Dead Meadow have been wearing bellbottoms and growing mustaches for over a decade. Throughout their career, they’ve made an earnest attempt to recapture the sounds of their drugged-out predecessors The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Led Zeppelin. But their studio albums have never quite captured their intensity, or the simple wonder of a well-worn groove played at dangerous volume.
And as far as live albums go, Dead Meadow are just the sort of band who would release something like Three Kings, a concert film and soundtrack package � la The Song Remains The Same. During the extended jam sections of the film, we cut to scenes of the band in wizard garb, interspersed with animation. It’s trippy stuff indeed, and just as bizarre now as it was when Zeppelin first experimented with it.
But the Three Kings soundtrack stands quite nicely on its own; it’s a testament to a hard-working live band doing what they do best. The sheer size of Jason Simon’s guitar amp rig can be heard in every thumping, muddy riff and wah-wah pedal solo. Drummer Stephen McCarty and bassist Steve Kille are a rock ‘n’ roll rhythm section for the ages, grooving to devastating effect and mining the same ground as Keith Moon and John Entwistle.
The album is curiously broken up by three new studio tracks in the middle. While they’re a welcome addition to the band’s catalogue and a natural extension of their vision, they seem a bit out of place in a project like Three Kings. Here we’ve got a skull-splitting display of live psychedelia performed at an impressive level of intuitive engagement, and it’s interrupted by a studio-filler intermission.
But by the time the chugging Everything’s Going On returns things to right, the studio tracks are easily forgotten. Three Kings does an impressive job of capturing the feel of Dead Meadow’s live volume, and the meatiness of Simon’s riffs comes through in the mix. At the same time, without the added stimulus of live visuals, some of the jams can feel a bit self-important and long-winded. Still, the band’s stamina is impressive.
In the live setting, their heavier tunes (Till Kingdom Come, The Whirlings, Lady, King Of All Returns) genuinely pound with raw power and an extra smattering of mustachioed machismo. The relatively quiet Seers would serve as time to grab a beer or piss one out at a live show; here, it’s a fleeting testament to the band’s softer side, a petunia among so much ashen rubble.
There’s not a moment on Three Kings that sounds like it should have been released in 2010. Dead Meadow are certainly working familiar territory, but they’re doing it with such straight-faced, reverent earnestness that they never fall into blatant apery. Sure, Jason Simon plays like an amalgamation of Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, but he also turns over the archetypes in grand style. Like its probable inspiration, Three Kings is an excellent live album with an excessively trippy movie behind it.