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Fire! with Oren Ambarchi

The Vortex, London 26/10/2011

by Tim Owen

October 29, 2011


Fire! and Ambarchi rock out like Neu! infused with the spirit of Miles Davis' mid ?70s live vibe

With the substitution of drone guitar maestro Oren Ambarchi for the wired post-rock styles of studio collaborator Jim O’Rourke, Fire!‘s current live shows give a new twist to the sound captured on their recent Unreleased? album. Arguably, Ambarchi is the better fit.

I stand by the statement that, on the album, O’Rourke bought “a new layer of detail and textural coloration to the mix, and finer gradations of tension to a group dynamic that gains heft and clarity of purpose as a result” (you can read the full review here: But Ambarchi’s way with sustained tones gave the first set of the live gig a backbone drone that allowed the groove to cut deeper and the bass to travel in correspondingly deep vibrational pulses.

Ambarchi has made some fine recordings for solo guitar and electronics, notably on the Touch label,  but may be better known in some circles for his collaborations with ?doom drone’ band Sunn 0))), and spinoff trios Burial Chamber and Gravetemple. It’s primarily the latter vibe that he brings to Fire!‘s table.

In the first set, Fire! and Ambarchi played extended versions of the first two tracks from Unreleased?: “Are You Both Still Unreleased?” and “?Please, I am Released”. The first was a slow, steady, mantric build of sound to a level of almost overwhelming accumulated intensity.

With Fire! channelling the drone, Johan Berthling’s electric bass is reconstituted as a truly galvanising propulsive force and Andreas Werliin’s drums take on an almost shamanic role. Mats Gustafsson concentrated on Fender Rhodes for much of the gig, enriching the gradual accumulation of sonic thrust with wayward space-rock electronics. Only once each track peaked did he pick up the baritone sax, and the intrusion of his vocal, deep bass wail into the otherwise unswervingly linear collective sound was raw and primal.

Werliin began “?Please, I am Released”, accompanied by Gustafsson’s splashy Rhodes FX, with a tight double-time rhythm, the others locking in to rock out like Neu! infused with the spirit of Miles Davis’ mid ?70s live vibe. Fire! rode this groove for a quite a while before easing back to let the deep bass take over, setting the panels of the sound engineer’s booth at the back of the venue abuzz with vibrations and allowing the detail of Ambarchi’s guitar manipulations to be appreciated. Gustafsson re-entered on the baritone horn, channelling Albert Ayler through some subtly controlled circular breathing, but soon opening those lungs up to really blow when the others fused together to take the set nova.

Coming after a twenty-minute interval, a second set of one number was fine by most standards, but anticlimactic all the same. I think this was a version of album closer “Happy Ending Borrowing Your”: an insistent deep cosmic blues pulse with an interlude for bass and guitar to entwine lines. The tune ended with a powerful surge of jazz rock, and Gustafsson’s climactic blending of the baritone’s lowest register with the electronic bass drone. Ultimately the electric instruments faded into a fug of low-end audio detritus, leaving Gustafsson to end the night on a surprisingly warm note with a coda of bruised-sounding solo saxophone.

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