For those that don’t know, Colchester Arts Centre is a multi-arts venue housed in an old church and as such makes for one of the best settings for heavy bands to play. Apart from providing a great environment visually, the Arts Centre has spared no expense in its PA, gear, and sound engineers – and to that extent the bands playing the venue always sound huge and crystal clear. Colchester isn’t a big place by any means but thanks to the right people in the Arts Centre office, the town sees the likes of Napalm Death, Clutch, Converge, and Melt Banana come and play in an old Church, often on tours that read something like: Edinburgh, Newcastle, Dublin, Manchester, London, Colchester. Following in that tradition, Dead Meadow finishes the tour at the Arts Centre having come all the way from the US to play Psych Fests in Liverpool & France plus a handful of UK dates.
Opening act were local stoner trio Old Man Lizard, a band who’ve deservedly drawn an enthusiastic localised clique since the off, and are already getting warm responses at gigs up and down the country. Their sound is loosely stoner rock or power-blues based, but the added flavours of more numerous influences mean those shorthand tags don’t really do them justice. Their debut EP sounded something like a more desert rock Taint with some of the more melodic wistful touches of Baroness‘ full lengths, but with warm vintage valve amp guitar tone.
Tonight’s set, complete with as-yet-unreleased material, showcased recent fascinations with the neo-surf styles of Yawning Man and Fatso Jetson. They’ve also opened up songs a bit with slightly more sparse, post-rocky sections in the vein of This Will Destroy You, giving individual character to the core heavy blues riff sound. In addition, there’s short and sweet garage punk belter ‘Rollgar’ (a song about an absurdly sized roll-up) that sounds like Mud Honey galloping towards a Queens of the Stone Age breakdown.
Old Man Lizard turned in a tight and balanced set, showcasing the full breadth of their pretty eclectic approach. They also seemed to be playing things slightly slower than usual but, consciously or not, it’s the best way to make use of the huge kick afforded to them by everything going through the huge speakers the venue offers. A pretty faultless set from one of the best local bands around at the moment, eagerly received by an already decent size crowd. Top stuff.
Next on were La Muerta, a band formed out of one or two members of local indie outfit Gulls.
La Muerta were described on the flyer as having “a penchant for SST and Sub Pop records.” Given the lack of any really clearly defined sound – not just between the two, but within the individual rosters of each label – I didn’t exactly know what to expect; it could’ve sounded like some odd mix of the Meat Puppets and Fleet Foxes for all I knew, but I guessed it would be something loosely punk… And it was, but with way more pop-punk sensibility than I was expecting.
La Muerta played about twenty minutes of neatly packaged, tight punk tunes heftily delivered – largely thanks to a solid-as-fuck drummer – with a sort of bawdy Fugazi-esque vocal style which nicely tempered the melodicism and pop leanings of the riffs themselves. The last song of the set was a like a different band altogether, with a much simpler and heavier riff than any that had come before, complete with EyeHateGod feedback intro and even some double-kick drum bits. This, for me, was definitely the highlight of La Muerta’s set, and I think a stronger incorporation of this heavier side into the rest of the sound could make for really interesting material as the band consolidate their sound and identity. La Muerta went down well, and the injection of a higher energy punk band between the much more fuzz rock outfits at either end of the bill broke the mood up nicely.
Before Dead Meadow played, the tone was firmly set with low lighting, classic early Pink Floyd show psychedelic projections and some churning sitar drone pouring out of the PA. Eventually the Washington three-piece walked on in the usual casual fashion and in completely unassuming attire, digging immediately into a tight effortless groove which carried them seamlessly and hypnotically through over an hour of old and new Dead Meadow greats.
Even though the current line-up is relatively new, the band are as tight as you could ever expect, and that fact makes the shifts out of meandering psych jams and extended solos into the big riffs that much more striking. The restraint and command of Jason Simon’s guitar playing is a lesson in the power of subtlety and technique over braggadocious fret wanking. To see live how much of the band’s material is essentially more solo than riff-based, it never feels like one person is stealing the focus. Dead Meadow are just exceptional at playing together, and visibly get caught up in the collective noise they make, carrying everyone in the building along with them.
With a recent re-release of the debut album, it’s only right that ‘Beyond the Fields We Know’ made it into a set which drew upon a back catalogue of material that spans over a decade. One of my personal highlights was ‘Good Moanin’ from 2003’s Shivering King and Others, given something of a boost in popularity after being used heavily in ‘Such Hawks, Such Hounds: Heavy The Movie’. Dead Meadow played material from most of their albums to my reckoning, but it’s the earlier songs that pack the best riffs, and the crowd reaction suggested those are the favourites, so closing with Sleepy Silver Door was the perfect end to one of the best sets Colchester Arts Centre has seen in a long history of really good gigs. A great night.
Scribed By: Chris Moore
Photos By: Yvonne Schirmer & Richard Powley