“Hi, my name is Gumshoe, and I like The Appleseed Cast because they’re… good and… because they’re emo.”
This faux-monologue was once employed to make fun of me for my unabashed love of The Appleseed Cast ever since I picked up Mare Vitalis at 4,000 Holes Records in Spokane, WA. But I still insist: If you call A. Cast “emo,” you’re missing out on three of the best examples of guitar rock circa the late 90s/early 00s (not to mention their three-way split orgy with Planes Mistaken For Stars and Race Car Riot, the latter being one of the great instrumental-rock “one-hit wonders” of the scene, never releasing anything afterward).
When I saw a flyer for this show, I was shellacked by memories; high-fret guitar arpeggios filled my head and those heady days of college radio — hooray? — came back into focus. For many, the idea of The Appleseed Cast playing Low Level Owl Vols. I & II is just another one of those full-album shows. For me, for obviously personal reasons, it ranks as one of the all-time great ideas, scraping the same sky as Slint’s full Spiderland run-through and GZA’s Liquid Swords-in-its-entirety (though LLO I/II have never commanded the same acclaim as the aforementioned).
Ha! Did I say “personal reasons”? Fact is, the Low Level Owl records deserve — and will eventually receive — their place in history, a perfect combination of an as-yet undefined junkyard post-rock, post-Sunny Day Real Estate twin-guitar bluster (super-post-Sunny Day, I should say), ornate, spiritual rock (if they’re Christian, they do a good job of not douchin’ it up), and some strange hybrid of gunky, effects-driven electronic music. These dudes used tape effects, old junk/kettle drums, samples, and several other at-the-time novel means to make their masterpiece. I still remember a lot of its reviews mentioned Radiohead — an example of how clueless many were in regard to classifying the lumbering glow of such a glorious beast (and, of course, it was mid-2001, and the Kid A hangover was already upon us).
After missing Dreamend’s set — damn those 16+ shows — it was time to settle in and let the music take over. The Appleseed Cast have a new drummer and have advanced in years, but they certainly understand what made the LLO albums great (truckloads of ride-cymbal-bell tapping, the aforementioned arpeggio-pie, the urgent mood, the keen buttressing of slower songs with euphoric break-outs), my only quibble with the whole presentation being that perhaps a few of the tunes received readings slightly slower than on the albums (and as any Sepultura fan knows, live yr supposed to fuckin’ play fast as shit!).
But this is an inspirational double-album, to say the least, and the Cast treated it with the care befitting a much-cherished museum piece as a litany of images flashed on a makeshift movie screen behind them. As always (I’m a big-time cherry-picker), I bode my time, saving my attention for the tracks that truly make the Owls “hoooo hoooo” (good lord I’m a terrible writer): “On Reflection“‘s somber spareness, the never-ending drone of “View of a Burning City,” the creeping wrath of “Strings,” the bass-y slow-motion break-beats of “Ring Out the Warning Bell,” and, one of my top-five all-time favorite instrumental dirges, “Sunset Drama King.” I’d be remiss not to mention how the butterflies in my stomach all seemingly started to cry as the homestretch of this all-important document began; when “Reaction,” the tune that somehow ties it all together, blasted through I was close to tears. And I’m not one of those people that weeps at Sigur Rós shows; there’s just something about “Reaction” and its Christmas-day tingle that ties my past into my present and future every time I hear it, a signpost that I visit when real-life matters seem almost too tough to tangle with.
And with that, it was over. I realize it might be boring to play the same album(s), note-for-note, night after night, but it results in an exultant experience for the concert-goer who has been listening to said album(s) for years with unrequited adoration.