Dead Meadow – Middletown / New Haven – Wesleyan University / BAR Nightclub, CT – 2006-11-19

Dead Meadow
Where: Middletown / New Haven – Wesleyan University / BAR Nightclub, CT.

When: 2006-11-19

During my first few years as an undergraduate, I was always upset that I couldn’t attend the shows at BAR in downtown New Haven. The club has a reputation for putting on some incredible shows on Sunday nights, all of which are free to the public, provided you can take a seat at the bar. Being less-than-legal, I never had the fortitude to sneak into the shows and eventually I either forgot all about the place or forcefully repressed my knowledge of all of the cool happenings within its walls so that I wouldn’t explode with frustration. Well, years went by, I turned 21, and still I continued to go about life without making any Sunday night stops at BAR. That is, until Dead Meadow was coming to town.

I was fortunate enough to catch Dead Meadow two nights in a row on this particular weekend, so I’ll use this space to cover both performances. On Saturday the 18th, myself and a few friends (who weren’t quite old enough to catch the BAR show the next night) trekked up to Middletown to Wesleyan University. Dead Meadow were playing at the Eclectic House, a colonial-style building on campus (designed by the same architect who dreamed up the Lincoln Memorial) that had basically been turned over to a bunch of fraternity students. The place was a madhouse: people running around with cigarettes and 40s and little glass pipes, screaming and dancing and grinding years of dust into the scratched-up hardwood floors. It was a late show, with a few mediocre campus bands playing short sets before Dead Meadow took to the corner of the room around midnight. As the band set up, the place became packed with drunk, high, and generally obnoxious students, most of whom seemed to have come just because something was going on, not because they were fans of the band. A short time later, I’d have to change this first impression. Frankly, I was a little appalled at some of the kids’ behavior, especially one girl who stole cigarettes from the band when they were gone for a few minutes and then proceeded to drunkenly climb over the bands’ instrument cases to get to some friends a few minutes later. Stupid girl, if you ever read this, let it be known that you suck. In any case, despite a few technical problems early on, the band fired up, and between some of their signature slowburn psychedelic jams, singer/guitarist Jason Simon informed the crowd that this was the third time they’d played the Eclectic House. It was soon apparent why they continually came back: Wesleyan kids love Dead Meadow.

Something strange happened in that smoky sardine can of a room. As Dead Meadow pummeled along, blasting the room with arcs of guitar electricity and coating the crowd with gobs of low-end groove, it was like God himself had descended to Wesleyan, teleporting in through Dead Meadow’s infamous green lights and washing over the crowd in some divine crest of psychedelia. Everyone was high on music, and as the crowd ebbed and flowed all one had to do was close their eyes and let themselves be swept away. Dead Meadow is what live music is all about. At 2 in the morning, they were still cranking out stoner rock goodness, and though the crowd had diminished a little, those at the frontlines were filled with as much fervor as ever. The band wrapped up 15 minutes later, a legion of 30 or so still begging for more. We left that night with ears ringing and jaws slack, and I knew that I would be heading into New Haven the next night to do it all over again.

Dead Meadow were in better company at BAR. Local opening band Lord Fowl has a small but dedicated following in the Elm City, and their brand of rifftastic retro-rock was a better match with Dead Meadow’s Sabbathy sonance than the bands they had played with the night before. Lord Fowl played a tight set, despite an apparent hand injury suffered by vocalist/bassist Vechel Jaynes. Lord Fowl’s high energy blend of classic rock and punk worked to loosen up the crowd, helping to hasten the spread of the alcohol in their veins and to prepare them for the multi-sensory experience of Dead Meadow.

Before long, Dead Meadow’s familiar sitar-driven opening drone was massaging its way into the brains of those present and a fog machine began belching its sweet-smelling smoke from somewhere in the corner of the room. Dead Meadow’s green backing lights burned hot on those of us standing in front and the small projector directed at the kick drum lit its face in a blaze of psychedelic fire. Soon the band appeared, Stephen McCarty taking a seat at his burning throne, Steve Kille strapping on his gorgeous black Rickenbacker, and Simon balancing some bar glasses and a pitcher brimming with BAR’s homebrewed beer. Minutes later the band was launching into favorites like “I Love You Too” and “Let It All Pass,” and the crowd slowly began to warm up to the overwhelming stoner groove. While the crowd wasn’t anywhere near as wild as the night before (perhaps they didn’t want to spill their beers), you could still feel the love as Dead Meadow churned out their set. New Haven seems to be no different from any other good-sized city in the US: they all have a respectable group of individuals who would probably kill for Dead Meadow if instructed to. Tonight’s show would only add to the band’s legacy. New fans were won, old fans were thrilled, and everyone was transported to the very same “Heaven” that Simon crooned about on both Shivering King and Others and Feathers. As the show wore on, the band played stellar versions of “Get Up On Down,” the classic “Good Moanin’,” and recent single “At Her Open Door.” As the time approached 1 a.m., we were a little disappointed that the closing time of the bar would cut the show short. Then again, not everywhere can be as lawless as the Eclectic.

The band closed with live staple “Sleepy Silver Door,” a monolithic jam-out that first appeared on their self-titled album five years ago, but will be familiar to more recent Dead Meadow fans as the unlisted track at the end of 2005’s Feathers. Thirteen minutes in, as the band wound down into an introspective simmer, the sitar drone began to rise once again and a sense of blissful satisfaction settled snuggly over the room. Some say that Dead Meadow makes music to take drugs to, but those people are wrong. Dead Meadow is a drug.

So fear not jaded listener. The power of music hasn’t been entirely diluted. It certainly won’t overwhelm you at the $100 Justin Timberlake concert, but I’ll be damned if you don’t find yourself on your knees at the end of a $2 Dead Meadow show. Three weeks later, Feathers still hasn’t left my playlist. Hats off to you, boys. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a weekend.