A Silver Mt Zion, Vienna Arena, 14 October 2008

My first proper rock concert in months – this summer’s three Leonard Cohen shows, as poignant and memorable as they were, didn’t really cut it as intimate live experiences. You have no idea how good it felt to be back in the dark, smoky environs of the Arena among a roomful of likeminded souls. And there can be few better groups to mark the onset of winter than A Silver Mt Zion (I’m not going to call them by their full name).

I last saw ASMZ in May 2006 on my first visit to the Donaufestival, which that year was held in Korneuburg as well as Krems. It’s a real shame that venue is no longer used; it was a very unusual, blasted/picturesque location, some kind of outbuilding of an old shipyard on the banks of the Donau. I seem to recall ASMZ having an extended line-up of at least seven members on that occasion. This time they were down to five – Efrim on vocals and guitar, two violinists, a double bassist and a drummer. And they functioned beautifully as a band, with the architectonics of the songs swelling massively and glacially around the pulsing strings and rhythms.

It’s still hard for me to think of ASMZ as a group in their own right, so keenly felt is the continuing absence of their parent band, whom I saw in London before they escalated to the heights of playing the Royal Festival Hall. But the longer GYBE’s hiatus lasts, the stronger ASMZ’s own group identity becomes. And blazing performances like Tuesday night’s can only hasten that process. I was, to put it mildly, utterly thrilled by this concert. Efrim’s voice has matured from a reedy, quavery instrument into one of bleak power and rage, while his guitar cuts through the funereal throb of the bass and drums like a scalpel. The violins of Jessica and Sophie, meanwhile, are a vital, constantly surging presence, and the ensemble singing is profoundly beautiful and affecting. These long songs are filled with passion, despair and a sense of injustice that is seared into the memory.

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