The fall of 1969, 10th grade for me in a new school, (prep school-all guys,) was the big ear opener. I’ve written about this previously–how many of my musical prejudices were formed starting and in some ways ending with those three prep school years. It’s certainly true that certain antipathies were formed then too: never could get into gratuitous and arty heavy music for example. Instead, and no doubt to some even worse, it was country cow pokin’ and hippie psychedlia and white boy white girl blooz.
I think it was doozy who slid Quicksilver Messenger Service‘s self-titled debut on the spindle. Pride of Man! Then, Happy Trails, the spliced together masterpiece live recording that made Quicksilver’s rep amongst the stoner divers. Who do you love? And so it went: Turn On Your Love Light, The Ballad of You & Me & Pooneil, Chooglin’, Hey Grandma.
Although the Grateful Dead kept on truckin’ in this vein for two decades farther, FM radio by the early seventies came to ignore west coast psychedelia, and, eventually it disappeared in practice as well as being wiped off the commercial dial.
In the eighties, to me bands such as The Dream Syndicate and Lush square in different ways the druggy pop storms of that first psych age by the bay. And, there were others too but I was onto other things and not spending much time trying to collect myself into a reprisal of the panama red fueled attics and hang down cribs. Also at times, a lot of southern rock will elevate the hippie blast current in their music, and that moving the charge up up and out has been an element in many of those bands for a long time.
But, psychedelic classicism seemed unthinkable, a time long gone.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered a nice review of the bay area band The Quarter After on an mp3 blog last year. (The Quarter After-mySpace)There was a comparison to the Younger Than Yesterday-Notorious Byrd Brothers iteration of The Byrds and also to Moby Grape. In the latter case, I had to doubt prior to my first taste that The Quarter After would capture lightning in a bottle as did Moby Grape with their self-titled debut, but I was willing to hear how close.
As it turns out: Wow. For sure there is almost a recreation of the 1967 Byrds, weaving harmonies and weaving guitars, yet its the elongation of the tunes and the layered sometimes veiled mix of their two fine records, especially the second-Changes Near, that call to mind the focused gallop of Moby Grape. Now I’m catching up: heck there’s an entire scene around Club Spaceland in Silverlake, Cali built on emerald haze and swirling dervish guitars.
Recently, another band has elevated itself out of the rank of contenders–since I discovered the whole psych revival scene–Howlin Rain. I don’t hear the comparison to the country Grateful Dead. For me the touchstone is Quicksilver Messenger Service‘s work in the studio, and, Cream at their most tune oriented. Again, their second record, Magnificent Fiend, is slightly superior to the debut.
The one mark against Howlin Rain to me is the unnecessary caterwauling lead vocals, think Chris Robinson of Black Crowes at his most over-stretched, that dial down to a nice harmony concept. I don’t enjoy the contrast. What really works are the songs which run an attractive gamut between jammy sketches and mini-suites, the latter harkening back in the form of a song such as Calling Lightning With a Scythe to syncretist 1967-era Pink Floyd.
While I’m at it, there are two other bands worth checking out if you long for the sound of ’67: Rosewood Thieves, and, Parson Red Heads. The former adding some Beatlesque sweetness, the latter straddling guitar crunch and cow pone.