Pillars and Tongues (Chicago, IL)
House concert, Colorado Springs, CO
Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
When I first meet Mark, the lead singer, he is jokingly commissioning a portrait from one of our hosts on the rear deck of the house we are at. I won’t divulge all of the details, but he will be wearing nothing but cowboy boots, and holding a Dortmunder Gold, a favorite craft beer from a Michigan brewery. He envisions a houseguest sitting down in his house, with this painting looming over them, perhaps above the fireplace. Chuckles abound at imagining the uncomfortable expression visible on the houseguest’s face. I’m envisioning eccentric old Mr. Burns from the Simpsons.
When the show starts, I am seated on a couch with nothing between them and me. There is a table covered in a red Native American throw, with some sleigh bells and several small brass percussion objects on top. Some look like bowls, and I’m wondering if they are or will be filled with water. Beth’s borrowed violin comes in, followed by a bass guitar, and some looped electronic sounds, and finally, 3 part harmonies. Ben, the bassist/percussionist hasn’t been feeling too well after a bout of food poisoning, and his voice sounds a little less honeyed than the other two.
The performers are setup in front of the stone fireplace, and the guests are seated on the hardwood floor in the living room of our host. It’s the 5th time they have been to Colorado Springs this year, and the second time the Pillars and Tongues trio have played at this house. There is a reverent mood, as if we are taking part in a sacred ceremony. The lyrics are nearly unintelligible, and I’m not sure they aren’t in a foreign language, I could swear I hear French words. Even if they are in English, the words speak more to the soul than to conscious thought.
I am enthralled with what I later learn to be a harmonium. It looks like an antique camera in the front, with buttons and organ keys in the back. The faster the bellows are stoked, the more it sounds like an organ; slower and it sounds more like an accordion. It is beautiful to watch.
The guests are completely silent and still for the first 3 or 4 songs, and the performers thank us after each song, for listening so intently. When thanked in return for playing, Mark tells us not to thank them yet, it’s like thanking them in the middle of a story that isn’t finished yet. He jokes about it being the first time he’s had lentils onstage (Dinner was delicious, Bill! I want your recipe.) and his mbira being out of tune. I notice the violin and bass tuning down to drop D for a song, almost unnoticeably, it is done so swiftly.
They get back into it, and soon, most of the guests’ eyes are closed; only those at the rear fringes still have open eyes. It’s as if a fog has rolled in from the front of the room, traveling to the back. We have fallen into a collective trance. I hope we don’t wake up anytime soon.
Watch for The Pass and Crossings EP, to be released in June.
Listen to this! Palms_to_Tell Right click to download, or click to play in your default application.
Lyrics: (printed in the poster for the digital download, I would assume there are lyrics with the cassette and vinyl formats. I love it when I don’t have to look up lyrics on a website! I wish that a pdf of the lyrics were included with the download of any digital album, listen up bands!)
Your breath could resolbe
a thousand harrowing pains,
your mind design release
from a thousand conceit’s pangs.
Tend to all
tend to all
reading Portuguese palms
and tarrying, contrary
in moaning light,
where she moans,
that lighted tone
owed to wrestling everything–
no rest for wrestling everything–
no rest for wresting hands
though the cresting demands
a moment’s pause;
moving in your breath
and shaped of your design–
the palms to tell.
Tend to all
tend to all
tend to all.
You can also check out the live recording of this same song. If you are ever in Chicago and in need of a soundman, look up Mike Usrey.