DARK MEAT with QUIET HOOVES at Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor West), Monday (May 26). $10.50. 416-?532-?1598. Rating: NNNNN
Based on the descriptions of Dark Meat that I’d heard on the way to South By Southwest – alternately “a biker gang that used free jazz as an outlet for their aggression” and “an angry bunch of communal-?living hippie punks with saxophones” – they at least sounded different enough from every other band coming out of Athens, Georgia, to be worth checking out.
From the riotous skronk blasting out of Spiro’s on Red River and the swarthy horde of horn-?honking hombres who looked like they lived on a brush-?painted school bus who I found inside, it was pretty obvious this was Dark Meat in full-?on attack mode.
What a relief to discover that the 17-?piece ensemble’s vague connections to the Elephant 6 clique have little bearing on their explosively pounding sound. If anything, what Dark Meat ferociously flail out on their Universal Indians (Vice) debut disc is the complete antithesis of the prissy pop symphonies of Apples in Stereo, Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel.
“A lot of stuff you’ve probably heard or read about Dark Meat is pure marketing bullshit,” advises co-?founding guitarist Jim McHugh from a stop in San Francisco. “Sure, we spend a lot of time travelling to shows stuffed into our big green bus, but we don’t all live together at the Orange Twin Conservation Community. Laura Carter [Elf Power], who runs Orange Twin, originally released our record, and I work on the farm there, but that’s about it. We’re actually spread out between four houses, and that’s just because we have no money.
“I suppose Vice’s pushing us as some kinda savage redneck cavemen might be great for the media, but I get the feeling that people are disappointed when they find out we’re not actually acid-?gobbling, women-?sacrificing freaks who go crazy onstage and tear shit up. It’s good that more people are aware of us, but what they’re getting is an exaggerated version of our trip. We’re basically just a punk rock band with a free jazz horn section.”
What’s intriguing about seeing the 17 sweaty souls of Dark Meat in action is that their sound is definitely confrontational but not chaotic. As aggressively noisy as they get, their songs remain well structured even while the band members are bouncing off each other and falling off the stage.
A tune like In The Woods sounds more like something by Crazy Horse than anything you’ve heard from Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp, so it’s not shocking to discover that the group began when McHugh decided to form a Neil Young cover band with his UNC buddy Ben Clack and their co-?workers at the Five Star Day Café in Athens.
“We had the idea of getting together to play some Neil Young songs. We managed to learn five before I came up with In The Woods, which is probably why it sounds like a Crazy Horse tune. After that we started casually jamming on songs from my old bands, and the improv thing kinda just happened because we didn’t want to sit around writing pop songs. It was much more fun making noise and doing half-?assed versions of Archie Shepp numbers.
“Albert Ayler’s credo that it’s not the notes, it’s the sound that matters was really appealing to me. We can’t really play that free jazz stuff – I’m no Sonny Sharrock, as much as I’d like to be – but I think we share an appreciation of the importance for getting at the raw, primal emotion behind the notes.”
Jim McHugh explains that the conceptual origins for Dark Meat can be traced back to a rehearsal/performance space called the Onion Cellar he ran in Greensboro, North Carolina:
Evidently, the uptight nature of the Athens, Georgia music scene proved to be inspiring for McHugh: