Live: Dead Meadow, the Freebutt, Brighton

Interstellar Hurricane. Silver Ray. Sister Machine.

Like an Overdrive.

Okay, so I don’t own any Dead Meadow records. Okay, so maybe I’m kind of guessing at the titles of the songs they played. It was something like that, anyway. I mean, it was that kind of thing. Like some kind of seared tuna mindmelt of all your favourite classic psychedelic hard rock moments- except actually nothing like them, either. Which is the ultimate paradox of the whole stoner rock phenomenon- and yeah, I think The Meadow, as we like to call them here, fit into that category- that while on the surface they seem to be nothing but revivalists, and actually strive real hard to give that impression, in fact the band that you think they sound like really only ever existed in your head.

So, on Saturday night Dead Meadow combined the heavy mystic sludge of Black Sabbath with the pulverising rhythmic swing of early Can. Something that could never have happened back in the day, but which now seems not just inevitable but essential. Drawing on hard rock, psychedelia, kraut, folk and metal in roughly that order, this is not music to work out your aggression to, but music to lose yourself in. This is heavy meditation.

 Mostly churning and slow, but occasionally stepping up a gear to a thrillingly mid-paced high, Dead meadow deal in rock as ritual, a pagan, molten summoning of spirits. It’s an evocation of the underworld, concerned less with sonic innovation, or even with songs as such, than with recreating the eternal moment, like ancient druids hauling us ass-first into their sacred groove.

It’s an increasingly valid function for rock to perform, and when it works, as on this occasion, it’s like opening a communal doorway into some primal, gnostic heartland. It’s the kind of thing that gets you talking about the rock musician as shaman, and the totemic significance of the power trio as representative of the magical power of three, the Celtic and Egyptian tradition of grouping divinities into triads- like birth, life and death- that long predates the Christian trinity.

 ‘This is like a sweat lodge!’ comments guitarist Jason Simon. ‘Sweat that shit out!’ Yeah, it’s hot, but it’s not just that. It’s all in the rhythms, the interplay between the instruments creating a complex cross-hatching of sounds, interwoven beneath the ecstatic, obliterating surface drone, the feedback OM… the hypnotic, repetitive fuzz mantra.

Jason’s guitar does little more than add texture, eschewing the lengthy, masturbatory solos that plague this type of music in favour of a wall of sound fed through banks of wah, echo and delay, and giving Steve Kille’s bass and Stephen McCarthy’s drums the chance to lock together and really move. The emphasis is on the rhythm section throughout, and McCarthy’s drumming especially is both exciting and exacting; there’s a deceptive simplicity and precision to his playing which always serves the greater cause, never giving in to the flashy, splashy, chaotic showmanship of the Keith Moon school which I’ve personally always found boring and unnecessary. 

A note too, on Jason’s vocals, which have often been criticised as sounding weak on record. I don’t know about that, but live they were perfectly suited to the form, communicating emotionally while remaining low in the mix, never dominating but simply functioning as another instrument- again, serving the greater cause.

Support came from The Bowlide Awkwardstra, who played a set of powerful, noisy improv that recalled my first experience of seeing Sunburned Hand of the Man, some years ago now- a dark invocation of primal forces, replete with wordless chanting, grunts and howls, powered by driving, circular drumming. Electric guitar and bass flanked a shifting array of brass, woodwind, percussion, electronic effects and whistles and bells, mainly played by John Cassavetes lookalike Dan Spicer.

Dead Meadow. The moment begins again.



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