Photo by Estelle Hanania 2015
Written by: Marty Adem
SUNN O))) w/ BIG|BRAVE
@ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
Toronto, ON Canada
March 14, 2017
Presented by: Embrace
How do you spend a Tuesday night on the eve of the Ides of March in downtown Toronto? Getting pulverized into atomic bits by walls of sound emanating from SUNN O)))’s amps is how. This is a performance that (almost) literally embossed itself into the minds of the audience, and which will be difficult to forget.
The show was opened by Big Brave, a three-piece band from Montreal that plays long, drawn out melodies with a heavy dose of doom influence. They are as atmospheric as they are cutting with their vocals, and I was often shaken out of my instrumental reveries by melancholic cries and affirmations. With their droning guitar sounds, fragile and enigmatic vocals, and crashing drums, they began to set the mood for the evening, and created a sonorous atmosphere that would only be amplified in the next few hours to come. Big Brave has an ability to create space within each song, letting certain notes linger and waver, engaging with the audience’s attention span, before latching onto the next section. At times, their music, which flowed from one song to the next, imitated the ebbs and flows of the ocean, with the drums evoking crashing waves, and the guitar the patterns of the swirling waters. It’s a musical ‘scene’ that is easy to get lost in.
Of course, before SUNN O))) began, they did their usual test of filling the venue with smoke and fog until you couldn’t see your hands in front of your face. The result: the fire alarms in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre went off and the fire department arrived. This caused a severe delay in the performance, but it also provided a moment for people to get excited about the show. Since the QE Theatre is a sit-down venue and fog machines were soon to wipe away our vision, it was a perfect moment to get up and find friends who were seated in other areas and take a moment to connect. Soon enough, though, the show began.
What happened next is an experience that is difficult to transcribe into words. One loses a sense of time and place, which I think was also elevated by the fact that we were seated and taking it in much more passively than if we had been standing and more physically engaged. We were motionless, for the most part, observers witnessing a very fantasy that bordered on the edge of a hallucination. But to say that we were physically disconnected from the spectacle on stage would also be incorrect. I remember closing my eyes for most of the performance and allowing my mind to drift and wander with the swirlings of sounds and smoke around me. I felt the weight of the sound beating against my chest, massaging my brain with epic waves, and buzzing around and within my body, an aura that could transcend the physical. An aura that not only connected my own body to the music and to the band, but one which also connected me to the audience, to the rest of the people around me. One is emptied of one’s own self and filled with nothing but sound; it is so overpowering, that it takes over and controls every one of your senses, and it is inevitable that it overrides the physical processes of your body, as well as even your mental ones.
Witnessing SUNN O))) is a communal experience, in many ways similar to how one partakes in a mass or other religious ritual. Within this collective ritual, yes, there are moments of alienation, but this is more of an experience of awe, of realizing that you are one of many, and both
Catharsis, the ability to be and to experience is the gift that SUNN O))) bestowed upon us with this performance. As the show ended, they de-layered their sound, opposite to how they began their set, and allowed us to slowly come out of our own reveries, to disconnect from one another until we were present within only our own bodies again. Except, even more present, still buzzing, and aware now with a heightened sensitivity of the physicality of our own flesh and bone, perhaps even longing to be set free and ethereal again already. While we delivered a standing ovation to Stephen O’ Malley, Greg Anderson, Steve Moore, and Attila Csihar, they reflected back to us, and thanked us, the audience, for sharing in this collective experience with them.
As we shuffled out, one by one, I felt myself purged of the oppressive mantel of winter that had plagued me and which had been building steadily throughout the season, numbing my senses and ability to connect with people. I was reawakened, repositioned and present in my body for having been ripped apart from it for the last two hours. Many too felt a similar sensation, and there were those who left the venue without speaking, unable to express the significance of that they had witnessed, and some wanting to hold on, even for just a moment longer, onto the remaining resonances echoing within themselves.