Walter’s on Washington
Better than: Five organs of admittance, for sure
Download: “Black Wall” from Six Organs’ MySpace page
Last Friday was no night to go out: cold, rainy and generally miserable. But the 70 or so brave souls who abandoned the comforts of hearth and home for the Six Organs of Admittance show at Walter’s were amply rewarded. Once the shivering brought on by the weather subsided, the guitar mastery of San Francisco’s Six Organs – actually one person, Comets on Fire guitarist Ben Chasny, joined for the latter part of the set by Elisa Ambrogio, axe-grinder for Brooklyn avant trio Magik Markers – provoked shivers of an entirely different kind.
Not being overly familiar with the style of music known as “freak-folk” – one of the most-derided genre names in the current Pitchfork canon, and justifiably so – I fail to see much difference between it and regular folk, except that practitioners like Chasny are fond of seasoning their lilting acoustic passages with outbreaks of pure noise that would do Houston’s Rusted Shut proud.
As I wrote in my notebook Friday, after Chasny put on a clinic in acoustic harmonics during his first number, he immediately turned a corner into “some seriously messed-up Built to Spill-type shit.” Being a critic is fun, but anyone can play. During said BTS-type shit, I realized I left my notebook in the car, and when I got back from retrieving it, my girlfriend filled me in on what I missed: “He was just playing around with feedback and nothing else.”
But raucous or contemplative, Chasny wove one continuous guitar narrative throughout the evening that conjured classical music, psychedelia and the blues; he’s often compared to John Fahey, the late American steel-string master whose style profoundly influenced Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, and did nothing to dispel them Friday. His quieter moments reminded me of the softer side of bands like Pavement and Guided by Voices, and the mournful specter of Townes Van Zandt made its forlorn presence felt more than once.
After one Druid-like, almost orchestral passage I noted as “might be Braveheart, or some Irish movie, or some brooding Western,” Chasny moved straight into a hazy, psychedelic drone that could have come from some lost International Artists side in the Sixties. Fahey, interestingly, once recorded with Houston psych-rock legends the Red Krayola, a pairing obviously not lost on Chasny.
The pace picked up appreciably once Ambrogio joined Chasny onstage, as the duo explored the lush, droney outer fringes of pop structure a la post-Kid A
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Radiohead – again, a reference point someone more familiar with outré guitar music might scoff at, but it’s what I heard – and turned up the feedback for some saw-toothed electric jams that raised the temperature of the room another few degrees. The weather outside may have been frightful, but Chasny and Ambrogio’s thick tones and crackling interplay made a fine cocoon indeed.
Personal bias: Not being familiar with any of Six Organs’ recorded work, including highly acclaimed new album Shelter From the Ash (Drag City), did nothing to lessen my enjoyment of Chasny’s performance.
By the way: Kudos to the Walter’s crowd for actually shutting the hell up and enjoying the show, behavior all too rare among today’s club-going crowds (and not just in Houston, either).
Random Detail: As you might imagine, the audience was a little heavy on the dudes – a full two-thirds of whom sported gnarly Built to Spill-type beards, naturally – but local music photographer and KTRU’s “Mutant Hardcore Flower Hour” co-host Rosa Guerrero and Charalambides vocalist Christina Carter braved the sea of testosterone all the same. – Chris Gray