I owe my fascination with Ben Chasny's music to comrade Quisp Quake, who had a phenomenal radio show at Colby College's WMHB in Waterville, Maine. Several times during my episode in Bangor, I'd go down there with a box of CDs and co-host the show with him.
It was a great format, dubbed Dueling Freaks: We'd take half-hour shifts and devastate each other with recent musical discoveries. It was totally self-indulgent, but good fun. And a great way to ward off the Maine winter swirling outside the studio.
One of the tracks Quake played was something by Six Organs of Admittance called "It Was Written", from a split 7". It was decidedly lo-fi: just guitar, vocal, and hand percussion, but something was bubbling inside. It was spacious and folksy and trancelike. It was vastly psychedelic, yet minimal.
I was immediately hooked.
Fast-forward to 24jan08: Six Organs was scheduled to play at IOTA in Arlington. Immediately, snap into action! Start figuring out how to make the show while taking care of a young dog that needs to pee regularly, and a wife who is nursing a broken knee and is thus quite immobile... BAH! It must be done!
Opening the show was DC's own Kohoutek, who droned out a very strong, hairy wall of psychedelic trance-rock. It was hard to figure how much of it was improvised, and/or how much of a structure was worked out beforehand, but it came across like a fairly telepathic jam, with alternating passages of riff and loose noodling. The set sounded like the louder side of early Ash Ra Tempel, or The Spacious Mind, or maybe F/i... Not a bad thing, if you can pull it off. And they did.
This time, Six Organs of Admittance was an almost-duet, consisting of Ben Chasny and Elisa Ambrogio (of Magik Markers fame).
The first half of the set was Chasny solo, performing a selection of quieter numbers from the back catalog. It was truly awesome to hear favorites like "Spirits Abandoned" and "This Hand" (both from the excellent Dark Noontide lp); slow and haunting and full of color and wind.
Eventually, Chasny was joined by Elisa, who provided chanting vocal harmonies and some guitar support, and then they promptly exploded: I forget what the hell tune it was ("Dance Among the Waiting" maybe?), which grew from a low mantra to a swirling vortex of amplified crackling bees. Elisa stomped the bees out of her guitar, wailing a pungent stew of noise like a cyclone of dreaming devils, while Chasny churned his own blast of guitar heaviness. Both of them were weaving a very large braid of noise that filled Iota like a sunburst.
A click of a pedal, and we're back to the mellow side... It was magical shit, children.
I had to boogie as soon as it was over, and get back to Marian's broken leg and the dog's full bladder. So: no time to linger and schmooze. Hit the merch table, score some choice vinyl (the new 6 Organs lp, plus the out-of-print Basalt Fingers lp), and hustle through the frigid winter night...
It was a damned fine evening.