Any band that claims to be of the zeitgeist (see Karen Mann’s interview in the TMT archives) and allows its 18 members to be major contributors has got to be having some good barbeques and fuckin’ sofa crashing, if you ask me. Especially Georgia maelstrom bands like Dark Meat that make me believe that a large number of them wouldn’t be afraid to don leather, climb trees, race vehicles, and engage in other wild, outrageously rural behavior. That could just be a projection, but one look at the cover of their album Universal Indians seems to indicate that I might very well be right about these crazed crazies.
Before I ever saw Dark Meat, I figured people got their necessary auditory blasts from watching old tapes of Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem or Parliament. Now after seeing Dark Meat live, I have a newer vision of what a party freakout band can be, especially one founded on a centralized but collective notion. Officially, Dark Meat are known as Dark Meat Vomit Lasers Family Band Galaxy, which is a true amalgamation of self-referential, philosophical mumbo jumbo of the finest pedigree. Athens bands make it to North Carolina often, and Dark Meat have begun to occupy their own niche that seems to appeal to R&B cats just as much as to extra-fried, zombo-rock dudes and ladies who seem to kinda bop around to the music rather well.
Taking the stage after two opening bands of equally fine local acclaim (Filthybird and the Savage Knights), Dark Meat shamble up an impressive but actually kinda sparse 11-member brigade with a trusty horn & winds section and dueling drummers. From the first song, I felt like I was being assaulted in the most jovial way by a giant wall of driving, pulsing rock music. It was dense, soulful stuff, and authoritatively so. At various moments, I was reminded of Bruce Hampton’s tours with The Code Talkers, as well as a much more fuzzed-out and blasted Lynyrd Skynyrd. It seemed completely appropriate that several members of the band, including a couple of the horn players (Vomit Lasers) up front, were dressed at least partially as Indians. I could see the Vomit Lasers’ painted faces and headbands better than the two in the back battling with joints of hickory or maple.
You do have to have patience sometimes with Dark Meat. It seemed like every song would inevitably drift into a psychedelic blues jam with a wall of sound behind it. Minimalism was sparse (appropriately) and banter was short. There were several moments when some of the Muppets in the front would turn around and consult with the sages in the back, seemingly reaching important decisions about the intent, length, and number of the songs that they intended to play for the rest of the show.
And so it would be that after each huddle, they’d plow right back into a tune. The first song, which I mistakenly identified as “Proximity” (actually called “In The Woods”), evoked visions of driving sequences from skin flick film montages set in purple mountains. “Freedom Ritual” felt like a revival, with tons of horns and guitar and soulful singing to wake zombies or stoners with giant bedroom alarms of fiery density. I remember a good, short little sax breakdown that lasted for about 30 seconds before the guitar/bass bridge came tumbling down the steps, and then it was electric street funeral parade once more. While I watched the drummers pummel their cymbals, I thought about how nice it is to see a couple members not play their instruments, instead waiting patiently for the songs to reveal themselves. Bands with rotating casts and collective minds could do better sometimes by letting the noise and ferocity occasionally die down.
The crowd thinned out for a little bit at the start of the fifth song, which I believe was “3 Eyes Open.” The song began slowly, starting off like a slow funeral eulogy for past offenses. Then it quickly broke into the familiar, rocked-out hot tub of swamp boogaloo. There weren’t any noise freakouts still, just solid, integrated, quasi-granular sounds that formed the larger country garage boogie sound that they do well.
After the show, I went to try to get the names of the songs from a couple Dark Meat members. The resulting scrawl in no way helped me get an accurate setlist, but the trombone player did mention that Dark Meat were picking up a cello player in Detroit. And I’m pretty sure he told me sometimes they have 18 members on stage, but he might have said 21. I can't remember. I do know for a fact, though, that Dark Meat have been known to have dancers (which I believe is essential for a truly amazing band -- Konono No. 1 and Derek Bailey anyone?). Hell, if Dark Meat recorded an album with live dancers on the tape, it would likely add at least one or two key jingle-jangle or swishes of fabric that would lend even further authenticity to the playful, downright wholesome fun.
Overall, there were brief moments of clarity that night, but they were very brief. Most of my experience was swirling a little bit, so perhaps I wasn't mentally prepared. Though, getting schlockered on Dark Meat was really fun (like the day after having drank multiple glasses of vodka). Really, once the local bands were thanked and I had given hi-fives to a couple people, I left the venue totally content in the knowledge that Dark Meat Vomit Lasers Family Band Galaxy are a perfect version of themselves. If they were in the program at the Macy’s Day Parade, I would watch just one more time. Only for Dark Meat, though.