Dead Meadow Three Kings

[Xemu; 2010]

Styles: stoner-rock, progressive rock, blues rock
Others: Kyuss, early Queens of the Stone Age

Now a decade into their career, psychadelic stoner-rock mainstays Dead Meadow have released a CD/DVD package that includes a live album and a concert/fantasy film. If approached as presented — a feature film with attendant soundtrack — Three Kings is a disaster. If viewed as a live album with accompanying film footage interwoven with fantasy sequences inspired by the band’s music, a more favorable impression emerges. It’s hard to form a decisive opinion about this package, because the CD is a quality live document of a solid rock band at the peak of their game, and the film it accompanies is a silly, distracting, and incoherent mess.

The film intersperses concert footage and narrative dreamscapes starring the three band members. The concert footage is very well done, with decent variation and pacing between a series of well-chosen camera angles. It is apparent from this footage, more importantly, that Dead Meadow put on a very good show and are perhaps better experienced as a live act than as a recorded one — a rare enough quality in an age where it seems every “live” performer uses some degree of pre-recorded material. Not only do they happen to play a kind of spacious, riff-heavy, grumbling, fuzzy swamp shuffle that simply works better outside the living room, but all three musicians play with dedication and ferocity. The concert film would have been great had it just stuck with this footage.

Then come the narrative imaginings loosely inspired by the band’s music. I don’t want to ruin the “story,” but suffice it to say that each of the three band members wanders through the desert in hooded robes and goes on individual adventures that are supposed to amount to something resembling fables. None of these tales are particularly well acted, nor do they seem to be at all tongue-in-cheek. There are token mythological references; there is an animated sequence during which an anthropomorphized sun gets high (no joke); there are women in see-through tunics; there are enormous monuments suspended in air; and there are long walks through the same landscape that George Lucas filmed as Tatooine. If any of the above makes you want to vomit in your mouth, know that you would be best served ignoring the DVD portion of this package, which is a shame since there is a great concert film lying at the heart of Three Kings under a mountain of inanity. Unfortunately, the narrative sequences are so distracting and pervasive as to discourage any repeat viewings of the concert-film-within-a-fantasy-film.

The question then is whether or not the audio is worthwhile. As mentioned earlier, it is apparent from these recordings that Dead Meadow are memorable and dynamic performers. Singing through several microphones simultaneously, Jason Simon’s doubled, reverbed vocals sound about the same live as on the studio recordings, but his guitar takes center stage in the mix, which plays to Dead Meadow’s strengths. The bass and drums, provided by Steve Killie and Stephen McCarthy respectively, are workmanlike and professional. The set starts strong with “Till Kingdom Come” and “Between Me And The Ground,” two wah-heavy, fuzzy, riff-driven standouts from 2008’s Old Growth, and “At Her Open Door” from Feathers contains the most memorable chorus. These live cuts, however, are not substantially different than their studio versions, so it is then up to the five new studio cuts found at the center of the Three Kings CD to redeem the package. Sadly, none is more remarkable than the live material surrounding them — in fact, a casual listener would have trouble distinguishing the live recordings from the studio ones, although “That Old Temple” is quite good, and “To The Crux” introduces some welcome variation in the form of an organ part.

It’s a shame that there is not more to recommend this package, because while it is clear that Dead Meadow is a band worthy of one’s attention and time, this is ultimately a disappointing presentation of its strengths. Perhaps Three Kings is best viewed as a promotional addendum to Old Growth, in which case it tells us that Dead Meadow are worth seeing live and are worth investigating on record, so long as you don’t start here.

Links: Dead Meadow - Xemu

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