Six Organs of Admittance with Elisa Ambrogio / Grand Banks
University of Virginia Chapel; Charlottesville, VA

Let’s start from the middle. Ben Chasney takes a sip out of the
Styrofoam cup that’s sitting on his amp, leans into the mic, and says,
“Okay, I’ll play a couple more quiet ones.”

He picks out a gentle, melodic narrative on his acoustic guitar. After a
few measures, Elisa Ambrogio of The Magik Markers appears on stage, picks up her red Stratocaster, and joins Chasney. She sings and reinforces his folky repetitions with a tightly-wound, single-string drone. Looping his part, Chasney abandons his guitar and frees the mic from its stand, facing toward Ambrogio as their voices pool together in a mesmerizing chant. Suddenly, his microphone cuts out, so Chasney joins Ambrogio at hers. They finish the song singing nose to nose.

The night started out with a more subdued and pristine vibe. Souls
wandered into the century-old chapel and perched themselves on the hard wooden pews. The opening band, Grand Banks, tweaked their array of noisemakers, amps, and keys, prefacing things with a long drone that saturated the spacious corridors and arched ceilings. Their set played out like a rattlesnake swallowing its prey. Serpentine noises swelled and gradually propelled themselves toward digestion. Eerie chimes and scaly synth blips slithered over sparse, rattling percussion.

Chasney, wearing a button up western shirt, came on next and began his set as the audience perched attentively on their pews. He echoed the laid back quality of his acoustic meanderings by joking about being in church on a Friday night and asking the audience what they were doing after the show.

When Ambrogio stepped up, though, the mood quickly shifted. Chasney still held up the mellower end of the sound (even after switching to electric), while Ambrogio, her face obscured beneath a red hood and her dangling hair, did what she does so well with The Magik Markers: she wrenched noisy bursts and distorted curls out of the guts of her instrument.

Tension became tantamount. Rather than propelling toward a cathartic avalanche of noise or satiating, repetitive grooves, both Chasney and Ambrogio seemed to be digging in their heels and keeping their sound taut and restrained. This made the night both powerful and
somewhat frustrating. Ambrogio offered glimpses into a world of more
engulfing noise, and Chasney flirted with riffs that could have employed a heavier hammer but only tapped lightly. The result was an intricate, shallow sculpture rather than a deep and cavernous landspace.

But maybe that was the point: Keeping more overwhelming forces at bay, this Six Organs duo etched out their own sonic path, cloaking the raw inspiration for their sounds in mystery and offering a sense of
reverence and discipline that seemed appropriate amid the chapel’s
wooden alters, looming stained-glass windows, and dimly lit archways.

[Photos: Lincoln Doolittle]

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