Spindrift, Quarter After, Asteroid #4 & Dutch Masters at Pappy and Harriet’s, High Desert, May 23, 2008
Friday night, I slipped on down to the oasis of Pappy and Harriet’s, in Pioneertown, near Joshua Tree, the spiritual hometown of Gram Parsons. Spindrift was scheduled to play a show with a bunch of their psyche-holic bandito friends and promised a premiere of their film, The Legend of God’s Gun, at 1 a.m., in the back parking lot. I’m not sure why they called it a “premiere”—it seems to me there’ve been lots of screenings of this movie in various forms at various L.A. parties during the past couple years—but no matter. My friends and I needed a cheap and musically challenging diversion during the holiday weekend, and drinks cost less in the Old West.
Due to the wet weather and recent tornadoes in the Californian deserts, it took nearly three hours to drive out to Joshua Tree. But it was a treat to walk in late and have Dave Gleason’s Wasted Days band greet us with honest, sawdust-on-the-floor saloon tunes. Gleason, a perennial favorite of Pappy and Harriet’s, played tight, authentic Americana country, with just a teeny tiny touch of seventies Laurel Canyon hippie. It was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but sometimes formalism when it’s tightly arranged and well performed is better than your band’s “experimental” half-baked concoctions. And I’ll bet Dave Gleason’s boys really complemented the chicken fried steak most of the local families were eating, on what looked like folding tables.
After a brutal half-hour of take down and set up, an acoustic duo called “The Dutch Masters” took the stage. At first I thought maybe they were members of Spindrift, since they had the God’s Gun look down pat: one guy with a vest, hat, and Doc Watson moustache, and the other dude with lanky hair, a top hat, and a cravat, like a 19th century prairie undertaker. Oh, and both with fake guns and holsters. I was eyein’ them up when somebody told me that the undertaker dude was Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols. That explained the wall of paparazzi in the front row, blocking everyone else’s view (and I guess I was one of them–I apologize to all the folks behind me).
They started into a cover of Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.” And it wasn’t half bad, though the vocals were lower-pitched and the tempo slower than the Byrds’ spritely country-rock version. But then the next song was a cover too—the Beatles’ “All My Loving”–Taylor-Taylor’s slow vocal delivery making it sound like a Love and Rockets cover. And they kept on doing covers—“The Last Time” by the Rolling Stones, the Beatles again with “Eight Days a Week,” etc, etc. Not bad song selections, but really, if you’re going to cover the Beatles and not sound like my dad’s bar band, you really have to play it solid, or break new ground, or both, because you’re competing not just with Lennon/McCartney, but also with every other band who’s ever covered the Beatles in the last forty years.
Though I know the monitors at Pappy & Harriet’s were virtually non-existent that night, The Dutch Masters’ harmonies and guitar playing still disappointed, and were really too shaky for what they were attempting to do. As Janet Housden (ex-Redd Kross, Love Dolls, Shakes) next to me said, “I’ve heard guys who never met before play better versions of these songs around campfires.” (She insisted I quote her on this, and she’s been known to fling bottles at people’s heads.)
They ended their set with a more recent cover, The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Stars,” which was appropriate for the evening: several of the bands that were to follow had members formerly in that band. The BJM is to Stonesy boot-gazer psychedelia what the band London was to eighties hair metal, and in fact, the next couple bands not-so-coincidentally have records out or coming out on Anton Newcombe’s label, The Committee to Keep Music Evil.
The Asteroid #4 took the stage next, their psychedelic light show all throbby and sparkly as they let their incredible psyche-drone sound collage commence, a raven-haired young lady on the right striking the odd tom-tom or tambourine every now and again. The Pappy & Harriet’s microphone curse struck once more, so that at first the lead Asteroid could barely be heard, yet the guitarist/backup vocalist carried louder than hell’s bells. Eventually they sorted it out and sang pretty well for having no monitors.
The garagey-looking backup singer/guitar player really stuck out in this band of dressed-down demin dudes. He had dyed black hair, a black turtleneck, Beatle boots, and a solitary strand of love beads—if he’d just added a black glove, he could have become the Music Machine.
But I can’t poke fun at the tunes, which were trippy yet driving, relaxed yet frantic. They kept going from freakout to rawk back to freakout, finally ending with a delicious tune full of open-chord chime-y guitar. It was more reminiscent of the La’s “There She Goes” than of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and I dug it.
The Quarter After went next. Christof from Winter Flowers seems to be a permanent fixture on keys and second rhythm guitar for these guys—I always like seeing him play, because he’s tall and lanky and has such wonderfully gnomish features. It’s like if a hobbit fucked an elf, and their child became a wandering minstrel prancing about a wooden glade, helping the farmers serenade their chickens into laying. My girlfriend says I shouldn’t talk, because I have kind of the same look, only shorter and uglier. But there it sits: Christof is Johne Barleycorne of the Fairey Folke, and he plays a keyboard made of troll ivory.
They started out playing Byrds-esque country and psyche rock, similar to eighties Voxx-label bands such as the Chesterfield Kings or Miracle Workers, which was well enough for me. But after five or six songs, they jumped with both feet into tightly structured heavy guitar rock (maybe not three chord rock, but not much more than five). Compared to the Asteroid #4, and even to their tunes on MySpace, they seemed to have less frills, and perhaps a bit less chills. But Victor on bass kept it fun, complementing his friends in the audience, and asking for “more bourbon in the monitors.” Their last song wrenched itself out of its simple beginnings and actually grew into a long, long psychedelic dirge, like they were going for a post-Barrett Pink Floyd sound (my guess is the Meddle album). Someone was whacking a tom with a tambourine or something somewhere, in a scene that reminded me a bit of the breakdown to that old “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video.
By now it was about one in the morning. The crowd was full to bursting with girls in faux-fur jackets and little house on the sixties dresses, and it was time for the film to start.
Yet Spindrift hadn’t actually played any music yet, so they hustled on the stage to do a sadly abbreviated set. Kirkpatrick, the patriarch who brought this band to L.A. from Delaware eight or so years ago, always does better when he has strong women in the band, and Friday night he let a blonde woman of unrecognizable origin (who was she?) sing a couple of songs before he jumped in to take the helm.
For a year or three, these guys got so into Ennio Morricone that they practically turned into Davie Allan or Billy Strange, and I’m really glad they’ve decided to get a little noisy and dirty again. Even at their most “Ghost Rider in the Sky,” they had more effects, more players, and more noises going on in the margins around the melody, to make it a really hellish hayride from the heroin shores to the hallucinogen highlands.
Finally it was 2 a.m., and the lights came on, and Spindrift disappeared out the back to see themselves on the big screen. My friend and I were way too tired from all the bands to stay any longer, so we vamoosed before the big event. Not even sure if they got to show it or not—here’s hoping they did, and that they show the film earlier in the evening when it re-premieres at Cannes in a couple months.