Review: Appleseed Cast with Dreamend; March 3, 2010; Casbah, San Diego

When you watch Appleseed Cast‘s trippy post-rock, time slows down, twists apart, and becomes nonlinear. The long, vocally sparse shoegaze jams force periods of intense introspection and send your brain floating on a sea of disjointed, personal thoughts. They make you forget you’re still around other human beings, that you’re not sitting, stoned, on a beanbag in a blacklit velvet room, wearing thick over-ear headphones. To say that this is not a good first-date show would be a monumental understatement.

“I know that when there’s synthesizers it’s going to rock,” she said as we walked in. It was hard to tell if she knew what she was in for. It was her first experience at the Casbah, and she said it looked like her place. I let it go, but somehow I doubt she lives in a dungeon covered in black foam baffles, a full-wall mirror, and arrays of randomly placed band stickers, with hanging stained glass lanterns and Christmas lights illuminating jet-black walls.

Opening act Dreamend played with a subset of Appleseed Cast, who buffered the vocals and traditional song structures of Ryan Graveface with their familiar fuzzy layers. The last song surprised me, though, rocking so loud I had to stuff a wadded napkin in my ear that I couldn’t get back out. This no doubt impressed my date.

On this particular San Diego Wednesday, Appleseed Cast had the misfortune of competing with local performances by both Galactic, a draw for fans of rocking instrumental jams, and Tegan and Sara, Canadian indie favorites. They managed to gather a decent crowd, though, due to murmurs that on this tour they were playing straight through college-required listening and critically acclaimed albums Low Level Owl: Volume I and Low Level Owl: Volume II. The rumors proved true, as the ringing guitar intro danced its way toward that comfortable blasting chord that starts Vol. I and sparked countless joints nearly a decade ago.

The band has aged a bit since then, sporting a grey beard here and a balding head there, but musicianship only gets better with time. I would love to tell you that they added new and interesting layers, but it’s not really the kind of music where you internalize every note and can instantly sense if something is different. Low Level Owl was an album that you sat back and let flow over you rather than actively engaged in, and the live show is no different. Waves of undulating guitar crash over you. You see mouths moving but vocals are submerged, bubbling to the surface only when they reach critical volume. The drums scatter into syncopated, fractal rhythms, pushing along surprisingly simple, repetitive melodies. It’s as if you could whistle any tune that popped in your head and they could transform it into a rolling, nine-minute, multilayered meditation.

This music makes the mind wander. Mine wandered. So many other bodies here, perfectly still except for bobbing heads filled with other souls. Are they truly separate or are we all the same stuff, like those mushroom rings connected by miles of underground tubes? A chiming guitar poked its head through the curtain of fuzz, and we danced a little. Oh shit, now she’s peeling off her sweater — what a body. Trippy silent films projected on a sheet. I glanced over at the mirror and looked myself in the eyes for a long time. Seriously, am I positive I’m not high right now?

Some short stage banter, the only dialog of the night, broke the spell. The guitarist wanted us to know that he was experiencing intestinal discomfort from eating at a trademark San Diego Mexican shack. Then the music resumed. Videos of fainting goats appeared behind the band, the projector displayed a countdown on the back of an audience member’s skull, and I was back in a trance.

The set ended on a long drum loop, bass pulsing like a heartbeat over the fuzz — some real Pink Floyd shit — and then they hopped off the stage without fanfare. I dropped off my date and headed home, where I pulled out my makeshift earplug with tweezers, then went to bed with my mind still somewhere out in the ether.

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