A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…
Things have been deathly quiet in NarcoAgentland the past two months or so, largely as a result of me having continued to straddle two countries* whilst I go in search of free love . Normal service will hopefully be resumed soon, but for the moment I’d like to travel back in time to the weekend of 11/12 August, which ushered in my first live music experience(s) in Amsterdam.

First up, it was a chance encounter of seven-piece all-female country/folk band Oops-a-Daisies , who performed an unplugged set outdoors at the Blauwe Theehuis in Vondelpark on the Saturday afternoon. Although they dismiss themselves as a ‘novelty band’, Oops-a-Daisies played an enjoyable set of country & bluegrass standards, very "Flowers In The Wildwood ". Then that evening it was to Subbacultcha @ Bitterzoet to catch the energetic Check 1-2 headlining a benefit gig to raise funds following an accident that destroyed their van and much of their equipment. Venerable Dutch indiepoppers Bettie Serveert were also on the bill, but we arrived too late to see them. Bitterzoet is located just around the corner from my new home so hopefully there’ll plenty of good stuff to see there in the future!

On to Sunday, and the ‘main course’: before my arrival in Holland I’d clocked that Six Organs Of Admittance would be playing at Paradiso ‘s small bovenzaal at the very sedate time of 4pm, and so had earmarked this as being my inaugural Amsterdam gig.
Paradiso is a large converted church, close to Amsterdam’s ‘party square’ of Leidseplein, and the upstairs bovenzaal (upper hall) proves to be an excellent live room: intimate size, great sound, stage raised to a good height, and replete with stained-glass windows. The support band Jean Parlette (from the northern Dutch province of Friesland ) impresses – a Friesian Tunng , with their warm vocals and glitchy folk (or as described on their website : ‘huis-tuin-en-keuken-elektronica’) – but I’m impatient for Six Organs’ Ben Chasny to take the stage (move over Albini, Broadrick, Sparhawk, Falco et al , the NarcoAgent has a new guitar hero…).

When Chasny does appear, he is accompanied by a primly-dressed woman, hair tied-up in school-marm fashion – this (as it turns out, enchanting) young lady is Elisa Ambrogio of Magik Markers , and if I’d known anything about Magik Markers beforehand I might’ve been prepared for what follows a couple of songs into the set…
The first song is Chasny solo, his impressive guitar playing conjuring up the sound of several guitars and a bass, not just a lone instrument. Ambrogio fiddles with her amp then stands watching impassively, guitar in hand, before joining in for the second song. As soon as she hits her first power chord she becomes a woman possessed, bashing out swathes of noise to a confounded audience who no doubt expected something more wallflower-esque in the folk venacular.

Six Organs Of Admittance live @ Paradiso (12-08-2007)

Although much of the Six Organs output appears superficially to be delicately fingerpicked folk songs, there is an undercurrent of noise and drone to most of Chasny’s work (check "Black Wall" from "The Sun Awakens " as an example), and tonight he and Elisa get to explore that to the full. Together they transform "Hum A Silent Prayer " (on record near-acapella, albeit with an ominous drone hovering in the far distance) into a frightening psych-rock dirge. The rest of the set fits perfectly with the Chasny/Ambrogio duelling guitars dynamic – songs like "Home" and "Sum Of All Heaven" having their drone-drenched innards turned inside out to compelling effect, with Elisa giving form & meaning to the phrase "letting your hair down". She and Chasny seem perfectly in sync, and the sight of them fronting up to each other, straining as they wrench beautiful noise from their instruments, is an exhilarating one.

Six Organs Of Admittance live @ Paradiso (12-08-2007)

All this sturm-und-drang noise-und-drone is sharply contrasted with moments of fragile beauty, like "Words For Two" and "All You’ve Left" where Chasny’s expressive voice and amazing playing cause some sort of reaction in me which could only be described as spiritual in nature (it may be in part the setting, my first proper gig in my new home, the smell of sense-heightening substances on the air… but this Six Organs experience brings tears to my eyes). In Buddhist doctrine the six organs of admittance are the five senses plus the soul. Chasny’s take on this is that the sixth organ is not the soul, but rather the active imagination that accesses the ‘mundus imaginalis ‘ (coined by Henry Corbin ), "that place where visions and prophetic dreams exist between the corporeal world and the world of the spirits."

Six Organs Of Admittance live @ Paradiso (12-08-2007)

Halfway through the set Chasny offers up a new song from forthcoming album "Shelter From The Ash" (out 20 November on Drag City ), which as the name suggests is more darkly apocalyptic than his previous work (too much time spent hanging with David Tibet no doubt, although to give Tibet his due there’s no escaping the fact that we are all fucked! :). The set ends with a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s "That’s Alright", here transformed into alternating passages of delicate vocals and wigged-out guitar noise in keeping with what has gone before (I used to have a childhood crush on Stevie Nicks but Elisa Ambrogio can now step in – what’s not to love about a woman who can wield a guitar with such twinset venom?). Definite contender for gig of the year (Bruno Banani – who was one hell of a lot more prompt in getting his review up – concurs ).

 

Here is a ‘live on air’ version of "Thousand Birds" from the "Gold Leaf Branches " compilation on Digitalis .

 

Six Organs Of Admittance – Thousand Birds (live on air)

 

Recent Six Organs Of Admittance recordings can be sourced directly from Drag City . Older Six Organs recordings are available on the Holy Mountain label, where you can listen to some sound clips.

 

PS: check out the "cookbook" section of the Six Organs Of Admittance website for some interesting recipes – I particularly like this one from Chasny for "Butterfly Wing Cakes":

  • 1 cup Flour
  • 2 cups Redwood Forest Mud
  • 8 Black Butterfly Wings for garnishing
  • 3/4 cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 cup Water from a Broken Well
  • 1 Tibetan Horn
  • 2 Eagle’s Eggs
  • Skull of Cattle
  •  

    Mix mud and flour together. Give 3 blows on Tibetan Horn. Loud like the shrill of a dying crustacean. Pour in Well Water. Mix. Smash something that bothers you. Proceed to mix eggs and sugar in. Mix well. One long blast from Tibetan Horn. Loud like Thunder through a Marshall. Talk to Skull. Tell it you are not scared in the least of Death. Pour into cupcake pan. Cook until done. Garnish with Black Butterfly Wings.

     

     

    * this reminds me of a quaint expression used by Afrikaner South Africans to describe their English-speaking countrymen: soutpiel (literally "salt cock"). The soutpiel has one foot in South Africa and one foot still in England, with his cock dangling in the salty sea…

     

     

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