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Dead Moon - Echoes of the Past

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Artist: Dead Moon

Album: Echoes of the Past

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Sep. 7, 2006

What might prepare you to face true rock n’ roll, head-on? You have a choice to make. You should meet it on its own terms, but can you? How much of yourself are you willing to give up to face Dead Moon? How much of yourself can be given up? Your belongings, your job, your behavior, your adult life. How much of it have you fabricated? How much of you is what you want, and how much is who you are? What’s left of you if it all goes away?

Real rock ‘n’ roll strips you of it all, tattoos its countenance on you. And from having seen Dead Moon, having listened to their music with revenant fervor since 1994’s Crack in the System LP (manufactured, along with the bulk of their output, using a monophonic lathe and record press in guitarist Fred Cole’s basement, and released on the band’s own Tombstone label), I gotta say that there’s no getting around them. They are what they play, and play what they are. You deal with it or you don’t.

Fred Cole’s been dealing with it for longer than most; he’s been at it for decades. Forty years ago, he fronted the group The Lollipop Shoppe in the ’60s, creating a highly-collectible garage-psych rarity in their 1967 album Just Colour, and earning a spot on Rhino’s Nuggets box set in the process. When that group ended, Cole headed north to wait out the draft, and met his wife-to-be, Toody (Dead Moon’s bassist). Times must not have been easy for them throughout the years, but Fred and Toody soldiered on, having made a fine lost album with his hard boogie rock band Zipper in the early ’70s, a private press affair that saw reissue on Rockadelic, and later on Dead Moon’s longtime German imprint, Music Maniac. Later in the ’70s, he got on board with punk rock through his band, the Rats. There’s a few gaps and a lot of questions one might not want to have answered at this point, but it brings us to 1987, and Dead Moon’s first single, “Parchman Farm.”

Aside from some fairly thin, somewhat incompetent production on very early releases, not much has changed for Dead Moon in the past two decades. Their recordings sound the same, lo-fi and bled through; their songs are all cut from the same cloth, sounding different from one another but clearly a product of the same group of people. Dead Moon’s lineup has not changed significantly since drummer Andrew Loomis got on board in the late ’80s. The band looks the same – haggard, yet ageless. Aside from a few instances, all artwork on their records has been monochromatic, hand-designed, and as stark and uncompromising as their music: bitingly hard blues-rock, charged up by the noise of garage and the energy of punk rock. In the live setting, the band lights a candle mounted on an upturned Jack Daniels bottle, and plays until the candle burns down. The songs they’re writing are not too far off from the piss ‘n’ vinegar early Stones, but without the polish or concessions to “mod” times. They up-ratchet electric blues, and file off what little decoration that music wears, to present lean, loud, moody exercises in rock trio dynamics, a harbinger of trouble ahead and a celebration of what few good times can be recaptured. Cole plays a sharp, rhythmic lead guitar that anchors each of the songs. He’s up front, and sharing vocal duties with Toody; you’d never confuse the two. Much like the distinct voices of, say, Royal Trux, a nuanced voice full of charcter – Toody’s doleful alto, in this case – is counterbalanced by Fred’s ragged, road-worn acidic gargle. He hits the notes within a give-or-take range, but the sentiment is what counts here, and sentimentality is what the man delivers.

As a band, Dead Moon manages to bring across a limited but extremely believable slate of emotions and settings: tension (“Dead Moon Night”); hope (“Day After Day,” “It’s O.K.”); freedom (“Johnny’s Got a Gun,” covered by Cat Power way back when); despair (“Running Out of Time”); rage (“54-40 or Fight”); orneriness (“Diamonds in the Rough”); foreboding (“Evil Eye”); wonder (“Fire in the Western World”). There are rockers and ballads, and not much in between, but then again, this is a band that sets out to do something, then does it. Then they do it again and again, in different variants, each one pushing your buttons in their own ways every time. In many respects, they are a flawless organism, and any cracks in its façade serve to only bolster their image and reputation.

The only real complaint here is abundance. Some songs are more memorable than others, but the overall consistency level never flags. But at 49 tracks and two-and-a-half hours of music, listening front-to-back is only reserved for those driving the nation’s highways alone at night, amped on coffee and White Cross, with few other souls in sight. For that purpose, Dead Moon will ride shotgun with you. For most others, just a dozen or so tracks at a time will suffice; in that regard, however, Echoes of the Past becomes not unlike a good book you come back to time and again.

Whatever hardships and triumphs Cole and Co. have faced since the long trip back from the ’60s is evidenced in Dead Moon’s music – prayers and paeans from a band who know they’re fortunate to make it to the next day. Fortunately, they haven’t had to bear the burden of living all on their own, as the group found a steadfast following in the American underground, and moreover, a commanding audience in, of all places, Greece. (Dead Moon plays stadiums in that country, and larger rooms all over Europe; they even supported Pearl Jam in a Greek tour some years back.) To hear their struggle played out as afterthoughts of being in one of the greatest rock bands that ever walked the earth is the sound of freedom, the kind fought over for the right reasons. This is that real rock ‘n’ roll mentioned earlier, the one laid bare, the one that either is or isn’t, but which will be there for you if you ever need that support to get through a night, deal with a hardship, or celebrate a joy in your life. Nobody can fault you for not having heard of Dead Moon, but Echoes of the Past is here to rectify that. And it presents a truism few, if any other bands can claim: if you're not into Dead Moon, then you're not into rock 'n' roll.

By Doug Mosurock

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