By Alex Distefano
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By Nate Jackson
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Steaks Are High
Dark Meat's brain-frying spectacle
One night in Texas, Dark Meat decided to perform the Stooges' raucous classic album Fun House in its entirety. Lead singer Jim McHugh harpooned his mic stand into the club's ceiling while fending off irate bouncers with a monitor; club security tried to corral the band after the show to give the members a stern talking-to, but they were evidently overwhelmed by the manic, face-painted, costumed rock & rollers.
That sort of unruliness has marked Dark Meat's existence. They started out two-and-a-half years ago in the fecund music town of Athens, Georgia, as two roommates steeped in rock & roll knowledge jamming on Neil Young songs, before ballooning into an impossibly vigorous, sprawling band with upwards of a dozen members. Dark Meat spent the past two years with that expanded lineup, touring the country and honing their debauched psychedelicized tunes, which evoke the immediacy of late-'60s Stooges, early-'70s mind-warping guitar expeditions, an ecstatic free-jazz undercurrent, and the anything-goes spirit of a Parliament show. More than anything, though, Dark Meat have become one righteous band, barreling through their many aspects unpretentiously and uninhibitedly.
Loose recording sessions culminated in the 2006 album Universal Indians, released on the Athens-based Orange Twin label and named by that city's alt-weekly Flagpole as the best local album of the year. Subsequently, two years of touring have allowed Dark Meat to spread the word, and Flaming Lips-esque live shows, complete with full horn sections, choreographed backup dancers and goofy outfits caught the attention of many at this year's South By Southwest throwdown in Austin. It was the second time at the festival for Dark Meat, and McHugh says the band couldn't have done better.
"South By Southwest was a business venture, and we've been through the trenches enough to view it as such," says McHugh, a vocalist whose delivery of the band's cataclysmic fever-dream songs gives the massive collective a fiery focal point. "It's basically you waving a flag toward all the expectant press, and that's why you're there. We got a lot of attention, and I'm thankful for it and for what's going to result because of it—that's why we did it. But all of the press focused on the spectacle. I can't blame 'em—we were pretty spectacular, in that sense of the word, just being destructive and insane, and being really over the top. We had leaf-blower confetti going and everything. But only a few people focused on the music. The Stones had a horn section, and nobody focused on that or thought it odd back then."
Vice Records, the notoriously fickle tastemaking label that's home to bands such as the Black Lips and Chromeo, snatched up the group earlier this year and rereleased Universal Indians with some bonus tracks on CD and vinyl on April 22. It will also release Dark Meat's sophomore album later this year. McHugh says he's happy that the partnership with Vice will bring the band more attention.
"I give them tons of credit for giving us complete room that we need, like, 'Do what the fuck you want,'" he says. "The advantage of Vice is how visible they are. Vice has incredibly prescient ideas about media. That's why they are [so successful]. They completely presaged this whole collapse of CDs being a viable financial thing because everything is digital. They realize that concrete recorded music is basically worthless, so what people want to invest themselves in is the experience and the culture and personalities of the band. And we had that, with our personality and our show, and our history with Athens and all. I think that's why they dug us so much."
The reissued Universal Indians contains the unhinged tracks and pastoral interludes that make the album so intriguing, remastered by Atlanta sound guy Glenn Schick; those songs are augmented by two bonus live tracks recorded in Joshua Tree National Park while on tour last summer, as well as a live cover of Albert Ayler's "Universal Indians," which Dark Meat performed at an Athens art-house cinema to introduce a documentary about the free-jazz icon.
"It's a thing of real beauty," McHugh says about the double-vinyl gatefold edition of the album. "And this next one's gonna fry brains, too, I hope!"
Dark Meat perform with Crystal Antlers and Restaurant at the Echo, 1822 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 413-8200; www.attheecho.com. Sat., 8:30 p.m. $10. 18+.