Pass the peyote
Vision questing with L.A. psychedelic western band Spindrift
I’m in the desert. Mirages come in and out of focus, never fully materializing. Cacti are perspiring in the heat, melting. A train whistles in the distance for a supernaturally long time. A rolling ball of tumbleweed slows, stops in front of me … then asks for directions.
That’s how it felt at the Spindrift show Friday night (Aug. 1) at the Maltese Bar & Tap Room—as if I was on a peyote-fueled vision quest, dark and disorienting on a number of levels, yet undeniably goofy and fun. The Los Angeles-based band kept it weird from the moment frontman Kirpatrick Thomas—eyes invisible behind a pair of reflective, swirly-lensed goggles—stepped on stage to a backdrop of trippy Old West footage.
But the evening started out far less psychedelic. Local indie outfit The Rugs, fronted alternatively by guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Gerrard and singer/songwriter (and Duffy’s Siren) Katrina Rodriguez, ran through a set of mid-tempo country-rock numbers, many of which can be found on their fairly new album, Make Yourself at Home.
Gerrard, keyboardist Nolan Ford and drummer Austin King bore instruments adorned with matching rugs. Because they’re called The Rugs, get it?
High musicianship abounded—namely, King’s minimalist pitter-patter percussion style and the group’s three-way vocal harmonies, perhaps best exemplified by the staggered refrain of “I don’t want to be famous” in “Peaceful Latitude.” And Gerrard tore up serious carpet, ripping a series of smooth, soulful solos with his upholstered ax.
The pace quickened significantly as new local crew Trox and the Terribles—fronted by The Hasta La Pizzas guitarist/vocalist Trenton “Trox” Burnham—took the stage armed with riff-heavy garage rockers. Whatever skepticism I had based on the bassist (Elliot “Colonel Devil Dog” Maldonado) dressed like the biker dude from the Village People disappeared once they plugged their classic guitars into classic amps and turned up the crunch. As a group, the Terribles appeared to have only one setting—chuggin’ hard enough to plow through waist-high snow while riding a horse. The clear highlight for me was closing number “Euthanasia,” built around a simple alternating riff and featuring raw, hyper-dramatic punk vocals.
Having been together, in various forms, since 1992, the highly polished Spindrift instinctively functioned as one unit, not merely as individuals playing separate parts. And while the previous two bands operated within the limits of clearly defined genres, Spindrift has created its own.
In terms of song structure and tonal variety, Spindrift was pleasingly all over the place. The backbone of their sound is heavy rock, with layers of cowboy twang, echo and feedback on top. Drummer James Acton appeared to be in control of auxiliary sounds, among them that haunting train whistle as well as some deep synth.
Their set was almost entirely instrumental and highly cinematic—even more so with the whacky footage of gunslingers and fighting braves projected in the background. (Spindrift has, in fact, scored several movie and television soundtracks, including a recent documentary of their tour of American ghost towns and national monuments, Ghost of the West.)
When Thomas did use his microphone, it was mostly to whisper smoky, indistinguishable vocals—like Johnny Cash treated with a metric ton of delay and reverb. Thomas also proved to be a creative guitarist, tweaking his many effects on the fly for optimal space noises.
There were a couple of creepy, down-tempo epics à la The Doors, but the high-energy selections were most memorable. For example: the aptly named “Indian Run,” the perfect backing track for an Indian-chase scene in a spaghetti western flick. Beginning with traditional Native American drumming and chanting, it became a bombastic stomp with the addition of overdriven guitars and rock percussion, and then built into a full-on gallop during which you could practically feel the arrows whizzing past your cheek. It was one of the best live songs I’ve seen performed.
Afterward, my ears were ringing a little. Or maybe it’s that train whistle, still blowing.