I love Dead Moon: the preeminent rock band in the Pacific Northwest, where rock bands are as common as moss. But let’s be safe, and call them the preeminent garage band in that region, since DM share some superficial characteristics with the garage ilk. Be advised, however: Dead Moon don’t really live in that ghetto or adhere to its goofy codes, which dictate lyrical exigencies of motorcycles/muscle cars/wenches despite the actual existence of 10-speed/Tercel/mousy girlfriend who works at the co-op.
Fred Cole, see, if he ever engaged in self-mythology, he has tired of it, for Fred Cole is old: a lifer. Today’s alt-rock bums were waiting on conception back when Cole was wrung through the industry wringer as a member of the Lollipop Shoppe (“You Must Be a Witch,” Nuggets, Vol. 8) Since then (late ’60s) he’s been “indie” as a matter of survival and personal taste, through bands like Zipper and the Rats and the Western Front. Hell, he’s been married for 30 years, to a lovely woman (called “Toody“ by all) who plays a mean bass guitar. And if they’d had a kid when they were 13, the kid might have been Andrew Loomis, and a no-bullshit hard rock drummer at that.
Fred, Toody, Andrew: They have been Dead Moon for 14 years. To date: a dozen great albums (nine studio, three live), plus nine killer singles. The oeuvre is in scalding mono, available on CD but cut to vinyl on Fred’s lathe, which also cut the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie.” And it’s mostly on the Coles’ own label, Tombstone, though recent albs (including 2001’s typically right Trash and Burn) are on Seattle’s Empty Records. True, the Moon’s European label, Music Maniac, has two ideal DM primers, nonstop comps of early stuff called Dead Moon Night and Thirteen Off My Hook. But it’s all so beautiful, why not just call Tombstone Music in Clackamas, Oregon, and order one of everything? (Likely from Toody herself, provided she is not on tour.)
Dead Moon are at least as committed to their rock as the German, Dutch, and Spanish lunatics who swarm them overseas. Which is to say: mortally committed. Let’s envision a stage, pre-show. An empty Jack Daniel’s bottle sits upside down, its neck through a hole in Loomis’s kick drum. A lone candle, cradled in the bottle’s base, burns intensely through the club’s smoky haze. The band huddles. They all have tattoos of the Dead Moon logo—Fred’s is on his face, lit from below by the candlelight. “This is going to be the best Dead Moon show ever,“ he says. And they break, and they play, and if it’s not the best Dead Moon show ever, it’s probably close, because Dead Moon ride such a perfectly rough-hewn rock-and-roll handcar that they never have an off night. Unless “off” is really, really good and “on” is as good as AC/DC or the Ex or Shellac are liable to manage.
They stand and deliver, see? They play without ego. Every now and again, Loomis will make you laugh with some flashy drummer trick. But by and large, they stand and deliver, with an offhandedly dramatic seriousness of purpose. Any showman knows it’s risky to leave it at that, because straightforward devotion to the music alone, without distance or distraction, is enough only if the music deserves the attention that the band so readily gives it.
Well, Dead Moon make music that is exceptional and, against all odds, unique. I mean, you may have heard “Hey Joe” and “Parchment Farm” 100 times, but you have not heard them in toto until you have had Dead Moon fry them bare and present you with the results. And if a band can make those hoary chestnuts sing anew, on their first single no less, it’s nothing much for them to make up their own great shit.
Dead Moon just do what comes naturally. They allow classic hard rock, three decades of “punk,” and a bit of country and western to commingle freely on a garage-psych bedrock, birthing no genres but a timeless howl, brutally trimmed of ornament. A lot of the songs are shot through with confusion, anger, and dread, as Cole seems unsure both of himself and the world he inhabits. “Am I losing my touch?/Does it matter so much?” he wonders at to open 1992’s Stranded in the Mystery Zone LP. “Am I losing my grip?/Am I starting to slip?”—”slip” rent from his throat with a rusty wrench. But rather than make boilerplate ennui his stock in trade, Cole wanders from it whenever the mood strikes him. He’s written a number of songs about his wife, most of which, without guile, she helps sing. On Trash and Burn, Cole essays a visit to another planet (Janus—OK, a moon to be precise) and, more significantly, the recent police riots in Seattle and Portland. That would be “Shadows of the Night,” which also swipes at the “Internet highway—funny, given that Stranded in the Digital Zone (www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Venue/7980) is the best band Web site I’ve seen.
So . . . yes. Dead Moon inhabit their own fertile little patch. It’s a weird, weedy triangle with abstractions of early Love, AC/DC, and the Sonics at the vertices. They tend it lovingly, and there’s a lot of great stuff in there, and they’re surely the “real thing” if authenticity turns your crank. Me, I admire their unyielding dedication and long tour of duty, but those qualities illuminate rather than overshadow the brutal skill of a great hard rock band: a rusty pile driver that would repay your attention handsomely even if Dead Moon didn’t mean a second of it.
Empty, www.emptyrecords.com; Tombstone, P.O. Box 1463, Clackamas, OR 97015