For anyone reading that hasn't read my reviews before, a word about where I'm coming from. I'm your typical rock fan. Metal, punk, hardcore. I can witter on endlessly about that sort of music. This, is a little bit different, but I like it. And this is my first gig seeing this kind of band. So if I refer to more standard rock then it's not because there's a direct link, but because I'm not knowledgeable enough about a band like a silver mt zion to express myself in any other way.
So I only found out about this gig yesterday, and I'm glad I did. First on is Frankie Sparo. Whom I've never heard of before, but is on the Constellation label, home of asmz. Very spartan and stripped down sound, augmented by a few members of asmz, there are occasional strums of the guitar to supported the almost desperation in the vocals. For me, this sort of thing would take a good few listens before I can decide whether for my personal tastes it's good or just too overly self-indulgent and overwrought. However, the other people around me seem to think it's good, and I see approving heads nodding, and good murmours at the end.
As I said, I'm from a rock background. Although it's not really relevent, I bought the CD on the strength of the presence of members of Godspeed You Black Emperor, so it feels only natural I make some references, whether they're warranted or not. I've never seen Godspeed (unfortunately), nor even a picture, so I don't recognise the members. What seems strange initially, is that I thought asmz was put together partly to be able to do pieces in a smaller ensemble, yet live they've grown from the core 3 piece to a 6 piece. 2 violinists, a cellist, upright bass, then guitars, keyboards, samples.
The music itself is unconvential (to me), yet still captivating. It can be long (sometimes overly) and self-indulgent, it's bleak, a dark sounstrack to a film of desolation and despair. Yet it can be uplifting at the same time. The guitar is used sparingly, the violins and cello carrying most of the melodies, but there are moments when the guitar builds up, all distortion and chugging chords, and then with the violins and cello layed over the top, it's darker and more melancholic and heavy than some of the most detuned heaviest of metal. And it's not as hamfisted as some of the orchestrations that you here on metal albums. The centre piece of the set, like on the album, is "blown-out joy from heaven's mercied hole". The simple, repetitive bass at the heart of the long drawn out saga.
The audience for the most part is receptive. Some are sitting down, most are standing, just listening. Of course there's always a few meatheads, and I seem to always encounter them. So there's a few people near me, who excuse themselves past me only to then talk to each other, and make jokes and start giggling at the spectacle in a pretty childish fashion. They get annoying after a while, and it still amazes me that people will pay money to see a gig and then still act like a bunch of twats. It's fair enough if you don't enjoy a gig, go and complain. But when you start spoiling it for others, then it's out of order. And when you spoil it for me, you should go away and injure yourself.
It's strange watching the band. Maybe it's the venue, but my mind conjures up images of almost watching, as they have in the states, a high school band. Or mini orchestra, potentially classically trained. Yet it's so dark and twisted, that you can imagine the looks of horror on the face of onlookers. Some people think that you can shock by using Marilyn Manson tactics, I think that in terms of subversive shock, this sort of thing would be so much more effective.
Still, that can't overshadow the fact that this was a superb gig. A pleasure to watch and listen to, and hopefully a good start to a new year of gigs. For people into rock and who want to hear something that's is completely different, totally challenging yet still compellingly dark and twisted, I recommend you check out this kind of band.