Better Than: That Scott Walker + SunnO))) record. Yeah, I said it.
“I was nervous. I didn’t know if anybody was gonna show.”
J.R. Robinson a/k/a Wrekmeister Harmonies is enjoying a post-show cigarette and breathing a helluva sigh of relief. The “pastoral doom” overlord needn’t have pondered that nightmarish scenario, because a shit-ton of his doom-and-drone-seeking worshippers did in fact flock to DIY art hub Signal Gallery in Bushwick, where the Chicago-based, ink-
covered WrekHarm architect — in all his bearded glory — presented a rare local performance of Then It All Came Down, his second long-form mammoth composition.
Sure, Robinson pulled this same feat off at Greenpoint metal destination Saint Vitus last year (“it’s a wonderful place, but it’s too small for 12 to 14 people,” Robinson admits), but when you’re amassing a rotating hall of fame cast to help interpret a 34-minute klassikill-cum-drone-cum-doom-metal marathon, space is key and Signal Gallery was his choice spot.
Last night, Robinson brought with him a head-exploding dream ensemble including — prepare yourself, kids — Slint’s Dave Pajo, OM and Grails traps pummeler and Holy Sons chief Emil Amos, Dylan O’Toole and Ron DeFries from Chicago’s blackened metal doomers Indian, Bloodiest ax-wielder Eric Chaleff, L’Altra’s Lyndsay Anderson, vocalist Scout Pare Philips, violinist Esther Shaw, David Grant, cellist Brent Arnold, and, fresh from opening for Swans on Friday night, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, mastermind of “transcendental” black metallers Liturgy — to the sprawling, industrial space at 260 Johnson Avenue to recreate his brain-melting opus.
The spiritual ambience of Robinson’s Then It All Came Down performance at Chicago’s Bohemian National Cemetery just over a week ago (sadly, our historical and scenic Green-Wood Cemetery was a no-go) was recaptured as candles adorned the Gallery’s factory-like spread, the space dimly lit and, naturally, experimental auteur Kenneth Anger films providing the cinematic backdrop to the oncoming apocalyptic drone-fest.
Signal Gallery’s lack of stage gave way to a familial vibe, as Schaefer-guzzling (yes, they sold Schaefer) doom-seekers squatted, sat, and settled on the dusty floor in front of the imposing setup of to-die-for vintage amps, keys and harmonium stockpiles, drums, laptops, and a string section that lined the wall from one end to the other.
With nary an introduction, and perched in front of his econo laptop looking like he was about to shoot off some emails, the towering beardo Robinson
launched into the lush, feathery dronescapes that open Then It All Came Down, which is inspired by and takes its name from an essay written by Truman Capote following his interview with Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil.
The slow crawl of thunderous hums, jet-engine whirs, and vibrating purrs enveloped the Gallery, but Robinson wouldn’t be sitting too long in front of his ‘puter. Soon enough, he fetched his six-string and began subtly finger-picking Eastern-tinged lines. That wouldn’t last very long either. Dude’s got an 11-piece collective to conduct.
Robinson — like a way mellower Glenn Branca — sprouted up, first cuing the angelic voices of Anderson (also on keys) and Philips to enter the fray, the twosome filling the
cavernous space with holier-than-thou operatic bliss. Arnold and Shaw’s strings were given the go-ahead by Robinson and drone, violin, cello and synths and high-pitched voices from the otherworld united for ecstatic peace, the throngs there to watch, mesmerized and respectful.
Of course, Then It All Came Down‘s slow-build was eventually going to morph into a loud-as-fuck sonic dystopia of epically pastoral, demonic doom-crush — and Robinson’s crew didn’t disappoint one iota. As Anderson and Philips faded out, giving way to nails-on-chalkboard noisescrapes, the room got effin’ loud. Arnold chafed melancholy on his cello’s strings, Amos stabbed his cymbals; Robinson’s piece was about to rage full-on.
Hunt-Hendrix, Pajo, and the reverberating, nihilistic bass booms of DeFries combined to eclipse ear-bleeding yet cathartic Swans-like levels, and with Amos’s hyper-kinetic
and hammerhead drum fills and countdowns (not heard on the recorded version of Then It All Came Down) propelling the massive riff-mongering pounding, a head-banging Robinson and six-feet-under Satanic screaming brought the epic journey — before fading out — to its final resting place. Puffing on that cigarette, Robinson reflects on bringing Then It All Came Down to our backyard, thankful for being able to perform it at Signal Gallery. “I think environment plays such a huge part in the presentation of the work, so anytime you can get people out of their normal places to go see music, I think it’s beneficial for everybody — it benefits the performers and the audience. It’s a whole beneficial exchange.”
Overheard: A pair of ladies shootin’ the shit get serious as WrekHarm are about to hit: “I bought my boyfriend new jammies because his old ones are worn out and have holes in the crotch.” Time to get the drone on!
Random Notebook Dump: My beard envy reaches dramatic proportions when gazing at J.R. Robinson’s epically flowing salt ‘n’ pepper heft.
Critical Bias: “Wrekmeister” looks and sounds cool as fuck — especially sans the C.