Saturday, August 24, 2013

Surfing the sludge: Goodbye, Joey LaCaze

I did not know the man, so this is what Joey LaCaze means to me. In the selection below—the title track on an all-time-great heavy-rock record—listen to that sloshy double-time (:24), the groove-vortex half-time (:39), the fearless stomp-marshaling (1:37), the hyperbolic slow-down on the toms (1:54), leading into that unholy gnash (2:10). It just makes you want to get so low, that sound. Like all great drummers, he's doing a dance, a pantomime, enacting a feeling with the timbres he wields and the spaces between his beats. I have heard few cadences more exquisite than that shagged-out cruise at 2:50 and the coolly syncopated variation that follows.

What you hear here—both in Eyehategod as a whole and in LaCaze's playing particularly—is not, as so many would have you believe, the natural expression of a burnout, the inevitable result of hard living. You hear craft and command, the very deliberate will to get so, so low with your rhythm, to swing it as wide and hard as you can. You work at that; you grow it over time. You get so you can fling the pendulum out with ever-greater force and gracefully receive and absorb its natural return arc. To be able to smash the drums like a brute and also create a sense of dancing on air, waltzing with time, seducing it, dropping it at the listener's feet like a sack of potatoes, dribbling it like a basketball, pummeling it and pulling back. It's all a feeling, learned over a lifetime.

I saw him play only once, at Maryland Deathfest X in 2012. This is a good example of what recent Eyehategod shows were like. Tune in around 1:18 and you'll see LaCaze rocking incessantly back and forth, part of that stubbornly obnoxious preshow EHG feedback ritual. I'm sure the band has enacted this little bit of audience-baiting theater countless times during their career, but when I saw it, I believed it. I really believed LaCaze's tics, for lack of a better word; I believed that he was courting some evil spirit—seducing it, taunting it even, preparing it for the sludge ballet to come.

His playing was a kind of singing. Watch him handling—not manhandling—that groove around 5:20, that classic downshift in "Blank." He is fucking serenading that rhythm—not forcing it into place but laying down a pillowy red carpet for it to land each time. That is the place where drumming becomes a kind of letting go, not a willing into being but the riding of a wave. Among those who surf the sludge in that way, there are really only a few that truly matter to me, that can bring me to tears with the way they lay back on a beat. Joey LaCaze was one. I will miss him.

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