Sir Richard Bishop & Om at the Larimer: Passing Close to Our Center
It’s impossible to burrow too deeply into the worlds of both Sir Richard Bishop and Om. Both artists and their constituent members have had such involved histories with underground music. While their lyrics have been written with deference to past societies and cultures, the messages behind the music are theirs alone.
Bishop formed Sun City Girls in his home state of Arizona, hardly an epicenter for experimental music, during the early 80s. The local scene was sparse, breeding such weirdos as Meat Puppets, JFA, and The Feederz. There was little tolerance for these fairly typical rock bands, so with regards to the free-form skronk Bishop’s prolific DIY band created during their nearly three decade existence, it was ignored by the mainstream. In 2007 was with a heavy heart that Bishop disbanded his life’s work after bandmade Charles Gocher passed away from cancer. Bishop has since embarked on an already rich solo career, carrying the torch of several late american primitive guitar players, including Jack Rose and the king of the genre, John Fahey.
It’s safe to say that the most recent strand of guitar playing Bishop practices comes from the mysticism promoted through ragas, a “tonal framework for composition and improvisation.” It would be difficult to say whether Bishop performs exclusively via improvisation as his ability to consume and reinterpret multiple genres’ standards comes through in his astute picking as naturally as a pop radio hit. Time signatures change frequently and his ability to loop certain chords disorients the listener’s expectations. Throughout the show, he remained focused on his playing only stopping to say thank you every few songs. Occasionally, he would change his guitar tuning to play a new composition, ranging from the typical raga to a southern-rock stomp to flamenco. The audience only needed to see what he would come up with next to remain transfixed.
I find it difficult to draw cursory understanding of Bishop and Om’s overarching messages simply from a short live performance. Their presence was similar to that of an apparition, suggestive of meaning and a past life, but with few clues to trace meaning. There could be cosmic meaning there, or there could just be a person playing a collection of notes at an appropriate volume for aural escapism from a hard day’s work. I believe these artists are both of the camp that each recording, performance, hell, each note brings new meaning to the human understanding.
Om approaches the stage like any typical rock band. Tuning their instruments, waving, saying hey to the crowd. There are no ceremonial robes or fog machines to temper the crowd’s expectations. Their lyrics and the the crescendo to the punishing release proved impressive enough to not require theatrics.
Al Cisneros, founding member of seminal stoner metal band Sleep, leads the group on one of two enormous Rickenbacker bass guitars. Emil Amos of Grails, mans a sizeable drum kit with multiple floor toms, a bass, and about half a dozen large cymbals and snares. Lastly, but certainly the person who adds the most atmosphere to the group is Robert A.A. Lowe, known for his solo project Lichens. He offers the calculated reverberation and archipeggio electronic accompaniment via several mixing boards. Not one to be limited by sitting behind those boards, he often plays a tamboura and guitar, tossing both around like a circus performer. What really blew my mind during the entire performance was Lowe’s ability to hit an enormous range of notes while adding what appeared to be similar to religious incantations or chants.
During their performance, I realized that a listener would benefit from being high during their performance, and that’s just what might’ve happened while being in that room. Many puffs of smoke appeared as they played, Al taking his fair share of tokes off shared joints. If not for that, I think it would be common to perceive Om’s message as too dense for the casual observer. This made me think of the cosmic possibilities, of things that are difficult for us to fathom. With a relatively small asteroid passing within lunar distance of the Earth on this day, as well as the dozens of other objects passing within 0.3 AU of the Earth EVERY DAY, it might be worth considering that our understanding of the possibilities of music are limiting. Om and Sir Richard Bishop wish to indicate that these potentials are limitless. With enough time and dedication, one can reach the transcendent, even in a haze filled rock club.
Photos and review by Kerry Nordstrom.