Born of mescaline fueled generator parties in the desert, by four teenagers with punk rock roots jamming their own brand of surf rock with a slice of jazz, Yawning Man pretty much invented the “Desert Rock” genre.
A world away from the shadow of Santa Rosa Mountains in La Quinta, on a wet and freezing December night in Belfast, a small but eclectic band of misfits gather around the stage for this low key gig from an almost mythical band.
Despite forming in 1986, Southern California’s Yawning Man didn’t put out an official release until 2005.
They have been cited as inspiration for legendary stoner rock band Kyuss, and by proxy the entire Stoner Rock scene, while still remaining largely unheard of. So given the band’s influence there’s a certain mystique and anticipation about the gig. These guys are legendary!
Opener “The Secret Language Of Elephants” eases both crowd and band into a set of unfathomably influential music that has this diverse group of people mesmerised upon the small Voodoo stage.
At times ethereal, pondering and introspective the band isn’t afraid to also deliver some serious power with cyclic grooves that manage to be both bewitching and bouncy in a track like “Sand Whip”, with the crowd shifting between trance like state and animated energetic jaunt over the course of the evening’s dynamic set.
Live there is so much power that isn’t quite as evident on their records, the bass is huge and Mario Lalli (also of Fatso Jetson) delivers some seriously intricate and meaty lines that are locked in perfect synchronicity with each subtle drum note.
Much less apparent on record, but absolutely dominating in the live environment – you can feel the weight of it wash over your entire body.
Gary Arce’s guitar playing is drenched in effects that soar and wail in an almost visual sense, painting landscapes and textures with every phrase, while adding beautiful melody and dusky haze to the whole affair.
He also looks like the consummate Desert Rock dude and exudes an unassuming coolness only a guitar player who has carved out their own unique and distinctive style over 30 years ago can.
Despite being stripped back to a three piece tonight, you’d be hard pressed to realise they’re a musician down given how massive and complete they sound. Sure, there’s maybe slight textures missing due to the absent personnel (like the intro to “The Wind Criers Edalyn”) but the music is just so immersive and powerful it works without it.
You’d also never guess that drummer Rob Peterson was just a stand in for the tour as his performance was perfect, but in fairness he has history with the other dudes – playing with them in The Sort Of Quartet when former drummer Alfredo Hernández left to join Kyuss.
The band also treat the crowd to the newly released track “Ghost Beach” (from their upcoming new album scheduled for next year), a fantastic number that’s everything you want from a Yawning Man track and hopefully a portent of things to come.
There’s undoubtedly a jam vibe from the entire set, but make no mistake this is finely crafted and flawless… The entire experience felt like some kind of psychedelic journey that took us into a head space that swathes of bands aspire to, but very few ever actually achieve. No hokey visuals or gimmicks, just immersive sonic beauty in its purest form.
Arguably, there’s no finer example of the Desert Rock genre than Yawning Man, and despite playing for close to 90 minutes, it feels like the set is over in half of that time.
Laid-back, trippy and hypnotic… It’s the kind of immersive music that conjures up images of cobalt blue desert skies, mounted on cooked rocky horizons and peppered with silver stars – beautiful and transcendent.
Surely one of the greatest instrumental rock sets Belfast has seen in an exceptionally long time and a truly special night for those who witnessed it.
– David Cleland ::: 18/12/17
– Thanks to Wildling for the pic