photos by Rebecca Smeyne
One thing that might prevent you from staring into Dark Meat frontman Jim McHugh’s third eye at Cake Shop is that the war paint on his face and forehead is a little too light. As a result, the unblinking optic orifice is more of an implied marker smudge than a psychic leveler. Another is Cake Shop’s basement tilt, which hides bands behind non-existent sightlines. Though McHugh’s head occasionally makes itself visible through slats in the shifting crowd, only the barest visual information is transmitted beyond the first two rows. Dark Meat—16 pieces? 14? 13? Who can tell?—make the most of it.
“It’s a true story about one time when me and my cousin ate acid and tried to take the SATs and then went out for Indian food,” McHugh announces as the band launches into “One More Trip,” from the now thrice-released Universal Indians. Mostly why it’s hard to stare into McHugh’s third eye is revealed here: crammed onto tiny-ass stages, Dark Meat are pretty much punk/ska freedom riders. With mad brass and backing vocals like cooing human theremins, the impression is only underscored when the band drop into a horn tag borrowed (probably accidentally) from Frank Zappa’s “Cheepnis.”
Over the band’s 35-minute set, give or take a few amazingly Zenned-out Albert Ayler interludes, this borderline chaos is their method: transcendence through sweat. Once in a while, a stray musician wanders through the crowd with a drum or a pocket coronet, tethered to the stage with crepe paper. Being able to hear Dark Meat without seeing them is kind of fun, though, trying to piece together what the hell is going on. Besides McHugh, bandmembers occasionally pogo into view— including mutton-chopped Of Montreal guitarist Bryan Poole, on loan for a tour—but one can never get a full picture. Further confusion ensues when confetti explodes from the side of the stage-pit, shooting red and green flecks into the thin band between the musicians’ heads and the stage’s Christmas lights.
“Be careful with this confetti,” McHugh warns. “I accidentally swallowed a clod of it the other night and I was trying to sing and I threw up all this weird shit.” It keeps firing anyway, until it practically covers several audience members. Then, it dies down. “It’s about moving somewhere and being fucking totally insane about it,” McHugh introduces “Three Eyes Open,” and—don’t y’know?—the confetti erupts again. Straight outta the Flaming Lips playbook, perhaps, it is particularly suited to the song’s “Sympathy For The Devil”-like whoo whoos, which disappear into five minutes of free jazz swirls and double-drummer “Sister Ray” beats.
McHugh passes his guitar off to Monotonix’s Yonatan Gat for “Assholes of Eyeballs.” “Get in the house!!” he screams (or something like it) in full hardcore yowl, flipping onto the color-flecked floor. A dude with a leafblower appears, blowing the confetti on the floor back into circulation. Not bad at all. It is, in fact, maybe even for the best that one can’t make eye contact with McHugh’s inner guru, whose outfit’s proper name is Dark Meat/Vomit Lasers Family Band/Galaxy. A mysterious entity in tiny joints like Cake Shop (or Union Hall and Union Pool, where they played earlier in April), it remains to be seen what will happen when McHugh and company take a proper stage, as they will at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in late May. McHugh has some time to figure it out.
When Dark Meat finishes, they make no motion to clean up the confetti. It would be silly. Monotonix is next. They are, as they say, another story.
photos by Rebecca Smeyne