Saturday night I went to my first show at La Grange, and I somehow forgot to get an alcoholic snow cone. Didn’t remember until I got home and my wife asked how many I had. Too wrapped up in the show I guess.
I went to this show on a night where the mercury was still over 100˚ for two of the bands on the bill; local opener Pinkish Black, whose self-titled debut is one of my favorite albums this year, and Agalloch, a band from Portland, Oregon, whose self-released Faustian Echoes EP I’m still wrapping my head around (I find it easier to digest a work of shorter, discrete songs than a singular 21-minute piece. My poor brain doesn’t have room for that much at once anymore). I was unfamiliar with Taurus, but as they were chosen by Agalloch I was open minded.
Pinkish Black opened, and I came in to a fully packed bar during their first song (I had gone out to dinner at Il Canne Rosso with my wife – my thoughts on that restaurant will follow at some point. But if you get the chance to go in the meantime just do it). The band presented, unsurprisingly, a static image, with a drummer stage right and the keyboard player/singer stage left. However, the sound was so immense and enveloping that image quickly didn’t matter. How to describe Pinkish Black? I don’t think I can top Adrien Begrand, so here’s his: “a haunting hybrid of Swans, Killing Joke, French coldwave’s flamboyantly gothic tones, and good, old-fashioned doom”. I couldn’t really hear Swans on the record, but live the overwhelming intensity definitely called them to mind. You can stream the songs on their bandcamp page and see what you think.
Taurus was the second band to take the stage, and in front of some video loops from The Color of Pomegranates (I had to look it up; though I’ve seen it, that was quite some time ago) and interspersed with some snippets of John Cage interviews, their two woman doom was properly intense, grim and determined. I think artists like Taurus and Worm Ouroboros, whom I saw open for Agalloch a few years back, suffer a bit in club environments. Though the volume is fine, the use of space in their compositions invite an intimacy from the listener that a loud bar rarely provides. This night at least — as opposed to the night I saw Worm Ouroboros — the audience was attentive and the ambient murmur was low. I just think that if you were outside the press of bodies at the front of the stage the effect of the music was diminished. No fault to the performers or performance, as Stevie Floyd and Ashley Spungin were in perfect sync, but I wish I could have seen them in a different locale.
Agalloch took the stage around 11 o’clock, amidst smoke and smoke and more smoke (those machines worked overtime), and, for the next two hours, proceeded to put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in quite some time. The highlight and centerpiece of the performance was the song “Faustian Echoes”, the tour’s raison d’être. I was lucky enough to speak to Aesop Dekker, Agalloch’s drummer, between the two opener’s sets and he said that they initially had not planned to perform it on tour, but gave it a shot opening night and it went so well they decided to keep playing it. I can’t explain how happy I am that they did; as I said earlier I’m having trouble absorbing the piece as recorded, but live it made sense, unravelling for me like a fine jazz performance, with themes restated and explored and resolved.
But this set, a longer one than the performance a few years back in Boston, was not just about the new work. Delving deep into the catalog, they played “As Embers Dress The Sky” and “Hallways of Enchanted Ebony” from Pale Folklore, “In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion” from The Mantle, “Ghosts Of Midwinter’s Fire” from Marrow Of The Spirit, “Our Fortress Is Burning”, “Limbs” and “Falling Snow” from Ashes Against The Grain (that last track is my favorite Agalloch song, and Ashes my favorite of their albums). They also dug out a copule of tracks from Of Stone, Wind And Pillor, the title track and their Sol Invictus cover, “Kneel To The Cross”, which had the whole crowd chanting “Summer is a-coming in, Arise! Arise!”
Overall, a masterful performance, one that easily topped the prior Boston show and tempted me to drive down to Austin Sunday night to see it again.