The Dirty Feet tread toward a ’70s rock sound
About a year ago, I stumbled upon the Dirty Feet performing in the small amphitheatre at Sierra College where I work. The trio clearly transcended the usual drum circles and bluegrass fare the college offers. Though quite young, the musicians were creative and sometimes daring, mixing Zappa-like instrumentals with more straight-ahead, lyric-based songs. That combination drew me to take a seat. The performance was touch and go, but the potential impressed me. Was slow, stoner, psychedelic music making a comeback?
A few weeks ago, at Sierra College’s Earth Day festival, the Dirty Feet performed again on the first warm day of spring. The sun bore through the last remaining winter clouds onto the students in the campus’ new quad. Now a four-piece—Jake Gleason on guitar and vocals, brother Rick Gleason on drums, Craig Cox on guitar, and Brian Burgess on bass—the Dirty Feet fit the occasion with their sometimes intricate, often epic festival sound.
The music is at once dynamic, bluesy, sleepy and psychedelic, like the Allman Brothers Band on a speed hangover. The song structures are loose and baggy with no discernable verse-chorus formula, both a refreshing change from mainstream bands and a distraction. While the group attributes noise-rock gurus Sonic Youth as a primary influence, this manifests only in moments of looped guitar lines and band cacophony, especially on “How to Fall Asleep”—the song that ended the set.
The Dirty Feet are certainly more adept at building layers of sound. And the musicians are proficient, especially drummer Rick, who directs the band’s tempo changes and infuses the music with thundering tribal beats and counter-rhythms. But often during their live performance, they showed their youth—the average age of the band members is 23—as they worked through a few rough spots in their songs.
While it’s difficult not to define the group as a jam band for its extended instrumentals and multiple movements within a single song, Jake disagrees with the assessment. “We are not a jam band,” he said. “Our material is definitely more structured and complicated. Our song forms are very specific and the performances themselves are more consistent than any jam band I have heard.”
Jake seems like an average kid from the foothills, laid back and soft-spoken, wearing a Pink Floyd baseball cap and Sonic Youth T-shirt that suggest his band’s varying sounds. But he’s a burgeoning visionary, and the Dirty Feet is his vehicle.
While the compelling aspect of the Dirty Feet’s music comes from 1970s prog-rock influences like Yes, Pink Floyd and King Crimson, the songs sometimes remind me of late nights in high school listening to Hendrix and Zeppelin records on headphones. Is the music dated? How do you revive—and make relevant—a 1970s sound?
“I have yet to meet another band which plays progressive music in this area. I don’t think our playing style is a trend right now,” said Jake. The band deliberately sounds psychedelic, he says, and the lyrics have a “new age kind of message to them.” Whether audiences will fully embrace the return of this sound—which some students at the Earth Day festivities classified as “hippie music”—remains to be seen, but Jake is confident. “In five to 10 years, our kind of music will be more popular and we will be ready,” he proclaimed.
In the meantime, the Gleason brothers want to create a concept album based on a dream their father had about kids who go to a fair, get sucked down a popcorn machine and are transported to another world. At one point, the main character meets an old man at the top of a mountain. “He realizes [the old man] is him,” Jake explained. “If he doesn’t escape this world, that’s what he’ll become.” It sounds like a spawn of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Rick plans to film the accompanying movie. “Once I’m done with that, I can die happy,” said Jake.