San Diego psych-rock trios Earthless and Joy brought a taste of their exploding scene to Seattle and Portland on a rare West Coast tour that lasted a brief 10 days from October 17th to the 26th. In support of Earthless’ new LP and CD release From The Ages, their first studio album since 2007’s acclaimed Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky, both bands delivered with unadulterated musicality and punk-blues sensibility to audiences craving the intoxication of head banging stoner rock that they could crowd surf to.
Joy -- featuring Zachary Oakley playing guitar and singing, Justin Hulson playing bass, and Paul Marrone playing drums – powered through an ear-ringing, potentially brain damaging set of music. Although their show in Seattle was intense, it was abbreviated due to technical difficulties at El Corazon, the downtown club where they were booked. They more than made up for it at Rotture, the club in an out of the way part of Portland where they performed the following night.
Their musical virtuosity was on display in every note they played. These guys shuffle as hard as they play near-blast beat level punk, and it is all in the spirit of psychedelic blues-based rock. Their rapport is telepathic as they burn through fierce vamping then head into outer space, Oakley’s Fender Stratocaster feeding back through a wah wah pedal, Marrone soloing against him on a four-piece drum kit with two ride cymbals, and Hulson laying it down on his Fender Jazz Bass. These guys aren’t high tech, and Joy proved, especially to their Portland audience, that their music is all about back-to-basics primal psychedelic jamming on good vintage equipment.
An anomaly in the world of rock and roll dominated by commercially driven songs that rarely peak five minutes in length, Earthless – featuring Isaiah Mitchell playing guitar, Mike Eginton playing bass, and Mario Rubalcaba playing drums -- has come to be known for its long sets of music with tunes that extend into each other to create loud, transcendent pieces that take the listener and concert-goer on a journey that typically lasts upwards of 60-80 minutes.
On both nights in Seattle and Portland, the band began with “Violence Of The Red Sea,” the first tune off of their new album. While the studio recording runs a lengthy 15 minutes, the trio didn’t stop there, moving right into sections from their 2012-released live recording Sonic Prayer Jam.
When Earthless executes a musical change like this, it doesn’t happen quickly. Instead, the band segues gradually over the course of 15-20 minutes with the tempo building from a moderate pace to breakneck punk speed, transitioning from one section into the next, Mitchell’s blazing guitar playing propelled into the stratosphere by the burning foundation of Eginton laying it down heavy and improvisatory on his bass and Rubalcaba driving his syncopated punk drumming to shift the entire undercurrent of the band like a massive glacier.
Mitchell, picking the strings of his Stratocaster and adjusting his overdrive and delay pedals, created waves of feedback that raised the vibe of the club to near consciousness altering levels. At the packed house in Portland, those who weren’t crowd surfing were yelling wildly or shaking their heads in unison with the intense groove of the music. At one point, about 20 minutes in when the drums had faded to cymbal wash and Mitchell and Eginton were sustaining tone and feedback, Rubalcaba jumped out from behind his kit to push some of the crowd back who were being pressed up against the stage, preventing the possibility of someone getting seriously injured by being crushed or trampled.
The band then kicked into a mad blues jam at a fast driving tempo, and after a few minutes that seemed like no time had passed at all, they dropped into guitar feedback, Eginton picking a heavy bass line, and Rubalcaba riding his floor tom and rack tom as though he was being taken in by an ancient clan or tribal ritual. Coming up for oxygen with fierce singles on his snare drum, the band propelled into an intense uptempo punk groove that gradually advanced into guitar feedback and psychedelia, the tempo maintained by Rubalcaba and Eginton.
Coming up for oxygen once more with Rubalcaba’s fierce rolls on his Black Beauty snare drum, the band propelled back into the same uptempo punk groove, Rubalcaba riffing on his snare and cymbals, the band then breaking down into a moderately paced blues jam that was prime territory for Mitchell’s soloing as the tune slowed increasingly over the course of about 5 minutes, finally ending with power strokes by Eginton and Rubalcaba and Mitchell’s guitar feedback. When they finished in Seattle, the audience cheered appreciatively with men and women alike yelling for more. In Portland, the crowd roared so loud that it seemed as though the walls of the club were shaking, and then Mitchell thanked the audience as the band left the stage.
While the Seattle show went over without a hitch, the Portland show was not without incident. Within the first 20 minutes of Earthless’ performance Mitchell had the power supply to his effects boxes unplugged by people climbing onto the stage and diving back into the crowd. And then, about 45 minutes into their set, Eginton’s Sunn bass head suddenly stopped working, so Mitchell and Rubalcaba had to improvise by shifting gears as a duet while it was replaced with the acoustic bass head used by Joy’s Justin Hulson. Eginton later reported that he had smelled the acrid burning of electrical wires after powering up Hulson’s bass head, but it got them through the rest of the night, and through a memorable set of fiery San Diego psychedelic rock.
Although the weather was typically cold and clammy as were the clubs – Seattle’s El Corazon a lot more so than Rotture in Portland -- hopefully it won’t take either Earthless or Joy nearly as long to decide to make the trip back up to the Pacific Northwest.