Walking up to First Ave in Minneapolis on Wednesday for SLEEP and MONO, I was not surprised at the type of crowd wrapping around the famous venue. I wasn’t surprised because every type of person was there: the old school metal heads with black bandanas wrapped around their grey and black hair stoked to see SLEEP for the first time live, the metal stoners with joints hidden in their pockets ready to bang their heads for the next 2 hours, the hipsters who appreciate all artistic music and get to check the legendary band off their list, and everyone in between. For me, I couldn’t believe I got to see them live for the first and probably only time in my life.
SLEEP is a three-piece stoner-rock-doom-metal band from San Jose, CA. After shuffling around with labels, music, and musicians (in 2009 drummer Jason Roeder of Neurosis joined the band), their song/album “DOPESMOKER” (an ode to smoking weed) was edited down and up and eventually reborn in 2011, nearly 13 years since the original song was recorded, when vocalist and bassist Al Cisneros contacted Southern Lord (a label producing music for bands like SUN O))) and OM, another band Cisneros plays in). Once the final version of “DOPESMOKER” was recorded they added “Holy Mountain” (1994) and “Sonic Titan” (1992) to create one of the best albums they’ve ever recorded. SLEEP’s goal was to breathe new life into one of the most important recordings of this complex music genre.
Their opener, MONO, is a four-piece post-rock band from Tokyo. Takaakira “Taka” Goto, Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu, Tamaki Kunishi, and Yasunori Takada formed in 1999 and have since recorded nine studio albums. They are known for their complex and dynamic sound due to the unique use of a synthesizer and a glockenspiel (along with the typical bass, guitar, drums, and piano). Their sound is similar to toe, another post-rock band from Tokyo.
The venue was completely sold out. I overheard people talking about their desperate and successful attempts at finding tickets on social media. The line for SLEEP’s merch table was at least 15 people deep from doors to the beginning of MONO. With the vinyl pressing of “DOPESMOKER” being the hottest item, SLEEP also had tshirts, holographic stickers, patches, and a limited edition silkscreen poster (they only printed 420, how perfect). MONO came with every studio album in both CD and vinyl versions along with some tshirts.
MONO’s set was intense and dynamic. Both guitarists sat on stools while the bassist stood. It wasn’t a head-banging set; it was a moving and feeling the music envelop you kind of set. They played songs from their most recent album Requiem of Hell (2016) that were electric and complex with building riffs and technical drums. They didn’t speak until the end of the set when Takaakira “Taka” Goto thanked us for a great show.
For 15 or so minutes leading up to the set, the band played a recordings from space missions. It was unique and nobody could really understand what was being said but it was still cool. Finally, Matt Pike (guitarist) walked out, shirtless as usual, onto stage first in front of an entire wall of cabs and heads. Cisneros and Roeder followed. Behind me I could hear the crowd electric with cheers telling Pike to rip a good set. Then SLEEP started to play. They were mesmerizing, intoxicating, and complicated. And they absolutely rocked. In every corner of First Ave fans were banging their heads to the heavy bass and guitars. It felt endless, eternal. And you definitely didn’t want it to stop. Vocals came in once in a while from Cisneros that made everyone rock harder. Their set was truly about the music with a simple stage set up of bass on the left, drums in the middle on a platform, and guitar on the right. They played and played and when a song was done about 20 minutes into the set everyone erupted in energetic cheers and clapping. Their set was close to an hour long. They ended but it didn’t really feel like it. I left thinking I will never be able to experience or explain something like that ever again.