Six Organs of Admittance @ Birthdays, London 22.10.12

Ben Chasny's new-style power trio rocked hard, but it was their support acts who left the best impression

Oct 22nd, 2012 at Birthdays, London / By Ben Wood
Six Organs of Admittance Ben Chasny is one of those ridiculously prolific musicians who seems to have a new band, and a new album out, every few months. Until now, the singer/guitarist's out-there solo project Six Organs of Admittance has featured tripped-out, sprawling psych-folk. But SOAA's new album Ascent sees him team up with Comets on Fire bandmates Utrillo Kushner (drums) and Ben Flashman (bass) for some old-school kick-ass space-rock.

We start the evening's entertainment with a surprise treat. Kushner's recent album as Colossal Yes combines wordy, gnomic lyrics, intriguing instrumentals, proggy touches and early 70s AM pop that tips its hat to the likes of early Steely Dan and Elton John. Suitably clad in brown tank-top, he treats us early-birds to a 'short' set that overruns its 20-minute scheduled length - to everyone's delight.

Perched over a small electric piano ("it's a really shitty set-up..."), Kushner jokes in-between songs and seems to be having a great time. His band's one-man incarnation recasts the album's rambling piano-and-vocals narratives into moody, plaintively sung ballads sweetened with plangent chords and occasional harmonica.

After concluding his set, Kushner says we can buy his album for a fiver, arm-wrestle him for it, or bring him a pint on-stage - much to the confusion of the poor merchandise man. Bearded opts for the latter option...

The next act, folk-rockers Red River Dialect, have been handpicked by Chasny himself. The narratives of impressively bearded acoustic guitarist/singer David Morris are decent enough, but it's the band's knack for a groove and guitar/violin interplay that makes them stand out.

Simon Drinkwater's guitar is the star of the show, its soaringly melodic, ringing sound reminiscent of Fairport Convention legend Richard Thompson, though his interplay with Ed Sander's violin is hampered by sound problems that sometimes render Sander nigh inaudible.

The more the band loosens up, the better they sound, and it's heartening to see such an organic, non-trendchasing band get such a decent reception. As the record industry continues to downsize, it seems that the increased importance of the live circuit has given a fillip to bands, like this one, that can actually play.

After their impressive opening acts, Six Organs of Admittance are somewhat of an anti-climax. While it would have been intriguing to hear Chasny's more freeform incarnation, this Comets-based line-up trades subtlety for power.

A power trio whose brief vocal sections take a back-seat to old-school late 60s/early 70s heavy rock, their set is no-nonsense stuff - with a few punkier bits thrown in to acknowledge that the year is, indeed, 2012.

The band is clearly having a blast, with livewire drummer Kushner rocking out in proper Animal from the Muppets style, but variety or originality is thin on the ground. After another tune has started off woozily then cranked it up for several minutes of headbanging riffage, one is left crying out for some variety, and some softer textures.

The band has only been on-stage for 45 minutes when Chasny's bandmates troop offstage and he does a very pretty solo number, with fluidly impressive guitar, which leaves one wishing he'd played more in the same vein. Then, with the curfew still 20 minutes away, and many expecting the band to return, the lights go up and it's goodnight folks. An anticlimactic end to an intriguing gig, where most of the interest came earlier in the evening.