City: Toronto Venue: The Horseshoe Tavern Date: 2005-03-30
Dead Meadow is a rarity amongst today's heavy psychedelic bands. Most, like so many others, have clearly spent countless hours huddled around the bong listening to Black Sabbath. The difference is Dead Meadow didn't treat the deep fog of songs like "Planet Caravan" and "Solitude" as just an opportunity to refill the bowl. Band after band takes from Sabbath only a licence to stomp, leaving behind the psychedelic haze that shrouded so much of their work. That haze is where Dead Meadow makes its home.
According to some listeners (namely my friend Sean, who said it was full of 'that Brian Jonestown Massacre shit'), the band's most recent album, Feathers, may have seen the balance tip too far away from nightmares, in favour of dreams. But onstage Dead Meadow shows a mastery of volume and dynamics that erases any questions about whether they've gone soft.
The band stormed out of the gate with "I Love You Too", from Shivering Kings and Others. Rocking and reeling, this song set the template for most of the rest of the evening. Riffs that would boogie, if the band were into boogieing, mixed with slide-guitar atmospherics and wah-wah blues solos while the churning bass and crashing drums provided a heavy anchor. The melody came from lead singer Jason Simon's (a dead ringer for Stephen Malkmus) slow, drawn out whine. The words he sang were indecipherable, but it didn't matter, as the vocals were effective as simply another layer of sound amidst the heavy fog.
About two thirds of the night's material came from Feathers. This was the stuff that sounded freshest in terms of performance -- Softness be damned! "At Her Open Door" worked a stock chord progression to great effect, conjuring a windswept grandeur reminiscent of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. It was a beautifully eerie moment from a band that I didn't think capable of providing one.
A devil fist must be raised in honor of Stephen McCarty on drums and Steve Kille on bass, who showed their showbiz savvy by working cool little grooves as Simon fiddled with broken strings. Those short interludes were the best D.C. Stoner Funk I've heard in a long time.
Second guitarist Cory Shane ably provided atmospheric guitar work when called upon, but was often relegated to doubling Simon's riffs. It seems to me that the band could still improve when it comes to integrating his sound fully into their dynamic. But with musicians as talented as these, it'll happen, and until then -- what is a rock show without some superfluous noise?
Dead Meadow used the earthy echo of the blues to clarify and give heft to their druggy soundscapes. Without the guts of the blues, the music would be in danger of just floating away and it's a credit to Dead Meadow's musical sense that it doesn't.
All the elements of the bands sound cohered perfectly on the last song they played, "Through the Gates of the Sleep Silver Door", which also closes the door on Feathers. The band nimbly moved between lumbering riffage and furious solos, and from hazy drones to thick slide wails. The song ended in an onslaught of brain-frying feedback; Simon with his back to the audience, twiddling the knobs of a machine placed atop his amp. Actually, except for the last part, that's a pretty fair description of what happened during every song. I loved it, and Sabbath would too.