Agalloch Makes Up for Disappointing SXSW Show
Agalloch has taken its listeners on a voyage over various soundscapes ever since their 1999 debut “Pale Folklore.” Lengthy tracks paint audio pictures of biting winds, snow-capped mountains, bubbling brooks, crackling fire places, placid pools of self-reflection, cold apparitions, the Northern Lights and so much more. Their songs convey a wide range of moods, bright and cheerful, calming white or grey with melancholy. The group needs a long set and stage props to create an authentic Agalloch concert.
When Agalloch last appeared in Austin for SXSW 2011 the group left many of their fans disappointed or at least with mixed emotions. They played a short set of mostly newer material, and their stage presented little in terms of atmosphere. Even front man John Haughm commented on how the SXSW show was less than satisfactory. Many of us had waited years, even a decade to see a rare appearance by the band, so in some ways, we were happy just to have seen the band. Still, many went away having not heard their favorite songs. Agalloch’s return to Austin, this time at Red 7, delivered the type of Agalloch performance we hoped and expected. Their 2.5 hour performance featured choice cuts throughout their career. Additionally, they offered a stage show that tantalized the senses.
Before dishing the goods on Agalloch, we need to first look at openers, Taurus. The two-piece, all-female group is atypical in members alone, not to mention the spacy, droning experimentations found in their music. Guitarist and vocalist, Stevie Floyd—also of Dark Castle—produced a variety of sounds on her guitar. Some parts resembled flesh-melting steel infernos and her unconventional tri-chords presented warped and frightening noises. Ashley Spungin pounded her drums with authority, often going off on a jazzy tangent. Additionally, a screen played random images while the group. All this was not enough, though, to keep the audience’s attention.
Even though Agalloch slowed down for several minutes at a time, Taurus was just too slow. They lacked the melodies, progression and hooks that enticed people down to watch Agalloch. Nearly every person I talked to at the show voiced their dislike of Taurus. Part of this dislike is noted above, while some of their distaste was due to their coming out to the show only for Agalloch. I would have been fine with a lone performance by Agalloch, especially considering the show started after 9 PM, so the “I missed it because of work” argument holds no water.
Guitarist/vocalist John Haughm prepped the stage by lighting candles and incense, which not only added light but offered spiritually-minded fragrances. Soon the rest of the group, Don Anderson (guitar), Jason William Walton (bass) and Aesop Dekker (drums), entered the stage and played a intro known as “NW Intro” on their set list and then transitioned into “Falling Snow” a highlight from the “Ashes Against the Grain” album. Dry ice shrouded the group in fog—a fitting image for a band that comes from the foggy woodlands of Oregon.
The ghastly-lighted quartet played choice cuts from throughout their career. Most Agalloch fans probably agree it was a “best of” set. “Into the Painted Grey” and “The Watcher’s Monlith” represented “Marrow of the Spirit Material,” “Hallways of Enchanted Ebony” and “Dead Winter Days” from the “Pale folklore” album and “In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion” and “You Were but a Ghost in My Arms” from the "Mantle" album. Each song was heavy with melody and pedal-created effects such as water-rippling digital delay; however, “Into the Painted Grey” and “Faustian Echoes” pushed the pace and showcased Dekker’s nimble hands behind the drums. Having been released just a few months ago, this was the first time many heard the diabolic notes of “Faustian Echoes.”
Before ending their set around 1:45, the group played the highly requested “Kneel to the Cross.” This track is a cover of the English band Sol Invictus’ song. Haughm and company started the chant “Summer is coming in, arise, arise,” while the crowd stomped its feet and clapped in cadence. The group finished their set with “Our Fortress is Burning” part one and two from the “Ashes Against the Grain Album.”
As far as I know, Agalloch played each song in its entirety. They wasted little time in their two-and-a-half-hour set. Every instrument was placed correctly in the mix for maximum audibility. Kudos to the sound guy (famous producer Billy Anderson is twiddling knobs on this tour) at Red 7 for getting it right! This show was the ultimate Agalloch live experience. They played the best tracks, the ones that I and most of the crowd wanted to hear, they sounded great and communicated perfect ambiance for their music. If you are an Agalloch fan, I highly recommend you catch them on this tour!
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