“WHAT?!” – The most deafening concerts that I’ve witnessed

I have just bought myself a ticket to see drone metallers Sunn O))) in Brighton, commonly regarded one of the loudest bands on the planet. Upon me sharing this news (alongside the caption “I’m going to regret this, aren’t I?”) , a friend who had seen them before, passed comment: Yeah they were loud as. By the time I came out I felt weird. Like the constant rumbling and droning actually caused me some kind of bodily harm. It was amazing.” While I imagine that this sounds like a (not especially musical) musical nightmare for many, I can’t wait. It’s one of those things that were I to describe it to anyone else, it would sound like an absolute nightmare, but I can’t wait. I don’t think I’ll even bother mentioning this one to my parents.

It got me thinking: What were the loudest concerts that I have ever been to? Here are a few of mine. Leave the loudest that you have seen in the comments.

SWANS

(Brighton Concorde 2, 2nd June 2014)

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After years of “back in my day” from my father, discussing how things used to be so much louder, even though he was standing outside the venue and waiting for me to leave, this was the night where that all stopped. I first heard of Swans when reading a feature on loud bands, ranking their volumes. There were inevitable mainstays such as Motorhead, Manowar, The Who and My Bloody Valentine, but at number one was Swans. Weeks later they announced their To Be Kind tour, and I couldn’t resist going to see what the fuss had been about. This concert will never be defeated when it comes to volume. It was hot. It was packed. It was outrageously loud, and I am still baffled about how they were even allowed to do it. Not that I am complaining – it was incredible, and as soon as the tickets were on sale for their 2016 tour, I got mine.

The most memorable part came with the show’s introduction – a fifteen-minute drone, building as the band members took to the stage, one by one. The first few minutes were two band members rolling on the percussion. It was already ridiculous. Then band member three (of six), Christoph Hahn took a seat and switched on his lap guitar. Good lord. By the time that everyone was onstage, the first song began… over the top of it, at such a volume that it could be heard perfectly clearly. That drone continued to rattle the room, forming a molasses-thick tank of noise. I’ve seen other bands do this, most recently the brilliant Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Brighton Dome, but I doubt Swans will ever be beaten.

CLUTCH

(Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms, 10th April 2007)

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The Wedgewood Rooms in Portsmouth is a venue I will always hold dear. It was home to my first ever concert (Thin Lizzy tribute act Limehouse Lizzy in 2003), I have seen more concerts there than I have at any other venue, and I’ve even performed there myself on a few occasions. Oh, and it is dang noisy.

Other potential loudest candidates took place here (Electric Six, 65daysofstatic and Wednesday 13 come close), but they are pipped to the post by stoner rockers Clutch. The show opened unusually quietly with the calm keys of obnoxiously titled ‘10001110101’, only for a sudden hike of volume as the full band entered alongside Neil Fallon’s furious growl of “Ribonucleic acid freakout! The power of prayer!”. I have not a clue what that means, but that was the least of anyone’s concerns. It was at a volume that knocked the breath out of me, and as I decided to stand central at the barrier, Fallon seemed to be staring directly into my soul and screaming in my face. He was terrifying.

However, he didn’t scare me away. Years later, I couldn’t resist seeing them again (read review here). This also wasn’t the first time that I had seen them live, as I saw them perform a short support set for CKY. Speaking of which…

CKY

(Portsmouth Pyramids Centre, 30th September 2005)

What is it about us ‘skates’ of Portsmouth that makes us so damn loud? This show was a similar experience to that of Clutch’s show, just without the quiet bit. It was instead a loud bit, followed by an even louder bit. CKY arrived to the sound of ridiculous feedback and began to play a slow and sludgy riff at high volume. And they were getting louder. Gradually the riff accelerated and the audience realised what the band were doing – beginning to play mainstay opener ‘Escape From Hellview’, and there were one snare fill away from blasting everyone against the back wall. They were also just as deafening when they visited the aforementioned Wedgewood Rooms in 2009, sadly their final UK tour as a four-piece.

SIGUR ROS

(London Alexandra Palace, 20th November 2008)

Name any documentary made since 2000, showing off the sheer beauty of nature, Sigur Ros can be heard behind the whispering wheeze of the narrator. That is not to say that the same can be said for their live shows. This show was recorded for their live release Inni. I can only assume that it was being recorded from outside considering the volume that they were performing at.

It was apparent that it would be this way from the very beginning, as the building seemed to shake along with the bass rumble of the ordinarily quiet and ambient ‘Svefn-g-englar’ and there was a sonic punch to the chest with every sonar bloop… before the band had even arrived onstage. This peaked both during the retina-frazzling finale of ‘Untitled #8’ (they seriously love their strobe lights) and during Takk… hit ‘Saeglopur’. I have seen then a few times since, but they haven’t been quite so loud since.

WHEATUS

(Southampton Talking Heads, 24th September 2014)

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Southampton’s little venues, as with Portsmouth’s, are deafening. In recent years I’ve seen (and definitely heard) noisy and tiny shows from Fozzy, Drowning Pool, P.O.D., Devin Townsend and in second place, Lacuna Coil. But believe it or not, the loudest that I’ve witnessed in Southampton was courtesy of Wheatus. While I will remember this show well for being told by half of the audience as well as members of the band itself that I looked a lot like lead singer Brendan B. Brown, this was another that stunned the crowd with the volume of their introduction. The support acts had performed at a relatively low volume, and the atmosphere was very casual – it was fun for all the family (really, I don’t think I have seen so many children at a concert). However, Wheatus then took to the stage, and Brown addressed the crowd quickly, saying that they needed a quick soundcheck.

Four drumstick clicks later, they shockingly launched straight into the closing seconds of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ at a deafening volume that didn’t go down for the entire show. I saw them again at the same venue on their following tour, and they weren’t nearly as loud. I’m not sure whether the band, the venue or the neighbourhood surrounding us had decided on this.

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