Live: Dark Meat’s Freakout Circus


We tripped through the 60s with some blissful little hippies (photo by Rebecca Smeyne)

Dark Meat + Ex Models
Music Hall of Williamsburg
May 28, 2008

There are sixteen people in the terribly-named Georgia-based overdriven-psyche collective Dark Meat. Or, anyway, that’s how many were onstage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last night; more play on their album. Or I think that’s how many were onstage last night; with people jumping off and on again every couple of minutes, it was a bit hard to tell. Dark Meat is a whole lot to take in. Remember that one unbelievably annoying Brian Jonestown massacre guy from Dig, the one who wore giant sunglasses and only played maracas? Well, Dark Meat has at least three guys just like that, including one whose job description was basically prop-comic (wandering through the crowd honking on a tuba, blowing a confetti-gun into the air during climactic moments) and one dress-rocking guitarist (one of, I think, four guitarists) who looked just exactly like the BJM guy. Taken as a whole, the lot of them looked like the hippie farm-commune types who inevitably show up to wave their hands around during the acid-trip sequence of every single late-60s road-movie: facepaint, multicolored blankets, muttonchops, peasant skirts. They have one song called “Angel of Meth” and another called “There is a Retard on Acid Holding a Hammer to Your Brain.” Vice Records just reissued their self-released debut. There’s at least one Elephant Six type floating around in the band. All of which is to say that Dark Meat should by rights probably be the most irritating band ever, and it’s near-impossible to write about them without making them look like just that, but I like them a lot anyway.

The music on Universal Indians, their self-released debut, is exactly the sort of towering swamp-boogie drug-rock that justifies both their numbers and their schtick. When sixteen people all play the same riff at once, it can be a magical thing. Dark Meat specializes in a sort of drooling, troglodytic retro-scum rock, sort of like Black Mountain with all of the empty space and dynamic tension forcibly removed. The people in the band like to namecheck Albert Ayler, but that’s sort of a red herring; their nods toward free-jazz really just sound like the extended last note of a long metal song. (And, anyway, the horn section is just as likely to go for frantic Voodoo Glow Skulls riffage as they are to drift off into the improv ether.) Over their own long songs; Dark Meat will all dissolve into a supremely loud miasmic freakout mess before all simultaneously snapping back into their bar-rock riffage with a precision that you wouldn’t think these freaks could muster. It’s a simple trick, maybe, but every time they lock back into the song, my heart sings.

Last night at the Music Hall, they played to a mostly-empty room, not all that surprising considering that just a month ago they were playing rooms like the Cake Shop, where I can’t imagine the whole band managed to fit. And none of the band’s members, even ostensible ringleader Jim McHugh, bothers with much in the way of actual showmanship, unless being a dude in a dress counts as showmanship, which it doesn’t. At any given moment, half people in the band are wandering chaotically around the stage haphazardly banging on their instruments and the other half are dancing ecstatically. And yet neither the embarrassingly small crowd or their actual tumult of a stage-show mattered much last night; the sheer spectacle of all these fuckups wailing away made for a pretty fucking memorable show just by itself. These guys aren’t above cheap theatrical tricks, like asking the whole crowd to sit down when one of the female singers keened the gorgeous acapella intro to album opener “Freedom Ritual” and then to jump back up again when the band kicked in. When the Decemberists pull that same move at every show, it bugs the fuck out of me. When Dark Meat does it, it feels earned. When this unruly mob is willing to collectively act the fool onstage in front of a crowd whose numbers only slightly exceed their own, it seems ridiculous to refuse the request. And if it wasn’t so hard to keep a sprawling group of fuckups like this on task, Dark Meat could just rule the summer festival circuit.

The last time I saw Ex Models, they were playing boring, tuneless mathy bash-skronk to a bored and half-full room in DC. This time, they were playing boring, tuneless mathy bash-skronk to a bored and quarter-full (if that) room in Brooklyn. Things change! One new wrinkle: before getting to the bash-skronk this time, they played an even more boring drone-piece that lasted something like fifteen minutes! That was fun. They also went way, way over their allotted opening-band time, playing for at least an hour. They played really loud, too. By the end of their set, I actually felt physically depleted. Ex Models are just the worst.