Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Live Review: A Silver Mt Zion @ Empty Bottle 8/04/06

In 1962 the head of Decca records infamously rejected The Beatles with the words, “Guitar groups are on their way out.” Nearly half a century later this prediction may finally be coming to a head. The market is still flooded with pop rock outfits that shape their sound around guitar riffs, but the truth is that we live in a post-rock world, and anyone doing anything truly innovative is abandoning their reliance on six strings and exploring more diverse instrumentation. A Silver Mt. Zion, the project led by God Speed You! Black Emperor mastermind Efrim Menuck, made its first ever trip to Chicago last weekend and through three shows at the Empty Bottle validated its place at the head of our present music revolution. With a live group consisting of two guitars, drums, two violins, cello, and upright bass, what A Silver Mt Zion is doing is perhaps less innovative and more refreshing. The band borrows sounds from various musical traditions to create a unique noise that is nothing less than inspiring. On Friday night A Silver Mt Zion produced a natural sound that was part futuristic neo-goth, part alt-country jam, part early twentieth century folk. Where modern guitar-rock bands create music that is at once familiar (perhaps hackneyed) and adversative, A Silver Mt Zion is creating sounds that are substantial, delicate, and intrinsic. On stage they are relaxed and passionate, and are less the snooty, presumptuous prog snobs you might expect them to be, and are more the orchestra geeks in high school who actually started the band you and your viola always wanted to. Cellist Becky Foon and violinists Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss are three beautifully plain women who project a quiet, raw grace. Drummer Scott Levine Gilmore, bassist Thierry Amar, and guitarist Ian Ilavsky are cool and collected average Joes, and then Menuck in his long, curly black hair, yelping lyrics in the style of David Gilmour, is like the token hip metal dude who turns a lush string ensemble into something altogether rocking and weird. A Silver Mt Zion began the set with “God Bless our Dead Marines,” a 12-minute anthem that culminated in the group forming a semi-circle in the center of the stage and singing a three-part round. Also included in the set was a new song entitled “Blind Blind Blind,” which Menuck dedicated to the “few remaining punk rockers out there.” However, while perhaps punk in message the tune was not punk in sound, and featured the traditional A Silver Mt Zion sound of low rumbling beginnings fleshing into a dramatic jam and morphing into a chorale, this time featuring the mantra, “Some hearts are true.” A Silver Mt Zion finished the main set with “Ring Them Bells,” which had Menuck’s flanging guitar notes punctuating a classical string quartet and turning it into something space-alien. He scream-sang several feet from the microphone, turning his sometimes whiny voice into a force acute and resonant. It ultimately transformed into a pizzicato folk tune that in turn exploded into an “A Day in the Life” style chaotic freak-out. The sound of so many sonorous strings rumbling and plucking and screeching without any order was one of the most affecting things I have ever witnessed on a stage. While it was a relatively profound performance, the show inevitably had its flaws. A Silver Mt Zion tunes tend to be epic in sound, length, and idealism, which, at one o’clock in the morning in a stifling Empty Bottle, can be a bit laborious. Most songs went on for ten-plus minutes, reached an astounding climax, but then sprawled awhile longer and crept towards the edge of pretentiousness. And without fail the Empty Bottle crowd had its fair share of tools, including people talking loudly on cell phones, irreverent chatterboxes in the bar, and some asses who had the audacity to direct moronic comments to the band, including idiotic comments about Canada and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. But Menuck took it all gracefully and didn’t let a few imbeciles disrupt the tranquil flow of the show. While A Silver Mt Zion is a part of the innovative post-rock world, what they are doing is so amazingly obvious. After being inundated the last few decades with guitar rock bands trying desperately to find ways to be “different,” A Silver Mt Zion has found a way to do so by reaching back to a pre-guitar era. Beyond strumming and plucking a guitar looses its uniqueness, and since the dawning of post-punk guitarists have been searching for ways, from unusual playing methods to electronic manipulation, to make guitars sound like other instruments. Perhaps it is a rock ‘n roll ego that makes so many musicians afraid of giving the guitar a backseat to other instruments. But, as A Silver Mt Zion realizes, cellos have been droning for hundreds of years, so it seems silly to use a guitar in its wake. By bringing versatile, classic instruments back into pop music, one automatically inherits a sound that is invigorating, instinctive, and touching in a way most modern rock will never be. Download: A Silver Mt. Zion - "God Bless Our Dead Marines" (MP3)


Anonymous Kirstie said...

I saw the Friday night show as well-was just going through my pictures today and has the lighting at the bottle actually gotten dimmer or is it just me?-and bought tickets to see Saturday's early show, which was much more fragile and the audience was completely different.

8/09/2006 01:41:00 PM  
Blogger Robyn Detterline said...

It was so hard to take pictures because I could see diddely squat through the view finder. This was one of the few pictures where, after adjusting the brightness and contrast, I could actually make anything out at all.

I wish I had seen an earlier show. I was already tired by the time they came on after 11. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even more.

8/09/2006 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Kirstie said...

I wish I had known you were going to be there! Anyways, I can empathize. I've been spoiled by seeing bands in actually daylight I think ;)

Good review! :)

8/09/2006 04:20:00 PM  

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