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Live review: Six Organs of Admittance at the Echo

September 22, 2012|By Randall Roberts | Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic
  • Six Organs of Admittance performing at the Echo in Los Angeles on Friday night.
Six Organs of Admittance performing at the Echo in Los Angeles on Friday… (Randall Roberts )

Northern California-based guitarist Ben Chasny, whose band Six Organs of Admittance played a riff-heavy, meditative set at the Echo in Echo Park on Friday, travels difficult terrain. An artist whose work over the last decade has defied categorization, roaming in a world where acoustic folk meets metal, post-punk, prog rock, grunge, free jazz and mysticism, Chasny draws from genres and ideas whose excesses and pretensions are well documented. 

When handling an acoustic guitar, he suggests '60s acoustic guitar instrumentalists such as John Fahey and Sandy Bull, whose obsessions with drone and harmonic overtones merged east and west with little regard for geography. When Chasney straps on a Fender electric guitar, he's something else altogether.

Chasny’s one of the few young guitarists able to book a night L.A. folk bastion McCabe’s Guitar Shop for a solo set that’d make '60s folkies giddy, and return the next year to scrape the paint off the Echo with a searing rock show in front of an oddly mixed crowd of Echo Park hipsters, metal loners with bloodshot eyes and longhairs with faraway stares.

Touring in support of his fantastic new record, “Ascent,” Chasny on Friday performed with help from three bandmates from Comets on Fire, the Santa Cruz-birthed art-metal group that grew wings in the mid-‘00s after adding Chasny as their second guitarist.

As a four-piece -- the classic line-up of two guitars, bass, and drums -- Six Organs offered a sound that suggested the epic expansiveness of Neil Young's backing band Crazy Horse, but with more structural impatience and delicacy.

Chasny’s a sparse lyricist who patiently places verses and lines sparingly throughout his six- and seven-minute jams, many of them addressing the wonder of the natural world. Evidence lay in the titles on his set list: “One Thousand Birds,” “Close to the Sky,” and "Solar Ascent," each of which somehow managed convey incredible musical heaviness while floating weightlessly. 

One reason for this virtual lightness is that a few songs were originally crafted on acoustic guitars for earlier Six Organs recordings; using these basic foundations -- especially on "One Thousand Birds" -- the group built towering, majestic cathedrals of electrified sound. 

Throughout the night, bassist Ben Flashman and drummer Utrillo Kushner laid down syrupy Post-Black Sabbath structures over which Chasney and rhythm guitarist Noel Von Harmonson roamed, locking into a groove for chunks of songs before loosely and gracefully turning themselves over to instrumental exploration, usually focused on Chasny’s solos.

He got as lost and schizo as former Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn on the metal-inspired later period records, freaked out like J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., moved for minutes within a repetitive rock structure, examining notes and modal ideas like John Coltrane on his later period albums like "Ascension."

Hence, perhaps, the album's title, "Ascent," a title of which Chasny and his band honored Friday, lifting the Echo and its crowd by sheer force of electricity and vibrations.

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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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