Family Bonds: Notes from the Celebration of the Life and Art of Caleb Scofield

The early passing of artists tends to foster an interesting (and occasionally uncomfortable) combination of reactions, especially in the age of social media. On one hand, you will see devoted

6 years ago

The early passing of artists tends to foster an interesting (and occasionally uncomfortable) combination of reactions, especially in the age of social media. On one hand, you will see devoted fans writing their own eulogies, attempting to encapsulate what the artist meant within the prism of their own experiences. You will also, unfortunately, find your share of naysayers who can’t wait to seize the moment to impart their own self-fashioned wisdom about how overrated the artist in question was, or how superficial people are for mourning celebrities while so many others suffer in anonymity. I recall getting into a heated exchange with an erstwhile friend when he posted something on Facebook disparaging fans of Chris Cornell after the star’s passing, since it was of equal or greater importance to him that normal people die daily with no fanfare. There was a deeper context regarding addiction and the way we view addicts, but there’s no sense dredging that up. The point is that we ended up wrestling over a dead man’s grave, and while to this day I disagree with his sentiments, I could have also just let it go and still mourned a man whose work I had admired since childhood without feeling compelled to get into Facebook fights over it.

The reason I mention this is because the tragic passing of Cave In bassist and vocalist Caleb Scofield on March 28th of this year came with a particularly revelatory response. Maybe it was because Scofield wasn’t a mainstream star and was more protected within a smaller bubble, but the outpouring of love and respect without the intrusion of negativity was particularly inspiring. It was also somewhat of an eye-opener from where I stood. I grew up with Cave In lingering around my musical tastes. I’ve owned Cave In albums since the dawn of this century and they’ve informed a lot of music that I hold dear to my heart, but they have always been more of a peripheral musical interest of mine. It wasn’t until Scofield’s passing that I learned the true depth of his influence. One after another, friends of mine eulogized him on social media with a kind of reverence that I frankly was not aware he carried. Musicians, bassists and otherwise, came pouring out to talk about how Scofield was amongst their greatest influences, a shining example of bass craftsmanship and sheer power for seemingly an entire generation of people who now make up significant numbers in the current crop of bands ranging from hardcore to post-rock, indie alternative to metal, and beyond.

If his presence and importance hadn’t already sunk in, it did when the first Celebration of the Life and Art of Caleb Scofield was announced to be taking place in Boston in June with Converge, Young Widows, Old Man Gloom and The Cancer Conspiracy (who are local legends in my neck of the woods, Burlington, VT, from where they initially hailed) supporting Cave In. I had an inside source tell me it was coming and that I should get tickets ASAP, but I figured I had a little time. When I got home from work the evening they went on sale I was startled to see that they had sold out in mere minutes. The Facebook event page was flooded with messages from people looking for extra tickets. I was bummed I wouldn’t be able to make the (relatively) short trip down to Boston for the show, as this appeared to be a truly once-in-a-lifetime event. Until, that is, news came down of a second show, this time in LA, and this time featuring not only post-rock legends Pelican, but the mind-melting revelation of a one-off reunion show for long-defunct post-metal innovators Isis (under the currently-more culturally acceptable moniker Celestial). I was pretty sure I had to purchase these tickets, but the responsible side of my brain warned me that it might not be prudent to buy tickets to a show that I would have to travel 3,000 miles for; a show for which I would also have to – for reasons tied to a lack of available vacation time – expedite the vacating of my thankless, torturous management job (talk about a blessing in disguise). I came very close to balking on the opportunity, but thanks to my soon-to-be girlfriend Laura, who urged me to stop being an asshole and seize the opportunity, I decided to pull the trigger and figure it out later.

Related: GALLERY: A Celebration of the Life and Art of Caleb Scofield — October 13th, 2018 @ The Wiltern, CA

Later came in the dawning hours of Friday, October 12th, when Laura and I boarded a plane from Burlington that would eventually lead us to Los Angeles. This was my first time being West of Austin, and I couldn’t think of many better reasons to make the pilgrimage. Our hotel was an ever-so-slightly seedy Ramada in Koreatown, just steps from the Wiltern Theater where the show would be taking place. I believe that our hotel was thankful for the show as well, as it seemed it was primarily housing fans who had traveled untold miles from all corners of the country to commemorate the music of a man who had been a defining face in a New England scene that had produced some of the most respected names in heavy music over the past 20+ years. Both the hotel lobby and the surrounding area were awash in a sea of black band tees. I saw Alcest. I saw Mgla. I saw Emma Ruth Rundle. I saw Circle Takes the Square. Hell, I even saw a guy in a RANGES t-shirt. I knew that I had found my place even though I was so far from home. And at its core, that is what this night was all about. It was about family, by blood and by association, from near and distant locations, all together to provide a proper send off to a man that meant so much to so many.

By 6:30 pm there was a line outside the Wiltern that snaked down and around the entire block. On the outside, the venue looked like it had seen better days, but I had been to venues like this before and had a sneaking suspicion that the interior would supply a welcome surprise. It certainly did not disappoint. The Wiltern is a beautiful old-school theatre that sits under a towering ceiling with lovingly crafted design covering every square inch of its walls, featuring an expansive balcony that rises high above the mezzanine and orchestra areas (the latter was in this case utilized as a standing-room section). We selected two isolated balcony seats to the far right of the stage, and while some might assume that these were not in a prime location I can assure readers that there is not a bad seat in this house, and the sound was spot on. The first band to take the stage was 27, the Cambridge, MA band fronted by Maria Christopher. The band has long held ties to Isis, contributing to some of the band’s songs (including “Carry,” “Weight” and “The Beginning of the End”) and featuring appearances from multiple members of the band on their own tracks. Cave In guitarist Adam McGrath has also been playing guitar live with them for several years now. Their brand of lo-fi indie rock was exactly the kind of calm-before-the-storm that this kind of show needed prior to getting decidedly louder.

The volume increased exponentially when Old Man Gloom hit the stage afterward. The long-running supergroup/side project featured tracks sung by three different members, Nate Newton of Converge, Aaron Turner of Isis and Stephen Brodsky of Cave In (filling in Scofield’s role), a combination that really hammered home the family vibe of the evening. Except for Pelican, every band on the bill featured at least one member that played a role with at least one of the other bands. In addition to the crushing weight and surprising accessibility of the set itself (OMG is not a band I had ever really actively followed prior to this event and for whatever reason I had carried a notion that their style was difficult-to-approach sludge metal), it was so affirming to witness a group of musicians who had been in the game for so long continue to exude passion and love for one another on stage.

Despite my strong desire to see them, I must admit that Pelican felt a little like the odd group out in this mix, is the only band without direct personnel ties to Cave In (although they have had a history of in-studio collaboration with Aaron Turner). Still, I was ever so stoked to see them, as my only previous opportunity was ultimately missed. As one of the team members at dunk!usa in 2017, one would think that I’d have had a golden opportunity to see them up close and personal, but despite having some time to converse with the band before and after their set, I was forced to spend their entire performance running around trying to tie up loose ends. So, finally, this event was my first opportunity to actually take in an entire Pelican show. They stepped up with a performance that delivered two-fold, hitting fan favorites like “Deny the Absolute” and “Immutable Dusk,” but also treating fans to the live-only track “Midnight and Mescaline” as well as two new, yet untitled songs. Even within post-rock and post-metal circles Pelican has always kind of been its own thing and maintained a sound that doesn’t feel particularly similar to any other bands in the genres, and to have been around for 17 years on respected labels is an accomplishment that I feel they maybe don’t get enough credit for. Despite seeming slightly out of place in the context of this night they still came out and crushed, no small feat considering the insane amount of anticipation throughout the crowd for the band that was slated to follow them. By the time their set was halfway done it would have been understandable if half of the fans’ heads had already exploded with the realization of their proximity to the first Isis performance in almost a decade’s time, but Pelican managed to keep everyone fully engaged throughout.

I have zero interest in under-valuing the importance of this night for Cave In and the Scofield family, but I would simply be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the highlight for many in attendance was the brief re-emergence of Isis (or Celestial, whatever you prefer to call them at this point). The Wiltern turned into a madhouse as the post-metal legends took the stage. At this point, I was somewhat lost in the moment, as I tend to get at shows in my old age, so I needed to turn to friend-of-all-things-post and setlist savant Greg Pittz for a recap to appropriately relay what unfolded during what proved to be a spectacularly cathartic 50 minutes for a lot of people. Greg is a massive Isis fan from Albany, NY who trekked almost the same number of miles as me, with exponentially more headaches in the process; he is also a devoted Phish fan, so he’s understandably finely tuned in to tracking sets, something I am admittedly terrible at. Here’s the rundown of what fans were treated to:

  1. Carry
  2. So Did We
  3. In Fiction
  4. The Beginning and the End (w/ extended ending)
  5. Sgnl>01
  6. Celestial (an approximation of Justin Broadrick’s Sgnl>05 remix, with an extended outro that timed the song out to about 16 minutes, similar to the version present on the “Live II: 03.19.03” album)

Thanks to Greg for helping me do my job on this one, because without him, my assessment would have been more along the lines of “it was aweeeesssssommmme.” Which, don’t get me wrong, it was. It was very awesome. It would be a shame if this was their only reunion performance because they clearly haven’t missed a beat. That being said, no one in the band has hinted at anything other than this event being a one-off, so for now, the people who were able to be in attendance can count themselves amongst the very lucky few who were able to soak in the glory one final time.

It feels weird to call Cave In’s performance an epilogue, but that’s kind of what it felt like, at least to begin with. It was truly heart-warming to see the band feature Scofield’s brother Kyle on bass, though his contributions were all mid-period Cave In tracks, which meant it was a bit of a drop in intensity from what Isis had left on stage. However, by the time they hit upon their cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” (a song they also covered in Boston, and a personal favorite of Scofield’s) things started to click in. After a few songs, Nate Newton returned to bass duties and the band launched into some much-anticipated renditions of their heavier material. At this point, the Wiltern really came alive, as hundreds of people simultaneously revisited songs that were hugely inspirational during formative moments in their lives and rallied together in love, support and unity. There were more than a few leaky eyes in the house from what I could see as I surveyed the crowd. They closed out their set with favorites like “Juggernaut,” which they hadn’t performed live for several years, as well as “Off to Ruin,” “Trepanning,” “Serpents,” “Big Riff” and “Sing My Love.”

This was not the end of the night, however. There had been rumors of a special performance from Zozobra (Scofield’s mid-2000’s project for which he was the primary songwriter), and this turned out to be the case, acting as an extended encore to Cave In’s set without a break in the action. This free-flowing session featured Turner, McGrath, Brodsky, Newton, Aaron Harris, Santos Montano and a special appearance by Converge vocalist Jacob Bannon, some of whom were rotating instruments song to song. I must include a disclaimer for the sake of journalistic integrity though – I was forced to receive this information second-hand, as by the end of the Cave In performance both Laura and I were convinced our eyeballs were going to rupture from exhaustion and were forced to walk back to our hotel and induce a several-hour coma. I knew that they were going to pull out some serious stops before the end and I’m bummed I missed the final few songs of the night, but I’m pretty sure that if I had stayed I’d be dead now so I’m going to try and convince myself I made the right decision although all evidence suggests otherwise.

What can one say that hasn’t been said? This was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of event for sure. You almost never get to witness the love and passion and devotion and closeness of a collection of artists from this vantage point. Typically, the live setting is very segmented and rigid, which is not something I’m complaining about, but the fluidity we saw on stage during the Scofield tribute was something to be cherished and celebrated. And really, that’s what this was all about – artists acting as a collective, and the resulting performance thriving on the undying dedication of the fans. Words can only say so much; sometimes things must be experienced, they need to be processed viscerally and live on through vivid memories. The Celebration of the Life and Art of Caleb Scofield was one of those things, and it will carry through as an essential episode until the end for everyone who had the opportunity to witness it.

All photos by Mark Valentino. For more from this photographer, visit their Instagram or Flickr. Photos may not be reproduced or used in any manner outside of the above posting without the express permission of the photographer and/or Heavy Blog is Heavy.

David Zeidler

Published 6 years ago