A Silver Mount Zion
Monday December 13th , The Electric Ballroom, Camden

I hate that feeling, when you're standing in the midst of a crowd during a gig you've been looking forward to for ages, when others around you look as though they've been touched by the holy spirit as the music washes over them, but no amount of tapping your feet is going to crack you out of being a detached observer. Is it a blasphemy to start thinking about your shopping list after the twentieth minute of a Sonic Youth feedback session? Probably. You yearn for that live music epiphany which is going to unambiguously define for you the meaning of "live" in live musical performance -damn it, you want a "spiritual experience" without the inverted commas, and you're gonna feel like a soulless, numb-assed swine until you get it.

Words like "spiritual" and "sacred" should have a heavy tax imposed on their usage. Similar constraints should be placed on the English critics use of superlatives in their reviews. Bearing this in mind, I would like to say that A Silver Mount Zion make sacred music (in the best secular sense) and that they are quite possibly the best live band I have ever seen, and happily face the consequences. This judgement is partly based on the irrefutable evidence of the hairs on the back of my neck, which have never stood on end for such a protracted amount of time, my bottom lip, which quivered so much it would have been embarrassing if the sheer brilliance of the music hadn't rendered pointless giving a shit about such things, and the unprecedented outpourings of my tear ducts (in a gig situation at least).

After a charmingly chaotic warm up from Little Wings (think Will Oldham on acid), the various members of a Silver Mount Zion assembled on stage to play a set in which the vocal presence of Efrim has become increasingly apparent since predominantly instrumental albums such as "He has left us here alone". One could never describe the band in its current incarnation as being vocal driven however as the voice is no more prevalent than the other instruments. Nevertheless Efrim's voice does have a beautifully plaintive and harrowed quality about it that pierces its way straight into the emotions. Lyrically speaking, the songs are perfectly poised between abstract mantra and words that insinuate subtly towards the notions of revolution and apocalypse without ever being blatant about it. The bands imagery frequently resembles prophetic murmurings from the book of Revelations or the spiritual fervour of early frontier groups such as the Shakers. Like its sibling Godspeed You Black Emperor! the preoccupations with apocalypse are ambiguously poised between disturbing political warning and as a necessary purging of the sickness of our culture. But it's in the music that the notions of beautiful apocalypse are so wonderfully borne out as the drums, the strings and the vocals all interweave to create a gauze of sound that finds no easy release in obvious crescendo, but which gradually accumulates in this almost unbearably beautiful catharsis. On record, the band is great, but I couldn't have anticipated the physical impact that their live show would present. Their sound goes way beyond ethereal prettiness as the cumulus of sound created by the grinding strings of violins and cello in particular have this tangible resonance which seems to make the whole building vibrate. When the end of the world comes, I hope it sounds something like this.

-James Ormiston

/jan 15th 2005/