Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Eric Chenaux @Botanique Orangerie, Brussels – 27 February 2014


On 27 February, Botanique proposed a beautiful lapse into music. Proposal accepted as the Orangerie was sold out for these two acts of the Canadian experimental scene.

The evening was opened by Eric Chenaux, promoting his album “Guitar & Voice”, how else than by an enchantingly straightforward performance of “guitar, voice and very small speakers”, to quotes the description on his facebook page.

1Eric Chenaux hasn’t been always the dedicated folk guitar player we saw on that evening. Believe it or not, the career of this nice and talented guy goes back in the ‘90s, when he was playing in the Toronto-based punk rock band Phleg Camp. But that sound has been continuously expanded until dissolution, so nowadays he brings on stage a world of reversed intimacy. Inside Eric Chenaux lies a rare universe of avant-folk. A fusion of styles from medieval to post-modern coming to life beyond the sound of a guitar filtering tones trough reverbs and distortion, everything in a refined manner, like dream reminiscences felt on a morning. Beautiful.

He told us a story from a previous concert in Brussels, about how he had to choose between “singing acapella or playing fuzz guitar for 10 minutes”, when he chose to “play fuzz guitar for 10 minutes”. This time, he didn’t choose anymore: a moment of music without instrumental accompaniment was followed by the same variation on guitar, one of the most kindhearted moments of the evening. His short performance was received warmly by the public.

To deconstruct the concert of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra into instruments, tracks, performing moments or music passages seems a sacrilege. These five artists create magic together. Their latest potion is called “Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything” and it’s their seventh full-length album, released this January. The concert in Botanique was part of a tour in support of their new record.

6Still, I am going to do this sacrilege, encouraged also by the fact that Efrim Menuck took the time to wittily explain us something about each song. The record was played entirely, but rearranging the order of the songs and bringing in other tracks, in order to narrate a story about people, places and gloomy revolt, making of us witnesses to nothing else than a beautiful punk poem.

Efrim Menuck is a well known musician of the Canadian experimental rock scene. Well known for making music that matters far beyond the marketed scene, actually having nothing to do with such concept. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, his other project, released an album two years ago which came instantly into the spotlight of fans although it was done with no publicity and occurred after no less than 10 years break. Just a recognition that what matters lies somewhere else than in the advertising budget.

No less, Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra keeps up the unexplained miraculous fascination we might know from “13 Angels Standing Guard ’round the Side of Your Bed” which was included in one of the wonderful scenes of Harmony Korine’s film Mister Lonely.

“We are from Montreal (Quebec). Actually, forget about Quebec, just Montreal”. The words “We live on the island called Montreal and we make a lot of noise because we love each other” belong to the first track of the album and the first song of the evening, “Fuck Off Get Free (For The Island Of Montreal)”. They continued with “Austerity Blues”, when we were told that it’s a track about the poverty that followed the economic crisis but from the American point of view. A song that ended into an attractive instrumental dissonance, just like giving us a view of the general context we live today. But it just meant it was the time to bring the music to the level of talking about people: two songs played in a raw, one about “musician dying young and one about all of us dying young”. When talking to the public about whether musicians should die young, there was an interactive moment when the favorite joke of the moment came up: someone shouted out the name of Justin Bieber. But we were reassured that “he is not a musician” and that these two songs are not about some “child pornography sexy dolls” but about the most pure creative act. “Take Away These Early Grave Blues” and “Rains Thru the Roof at the Grande Ballroom” are not consequently presented on the disc but they run beautifully together live.

To slide into a more personally note, the following track was about someone who is going slowly crazy. “Piphany Rambler” belongs to the previous album, but rounds everything up to the point where the pain of loving and loosing someone at the same time is inexpressibly agonizing. “A slow song” which becomes a heavy song. Dissonance and bitterness with a touch of the double bass.

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Before the brand new song “All the Kings are Dead” we were told that the kings are not only dead but also deaf, like their statues we see all over the place, statues of kings we don’t even know who they are anymore. It’s a track that commence in a progressive note to evolve further into a glorious post rock construct. The musical story ended with “What We Loved Was Not Enough” a song “written in past tense” on the conclusion that “whatever it is, whatever we have, whatever we love is not enough”. They came back for the encore, just one single encore, unfortunately. “Little ones run” ended the show in a cruel melancholic note, a most bitter lullaby with vocals by the violinists Sophie Trudeau and Jessica Moss. “The big one hunt, the little ones run”.

I need to mention that the sound was perfect although the stage setting made some of us feel like outsiders: everything was arranged in the center of the stage, the musicians were surrounded by monitors and stereos. I may have not seen what was happening on the half of the stage but surely the audition was faultless.

Even if technically speaking the concert was a live audition of a new album, instead of just playing the album, they narrated a story. Subtle alternative for other bands touring as well with their latest material. The feeling I got was that their music creates holes in time for us to escape into the light. It creates space, not just filling or reassuring the pitiful one we’re living in. And I guess this is called poetry.

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