Om, Lichens, Echoplex, January 20, 2008

Lichens (Chicago guitarist/vocalist Robert Lowe) has balls. Before a crowd of metal heads who wanted to rock the fuck out on cochlea-threatening volume and controlled bombast, he began his set with field recordings of birdsong, while seated off to the left side of the stage. You could sense he was sending currents of unease through the audience at Echoplex. He gradually added dulcet vowel sounds from his throat and then intricately looped the “oh”s and “ooh”s. Soon after came Frippian electric guitar quavers and liquid undulations.

Occasionally, Lichens would let out banshee wails that seemed incongruous coming from a dude with a large 'fro and bristly handlebar 'stache. All of these sounds emanated and accrued methodically, as if they were part of a sacred ritual. Lichens shaped them into ghostly, multi-layered waves that either left people rapt or utterly bored. (Count me in the former camp.) For what it's worth, I think David Lynch would love Lichens' intense, ominous drones and uneasy ambience.

Om joined Lichens during the last five minutes of his set. The trio eased into a slo-mo funk excursion with Lowe's dewy guitar pointillism enhancing Om's staunch low end. It sounded like Pink Floyd jamming with Funkadelic.

After Lowe exited, Om cranked up the volume tenfold. San Francisco's Al Cisneros (bass) and Chris Hakius (drums) are perhaps the purest power duo in the business today. If Black Sabbath excised Tony Iommi's guitar and Ozzy somehow obtained a PhD in arcane theology and the occult, they might've sounded like Om. Despite offering no frills nor ecstatic thrills onstage, Om nonetheless rivet you. Cisneros intones in a monkish monotone a string of polysyllabic verbiage that would take you a century to decipher while grinding out bass lines with which you could build bridges. Om don't inspire devil horns so much as a kind of scholarly awe. This is philosopher's stoner rock.

Monolithic, monomaniacal and massive, Om set the controls for the heart of the earth, yet their music somehow uplifts, no matter how low it goes.

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