Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dylan Carlson, Stephen Brodsky, and Kevin Hufnagel @ Saint Vitus

A trio of guitarists playing solo sets was an unlikely choice for my first show back in NY, but the guitarists in question - Earth's Dylan Carlson, Cave In's Stephen Brodsky, and Gorguts' Kevin Hufnagel - are as metal as all get out. Plus, a night where a group of musicians stripped their musical identities down to the bare essentials was appealing to me since I believe that art should be separated from artifice, and that too many metalheads confuse the presentation with the actual music. And hell, now that all my friends are responsible adults with wives and kids, what else could I do on a Sunday night except hang out with all the other aging heshers unmoored by family obligations?

It's hard to tell sometimes how much one person shapes a band; certainly, trying to discern Kevin Hufnagel's contributions to Gorguts, Sabbath Assembly, Vaura and Dysrhythmia is an arduous task, given how disparate those projects are. Seeing him play an improv set with nothing but his guitar and laptop paints a clearer picture of how much of a hand he's had in creating the atmospheric and cerebral elements of those bands - particularly the second piece, which recalled the quieter moments of recent Gorguts.

I've never claimed to be particularly quick on my mental feet... if I was, I would have put together faster that the guy who introduced himself simply as Steve with the guitar case labelled "CAVE IN BOSTON" was in fact Stephen Brodsky, filling in for an M.I.A. Guardian Alien. The last time I saw Brodsky perform was when Cave In opened for Neurosis back in 1999 - when the unforeseen shift from the metallic hardcore of Until Your Heart Stops to the prog/space rock of Creative Eclipses left hardcore kids with their mouths agape. I wish those same kids could get a glimpse of present-day Brodsky covering Neil Young, Morphine, and Elliot Smith with singer/songwriter earnestness. A pleasant reminder of the scope of the man's talents and the fact that none of us can keep a circle pit going forever.

I halfway hoped that Dylan Carlson taking the stage with nothing but a guitar meant we might hear some of the groundbreaking minimalist drone he pioneered on those early Earth albums (if for no other reason than I have a weird obsession with "Song 4"). What we got instead was recent Earth material, stripped of the rhythm section - no bad thing in and of itself. Riffs repeated like chimes, until a single sustained chord rang out to signal a song's end. The effect was at once ominous and meditative, and the audience remained eerily quiet during the breaks in appreciation. Earth without Earth is still Earth.