OM with Daniel Higgs at Brighton Music Hall, Boston, on Tuesday, November 20, 2012.
Though the roots of Om are steeped in the darkest reaches of Iommian research, Al Cisneros has gradually but steadily been divining a new path, one towards an open and airy perch that gazes down upon the land. Religious icons have adorned the last three Om records, and it's no surprise to find the grooves therein heavy and laden with meaning and purpose. And by grooves, I mean GROOVES. Flashes of Eastern music have also found small but tenacious footholds in the sounds, with tambura and sampled chanting voices being just enough salt in the soup to flavor but not overpower. It was not a coincide that the local promoter for this show was World Music/Crash Arts and not Ammonia or one of the metal bookers.
So how would their previous audience react to this shift, the ones used to the solidly forged beats of Chris Hakius, Al's rhythm partner in Sleep and Om before retiring from music? I'd say that based on the number of bodies and appreciative response, they are fully on board. Emil Amos (also of Grails and Holy Sons) plays a much looser and freer style on the drums, and is capable of hypersonic drum fills while laying down a pliable beat that Cisneros blends into effortlessly. The duo has become a trio with the arrival of Rob Lowe (Lichens), who plays a subtle but crucial role in all that he does- tambourine, vocals, keyboards, guitar...Lowe contributed to the previous God Is Good record but now stands as a complete member of the band, and it's a much richer sound overall.
Tonight the focus would be on the newest record, Advaitic Songs. The droning tambura and chants were sampled rather than played live, but the power that "Sinai" delivered swept the room into an ecstatic trance that never let up. To watch Cisneros play is to see a man wholly consumed with what he is transmitting, energy and sound dispersed across distances that cannot be measured using traditional tools. The distortion pedal of previous has been de-emphasized, instead using a super low and clean tone that is reminiscent of seismic shifts. But not totally abandonded...the loping intro of "State Of Non-Return" glided smoothly over the PA, until the singing kicked in and Cisneros' agitated tone coursed with power, matched by Amos' powerful drums.
The new record is destined to land near or on top of my list for favorites of the year, so not hearing "Gethsemane" was a small demerit. But really, that's a mote in God's eye, as this performance made all receptors stand at full attention. Kudos also go to sound man Jason Lowenstein (of Sebadoh), who aside from a slight mis-step in the second song ("Meditation Is The Practice Of Death") controlled the room beautifully; not an easy task with the sorts of sonic power being rained down.
Daniel Higgs opened the show, and if he'd been hanging outside the club and yammering away like Gary Young did on the first Pavement tour, I'd also have assumed he was a member of the local itinerant/indigents. Once he strode on stage, picked up his banjo, sat in the wooden chair and fixed his pale blue eyes over the audience, the spell was on. It takes a set of huge balls to go from a highly amplified band like DC-based Lungfish to a naked presentation like Higgs is currently doing, and he didn't even had to shift uncomfortably on the seat during his performance. Skating the line between eccentric and repetitious, he'd carefully reel the crowd back in with impromptu references of Star Wars or other non-sequiturs woven into his songs, as tightly as the beard he displayed.