My favorite band, Isis, announced that they were breaking up a couple weeks ago, and it's taken me a long time to actually weigh in on it. When I found out I was crushed, and not in the positive context of the word when I'm talking about Isis. I mean a genuine sadness and feeling of loss. I've been following the band closely for 5 years, going to their shows and buying their releases on multiple formats. I check Aaron Turner's blog every day hoping for updates about all his interesting projects. As time went on, the band got more complex and lush, and I fell deeper into the world of Isis. I always saw Isis as part of lineage of bands such as Tool, Earth, Neurosis and The Melvins, all bands who have been around for 20 plus years. I figured I would still be going to Isis gigs 10 years from now.
After the initial heartbreak subsided, my more pressing questions were answered. They would continue their tour (for which I already had tickets), do a couple more odds and ends releases then call it a day. The same night I heard the news, Jessica promptly purchased tickets for their show in Los Angeles the night after the San Francisco show. If this truly was my last chance to see them, I didn't want to miss a single opportunity.
The afternoon of the SF show, we drove past the venue in hopes of catching the band for an opportunity to meet them and get my Shades Of The Swarm vinyl boxset signed. In a stroke of luck, the band was unloading and I was able to speak to and get autographs from them. I was so nervous that I left without getting guitarist Mike Gallagher's signature.
A line had already formed half an hour before the sold out show. Jakob from New Zealand opened the show with their hypnotic, slow-burn instrumental music. They were followed by New Yorkers Tombs who play sludgy, crushing metal with black metal influences. These were appropriate choices as they represent two extremes of the music of Isis.
Isis came on and were louder, tighter and more energetic than I've ever seen them. The crowd was enthralled. Aaron Turner repeatedly came to the front of the stage to headbang right alongside the fans, no longer the crowd-shy performer of past shows, but a true frontman who's physical presence helped stir the audience into a frenzy. The band knew the older material so well they could just let loose, to the point were they weren't merely playing the song, rather translating the notes into pure energy and emotion.
This was the setlist to the best of my memory:
Threshold Of Transformation
20 Minutes/40 Years
Collapse And Crush
Not In Rivers, But In Drops
So Did We
The Beginning And The End
In the four prior times I've seen Isis, I've always wanted to hear The Beginning And The End, and I finally got my wish. It's fitting that it's the last song they played. The next day we drove down to LA to the Troubadour, a venue about half the size of Great American in SF. This was another sold out show, so I'm glad we got tickets so quickly. Tool drummer Danny Carey and guitarist Adam Jones showed up to watch Isis' last show in their hometown. Isis played and identical set as the night before, but it didn't matter because the energy and the performance were spectacular. I brought my boxset to LA and waited for Mike after the show and got his signature.
I'm glad I was able to see them twice on this last tour, but I know it doesn't matter how many times I see them, I'll never be ready to say goodbye. I look forward to hearing their future projects, but it won't be the same. I wouldn't listen to most of the music I do now if it weren't for Isis. They never put out a bad album, and I guess never will.
I can only thank them for the years of great music. Their Panopticon album literally changed the way I hear music.
Thanks to Aaron Turner, Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris, Mike Gallagher, Bryant Clifford Myer.
This Is What He'd Always Known, The Promise Of Something Greater Beyond The Waters Final Horizon