Growing / Earth / Merzbow / Circle, Great American Music Hall, SF, 9/2/05.

(Writing this, I realized I never did write about the fantastic Teenage Fanclub concert last month, or the PinoisePop concerts — Ninja Academy, the Skyflakes, and the excellent From Monument To Masses — that I saw with Special K and 40.)

I missed half of Growing’s set — two guitarists who were outfitted (almost hilariously) with a wall of six Peaveys and Ampegs: total MBV-like guitar drone, with loops feeding on themselves.

I’ve never really liked Earth, which is odd, considering how much I hold similar bands (and their albums) — Sleep’s Jerusalem, Corrupted’s Llenandose de Gusanos, Naked City’s Leng T’che — in high regard. Live, their music translates to stoner rock at an excruciating, audience-testing, slow pace, with the same, not-as-chunky Black Sabbathy riff repeated a few hundred times. (Indeed, the best part was when some guy in the audience yelled “Slower!”) It’s music best appreciated if one is slumped, in a stupor, on a sofa, but I was sober, and a couch was nowhere near.

The real star of the show, at least in my book, was Merzbow, whom I’d never seen live before. (I’m something of a Merzbow nut; at last count I had about 120 Merzbow titles.) I managed to wriggle front and center until I was pretty much right in front of Masami Akita himself (who did not even bother to look at the audience at any point). The man in black — black clothes, long hair, sunglasses, black New Balances — sat at a table, and faced a small arsenal of wires and knobs and two Powerbooks (one with the big sticker “Meat Is Murder”). His music resists language; there are barely any linguistic referents for this sort of sonic assault of electronic screeches, giant slabs of bowel-loosening bass rumble, waves of chest-tightening, frighteningly amplified fuzz and feedback. This was literally violent music; at some point I thought my eyeballs were vibrating uncontrollably in concert with one particular loop towards the end of his set — the sound of infernal machines on the brink of explosion. Awesome.

Circle was, in a sense, anticlimactic (the crowd had thinned considerably once they came on), but they were certainly the most energetic of the four acts. A Finnish postrock / krautrock band, Circle had two skinny shirtless guys, a big curly-haired rawk dude, and a masked drummer, beating a motorik groove to the ground. The vocalist, who looked oddly like Will Oldham, alternately orated and screamed like Keiji Haino. Much headbanging among the audience, which unfortunately inspired a couple of obnoxious drunk frat-boy types to push their way to the front. I think I like Circle’s studio albums more, but maybe my eardrums were already ruined by Merzbow before they began. It’s about an hour now since the concert and I can think my ears are still ringing…