Paradise Crowd Looks for Oblivion With the Trees
at the Paradise
The Screaming Trees spent the last eight years in Ellensburg, Wash. recording feedback-laden grungy tunes for independent labels like SST and Velvetone and endured an obscurity they never deserved. Even though their major label debut Uncle Anesthesia ranked high among the year's most critically acclaimed, the Trees' insolent musical attack forced them into the shadow of more accessible stars Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who stormed sales charts during the Seattle/Sub Pop Revolution of 1991.
The recent Epic release Sweet Oblivion and their contribution to the Singles soundtrack, "Nearly Lost You," has served to increase their popularity and provide a hit single earlier albums failed to produce.
The Trees dispelled any lingering doubts about their "major" band status last Saturday night, as they headlined a sold-out show at the Paradise nightclub with local heroes Luna2.
The four-man band laid down wave after wave of their unique mix of psychedelia and guitar-heavy rock, playing a majority of songs from their two latest albums (Uncle Anesthesia and Sweet Oblivion) as well as a few older songs like "Where the Twain Shall Meet" and "Change Has Come."
The Screaming Trees share their Seattle brethren's penchant for hooky guitar riffs and raspy vocals over dense layers of bass and drums. Like looking at the sun through opaque glass, one can discern shards of shiny, happy tunes underneath their sonic barrage.
Guitarist Gary Lee Conner and his brother, bassist Van Conner, blend together so naturally that the immense noise ends up disciplined and coherent. They keep glamrock solos to a minimum, instead emphasizing a steady, balanced sound. Even the dissonant chords created when Gary Lee reached his guitar out to the groping audience worked within the songs.
In fact, the Trees are so comfortable performing that they won't hesitate to roll around on the floor, eat Pez and throw stage divers for distance as they continue to play on, unfazed.
Perhaps the only thing that keeps The Screaming Trees from broader stardom is their anything-but-poster-boy appearance. The Conner boys probably weigh in at 500-plus pounds. Drummer Barrett Newman never looks too cool thrashing his parted afro coif. Gravelly voiced and stationary frontman Mark Lanegan stares blankly into the lights, oblivious to fanatics rushing about and pawing him. His self-conscious exhortation, "Narcotics. Do 'em. Share 'em. Love each other," was acknowledged by laughter from the crowd.
Affected manner aside, Lanegan growls through the songs with determination. He has one of the most limited ranges of any vocalist, but he powers vocals through tracks where weaker singers would be swallowed whole.
Opening act Luna2 tailored their act for the Paradise crowd--the set they played was less poppy than their recent appearance at the Hatch Shell opening for They Might Be Giants. Their live performance of WFNX favorite "Anesthesia" and cover of Beat Happening's "Indian Summer" were professional, but uninspiring. There is an unshakable sense that Luna2 has yet to find a sound of their own.
Of course, the real fun at any grunge show is the mosh pit. Halfway through "Uncle Anesthesia," one fan forgot the Golden Rule of Stage Diving and jumped for a less-populated area. The sound of his head meeting the ground was audible over the music, but he jumped right back up, empowered by the music and the scene. To what higher praise could the Screaming Trees aspire?