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Bell Witch and Wrekmeister Harmonies are in the midst of a string of tour dates together with Bell Witch playing as a backing band before stepping up for their own set, and I got to see two shows back to back: the Eugene, Oregon, show at the Wandering Goat on December 5 followed by the Portland show at Panic Room on December 6.
I’ve seen Bell Witch a handful of times, but this was my first time seeing Wrekmeister Harmonies, the one-man project of Chicagoan J.R. Robinson. The latest Wrekmeister Harmonies LP, Night of Your Ascension, follows 2014’s Then it All Came Down by less than a year, and combines the talent of more than 30 collaborators, including Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubaten), Chris Brokaw (Come), Dylan O’Toole and Ron DeFries (Indian), The Body, Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) and several others. For these shows though, the lineup consisted of only him on synths and samples, guitar and vocals, and Esther Shaw, a Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist/member of Slow Planes on violins, keyboards and vocals. Bell Witch bassist Dylan Desmond and (newish) drummer Jesse Shreibman (also of Transient) joined in after about 10 minutes. After this set, Bell Witch played their own full set.

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Wrekmeister Harmonies

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Robinson’s recordings are powerful sensory experiences even with nothing but the music. (Read some of our reviews of his past performances.) On other dates, such as the Seattle show, they played with a visual accompaniment, but there were no such visuals at the Eugene show, and in Portland they attempted to set up the equipment before abandoning the endeavor. I’d have liked to experience what Robinson wanted us to see along with his music, but as it stands, I’m glad I had only the visions created by my own mind.

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Bell Witch

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The two shortened songs they played are about the death of Father John Geoghan (“Run Priest Run”), a pedophile priest who was strangled and stomped to death in his cell by a fellow inmate, and the life of Don Carlo Gesualdo (“Night of Your Ascension”), a 16th-century Italian nobleman and musical visionary who brutally murdered his wife and her lover. Gesualdo is now considered one of the most imaginative composers of the late Renaissance, and Robinson explores his relationship to the music of his period as well as his vengeful slaughter. On record, both pieces use their long running time to build to a screaming peak. Live, he skipped right to the violence, terror and thunderous doom.

— Vanessa Salvia

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Bell Witch and Wrekmeister Harmonies remain on tour and just announced another run together in 2016.

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