BROOKLYN, NY—Much-hyped reunion shows from bands unappreciated during their time are often once-in-a-lifetime events, but in the New York area, it’s fairly common. You know, every few months. Sleep’s coming around? Must be time to change my toothbrush.
That’s about how often once-in-a-lifetime reunion shows happen around here.
After dipping their feet in at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival overseas last year and again in New York state this year, Sleep decided to take it on the road and bask in undying love from some of the swarthiest dudes imaginable, as well as the five-shows-a-week hipster set. And despite that the collective members of the band, now featuring Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder in place of Chris Haikus, play the New York area in their respective outfits at least once a year (this had to be the sixth area appearance from bassist Al Cisneros in 12 months), it had been over a decade since Sleep took a stage in the area.
And boy, was it worth the wait.
At the very end of said wait, Brooklyn’s Masonic Temple was full-to-bursting of an audience in anticipation of unmarketable stoner rock, and a ’70s photograph projected above the stage of a beaming Tony Iommi put a wry grin on most of the crowd. A band-curated collection of Iommi riffs served as the teaser and eventually the entry music as Cisneros, guitarist Matt Pike, and Roeder took the stage and started right into the building-sized intro riff to Dopesmoker.
Awesome. And really, really loud.
It did present a puzzle. This was supposed to be the Holy Mountain show, with selections from Dopesmoker. But there wasn’t much complaining from the crowd, and it was a clever way to open up the show. After about 12 minutes of the 60-plus minute epic, the band held out the note, soaked in the crowd some more, and started in on Holy Mountain.
And so clever are the mountain-climbing men of Sleep, they covered Ozzy’s “Over The Mountain” in the encore. I suppose they could have used a whole bunch of scenery from the Alps or the Rockies as their backdrop, but instead, the projection was basically a highlight reel from the NASA channel.
Though the frontman, in theory, is the head-bopping, hobbit-esque Cisneros, the focus of Sleep’s live performance is undoubtedly the swaggering Pike, who took almost center stage with his bare-chested ‘70s guitar god bravado while Cisneros was barely a yard from the curtains. It would be reaching to say that there was a tension on stage, but the visible dynamic of Sleep’s main personalities was striking and enlightening. Both men have been modestly successful on their own, but it was obvious they were born to play together, even fleetingly. Between the two personalities, Roeder hit so hard I felt it in the face, and the quirky, hypnotic rhythm changes that occur regularly in Sleep material (particularly Dopesmoker), he played with absolute grace. He’s just great.
It was tangibly satisfying. Despite the once-in-a-lifetime cynicism, it really did seem as if the stars would never align for a Sleep show, between all of Cisneros’ bands, Pike’s primary outfit High On Fire, Haikus’ departure, general personality clashes and the aforementioned unmarketable music they make. The math simply doesn’t work out to two sold out nights in a row at one of Brooklyn’s larger rock venues.
But somehow, it happened.