Live Review: Six Organs of Admittance and Major Stars in Boston, 11.30.12

Posted in Reviews on December 4th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

In light of the fact that we’ll be moving there at some point within the next eight months, The Patient Mrs. and I decided to head up to Massachusetts this past weekend. She got a job at a university in Bridgewater and I’d never seen the town, and well, if I’m gonna live there it made sense to have a look. Since going to shows is a big part of what I do with my time, it also made sense to check out Six Organs of Admittance at the Brighton Music Hall in Boston, about half an hour away. The whole thing was very sensible.

The theory was it’s not like I’m going to stop seeing bands, it’s just that the places I’ll be seeing them will be different. A different scene. That’s okay though. I’ve heard Boston is very welcoming to outsiders. Ha.

Helping ease my transition was the simple fact that the joint Ben Chasny and his East Coast cohorts in Six Organs of Admittance – on the West Coast, he reportedly played with members of his other band, Comets on Fire, but no dice for the Eastern run — was called the Brighton. I couldn’t help but be immediately comfortable in a place that shared its name with the Brighton Bar in Long Branch, NJ, where I’ve seen (and played) more shows than I have time to sit and remember. Several cans of Sapporo and the company of The Patient Mrs.herself may also have helped. Nothing to be terrified of here.

Opening act Major Stars were on when I got there. The band is local to Boston but Drag City labelmates with Six Organs, once did a split with Comets on Fire and a bit given to the driving psychedelic swirl that also provides the pulse of Six Organs‘ latest album, Ascent (review here), so if nothing else, they made sense on the two-band bill. Frontwoman Hayley Thompson-King won the prize for tightest leather pants of the evening — I didn’t even know there was a contest and so had left my own at the hotel — and guitarists Wayne Rogers, Kate Biggar and Tom Leonard provided ample churn behind her chic-but-more-than-capable croon.

They rode the line between heavy psych and indie pretty hard, but the three guitars had distinct tones among them and that added a level of interest in watching them on stage with no prior listening experience. Rogers walked back and forth in a way that was almost hypnotic, and Biggar‘s instrument was gorgeous in a museum-quality sense. Bassist Dave Dougan and drummer Casey Keenan had their work cut out for them in holding the varied assault together, but ultimately, they were up to it. Keenan would wind up pulling double-duty in Six Organs as well, and he did so having already made a positive impression on the crowd, which seemed much more familiar with Major Stars‘ work than I could claim to be.

As regards Six Organs of Admittance, they were just what I was looking for. I’d just spent about five hours on the road to Boston and, only the night before, had driven to and from Philadelphia to catch High on Fire (review here). To hit two shows in a row is one thing, but to do it one city to the next is another. But Chasny, electric guitar in tow — this was the first time I’ve seen him play electric, which he did neither at Roadburn 2009 nor at that awful night in Brooklyn — along with Keenan, second guitarist John Shaw of Magik Markers and bassist Andrew Mitchell (who formerly accompanied Chasny on live guitar), opened with the driving jam “Waswasa” from Ascent, which was consuming in its frenetic freakout from the word go.

Being the only material put together with a full band in mind, where prior Six Organs outings were Chasny solo affairs with periodic guest spots, Ascent obviously featured heavily in the set. Fine by me, since despite bitching about the cash I shelled out for it, I actually quite enjoyed the album. Mitchell‘s fuzzy bass on “One Thousand Birds” — which Chasny joked was about “a hundred birds” — was a highlight, and for someone who’s been so subdued every other time I’ve seen him on stage, Chasny tore into his many solos, leaving Shaw to cover the rhythms while he proffered a swaggering mastery straight out of classic rock. It was a long way from Compathia, but damn if it wasn’t a good time.

The moods varied throughout from bombastic chaos to Dead Meadow-style shoegazing psych, but Six Organs kept a firm grip no matter how far out they went either way, the insistent rhythm and tossed-off sounding verses of “Even if You Knew” standing out as particularly vivid. When they wanted to be, they were raucously heavy in a psych sense — that’s to say, not beholden to tonal thickness — but there was no ideological genre allegiance, and so they were free stylistically to roam as they pleased. At the end of the set, Chasny came back out and did a couple songs solo. It felt a little perfunctory, which I chalked up to residual adrenaline from the full set prior and a conscious shift from one modus to the other. I’ve never gone from playing psychedelic freak rock to quiet, intimate folk, but I can imagine it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. He seemed a bit like he was reminding himself to slow down.

Nonetheless, the glimpse at the “usual” Six Organs of Admittance methodology was welcome, if only as it provided contrast to what Chasny has done with the project on Ascent and by extension with this tour. Boston was the first night, but if there were more than one or two hiccups, I didn’t notice. The band seemed to operate smoothly, Keenan‘s drumming fluid with the two guitars and bass, and Chasny took well to the frontman role, his presence on stage only enhanced by the unhindered conviction with which he delivered the material.

If this was my first show in Boston attended while also thinking about the city on some kind of residential level, I couldn’t have really asked for more than I got. The Patient Mrs. and I cabbed it back to the hotel, I took the dog out — my dog is so housebroken that your dog is embarrassed about it, and rightly so — and we crashed. Saturday was to be spent looking at houses down in Bridgewater, and it wouldn’t have done to sleep through such things.

Extra pics after the jump.

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At a Glance: Six Organs of Admittance, Ascent

Posted in Reviews on November 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Usually you don’t think of Six Organs of Admittance – the syllabically and emotionally weighted psych/folk incarnation of Comets on Fire guitarist Ben Chasny — as music in which the listening experience is relative to volume. Go figure that after nigh on 15 years and more headphone-ready contemplations than I think anyone can reasonably be asked to count, Chasny would present a record like Ascent (Drag City), which more or less flies in the face of his usual methods. Have at you, expectations.

Space rocking, freaking out on psych jams and, yeah, even proffering a bit of that fleet-fingered acoustic work that’s made Six Organs sound rich even at Chasny‘s most minimal moments, Ascent teams the guitarist/vocalist with — wait for it — his own band. That’s right kids. Backing Chasny‘s classic space rock thrust on cuts like opener “Waswasa,” “One Thousand Birds” or the catchy and bass-heavy later cut “Even if You Knew” is none other than Comets on Fire. Seems superfluous to say the two entities work well together, since Chasny is also in that band, but the songs on Ascent flat out rule.

The last Six Organs record, 2011′s Asleep on the Floodplain (review here) was touching on a more cohesive psychedelic fascination, but it’s still a pretty big jump from that to the rolling vinyl-set groove of “One Thousand Birds.” A cut like “They Called You Near” (is that a Blazing Saddles reference?) mounts an atmospheric build of chorus vocals and surrounding drone, and the solo acoustic “Your Ghost” — at least conceptually — could have come off any album since 2005′s School of the Flower, but “Waswasa” is high-order heavy psych, and the shoe-gazing pastures of “Close to the Sky” keep a heady Dead Meadow-style sensibility to them that culminates in a swirling, cathartic-sounding solo. Even the dreamy closer “Visions (from Io)” is complete in a way Six Organs has shown little prior interest in being. Maybe it was something Chasny needed to get off his chest. What the fuck do I know.

However much of Ascent was captured live — obviously things like Chasny‘s multi-tracked vocals weren’t, but the instrumental jams easily could’ve been — it sounds vibrant and organic thanks at least in part to the production of The Fucking ChampsTim Green, and the project’s long-heralded experimental penchant is presented clearly with varying underlying noises, drones, at time buried in the mix, at time consuming it, as with the rising electric solo to ultimate prominence in contrast to the acoustic beginnings of “Solar Ascent.” Ideas like that have been fair game for Six Organs for a while, but it’s the context that’s different, the full-band feel and what that full band is proffering that marks the change.

They’re touring the record, and though I’ve never seen Comets on Fire, I have caught Chasny as Six Organs before, and it should be interesting to see him as a “frontman” for a full band. In any case, with Ascent, he and his Comets cohorts have made a record distinct from either entity’s discography and yet inextricably part of both. Most importantly, the songs engage with the depth of melody that thankfully continues to typify Chasny‘s work in the band, and despite the boom in the accompaniment department, the music remains undeniably his own.

Six Organs of Admittance’s website

Drag City

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