by Robert Dean
If there’s anything you can count on when seeing Sleep plow through their songs live, it’s that you’re going to get stoned even if you aren’t the one pulling off the joint and the wall of amplifiers will be so loud it’ll rattle the skeleton inside your meat suit.
At Sleep’s recent stop at Austin’s Moody Theater, best known as the location of Austin City Limits, the doom masters didn’t disappoint with almost two solid hours of riffing and off the cuff jamming. Wandering through classics like "Dragonaut" and "The Druid," Sleep maintained zero communication with the crowd and let their riffs do the talking.
If there was any shining star in the constant chugging Twilight Zone, it was Jason Roeder’s precision, almost mechanical drumming that sounded more like a box factory than a heavy metal drummer. Bassist Al Cisneros and everyone’s favorite Lemmy stand-in, Matt Pike ripped through off the cuff renditions off their much-lauded records Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker.
It’s easy to dismiss Sleep as the premier stoner rock band or Black Sabbath tribute act, but once seeing Sleep, it’s apparent that the group are much more groove reliant than any Sabbath tune. While Black Sabbath ventures off into the weeds, sometimes crafting riffs from the middle of nowhere, Matt Pike instead hovers around three or four sonic ideas and explores them endlessly. While a spaceman might traipse around the stage, giving the already enchanted crowd a nod to the otherworldly experience, the presence of the music relies on the ever-building sense of wholeness and the slow, muddy groove that is unrelenting.
Experimenting on moments, ideas, feelings, Sleep might have stuck to the setlist as a means to have guidelines, but once in the music, they never relied on track length or what was expected, but instead traveled down sonic back alleys, looking for new ways to stake out territory in their universe. For a setlist comprised of eight songs, it took two hours for Sleep to find their way through them. There’s more to Sleep than meets the eye and certainly more musically going on than many give them credit for. There’s a little Black Flag and Motorhead in there, despite what sludgy slowness might bubble up from the murk.
As the packed room gave every inch of themselves over to the masters of the riff, there’s one hot take that’s unavoidable: Sleep is a jam band for dudes who like Motorhead.
Not from the same show, but it'll give you a sampling of Sleep.