Dead Meadow
Wicker Park Block Party
July 23, 2006

Dead Meadow rules. My friend Holy Shit and I planned months in advance to drive to Chicago for this block party, as well as the preceding night's show at Subterranean. Unfortunately, circumstances were such that the road trip was cancelled. Alternately, I found myself in Chicago on Sunday night anyways, so I headed to the interesection of Milaukee/Damen/North with a newly converted Dead Meadow fan, my younger brother.

We sat at the corner of Wicker Park and Damen as some other band finished playing, waiting for the crowd to transform into Dead Meadow mode. I don't know what Dead Meadow mode is. Hipsters in hi-tops, junior high metal heads, some hippies, freaky festival regulars and plain people smoking j's in the alley all filtered in to wait for the band's set to start.

I had seen Dead Meadow once before, when they were the openers on Sleater-Kinney's tour for The Woods. S-K were all classic rock bombast and punk rock guitar solos. Dead Meadow kept the good-kind-of-hippie vibe going, but they were relaxed and spacey, loping and swirling through a short opening set.

At 7:55, after a sound-check and a malfunctioning drone machine, Dead Meadow started their set. This was a very different band than the one I saw before. The same heavy blues-riffs and Sabbath-swagger were there, but this time they were going for it; really fucking going for it. The bass player was at the edge of the stage, staring people down, as if each riff was a threat. The drummer looked like a North American Devendra Banhart with his new hair-do, his face all a shaggy blur while pounding out rhythms. The lead singer/guitarist seemed a tiny bit anxious to get to his solos, where he simultaneously maintained the band's cool stoner-strut while ripping holes in the audience's ears/brains.

A second guitarist was supposedly added for the band's most recent album, but his absence (again) signaled that he has since been cut from the posse. I can picture it now, the other guys realizing that Dead Meadow doesn't need another guitar.

I didn't recognize any of the songs until the last two, "At Her Open Door" and the untitled closing track from Feathers. I don't know if the other songs were new jams, or if this means I need to dig harder into their back catalogue. It didn't matter. It's that way with this band in general. On paper, it doesn't sound like it should work. Psych-rock with an airy vibe, a tinge of folk, solos...? You just have to hear the band to know how it works: how "At Her Open Door" literally takes flight four minutes in; how the loping, swinging drummer can also play faster than I can count; how the whole thing ended in this gigantic, heavier-than-thou, primal riff of noise that left the whole crowd gaping. It's pretty much the same as the original Sabbath conundrum: dudes looked like hippies, but still rocked harder than anyone else.

Listen to Dead Meadow:

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