Live: Dredg/RX Bandits/Zechs Marquise

Dredg pic #1
Dredg. Photo by Merkley.

THE MERIDIAN -- 7/17/2009: It was a long week, but I finally got back out to see bands. I arrived at The Meridian to a long line that stretched around the corner. This is the first time I've been on the guest list (told you I wanted some free passes!) at The Meridian, so I didn't know if I should stand in line or walk up to the front. A guy soon came out and told hard ticket holders to skip the line, so I decided to do that and got around the line. All this made me think it was going to be a crowded show, but that didn't really end up being the case.
Finally getting inside, the first band, Zechs Marquise, had already started. What? It was barely 8:00! I felt like telling them after they were done that most of their audience was outside when they were playing. Seemed like more people were out (in 95-degree heat) waiting to get in while the first band played...
Anyway, about Zechs Marquise: I've seen them before, and they are talented musicians. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of instrumental rock. I never have been, save for one band, Mogwai. I can take it in small doses, but after awhile I'm really aching for the vocals, for the story, for the hook, and for the soaring melody. If you are a fan of instrumental rock in the vein of Explosions in the Sky, My Education, or Mogwai, then definitely check them out. For me, as talented as the musicians are, there were too many long passages on one droning chord to keep my interest.
RX Bandits only came to my attention this week when I decided I should hear them before the show. Their new album, Mandala, just came out and was conveniently priced as a $3 download on Amazon. Since it's not on Rhapsody yet, I bought it and was impressed with their sound. I would put them near the midpoint between Incubus and The Mars Volta on the rock-and-roll spectrum, and then you throw in some reggae inclinations; with that, you've pretty much got it. They are monster musicians onstage, as well. Their crowd was enthusiastic, but even by this point the Meridian's small stage floor area was not completely filled. I'd expected more people to come to this show. Actually, I thought it was going to be in the big room. The Mars Volta show a couple of years ago at Verizon was packed, so I know there's an audience for this kind of music, music that seamlessly makes its way through 7/4 and 15/8 time signatures, has talented and passionate musicians, and rocks with no abandon.
At this point I better mention that RX Bandits were not happy with The Meridian. Something wrong was going on with the monitors. I know how it feels when you're onstage and you can't hear your vocals; you're not happy. RX Bandits were not afraid to tell the audience how unhappy they were, telling us to tell the club we won't return unless they improve their sound. The sound in the club was fine from where I stood, aside from a couple of crackles and feedback which were remedied quickly, but it was rough on the musicians. Little did this guy know, with the arrival of House of Blues, Warehouse Live, and the Live Nation stranglehold, the Meridian's concrete cave of a small room is few Houstonians' first choice of rock venue. I'm starting to wonder if it might go the way of Engine Room. That would be disappointing, but not especially surprising.
After RX Bandits were done, some of the audience headed for the exits. No! The best band was yet to come, where were these people going? Dredg has been a favorite of mine for several years now, but I had never seen them play live. Seems like I have a gig every night they play Houston, or, in the case of SXSW this year, my wife wanted to see New York Dolls, who played at the same time as Dredg (and Shearwater too!), so we missed them.
Dredg have shed some of their '70s prog roots over the years, and that's a good thing in my book, as they've maintained the know-how of playing intricate progressive passages but have added pop choruses and thoughtful stories to their songs. This maturity has culminated in the amazing latest album, The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion. Many of the songs on this beautiful album were played live, highlights being "The Pariah," "Saviour," and instant fan fave, "Ireland."
Naturally, Dredg also hit some of their songs from their 2005 album, Catch Without Arms, including the title track, "Zebraskin," and my personal favorite, "Bug Eyes," a song that ranks up with my songs of the decade. It was great to finally see them live and get a new appreciation for the band, who also had to deal with the ups and downs of the Meridian sound system and a spotlight that shone right in singer Gavin's face until he personally turned it away. END