Six Organs of Admittance/Primordial Undermind, Vienna Planet Music, 18 May 2008

Planet Music – what a dump. The only concert hall in Vienna that comes close to the standard British model of ugly, smelly venues covered in sponsorship logos, with unfriendly staff and crap, overpriced beer served in flimsy plastic glasses. For years this place has survived on an unhealthy diet of heavy metal acts, tribute nights and battle-of-the-bands contests, with very rare exceptions such as the line-up we saw on Sunday night. Now it seems that the place is to close down – no great loss there – and its operations moved to the Szene Wien – ah, I knew there had to be a catch. The concern is that the avant-garde, alternative and world-y nights that are the Szene’s stock-in-trade will be edged out in favour of the kind of dreck that Planet Music serves up week after week. The city council and the Szene’s new management are making reassuring noises, saying that the overall utilisation of the venue will be increased and that the two kinds of programming can comfortably co-exist there. Well, we shall have to wait and see.

So this was my second and, thankfully, last visit to Planet Music (the first being to see Ani diFranco, many years ago). And it was a great gig, although the attendance was pitiful. Admittedly it was a wet Sunday evening, but if these two bands had appeared at another venue they would certainly have drawn a far larger audience.

After my last Primordial Undermind concert, a mostly acoustic affair at the Subterrarium, I had expressed a wish to hear them play a full electric band set. I was to have my wish granted sooner than expected, after they were announced as the support band to Six Organs of Admittance, whom I had already planned to see. This was one of those rare and inspired pairings that justifies the all-too-often redundant concept of the support act. PU were exceptionally fine, calling to mind the primitivist throb of Loop and Spacemen 3 while reaching out into areas of blissed-out drone and glide that were entirely their own.

Six Organs of Admittance were even more spectacular. This line-up of the group was expanded from the duo of Ben Chasny and Elisa Ambrogio that played a short, incendiary set at last year’s Donaufestival. Joining the two guitarists on drums, Alex Neilson worked tentacular rhythmic patterns into Chasny’s mesmeric riffing and Ambrogio’s squally undercurrents. Ambrogio’s playing was as thrilling to watch as it was to listen to; apparently fighting to bring her guitar under control, she threw awkwardly angular poses as she attempted to wrench every last note from its seemingly unco-operative strings. (Regrettably she was wearing trousers on this occasion, thereby depriving us of the sight of her bending over in a short skirt as she played.) Chasny, meanwhile, produced wave after wave of hypnotically sparkling phrases, blending intuitively with Ambrogio’s grainier and more textured approach. When he stepped up to the microphone the effect was compelling, his autumnal voice bolstering the music’s uncanny atmosphere of charged, mystical energy.

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