Album Reviews

Yawning Man Review: ‘Live At Giant Rock’ (Released Oct. 30, 2020)

Live at Giant Rock

Shamans are seers. Mortals endowed with the gift of walking between worlds. They are conduits that bridge the Earth and spirit realms and are able to cross between them at will. Sometimes they need to explore, other times they obtain healing from spirits and guides. I’ve heard of shamans journeying to witness alternate realities or simply to grow their power. 

Either way, allow me to say this, my friend: From what I’m hearing on Live At Giant Rock, I believe that this group of desert dwellers are sonic shamans. Their music, their craft, their art—all of it frees the spirit of the listener and allows it to fly unhindered into the aethers of bliss. 

Live at Giant Rock, all hail Yawning Man!

About Yawning Man

I must admit I have followed this band for a while now. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but I love their music’s ability to influence my emotions for the better. They say if you want to learn to play music like your heroes, you should study their heroes. And this seems to be the case here. Desert Rock luminaries such as Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, and Brant Bjork all have nothing but respect for this band. They all grew up listening to Yawning Man and attended their shows as teenagers.

Desert Rock connoisseurs, humble initiates, and even curious walkers-by always have the same comment when they overhear me listening to this band: “Who is this band? This is groovy as hell!” To quote my wife: “This sounds so beautiful, this could never be a group of middle-aged men in a desert. It’s too elegant. It sounds too good.”

As true Desert Rock royalty, Yawning Man call the desert of Southern California their home, and they have been active since 1986. Yawning Man are:

Gary Arce – Guitar
Mario Lalli – Bass
Bill Stinson – Drums

Live At Giant Rock Album Review

Live At Giant Rock was recorded where Yawning Man has played so many times before: deep in the desert, surrounded by heat, sand, and rocks. In many ways, Live At Giant Rock captures their performances from years ago, when they would play at generator parties with bands like Kyuss.

Here’s the track-by-track review:

Track 1 : Tumbleweeds in the Snow

Listen through the first few seconds of the opening track and then try to imagine someone experiencing those first opening bars of “Tumbleweeds in the Snow” and not having an emotional response. From the subtle noise of the generator’s hum to the elegant guitar feedback that spirals into the air like silver astral threads, “Tumbleweeds in the Snow” is a transcendent experience.

In the early moments of the song, Gary Arce weaves an inviting tapestry for his bandmates to start conjuring their art. 

This track is the Psychedelic Rock equivalent of two muscle cars revving their engines at the starting line of a drag race—or a medieval knight tossing his chainmail gauntlet at a rival’s plate during a banquet. Something significant is about to go down.

You can feel it all around.

At 1:19, we hear Mario Lalli’s bass chords rumble in like a gentle giant parting a forest to peek over and look for his friends. Thank God for Bill Stinson’s percussion entrance at this point, because it suddenly grounds the entire experience and anchors many of us from floating away into the clouds. 

Track 2: The Last Summer Eye

This is a perfect track to listen to after a surf session when you’re watching the sunset recede into the ocean and reminiscing on life with good friends drinking a beer or cool drink. Tracks like this seem to halt the passage of time and allow us to appreciate the moment, the spark of living that we often forget as we scamper around like white rabbits with our pocket watches. I love how the music crescendos just after the 4:20 mark to make way for a Lalli-Stinson onslaught as the guitar solo sprinkles effects-drenched wizard dust over the dueling rhythm section.

Track 3: Nazi Synthesizer 

Seems to be a tongue in cheek reference that I’m either too old or too young to get – so I’ll look out for any synth parts which, as I write this, I know it’s a three-man lineup, so I don’t expect to hear any Moogs on this track, but you never know. By the way I just remembered this is a live concert and It sounds as organic and polished as any studio recording, I’ve ever heard. Another tip of the hat to the stewardship and professionalism of this band. Whoever mixed and engineered this record is an artist. Great cinematic video work as well. Kudos team.

Track 4: Blowhole Sunrise

“Blowhole Sunrise” starts off with what I would refer to as a Reggae intro. Press Play on any decent Reggae album and listen to the first three seconds of each track and you’ll see what I mean. This track seems more precise in its structure with more intricacy from the drums. It’s less esoteric than some of the previous tracks, for sure, but it’s a classic nonetheless.

Track 5: Space Finger

“Space Finger” rounds out the album as the band’s gift to the absent audience. It’s an encore for the legion of fans that wished they could have been there but had to support Yawning Man from their homes, phones, and computers. The band is tired by this point (I assume) and feeling the effects of the desert heat, but they still launch into a heartfelt display of showmanship. I can feel their offering. 

They know this is a milestone. Most musicians and bands would be only so lucky to pull off a gig like this once in a lifetime. For the sonic shamans of Yawning Man, it was another day at the office. Another generator-fuelled jam with good friends, Live At Giant Rock is meant to inspire the growing lore.

Final Thoughts

I just ordered the DVD because I need to add this performance to my collection. I want to see this thing and remember it as a ray of sunshine that brightened a bleak year. That in itself is a powerful testament to the influence and effect of Yawning Man. 

Score: 9.5/10

Pros: Live At Giant Rock is a truly enthralling live performance capturing and preserving the Desert Rock/Generator Party mystique.

Cons: Some of the video editing effects were at time quite psychedelic and may not appeal to all viewers. A real bonus would have been a bit of commentary from the band regarding their gear setup, instrument choices, etc.—but that’s more of a technical corner for music nerds.

Listen to Live At Giant Rock

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