Hear This

The Dead C lifts the veil on its mysterious stoner buzz

By Glenn Donaldson

published: March 13, 2002

A visit by New Zealand noise trio The Dead C is cause for much rejoicing, considering that the legendary group has toured the U.S. only once before, in 1995. Since its debut cassette in 1987, the band -- and related projects A Handful of Dust and Gate -- has engendered near-religious worship from underground-music fans worldwide. Now, following a trip to Los Angeles' All Tomorrow's Parties festival, The Dead C will temporarily lift the veil on its mysterious stoner alchemy and grand experimental buzz. More than any other band, The Dead C -- guitarists Bruce Russell and Michael Morley and drummer Robbie Yeats -- promotes the destruction of rock 'n' roll through gleefully amateurish free-improvisation. While the band got its start emulating the jagged noise of early Sonic Youth, its rock structures slowly slackened, like the elastic in a large man's underpants. Eventually, all that remained was expressive feedback, threadbare chords, fractured string-bashing, and droning synth notes.

The threesome approached pop music only once: on 1989's Eusa Kills album, which featured prominent, somber vocals by Morley and an almost recognizable cover of T.Rex's "Children of the Revolution." By 1992's double LP Harsh 70s Reality (on U.S. label Siltbreeze), the band had descended into a chaos it would never leave, making guitars sound like subway trains or Neil Young running his vacuum cleaner. Although the results could be construed as either tedious or transcendent, the glorious din has been matched by few.

The Dead C's latest effort, 2000's eponymous two-CD set, shows that the group hasn't mellowed with age. If anything, the band has found its turbulent essence, abandoning vocals and riffs in favor of a distant storm of crackling cables and broken-speaker rumbles, with the occasional vicious guitar and clattering percussion interrupting the expressionist landscape.

For this show, which might be The Dead C's last U.S. appearance ever, the trio has requested a two-hour time slot. Like its albums, the band's live performance is likely to both meander aimlessly and drift into transcendental rapture.