By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Tempering hefty, bong-hazed riffs with equal doses of dreamy guitar drones and transporting melodies, talented power trio Dead Meadow has been making its unique style of heavy psychedelic rock for two decades. Founded in Washington, D.C. in 1998 by guitarist/singer Jason Simon, bassist Steve Kile and drummer Mark Laughlin, Dead Meadow crafted a sound that managed to appeal to Sabbath-worshipping metal fans, greybeard hippies and shoe-gazing indie kids alike.
Built around Simon’s languid, fuzzed-out guitar (and fueled by liberal use of his wah-wah pedal), the trio’s self-titled debut album on Fugazi bass player Joe Lally’s stoner-rock focused label Tolotta Records fit in comfortably with the imprint’s other releases by Philly-based instrumentalists Stinking Lizaveta and several of doom icon Scott “Wino” Weinrich’s bands. Dead Meadow’s caught the attention of famed UK rock DJ John Peel, who commissioned the group to track the first and only “Peel Session” recorded outside of the BBC studios (the recording saw release on the group’s own Xemu Records last year).
Gaining momentum, the band quickly followed up with a second studio album — Howls from the Hills — for Tolotta as well as a live album produced and mixed by neo-psych maven Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre that documented one of drummer Laughlin’s last shows with the group before leaving to attend law school. Stephen McCarty, the former drummer for D.C. slowcore band Canyon, filled out the line-up in time for the recording of their first effort Matador Records, Shivering King and Others, in 2003.
That album showed Simon and company further refining their deft touch with hazy atmospheres and sprawling psychedelic guitar epics. Dead Meadow would add second guitarist Cory Shane for the recording of their next collection of songs — Feathers in 2005, but that album found the group in it’s most restrained and pop-minded mode yet. While the expanded line-up did not last beyond that album and tour (Shane would depart in 2007), the trio would soldier on, relocating to Los Angeles and exploring new creative avenues including the live film/soundtrack project Three Kings in 2010, a brief collaboration with like-minded Australian guitarist Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother and a reunion with original drummer Laughlin.
Simon also branched out into solo recordings in a similar if sparser, more folk-oriented style that echoes elements of Bob Dylan and British acoustic guitar heroes Bert Jansch and John Renbourn (though more recent solo material like 2016’s Familiar Haunts has shifted to a more electric sound). While there have been occasional tours since the group issued it’s 2013 double album opus Warble Womb to keep fans satisfied, Dead Meadow recently marked two decades of making music with its first new album in five years, The Nothing They Need.
Featuring contributions by former guitarist Shane and all three of the band’s drummers including new timekeeper Juan Londono, the new record finds the crew churning out some inspired heavy psychedelic rock that shows a significant debt to the sounds of Neil Young and Crazy Horse. The group comes to the Bay Area for two performances this week in Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
In Santa Cruz at the Catalyst Atrium on Thursday, Dead Meadow share the stage with LA-based psychedelic spaghetti western specialists Spindrift and SF acid rockers the Spiral Electric. For their show at the Chapel in San Francisco’s Mission District Friday night, Dead Meadow will be joined by Trans Van Santos, a psychedelic project headed by SF guitarist/songwriter Mark Matos who has also led the groups Os Beaches and Family Folk Explosion in addition to regularly collaborating with Simon.
Thursday, April 19, 8 p.m. $12-$15
The Catalyst Atrium
Friday, April 20, 8 p.m. $20-$25