30 July 2018
Krautrock connoisseurs Earthless command a ceaseless psychedelic voyage through the cosmos
San Diego krautrock connoisseurs Earthless are a long way from base tonight. Not only is there a great distance between the stage where they stand and their homeland, but from the outset, the trio ascend star-ward for a ceaseless psychedelic voyage through the cosmos, without ever looking back at the pale blue dot.
Before this, Ruby the Hatchet crack open the eve with a mighty thwack. Faces masked by hair, studded leather jackets, contorting stage moves, Zappa-taches: we are safely and visually in the realms of rock. The Philadelphia-based five-piece paint with liberal lashings of doom and the occult: grunging riffs, seedy basslines, sinister organ tremors and shapeshifting percussion.
Frontwoman Jillian Taylor’s marching menace, with both vocals and presence, is supreme; seldom is she without a gesture, action or snarl, but always is her face cloaked by her feral blonde locks. The harmonies Taylor and drummer Owen Stewart share feel like words of warning, as though they're sage sufferers of an eternal inferno. Sean Hur’s organ bashing comes to a crashing end when his stand collapses mid-song, but he embraces the challenge imposed by the absent structural integrity and crumples to the floor to finish the punishment he started.
“It’s great to be back in this wonderful city,” murmurs Earthless’ frontman and guitarist Isaiah Mitchell as they tune up for their inaugural cut. This is the last vocal offering for some time. The wailing whammy and greasy-blues bass of Uluru Rock allows them to gently lure the audience off-world. But before long their instrumental hypnosis goes from zero to turbo.
It's less a gig and more a ticketed jam – a sprawling one at that. Breaking free from their sonic trance in order to take stock of the scene, we find that 15 minutes have elapsed without a song change, no one present is blinking and everyone is nodding like an army of indoctrinated bobbleheads.
Silence and respite between tracks are not on offer. Interims are filled with throbbing feedback or samples of the Space Age or both, keeping their spell cast end-to-end. Gifted by the Wind (the set’s fourth cut, around the 40-minute mark) finally introduces vocals into the mix and a sense of re-engagement from the audience is felt when the first syllable is uttered.
Vocals aren't really part of their modus operandi, but Mitchell’s voice is greatly underutilised. It adds a texture missing from their sound and serves as a channel for the audience to tap into with ease. Yes, the trio’s prowess at the helm of their own instruments is impressive, but because they soar so high so soon, the set plateaus on an astral plain and has no space left to travel. Their cover of Zeppelin's Communication Breakdown for the encore (granted it would’ve disturbed their cosmic flow had it been earlier in the set) proves they're capable of fully engaging the crowd. Faultless, no. Relentless, yes. Earthless, indeed.