With its sweetleaf-green cover art and drowsy dirges, Feathers, Dead Meadow's recent release, looks and plays like a stoner soundtrack on the surface. Its lyrics seem anachronistically ornate, a progressive-rock trademark. However, this Washington, D.C.-based quartet's multilayered studio efforts defy quick and easy excavation. Repeated listens reveal world-music accents and graceful shoegazer-influenced vocals alongside the Sabbath-style riffs. Closer examination of singer/guitarist Jason Simon's imaginary realms (all babbling flowers and dragonflies) suggests they're merely metaphorical mirages.
"We try to see how much we can fit into a song without burying or obstructing anything," says Simon. "We want to get some opposites going on, like making something that's heavy but mellow at the same time. There are different levels to the words as well. Though the images in the lyrics might be far out, they're about everyday things. I'm just talking about them in a symbolic way, trying to paint pictures in people's minds."
Dead Meadow's career has been a study in contrasts, starting with its decision to fall out of step with its hometown's inexorable Fugazi clone parade.
"There were so many bands with the same sort of feel, and it just got so played," Simon says. "We wanted to do something laid-back and stretched out. (Fugazi bassist) Joe Lally put out our first two records. Those guys were just as psyched to hear something different coming out of D.C."
For its third record, 2003's Shivering King and Others, Dead Meadow moved to Matador, a label that significantly enhanced its available studio resources.
"It was such a learning experience," Simon recalls. "It's exciting to use a studio to its full capacity, but there's also something so awesome about recording Neil Young-style, with no overdubs."
Dead Meadow balances these approaches by supporting increasingly intricate albums with overpowering concerts. Feathers, much less riff-oriented than the band's previous records, relies on subtle textures and messy melodies. It even includes a brilliant acoustic blues-folk ballad ("Stacy's Song"), though this track won't make the set list because, Simon says, sound-checking for softer material would be like preparing for performances from two separate bands.
Live, Dead Meadow smothers its songs in hazy reverb and sheer volume. Without much variation in tempo or tone, the band's sludgy psychedelic-metal material melts together into an epic jam that seems to twist time.
Much as science-fiction heroes return from complicated interstellar adventures only to find that mere minutes have elapsed on Earth, so do underage Dead Meadow fans assume they've flouted curfew and maybe missed a subsequent day of school after mere 90-minute sets. Such time-space compression tends to impede moshing, which makes Dead Meadow one of the heaviest, loudest live bands to never provoke a pit.
"We get some swaying, even a little headbanging, but a lot of people close their eyes," Simon says. "Our shows should be equipped with couches."
8 pm Monday, July 4