It begins with the most simple of introductions; tonight’s being unusually fast as the band is a power trio once more. In a tone soft and high, at odds with the very attributes that make his band so challenging, Dylan Carlson, once more hidden behind shades and waist length hair, akin to his early days with the ensemble, welcomes guitarist Don McGreevy and drummer Adrienne Davies, announces that they are indeed Earth and that the proceedings will start with Cats On The Briar from their recent LP Full Upon Her Burning Lips.
Its not stated which cats he’s referring to, but perhaps they are reminiscent of the creatures depicted late in life by the Victorian painter Louis Wain, spooked, wide eyed, abstracting away, their auras reverberating through and beyond the frames they are contained within. As he raises his battered guitar, and the sinewy opening riff peels out, notions of time and distance begin to drift away. Rather than an egotistical attempt at phallic replacement so oft associated with hard rock and metal, Carlson chooses to use his instrument as a divining rod to split atoms, reducing the seeming colossal riffs Earth generate, to only the purist of notes. He embraces his role as alchemist, like his idols LaMonte Young and John Dee, stretching and holding on to energy and sound and projecting resonances outwards toward the stars.
Thematically, the recent record appears to be predominantly about contagion and inebriation, with song titles such as The Colour of Poison, The Mandrakes Hymn and Descending Belladonna. Indeed observing the audience, you suspect they may well be intoxicated, swaying as they are, en masse, absorbing the reverberations, genuflecting almost. Watching Adrienne Davies drum is, in itself, like taking poison to slow the pulse. She moves so deliberately as to virtually appear motionless. Without hesitation, she strikes her kit with and unhurried ease and thunderous force. Each beat is tense and considered, creating a sense of arrhythmic relief when stick finally hits skin.
For all the minimalist tendencies on display, the other guiding force that has propelled Earth for the last three decades has been a not-so-secret fondness for classic hard rock and more recently folk of the 1970’s. Their track An Unnatural Carousel has the same sun-kissed vintage summertime ambiance of Fleetwood Mac in their prime. Like that band, this music is languid yet never slippery, the occasional inserts of melodic phrase and feedback, more often used as an indication of impending finality rather than to generate emotion.
And much like the mighty Mac, the members of Earth have a complicated interpersonal history. Carlson dedicates one lengthy number to his new wife, whilst jamming on the track with his former spouse Davies. But this serpentine knot does not seem to strangle them. In Davies, he has found his musical constant. Other musicians may have come and gone from the band’s ranks but she has remained true, and in fact the cover of Full Upon Her Burning Lips features the pair aping the iconic cover for Nancy & Lee. Whilst the pair may no longer embrace, they both face onward and indeed Davies is fore fronted, showing how much Carlson acknowledges her importance to their success.
They finish the set with Old Black which Carlson says is either about a van or an old cat. Tonight it may lack the mournful cello found on the record it first appeared on but maintains its prodigious importance and with this one last feline connection, the band’s hazy ritual is brought full circle and the ouroboros devours itself once more.