Earth, Rhythm Room, 10/31/12

Earth @ Rhythm Room|10/31/12
"The last time I was in Phoenix, I was opening for The Lemonheads," Earth guitarist Dylan Carlson intoned with a chuckle last night at the Rhythm Room. "I was all by myself."

See also: Earth Drummer Adrienne Davies Discusses Cutting Loose (By Earth Standards) The contrast between the music of Earth and that of the buzzing power pop of The Lemonheads is a stark one. Earth has never made "easy" music: Always led by Carlson, Earth's early discography explored the most experimental and minimal corners of the doom metal genre (Carlson named the band after Black Sabbath's original moniker). Struggles with addiction and the law followed, and in the nine-year stretch between records, Carlson dedicated himself to cleaning up. Earth changed as he did, and with Hex; Or Recording in the Infernal Method, a new band emerged, with riffs worked from dusty Americana songbooks and an emphasis on rising and falling repetitive jazz motifs.

The contrast between Carlson "all by himself" and the current incarnation of Earth is another marked contrast. Carlson was joined by longtime drummer Adrienne Davies, bassist Don McGreevy, and Steve Moore on Wurlitzer and trombone. It's easy to let the "Earth on Halloween Night" review write itself, but not everything Earth played last night was spooky or eerie, sounding more in line with older harvest celebrations, Día de los Muertos, or All Souls' Day.

"This song is about a cat; some say it's about a guitar" Carlson said as he introduced "Old Black."

The track, from 2011's Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light vol. 1, is typical of the sound Earth trades today. Restrained and desolate, there's also a redemptive quality to its folds, accented by Moore's textured electric piano touches. No one on stage brought more of a spiritual vibe than Moore, adding touches of Alice Coltrane soul to the reverberating twang.

As promised by in our interview with Davies, the band tried out new material. The knotty "Multiplicity of Doors" was a highlight, with a more intricate chord progression (that pink Rush sticker on Carlson's Stratocaster seemed telling) that gave way to a swampy, Dixieland break. Moore's trombone work factored heavily into the new material, hopefully indicating that last night's lineup, the Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull group, will record the followup to 2012's Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light vol. 2.

The band reached back into the catalog, performing "Tallahassee" ("Fire up your bath salts," Carlson joked) and Earth's first song, "Ouroboros is Broken." The more groove-oriented material (the closest the band got to playing straight "metal" last night) gave Davies and McGreevy a chance to show off just how slow and heavy they could play. I don't know how exactly one taps into the zen and focus required to do what they do, but it's mesmerizing to experience.

On an unnamed new song, Carlson showed off slightly flanged exercises, no doubt influenced by the recording off his upcoming solo folk album. He joked about the band, noting "10 years in the band and they think they're running the show." In truth, they all were, acting like a post-drone jazz combo, evoking the silver tones of classic honky-tonk as much as the dreading landscapes of Cormac McCarthy. Carlson certainly isn't opening for The Lemonheads any more, and the purely collaborative spirit proves he's certainly not playing by himself.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Earth, Balmorhea, and Stebmo @ Rhythm Room The Crowd: Not a lot of costumes, unless everyone dressed up as instrumental-rock record collectors. The Opening Bands: Moore and McGreevy's Wurlitzer/bass/drums opening set at Stebmo was incredible, just smooth waves of Vince Guaraldi-inspired jazz-funk and mystical soul; Balmorhea sounded great but couldn't sustain my interest, though I imagine the band's bustling, triumphant sound could fit in well at a yoga studio. I mean, a really progressive one. I Met a Guy "Dressed" as a Pirate: And I can't print any of that guy's jokes in good confidence.

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Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.