Writing and Photography by Bobby Talamine
Edited by Fiza Javid
Thalia Hall Chicago
Sunn O))), brought down to their roots and their original format as a duo, referred to as "Shoshin Duo", with a stop at Thalia Hall in Chicago.
First off, to get an idea on all things in regards to this Winter Tour that they're currently on, it's best to let them describe it a bit.
"They will perform as a pair, core members Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley, immersed in profound valve application, spectral harmonics, distortion, and of course volume. Pure and primeval riffs of temporality, massively heavy structures of sound pressure. Witness live experience of physical sound, and glacial maximalism like no other."
I can say first hand- all of the above is true.
To start, on a Tuesday night in Chicago's Thalia Hall, before Greg and Stephen take the stage, and the opening acts equipment is finally cleared away- their they are, albeit in somewhat limited form from past tours- but still- their they stand, the stacked amps, in an abbreviated semi circle, on full display.
You should have heard the main floor quiet down a bit to take it all in, under blue lighting, after some brief tunings from the roadies.
Lost count how many cell phones went up to get some shots, just of the amps alone.
And the tech heads in crowd, discussing this and that equipment and amp wise- suspended in disbelief, some of the verbage chatting about, clearly over my head and pay grade in audio / tech gear.
Have to say from a visual perspective, they're amazing, the concise and stacked amps, like a mini Stonehenge with untold stories to tell, both past and present, so ominous and imposing, and ready to do what they're made to do.
And then comes the fog, from front stage and back stage, immense amounts of it, and the house lights drop.
Once Greg and Stephen are settled in- the the deep drones begin.
Hard to describe this in detail, witnessing yet again Sunn O))) perform live- it's a sonic bludgeoning of might and feel, with patience, and delivery of notes that are concise, and well thought out, through texture, and immersion.
Yes- you feel it, along with hearing it, and you succumb, while standing still.
With me, you find your breathing patterns slowing down, like going into a meditative state, which I believe to some extent is the main goal- the audience participates in the ritual, equal to the band members performing.
And even that statement above doesn't clarify it completely- again, they're best witnessed firsthand, and communally with like minded folk.
Greg and Stephen are not just musicians, but technicians as well, elevating their game with performance, and figuring to the tenth letter the logistics what's needed to make each and every show, no matter the venue a most memorable experience.
True- once twenty minutes or so into their set, it becomes a sonic bludgeoning, but in a positive way, making this a transformative experience with them yet again, the might and sheer will of volume, with steady and ferocious notes of low end that literally pummel your sternum again and again.
The in the know crowd get heir early, when the doors open, just to seek out the sweet spots on the main floor, in relation to the amps, to best experience the sonic amplification.
And it's not necessarily at the front of the stage at the barricade that's the best spot.
Their had to have been twenty or so individuals discussing this very thing, moving about without yet hearing the amps, but having a clear idea from previous shows of where to stand and settle real estate wise before they go on.
Even that is fascinating to watch, that it's not all about fandom and up close, but more audio related, to get ready to succumb, and be transported like me.
I say this, because I was told for their performance that the pit was off limits for photography- main floor and balcony are fine.
What a relief for me anyway, simply because of all the fog, and getting the two in the frame is not ideal up close, to make for riveting photography.
Yes, Sunn O))) is a challenge to capture live, but still, well worth the attempt and the utter joy when you capture the brief moments between Greg and Stephen, guitars raised, arms raised, through light and fog.
And to be immersed on the main floor, watching both band and audience, Sunn O))) are like none other.
Cannot think of any other band that can replicate this dynamic of sonic sound amplification, and done with such patience and thought of mind.
So to make things concise- Greg and Stephen and Sunn O)))- they make you feel. They're a feeling band.
The sounds, the glacial pace of the low end, the powerful might of the low end, amplified with might, goes way beyond any band trying to work the stage to get people moving all the way to the back of the house.
To accomplish this time and time again, with heart and soul, with patience front and center, speaks volumes in my opinion, that you can make such memorable experiences with the exact opposite, to the point where an hour and a half or so set goes by like what seem like in twenty minutes.
And you stand there after they have left the stage, house lights come on, smoke has cleared a bit, and you witness the amps yet again, speaking to you, that they successfully reached the divine yet again, and they have another tale to tell.
Yes- that's the kind of show that Sunn O))) puts on, the kind that they relish so deeply, and me as well so deeply.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago
Sunn O))), Shoshin Tour, Greg Anderson, Stephen O'Malley, Bobby Talamine, JBTV Music Television, Live Music, Fiza Javid
Writing and Photography by Bobby Talamine
Edited by Fiza Javid
Thursday, December 1, 2022.
When The Smile released their debut album back in mid May of this year- "A Light for Attracting Attention", Thom Yorke made it be known in multiple interviews that the band's name, was "Not the Smile as in ha ha ha. But more of a smile of the guy who lies to you everyday."
Thought about that quote a lot when discovering, and rediscovering the album off and on since its release.
Clearly an album in my top ten releases for the year, and on multiple levels, has me questioning everything as of late, especially since seeing them live at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago.
The subdued and transfixed audience- like you could hear a pin drop.
The way the three band mates presented themselves from left to right- Thom Yorke on multiple basses and vocals and occasional synths and samples, followed by Jonny Greenwood on upright piano and guitars, and of course Tom Skinner on drumming, percussion, and some keyboards as well.
And they were not completely upfront to the lip of the stage- they remained immersed towards the back a bit, secure in their spots.
But the overall feel- the way the songs were presented, especially with the opening song on this tour, and also the album itself- "The Same"- and the refrain of "People in the streets- Please, we are all the same"- over and over and over, through Jonny's pulsating upright piano chords adding the overall tension and powerlessness.
The way Thom persists with the overall angst of the word "Please", over and over- was just haunting, and has stayed with me since.
Like a "Please" for me internally, to dial it down a bit, let alone my neighborhood, my work, my city, my country, my world.
I know it may sound a bit crazy, my thoughts on this, let alone others, and I haven't shared this with anyone up until writing this review.
But from the get go, this show with The Smile has been transfixing on so many levels, like I needed to be there to catch them at this moment in time far beyond documenting anything- but also to get my head on straight as far as inner self.
Good art of all kinds will do that to you- questioning everything, internally / externally.
Not that Thom and Jonny in particular are doomsayers - but it's clear to me as well that they somewhat have the same thoughts, although their approach is anxiety done cinematically.
Now I bring this up because of all their side projects and soundtrack making over the years, clearly their project The Smile and what has grown from that beyond the recording stage shows how relevant and important this release is compared to their body of work.
This show- this current tour, is moving on so many levels, emotionally, and spiritually.
Can't really touch on that and move people unless you're all in, especially conveying such honesty.
The way they approach their instruments, their live performance- another huge takeaway was towards the end of song two - "Thin Thing", and while over the repeated refrain of Thom versing out "Making mushrooms out of men- that's ok I guess - If you like this kind of, kind of thing, this kind of thin thin thin thing", over and over, and you see Jonny turn towards Thom, transfixed, like standing there stoically for minutes on end, body and feet towards the guitar pedals and audience, but head turned completely right onto Thom, not blinking, but watching him transfixed.
That says lots to me as well, the interplay between the three of them, which lasted with moments like this throughout their entire set.
Also, the persistent low key bass tones from Thom's basses, along with Jonny's intricate finger picking and ever so noticeable guitar tone- gives you chills when you see these two connect on this level, and flush out the instrumentation like it was all created on the spot.
And of course, highlights throughout their set- with the first single released from the album - "You Will Never Work in Television Again", or "Bodies Laughing", and "Pana- Vision" were presented subdued and haunted, and better yet- "We Don't Know What Tomorrow Brings", which is just so fraught with energy and angst, the build up it brings.
All through their set you find yourself immersed with the beauty of this album, and all that it questions, even through to the encore, with "Open the Floodgates" into "Read the Room", and ending with a Thom Yorke song " Feeling Pulled Apart by Horses".
All of it - all eighteen songs in total presented- makes you wish that their was multiple dates in each city, and catch these guys in variations of.
There's a pact alright, between artist and audience with these guys, and the unmistakable appeal in all things higher creative craft, and the enjoyment that brings time and time agin, whether it be full on band Radiohead, or each and any side project where the freedom reigns to create, and not be burdened by withholding anything back for future this and that.
Creativity like Thom and Jonny and Tom of The Smile gels on many levels- because they embrace the present, and are all in for what transpires.
Album from The Smile- again, one of my favorites for the year.
The Smile live and in person- also one of my favorite shows of the year.
Bobby Talamine - JBTV Music Television Chicago
The Smile, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Tom Skinner, JBTV Music Television, Bobby Talamine, Live Music, Fiza Javid