And so, the end is near ...
Well, this is it, the end. The final earthtone9 gig. If you'll excuse me, there'll probably be not much objectivity in this, and quite a lot of self indulgence. And if you won't excuse me, well fuck off, cos there's not much point you reading this! :-)
So, final gig. The truth for me, is that I really wasn't sure about going to this one. I've been fortunate enough to see the band play on a number of occassions. I know what the gig will be like, I know that they're normally great, occassionally ok and once or twice, pretty awful. What I don't really want, what I'm hoping won't happen, is that this will be one of those infrequent "off nights". But it's your final gig. Is that all the motivation you need, or can you motivate yourself? I dunno, which way would you fall if it were you in that position. So kind of in my mind was the thought that if I managed to see what I thought was the definitive performance from the band on this tour, before the London gig, then I probably wasn't going to go. But Nottingham, Oxford and Gloucester weren't definitive. Gloucester was tired, half full, ruined a bit by some knucklehead machismo wannabe wankers who appeared more intent on provoking punches than soaking up the music. It wasn't the end. It wasn't the final gig I wanted to remember. And so, it's time for the chariot MURC to make one final journey on the motorways of the UK to watch what for me has been the finest UK band for the last 4 years. They probably were for that fifth year of their existence (ie, their first), but I wouldn't know as I'd not heard of them then.
The Garage fills, and then a bit more it seems. The heat rises. But, there are other bands here. First up are Forever Until October, delivering their impassioned emo driven music. The first of a number of ironies, words that suddenly take on a slight twist and platitudes from the stage are issued. FUO thank Owen and earthtone9 for all they've done for them (as well as being a fine band, they've been one of the first to chamopion, whether you like them or not, the likes of FUO, Lostprophets and Hundred Reasons), and as the words "there'll be no happy endings, just like in the movies" ring out, they take on a new significance. The band appear to be improving all the time live, or maybe it's just familiarity, and when the album is recorded, released and they tour properly, things could really start to happen.
Fony are next. Third time I've seen them now, I've heard the album once, though it was in a bit of a, er, drunken state, (me, not the album, I didn't think albums could drink, but I could be wrong). And well, the jury is still out on them. The vocalist commands the stage with confidence, reminding me in terms of his demeanour of a cross between JS Clayden and Yap. Though he kind of spoils things with going for the crass "I want to see you kill each other" intro to one of the songs. Why can't we all just get along in peace and harmony eh. But yeah, the first half of the set feels non-descript. By numbers, necessary aggro vocals, riffs that don't really say anything to me. But then the final three songs show potential. One has what is known in my head at least, as a Maiden styleee riff to open, it's a long song, or at least it feels long, then there's slightly more melody and light and shade. They're not there yet, but if they choose to, I think they've got the ability to become something more. At the moment, it's like, "yeah, ok, so it's Waterdown next".
Ah yes, Waterdown. The pleasent surprise of the tour for me. I've really, really enjoyed watching and listening to this band. I still don't know the names of most of the songs, but in general it's hugely accessible melodic hardcore. The twin vocalist thing, well, it's kind of uneccessary, depending on your musical preference. For me, the guy doing the melodic vocals has a fantastic voice, very radio friendly, there's no need for the shouting from the other guy. But I can see that a lot of hardcore fans may feel the complete opposite. There's "dancing songs", and songs for a "mosh pit". And at one point, they can't resist the temptation to have all three guitars raised to the air, looking suspciously like The Scorpions (hey, it's called a joke for those about to splutter into their drinks). They sold out of CDs earlier on in the tour, which just means I'm going to have to purchase some from the shops. And this is a band for whcih I will do that.
A couple of weeks ago I saw the mighty Maiden here in London. Some of the best gigs of the year. After the final gig I thought, there's going to have to be something mighty special to top that as gig of the year. The atmosphere. The band chants going up. It just doesn't happen anymore. Well, apart from in this place tonight. As the band setup on stage for the final time, every appearance by them is greeted with a cheer. There's a really bubbling atmosphere in here. You just have to hope that the band can feed off it and don't let things down. As the intro finishes, Karl announces, "Welcome to the demise of earthtone9" and I Nagual Eye starts off. Again, those words that can suddenly take on a new meaning hit you, as the chorus of "close to collapse" rings out. Now, it's not often I do this due to advancing years and tinnitus, but tonight, there's no earplugs for me. And you can feel the energy around you, you can hear the singing. The off kilter solos throughout are as vital as ever, and then it's into the more straightforward Evil Crawling I. The place appears to be going apocalyptic, people bouncing, choruses being sung to the heavens and a blow-up doll bobing away. And the band are up for it. At one point it looks like Dave's head is going to fall off, as he bangs away, screaming to himself and the world, while to his right Joe wrestles with his guitar in the way Joe does, backing up Karl (who appeared to be struggling somewhat at Gloucester) admirably on the vocals. There in the middle is Karl, more energetic and driven than he appears to have been in a long time, while to his left Owen does his thing, rocking back and forth with the music, and giving out the old rock god poses.
And you know what, another irony emerges. Behind them all is Alex, whose being helping out on drums since Si left the band. And tonight is the night it truly clicks. Tonight was the night where you look and think he belongs in that drum stool. He's going with the groove now, whereas before he's sometimes looked at least, a little worried. Like Karl, he's being having problems on the tour with his hands blistering up, which for a drummer can't be good. But you wouldn't know it. And the snare sound tonight is immense. The power he's injected into the songs, the subtle time twists in p.r.d and Amnesia really shine through. A word has to go to Martin, the tour manager / sound engineer who'se been with the band on a few tours now. It's always noticeable when he's there. Sheffield before Xmas sounded awful. He wasn't there. Days later in London, it sounded much better. He was there. There's a trust and confidence between the two parties which is unseen but makes a tangible difference.
And sat on the side of the stage, singing along, is Jose, the man behind Copro the bands label. And it's fitting and actually one of the more moving events of the night, that when Karl introduces him, "without that man, none of you would of heard of earthtone9", that he gets one of the loudest rounds of applause of the night.
As the set passes, a steady stream of stage divers and crowd surfers emerge and depart. One gets pushed uncerimoniously off the stage. I find out later that the stiffled laughter that emerged through Karl's microphone is due to the fake beard and clingfilm pants being worn by the diver. Ah, sweet. Amnesia and Revelation from the final Omega EP show the band have decided to bow out at the top of their game. Indeed, many think that they'd probably not reached the top, but the chants of "one more album, one more album" are greeted by a response of "one word, 2 letters" from Karl. Commercially, they may be seen as underachievers. They never sold millions. They never gained mass acceptance. But that's not their fault. Since the split was announced, I've read a number of posts on messageboards about "well, they were always a support band". Crap, they stopped being a support band a while back. They did countless headline tours that were covered in the press. But if people are still too lazy to find out for themselves, are still too spoonfed, only see the major name bands, then that's their problem, not the bands. So commercially, they never did it. But music, funnily enough is about music, not commercialism. That's why it's called music and not commercialism. Sure, I reckon most bands want to sell stuff, but at the end of the day, the music is still first and foremost the most important. You can sell millions and still suck. Yet they had the problem that many people had heard of them and good things about them, "oh yeah, like that song on the cover CD", but simply didn't bother to take that any further and buy a CD or check out a gig. But for the band, musically they've achieved something very few others manage, an ever improving musical output. Challenging yet always accessible. And somewhere, somehow, the ability to make each gig something different, something unique. Even if they're playing the same set. It may be some words from Karl, a vibe, that unknown quality. That special something. Tonight is my 38th time seeing the band, and I don't think I've ever been bored watching their set once. And there's probably only Iron Maiden and Faith No More that I would begin to imagine I could watch that many times without boredom.
Tat Twam Asi. Well, what can you say? No, really, what can you say about one of the greatest songs ever written. It sent a chill down my spine hearing what seemed like everyone in the place and more besides singing the chorus.
They delve through the older material, the likes of the abrasive Grind & Click and vitriolic hsf, which Karl preceeds by saying "and now, there's only 15 minutes of earthtone9 left". Close to collapse indeed.
Tonight, as with the rest of the tour (to the best of my knowledge), there is no binary 101, which is a major shame. Instead, "this is the first song we ever wrote together and it's going to be the last song we ever play" means Withered. Kind of another appropriate Irony. As the song unfolds, images flash through my mind of the different gigs I've seen. Of having to tiptoe over drunken teenage bodies in Rugely who can't be arsed to walk the other side of the wall to see a band. Of the coming of age supporting Megadeth, and a mad scramble from Edinburgh to Glasgow to see them play about the final 3 songs of their set supporting Soulfly. Quite possibly the most expensive gig I've witnessed for the fewest songs. Of the sight of white shirts and open spaces in Bradford and Scunthorpe. Of pride at a headline set upstairs at Rock City for the Cityjam. Of lying in bed at 3am listening to Arc Tan Gent for the first time, not being sure what I thought, knowing I was drunk as my head hurt, but still playing it a few times and then waking it and playing it 4 times in succession early the next morning. Of seeing 2 Mean Fiddler gigs, of countless miles on the motorway. Of watching from a scaffold as the band play about 10 - 12 foot above the crowd in Lincoln. And so many other memories.
As Withered fades, the band dies, and the curtain is pulled, literally, across the stage, on the end of an era. Dave and Karl, are passed through the crowd to the mixing desk and back safely to the stage. Karl on behalf of the band thanks everyone, and the curtain is down. Who knows what's going on behind there, private moments. Out front publically, is another contradiction. Huge smiles on everyones faces are mixed with tears in many eyes. And against the odds in my mind, they've finally put on the definitive earthtone9 gig. It was the last one maybe. But this was the special one. A video camera by the mixing desk captured the moments. If the touted DVD becomes available, this should be the performance for the band to be remembered by rather than the Xmas Mean Fiddler gig.
Just to bring things full circle. I found out about earthtone9 from a demo review in Organ. Tonight, my final act, is to buy a copy of the new Organ. I wonder what unexpected goodies may turn up in there.
I'm so glad I went. Thanks to the band members, past, and, well, even more past as there can be no longer be a present, for all the gigs, and to those behind the band for having given them the freedom and opportunity to be the best band in the UK. I think that Maiden gig found it's contender. Awesome, absolutely awesome.
earthtone9 - r.i.p
Yaz / Voice of Apathy, April 15th 2002.