Aaron Blount Haunts Zirzamin
Monday night at around half past eleven, the back room at Zirzamin was basically empty, and all of a sudden it was packed, as Aaron Blount, formerly of dark Austin rockers Knife in the Water took the stage for a rivetingly mysterious show, most of it solo. Blount is a tremendously interesting guitarist and a nonchalantly haunting, quietly powerful singer. Playing his Danelectro Jazzmaster copy through a Fender Twin with the reverb going full steam, his casual but precise fingerpicking built a blizzard of overtones ringing from the amp: it was as if he’d summoned every ghost who’d ever hit a reverb pedal to join him in the vortex. His songs unfolded slowly and sepulchrally, phrases from old blues, bluegrass, gospel and folk rising ominously in the mist. His mostly chordal approach to the guitar intersperses eerie passing tones to max out the menace. To twist a title from Leonard Cohen – one that Blount probably knows well – he puts a new spin on the old ceremony.
A single, jagged slash broke the enveloping ambience as Blount worked his way into the first number, employing a strange tuning for what was essentially a bluegrass melody, but one stripped to the bone and bleached by the desert sun. An icy burst from his reverb tank kicked off the next one, a mix of cold chromatic chords and muted low notes like waves hitting the November shore. “There is no room, no hostel, nowhere to hide,” Blount intoned nonchalantly. Pregnant pauses in many of these slowly crescendoing anthems left the overtones extra time to linger and leave their mark. Blount casually made his way into a bittersweet soul song that picked up with a gorgeously menacing chorus straight out of the David J songbook. A gothic folk number reminded of the Church’s Steve Kilbey at his most hypnotic; another, sung in French, sounded like Elliott Smith in ultra-minimalist mode with the reverb turned all the way up, turning a two-note phrase into an orchestra.
Then Blount brought up the Dimestore Dance Duo a.k.a. guitarslinger Jack Martin and bassist Jude Webre along with a drummer. Martin’s blends of country blues and gypsy tonalities is the raw essence of noir, and it made a perfect match with Blount’s allusive menace. This wasn’t about fitting into a song seamlessly. Martin and Webre wrestled with them, Blount calmly and coolly guiding them with a phrase, or a jab of his guitar’s headstock, the duo tossing and turning and then suddenly diving into their depths once they had the structure down. It didn’t take long. In the Dimestore project, Webre serves as the perfectly melodic, matter-of-fact foil for Martin’s jaggedly biting phrases, and he played the same role here, anchoring the songs with a series of artfully transposed voicings shifting between the lows and the upper frets. Together they rampaged haphazardly and memorably through a backbeat-driven anthem (again, evoking the Church), a twisted country blues that gave Martin a launching pad for a succession of deliciously lurid chromatic riffs, and then a creepily swaying nocturne. “The night is slowing to a crawl,” Blount intoned, “Bottles dance on the shelves…we float, drift and collide and spill out into the street.” Before they did that, they gently ravaged another ballad in the 6/8 time that Blount loves so much, Martin and then Webre shifting uneasily from major to minor, playing modes against each other as the crowd sat silent and rapt. This crew is bound to reunite at least once, whether for a show or (fingers crossed) a recording somewhere in the relatively near future: watch this space.