Utrecht, one of Holland’s oldest cities and the spiritual home of Dutch modernist design (the birthplace of Theo van Doesburg, Gerrit Rietveld and Dick Bruna), is also blessed with some great gig venues. The relatively small size of the city (population: 300,000) supports several perfectly-proportioned spaces (capacity: a couple of hundred at most) ideal for those ‘intimate’ shows I’d take over a stadium gig every time. So as a taster for the upcoming Primavera festival of delights in Barcelona (where both bands will play), in early May I twice made the 30 minute train journey to Utrecht to see Six Organs of Admittance (@ Poppodium EKKO) and Scout Niblett (@ Tivoli De Helling) do their thing.

The Six Organs Of Admittance show is the first proper of their European tour (following a special warm-up date in Latvia of all places) and unfortunately it shows. Drummer Alex Neilsen is rightly regarded as one of the best around but this night he lays it on too strong, filling in spaces that were best filled only with Ben Chasny & Elisa Ambrogio’s wailing twelve strings.

Listening to Chasny’s playing on record it is clear that he plays at a pace all of his own, not always beholden to what would be considered conventional timing or rhythm, and although Neilson is of course well-versed in improvisational drumming, too often they fail to quite mesh. But this is not to suggest that there are not moments of classic Six Organs transcendentalism: Ambrogio and Chasny transform “Hum A Silent Prayer” (on record, virtually acapella) into a droning noisechant and there are moments of blissed out freerock in “Black Needle Rhymes” when the three bandmembers connect. The “Shelter From The Ash” songs – like the title track, “Coming To Get You” and “Strangled Road” – are all tight , Neilson forced to be more economical by those songs’ relatively concise & conventional structures.

Six Organs Of Admittance - live at Poppodium EKKO, Utrecht, 12-May-2008

Unfortunately the performance is cut short due to the enforcement of a strict (public holiday) Monday night curfew (why don’t promoters/venues get the support acts on earlier if there is a danger that the headliner will have to play a constricted set?!). As I headed into the still-faintly-lit Dutch night I hoped that by the time they hit Barcelona the band will have better mindmelded, Neilsen taking a more subtle approach to fleshing out the twin-guitar cacophony of Chasny & Ambrogio, and I looked forward to the next Six Organs experience being all the more powerful for it.

 

Scout Niblett plays on the packed bill of Distorted Channel‘s 5th birthday celebration (headlined by Health) so it’s another performance that ends too soon. But we get “Wolfie” after Scout asks the audience what we want to hear next, the reflective “Wet Road”, a TLC cover (“No Scrubs”), and she and drummer Kristian Goddard take us through “This Fool Can Die Now”‘s best songs, closing with the monolithic desert rock of “Nevada”. Scout has also started a Shellac-style mid-set Q&A session, although the question quality was low, only eliciting the information that Scout likes dogs and isn’t particularly bothered when it comes to cats…

Scout Niblett, live at Tivoli De Helling, Utrecht, 17-May-2008

It is another intense & exposed performance from Scout (I’m sure she can’t do it any other way), heart on sleeve and amp turned up to the max. So with appetite suitably whet, bring on Barcelona!

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