The 28th of November is my birthday and usually any attempts made to celebrate it are pretty dire, most likely sulking into a pint of lager wondering how in the hell I’m in my mid-20’s already… But this year’s was different… I got to see OM.
OM is a band that rose from the ashes of the legendary Sleep, compromising of bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros and drummer Chris Hakius. However, in recent times OM have had some changes to its line-up: Hakius left and Emil Amos (of Holy Sons, Grails and Lilacs & Champagne) stepped in, and Robert Lowe gaining a more prominent role with vocals, guitar and percussion in the band’s overall sound. Despite starting in the shadow of Sleep, OM has managed to create its individual style and a pretty hardcore fanbase.
So in the fairly dark Brudenell Social Club, there’s an excited vibe among the attendees. A lot of smiling friends, a lot of couples talking over drinks.
There’s only one support for OM: The Michael Flower Band. Having never even heard of the duo before, my first reaction when they started their two-song set (which lasted about 45-minutes) was utter confusion. Michael Flower and John Moloney, both armed with guitars, look like two men severely out of place in a building full of metalheads and stoners, and their hopping guitar riffs/leads had me scratching my head. After 10-15 minutes however, it clicks, I get why they’re here. The first track, which felt like it spanned for around 25-30 minutes, had an upbeat, hillbilly-country meets early Earth vibe, which was totally entrancing. While John Moloney provides a scarily tight rhythm and easily fills the void of a drummer and bassist, Michael Flower soars over the top with some off-kilter leads that somehow fit with the rhythm guitar.
After closing up the first song, their work (because it does seem like tiring work) is met with a warm applause, and it’s not long before they kick into their second and last song. Expecting the same sort of thing again, I was taken by surprise: this time they played out a more shoegaze style song, playing more on dissonance and atmosphere, although Michael Flower is more aggressive in his performance – swifter movements on the fretboard, stomping and kicking the ground. During several moments through the song, I felt goosebumps waving up and down my back, and they finished fairly suddenly to another warm applause and quickly exited the stage with little more than “OM are next”. Great performance and definitely raised my curiosity in them.
Only twenty minutes later (just enough time to get to the bar, get another can and get back to the front of the stage), the members of OM wandered onto the stage, quietly. Robert Lowe begins the experience with rising drones and soon begins with a mixture of high-pitched melodies and chants with his vocals – something that completely blows me away. The vocals at time sound female but are most definitely coming from him, and he looks as if he’s in a trance, again giving me goosebumps that I felt not 30-minutes beforehand. Eventually Al joins in with his rumbling bass and the journey through the night begins.
The main thing that hits you about OM live is the fact that they sound incredibly clean… actually, ridiculously clean. The bass is far from muddy, the drums are clear and every beat is powerful and Robert Lowe’s contributions are perfect: the vocals are completely audible and clear, the electronics and drones are the same and the guitar isn’t obnoxiously loud in the slightest; despite the fact that he swings it around recklessly at some points. It’s a clarity in sound that is rare. Extremely rare.
The band powers through perhaps a 90-120 minute set (I honestly lost track of time), going through a good portion of their backcatalogue, playing some of their fan favourites like Meditation Is The Practice Of Death, At Giza and Pilgrimage. It’s easy to get hypnotised in the music like Al often seems to be, nodding your head to the Tibetan rhythm of it all. The atmosphere is completely relaxed, even when Lowe seems intend on destroying his tambourine (within ten minutes of OM starting their set, he’s already managed to break one with several of the zills clattering loosely to the ground). They finish with Bhima’s Theme and Al’s repetition of “Lazarus” is just powerful, almost summoning, a great way to end a powerful set. Al thanks the crowd and brings his palms together in a prayer and bows slightly, looking genuinely humbled to be there.
Afterwards, talking to other people who were clearly happy with the gig, there was only one common complaint I heard from people: it wasn’t loud enough. Personally, I thought the volume was fine. The main problem with muddied live performances – especially in doom – is the fact that too many crank the volume up. Granted it works with bands like Eyehategod, whose whole style is based on filthy tones, but for OM, keeping from being much louder was a blessing in their clean sound. I basically had no complaints.
Robert Lowe was also one of the most rock’n’roll people I’ve seen sitting down.
In a summary, if you enjoy OM’s music or a vaguely interested in Eastern-influenced stoner rock music, then definitely see them if you get the chance. Absolutely fantastic. They easily made that birthday the best.