Silver Mt. Zion, Black Ox Orkestar | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Silver Mt. Zion, Black Ox Orkestar 

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Since Godspeed You! Black Emperor dissolved a few years back, the band's loyal legions have embraced the Godspeed side project SILVER MT. ZION, which has gone from being practically off the radar to launching its first U.S. tour, including three shows on this Chicago stop. The two groups are different animals, though. Godspeed was a mostly instrumental anarchist collective prone to album-side-long epics; Silver Mt. Zion is helmed by guitarist Efrim Menuck (joined by Godspeed cohorts Thierry Amar, also of openers Black Ox Orkestar, and Sophie Trudeau), who sings in a craggy voice over minimal, church-solemn tracks. On their most recent album, last year's Horses in the Sky (Constellation), plinking single notes of violin, piano, and distant guitar dissolve under swells of discordant vocalizing; there's a deep Gypsy lilt to the songs, but also a campfire folksiness that enlivens the album's bedroom-recording pallor. They'll kick up their holy sort of din tonight as a septet. --Jessica Hopper

"Golem," the sole original tune on BLACK OX ORKESTAR's second album, Nisht Azoy (Constellation), has a creepy, depressing resonance in light of the current violence in the Middle East: multi-instrumentalist Scott Levine Gilmore sings in Yiddish, "We made a new golem / We created our guard / Without soul and without mercy / He watches the gate." Though each member of this Montreal quartet is of Jewish descent, they're hardly staunch Zionists, and Black Ox Orkestar's music doesn't adhere to a single tradition; Nisht Azoy also includes Arabic and eastern European Gypsy music, and the group mixes and matches to create a blend that sounds at once ancient and contemporary. The new disc has the same relentlessly sorrowful harmonies as the band's fine 2004 debut, Ver Tanzt?, but it's more cacophonous and explosive--the musicians tear into the wild fiddle music of Romania and Hungary, with furious dance rhythms enhanced on three tracks by percussionist Pierre-Guy Blanchard. With the exception of clarinetist and guitarist Gabriel Levine, the band's members--violinist Jessica Moss, bassist Thierry Amar, and multi-instrumentalist Gilmore--will join Silver Mt. Zion during its set. --Peter Margasak

Silver Mt. Zion headlines and Black Ox Orkestar opens. Silver Mt. Zion also plays two shows tomorrow night; see Saturday. Fri 8/4, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $12.

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