Friday the 4th of August, ffanatic sojourned to Chicago (my first time driving into the city)—specifically, the Empty Bottle, to see A Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-la-la Band tour in the US for the very first time. Needless to say, I was excited as all hell.
The Empty Bottle is a tiny little venue in the middle of what (used to be? still is?) the Ukrainian section of Chicago. We parked about three blocks back and walked there. Immediately, it seems kind of grubby—it was full of smoke, obviously using all of its grace period before falling prey to Chicago’s smoking ban, and very beat up, old show posters covering most of the scratched-up walls. Still, some of that well-worn look added to its charm. The bar itself, at the opposite corner of the main room, was nice and very well stocked1.
The introductory band, Black Ox Orkestar, went on at 10:30. It was a four-piece group, comprised of Scott Levine Gilmore (vocals, cymbalom, guitar, mandolin, saz, violin & percussion), Thierry Amar (contrabass), Jessica Moss (violin), and Gabriel Levine (clarinet, guitar). They opened with “Violin Duet,” a sad violin duet (surprise) that segues into a more upbeat Yiddish dance tune. Yiddish dance tunes, it seems, are very popular with the group, along with original compositions sung in Yiddish and based upon some aspect of Yiddish culture. If you haven’t figured it out, B.O.O. are all about a shared Jewish heritage. I must admit that Yiddish music has never sounded so cool, especially when sung so soulfully by a guy playing a mandolin and a cymbalom at the same time—the audience response was positive too, which shouldn’t have surprised me (post-rock fans not being your typical breed of slobbering malcontents), but which one doesn’t always see with such specialized music. My favorites were the songs that featured clarinet (“Golem” and a dance tune from the 1920s which name I don’t remember) because it’s such a great tone when played well, and it was most assuredly played well.
They played only a short set, but I soon found out why: the first three members of Black Ox Orkestar are also members of A Silver Mt. Zion, and so they had to play the rest of the night. A Silver Mt. Zion changed Scott Gilmore to the drumset and added Efrim (guitar and lead vocals), Beckie (cello), Ian (guitar)2, and Sophie (violin). Unfortunately, the stage was a little small for their usual setup (facing each other in a circle), but they managed, I think, and they sounded great. The set list was:
- God Bless Our Dead Marines
- Take These Hands and Throw Them in the River
- Blind, Blind, Blind
- American Motor Over Smoldered Field
- Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)
- One Million Died to Make This Sound [encore]
“Blind, Blind, Blind” and “One Million Died to Make This Sound” are both new songs that will probably end up on the next album, to be recorded after this current tour. I must say that I like the direction they’re headed—a lot of emphasis on group vocals and detailed song structures.
One forgets, when listening to post-rock on a CD player, just how magnificently huge these sounds can get. For every moment when it was just Efrim squeaking out a lone lyric, there was a crashing crescendo of all the musicians going to town, and looking like they were having a great time doing it, all of them singing, wailing on their strings, a great big rabble-rousing euphony, and to tell you the truth, it was the most fun I’ve had at a concert since I saw Opeth for the first time in 2001. It was that cool.
I wish I could include pictures here, or maybe audio clips, but I sadly forgot both my camera and my iRiver, and so I can provide no sensory indication of the experience—mea culpa. You can, however, hear a pretty good live recording ASMZ did for the New York public station WNYC here [zip file].
- ffanatic and I both had this ale on tap, and we couldn’t decide if it was the best or worst beer we’ve ever had. Sadly, because I was going to be driving home very late, I stopped at just one beer, even though I wanted to try more of their wide selection[↩]
- Apropos of nothing, I couldn’t help but think that Ian looked like a science teacher[↩]