I had seen Grails play several years back at the Terrastock festival, in Louisville, Ky. Back then, they were a surprisingly tight instrumental post-rock band, that were mining a fusion raga trance metal vein; all polyrhythms and droning, middle-eastern guitars. They were as focused as a mandala; this was music for head-banging Sufis.
Last night, i was pleasantly surprised to see them incarnating as a free-jazz/krautrock behemoth, slipping in and out of crescendoes and left-field build-ups. Out of nowhere, the crowd would be writhing in unison, like a snake's nest with a hive mind, and it would be over just as quickly. I definitely got the feeling that the songs could be stretched out MUCH further, could be morphed into a pummeling, 2 chord barn-burner, but i got the feeling they were restrained by the limited time-slot, of sharing the bill with 3 other bands, and they were intent on showing the audience that they would not be caged by cliché. Unfortunately, i feel like the genre of epic instrumental rock music has been at a standstill for the past few years, unable to surpass the shadow of Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Pelican, and the like. Its usually pretty entertaining to watch live, but the recordings have been leaving me pretty cold. The original post-rock was all about bringing in elements of world music, fusion jazz, dub reggae, disparate elements. Anything was possible, and Grails are breaking the walls back down; a group of incredibly proficient musicians, acting as a single, breathing organism, listening intently, acting as one. It could be a little disorienting, at times, so many twists and turns in any given song, and the songs themselves were over far too quickly. I made a vow to see them again, next chance i got, but they perfectly set the stage for Neurosis. They cast the circle.