It was the most fuzz. And Roadburn wasn’t exactly light in that regard circa 2011. The renowned Dutch festival that year featured the likes of Zoroaster, Quest for Fire, Naam, Acid King and The Atomic Bitchwax… on the first day. L.A. by way of D.C. three-piece Dead Meadow played the last day, what was then called the Afterburner (review here), and their slot could not have been more appropriate. Sandwiched between Coffins and evening headliners Black Mountain on the Main Stage, they offered a mellow-heavy hour that was utterly consuming. People in the back sat down. Not out of fatigue, though it has been a long weekend by then, but just to let the warmth of Jason Simon‘s buzzing guitar wash over them. Joined by Steve Kille on bass and Mark Laughlin on drums, Simon‘s urfuzz and unfailingly drifting vocals filled that space with a laid back vibe and groove that that Burning World Records‘ Live at Roadburn 2011 presents in all its Sasquatch-inclusive righteousness.
Of course, Dead Meadow by then were on their way to being veterans already. More than a decade into their career, they’d released Three Kings (discussed here) in 2010 as a semi-live album/video, and that followed their fifth album, 2007’s Old Growth. Their Peel Sessions collection would show up in 2012, but as regards live records, they’d also done Got Live if You Want It! in 2002 following their 2000 self-titled debut and 2001’s Howls From the Hills (discussed here). Strangers neither to performance nor captured-performance, then, and Live at Roadburn 2011 brings that spirit to bear. Though the Alexis Ziritt cover art offers a glorious mania of colors and lines, planets, stars, an undead wizard and hooded mandrill acolytes, the 53-minute set itself is more about what Dead Meadow do within that abiding sense of mood, seeming to go deeper and deeper into nod until finally, with “Sleepy Silver Door,” it engulfs everything.
That set-closer was also the opener of the self-titled, and if Dead Meadow have a signature riff, that might be it (they’d revisit it in 2005 as part of a 13-minute jam), but on Live at Roadburn 2011 it’s also part of the larger story of side B and of course the LP as a whole. After launching with “Good Moanin'” and “Let’s Jump In” from 2003’s Shivering King and Others and 2005’s Feathers, respectively, their course is set between dense Orange-toned riffing and open-stretch psychedelia, and even as “What Needs Must Be” from Old Growth pulls back from the farther reaches of ‘far out’ to bring a bit of boogie to the proceedings, the ethereal sensibility remains in the solo even though the overarching rhythm is tight in its stops and starts, a kind of rolling swing that reminds that Washington D.C. was once the funk capitol of the US as well as the seat of government.
dead meadow and sasquatch (Photo by JJ Koczan)-2000
I’m trying really hard not to say the word “vibe” too many times, but that’s really what it’s all about. Heavy chill. As side A plays out, Dead Meadow speed things up through the first half of “Indian Bones,” bliss out in the middle and bring it back around in time to squeeze in “September,” which would close 2013’s Warble Womb, and “Rocky Mountain High” from the self-titled ahead — if nothing else, you’ll know it by the repurposing of the riff to Black Sabbath‘s “Iron Man” — of the big turn to “Beyond the Fields We Know.” One doubts Dead Meadow were thinking of putting the set out on vinyl at the time — you can’t ever be sure — but as regards the LP, it’s telling that side A features six tracks and side B only three. The band structured their set to follow a linear path outward. That’s not to say it lacks dynamic along that. Certainly as “Beyond the Fields We Know” hits nearly 10 minutes and “Sleepy Silver Door” nearly 11, for all the jamming going on, those two songs still come with the relatively straightforward strum of “At Her Open Door” from Feathers in between.
And just as certainly, that song trips out far and wide in its second half, riding its solo jam to the finish, so Live at Roadburn 2011 isn’t just one thing or the other, but the let’s-get-gone is palpable, and they invite the crowd along with them on their way. The performances of “Beyond the Fields We Know,” “At Her Open Door” and “Sleepy Silver Door,” compiled together on a single vinyl side, would be enough to justify this release. That they happen to occur at the end of an already right-on set is a bonus. I don’t remember at what point it was they brought out Sasquatch, but I remember whoever it was in that hairy, had-to-be-really-really-hot costume sleeked out onto the stage with the trio, sort of slow-’70s groove-walked around, checking things out. Went behind the drum riser. Went over by Kille and by Simon. Kind of hung out in the middle and danced for a bit.
But the thing about that moment — yeah, it was a novelty — but it was also a perfect fit. You stood there and, oh, here comes Sasquatch. Well of course. In the interest of full disclosure, I took the picture that appears on the inside gatefold of the LP of the elusive North American Skunk Ape hanging out with the band on stage (no money changed hands), but in the interest of fuller disclosure, no one gives a crap. What’s important for you to know is that the vibe — there’s that word again — was such that when it happened, you just went with it. It was unexpected, and hilarious, but it just became another part of what Dead Meadow already had going on that Sunday evening in Tilburg. And so, incredible.
Maybe it’s 2020’s effect of making one extra nostalgic for live music, the festival spirit, but the intervening nine years have done nothing to dull the luster that Dead Meadow show on Live at Roadburn 2011. I can only speak as someone who was fortunate enough to be there to see it, but that set was something special, and not just because of the ‘squatch. Dead Meadow sounded glad to be there, like they were rising to the occasion, like they realized it was more than just another gig, and Live at Roadburn 2011 resonates all the more for documenting that so well.