Sunn O))) on record, rather than live. While I'd no doubt go and see them live again, on record they are much more experimental. Live, unless it's a very special occasion, they don't have an orchestra. That means that much of 'Monoliths and Dimensions' (their best album), is off-limits. It's just three blokes showing off how loud they can play and, while that is fun, by the end of the gig I wanted Nurse With Wound to come back out and do a bit of jamming with them, or something. It was a great show but not quite the mind-blowing religious experience I was expecting - although it is likely to remain the only gig I go to in which people line the stairs and the sofas in meditative poses, getting high from the sound. I think I'd rather the band focussed less on the theatrics - the cloaks and lights and smoke are awesome, but what's with the giant strumming gestures? - and more on really nailing the sound. Nurse With Wound were genuinely brilliant, though I expect I'm probably in the minority with that view.
Posted: Wed 13 June 2012 Total Views: 1045Views Today: 0