They stood speechless and unmoving, breaking their silence only in those brief moments when the performers had finished one song and moved on to another. There were few claps. There were few shouts. There were a few hundred people enthralled by the melodic incantations of L.A. art metal band Isis.
Plenty of bands subscribe to the 2:30 blueprint for song construction. Isis isn't one of them, preferring instead to build songs progressively on layers of precision guitar riffs and drum backing punctuated by lead singer Aaron Turner's roar vocals. As they demonstrated at Clubhouse Music on Sunday, May 16, they're not hit-makers; they're audio landscapists.
Isis poured through several of the tracks on their 2009 release Wavering Radiant during their performance. Stylistically they ranged from metal-for-shoe-gazers jamming to the sort of machine-gun riffing that would make Nathan Explosion say "brutal." The resulting mix was an affair of constant tension broken by a rock-out moment that you can see building but remains startling when it shows up just the same.
Yet the time required to propel Isis from melodic moodiness to all out head-bangery was slow at best. I frequently found myself waiting for a song to end so that I could hear what the next one would sound like.
Still, I appear to be in the minority as many of those in attendance barely so much as moved during a song. Between tracks Clubhouse was filled with the sort of applause I would expect only a victorious gladiator is used to receiving.
Isis fan Sree Sarma was ordering a brewskie in the back area of Clubhouse when he explained to me that Isis builds up their music into a "wall of sound." I'd take it a step further and declare it an unstoppable force if you're the sort of musical enthusiast who takes their metal with a healthy dose of drone.
Turner himself has stated that he views Isis and the band's performances as a work of art. I couldn't agree more. Like heading off to see an exhibit at a fine art museum I was immediately impressed with what I was seeing on stage. I took it in. I rolled it around my mind thinking about what it meant to me. But ultimately I didn't need a second glance or in this case a ten-minute, dissident jam session.
Last Night: Isis at Clubhouse Music.
Better Than: Jane's Addiction at Cricket Wireless Pavilion.
Personal Bias: I miss guitar solos that don't fade into the rest of what's happening in the music.
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Random Detail: I saw a couple of Isis fans walking around with Prog Rock Convention shirts. I'm totally there.
Further Listening: Mastodon.
By the Way: I didn't see many audience members doing the hands in the air, back and forth hip dance. Good for you.