Posts Tagged ‘Grails’

Om: WOW

Friday, November 16th, 2007

At first, I thought the pairing of post-rockers Grails with stoner-metal gurus Om was a weird concert double-bill, but as soon as I showed up at Rock & Roll Hotel on Tuesday night and the former began their set, it became clear that this was in fact quite an inspired pairing. Both of these bands take a fundamentally rock style and add to it distinct Eastern influences — in Grails, it’s the acoustic guitar scales; in Om, the overwhelming Eastern mysticism that dominates their lyrics and overall approach.

I’ve never been blown away by Grails — with every one of their albums, including the new Burning Off Impurities, I feel like there are some really great moments, but they are separated by long stretches where nothing is really going on. Seeing them live only reinforced this impression, although the great moments were pretty freakin’ great. Unfortunately, the acoustic guitar parts kind of got drowned out in the louder sections, especially with their drummer pounding madly away (too loud). One of the band members was wearing an Ash Ra Tempel t-shirt, and I felt at their best this band evoked a kind of meditative mood that reminded me of classic Krautrocky ambience.

Om’s live performance also reinforced my impression of them based on their recordings. This band’s albums are meditative, heavily repetitive, stripped-down stoner metal, just bass, drums and vocals that are chanted more than they are sung. Somehow they manage to be mystical in a neo-hippie kind of way while simultaneously being heavy as fuck. Live, they pulled off this unlikely marriage of stylistic elements impeccably. Bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros is one intense-looking dude, staring into space the entire show as if he was being chased by demons no one else could see; and drummer Chris Hakius was all over the place, the driving force of the duo much of the time, weaving and bobbing his entire body even during the passages where his playing was mostly minimal.

They played four songs, I think, which lasted for over an hour. The clear highlight was an absolutely transcendent rendition of “At Giza,” my favorite piece of theirs, from Conference of the Birds (a brief excerpt of this song is on their Myspace page). The majority of this song is quiet and meditative, although in concert Cisneros’ bass was crushingly loud even in the softer sections. When the climax hits, Cisneros kicks in the distortion and Hakius starts bashing, the effect is unbelievable. The closing to this rendition of the song was just as awesome: the volume dwindled gradually, and Hakius ended the song by slowly reducing the volume of his drumming, tapping his cymbals delicately long after Cisneros had stopped playing, as the entire crowd listened in total, enraptured silence. When it ended I felt compelling to jump up and down screaming my brains out. That doesn’t happen very often.

They ended with “Bhima’s Theme” off the new Pilgrimage, but sadly this was ruined by excessive volume levels. On record, the middle section of this song is incredibly slow and quiet, just Cisneros’ bass playing quietly as he chants his mystic lyrics without accompaniment. Live, the bass was way too loud, killing the near-stillness that the quiet section evokes on record. Still, when the loud section kicked back in — distortion cranked and Hakius beating out a killer rhythm — the effect was awesome. I can only imagine how powerful this would have been if the quiet section had been properly quiet.

I was pleasantly surprised at how many folks showed up for this show. The crowd was pretty thin for Grails, but it seemed like the club, which fits 400 people in a pinch, was almost full for Om. Who knew that stoner metal had such an audience in DC?

What’s spinning, June 18 edition

Monday, June 18th, 2007

If you’ve actually been following the last.fm widget up there at the top of the blog, you might know some of this, but in any case here is what has been occupying my ears for the past couple weeks.

  • Anekdoten - A Time of Day — Well, it’s better than Gravity, but that’s not exactly high praise. Jury’s still out on this one for me; I could see it being a grower.
  • Cato Salsa Experience & The Thing with Joe McPhee - Two Bands and a Legend — This was on my previous list of this sort, from back in April, and it’s still in heavy rotation. I’ll be reviewing it soon.
  • Do Make Say Think - You, You’re a History in Rust — This one is also a long-lasting pleasure, and will likely end up being one of my favorites of the year. This is post-rock at its most beautiful, yet sacrificing nothing in depth (unlike, say, some of the material by Explosions in the Sky).
  • Dungen - Tio Bitar — My first impressions so far are just that; nothing has really stood out to me. For some reason I get less and less excited about this band as time passes, and I was hoping this album would change that. Hasn’t happened yet.
  • Grails - Burning Off Impurities — This is a really hard band to pigeonhole; they’re somewhere between post-rock and prog and metal and ambient and world music, or something. Previous albums have not really excited me, but this one has some really great moments.
  • Isis - Live.04 — Isis’ latest limited-edition live CD is a mixed bag of cuts mostly from Celestial and Oceanic. Oddly, I like the earlier stuff the best; the band’s raw power really comes through in the live context.
  • King Crimson - Live in Heidelburg 1974 — Highlight of this one is pretty clearly the funky “Heidelburg II” improv, in which Bruford comes through with some of the most agile playing I’ve heard him pull off in a KC improv, and Wetton just levels everything in his path.
  • Joanna Newsom - Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band EP — I’m not really that thrilled by the re-recorded versions of “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” and “Cosmia,” but the new song “Colleen” is up there with anything else Newsom has yet recorded. I cannot wait for her next release, and I’m even more excited for her next tour.
  • Nightwish - End of an Era — There are so many things I don’t really like about this band — the silly bombast, the terrible male vocals, the lyrics — but somehow in the end I’m always won over by their sheer energy and the obvious joy they get from playing their music. This DVD is addictive, and although there are several throwaway pieces, it’s great fun.
  • Pelican - City of Echoes — Not sure what I think about this one yet; I think I like it better than The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw, but I could be wrong. It definitely seems more dynamic, although the Pitchfork review is dead-on in picking out the drummer as a factor holding the band back from greater heights.
  • Sleepytime Gorilla Museum - In Glorious Times — Well, duh. This has been dominating my speakers for weeks now. My review basically says all I need to say about it: it’s awesome.
  • The Thing - Live at Blå — Basically two half-hour pieces consisting of “covers” of barely recognizable songs strung together by free improv sections. Definitely not the most accessible place to start with this band, and I find myself thinking it definitely has some dead spots that could have used cutting, but it’s an accurate picture of what they do when they play live.
  • Wilco - Sky Blue Sky — Now this is a huge disappointment. Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche are two premier innovators on their respective instruments (and the rest of the band are hardly slouches), but instead of a worthy followup to the skewed indie-pop of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born, we get a middle-of-the-road, mostly boring, totally straightforward album of pop-rock that’s to the band’s earlier output as David Gilmour’s On An Island is to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Some reviewers have been saying “but it’s so well-crafted!” but I disagree with that, too — some of Tweedy’s vocal lines and melodies here are nothing short of cringeworthy.