August 14, 2004
Mill Valley, CA
The Hay wagon was already building up speed when I walked in, straw and woodsy smoke flying everywhere. Tight, warm halogen harmonies and be-de-boop keyboards took us out of Hazard County and off towards the 3rd moon of an inviting astral body in the distance. Dano Kildsig hunkered down behind a KORG set-up, beer sweating next to it, guitar ready at his side, and bent the air with twitchy-eyed intuition. 70 gigs so far in 2004 and it shows. Transcendental Hayride's merger of country idioms and psychedelic dalliance is so natural you wonder why others didn't get there first. Maybe they just don't hear the same distinctions, the same separateness between genres and can thus produce a new strain all their own. All the good things hinted at on their two excellent studio albums and the miles of shows preceding this one amounted to promise fulfilled on an especially hot night, in several respects, in Marin County, where the Renaissance Faire twirlers and the hop head refugees took a robot boy rocket ride that evaporated cares and tickled our hearts with a brightly colored feather.
To hear how the road has transformed their studio music by constant interaction, by the resolute drive to find all the hidden spaces within their compositions is to be reminded of Jacques Derrida's line:
What is at stake, first of all, is an adventure of vision, a conversion of the way of putting questions to any object posed before us.
Marshall drums came up against echoplexed guitars, steam rising from their hands, as the afterburners burned cherry bright. A shirtless dread let out a "wooooo-hooo" that sets the dancers off, sweat and spilled ale darkening the well-worn wooden floors. This is the same maturation one witnessed with New Monsoon after their first year of touring. There's security in staying at home, enjoying a local following, but if musicians want to glimpse their true potential they gotta leave to find themselves. What the Hayride has brought back from their Odysseian wandering is a sound that suggests what Merle Haggard might have produced if someone spiked his farm fresh milk with lysergic mischief and then sat him down with a pile of homegrown hay and a stack of Ween albums. This is country rock that would think nothing of slipping Charlie Daniels a mickey and duct taping him to a mechanical bull.
A slightly graying couple in Hawaiian clothing cuddled barefoot at my table. As "Halfway to the halfway house" rolled in they got these wide, silly smiles. I asked them if they'd ever seen the band before and they told me no. They'd heard the music through the club's doorway and followed it in. A quick flash of all those Loonie Tunes pied pipers drawing dogs and rats and children along with a sweet smelling tune jumped into my head. It was a night of strange sights, both internally and on the wide screen behind the lads. Digital swirls and video tidbits gave us turtles skittering on yellow and blue checkered floors, tie dye Spirograph mazes, fractal daydreams, flashes of painted hippies and Night Flight animation. Put more succinctly, it was lot like a '60s Star Trek freakout and a fine match for the dilithium crystal rockin'.
Keyboardist Brackett Clark pulled his leather cowboy hat tight over his long blond hair and breathed into a harmonica with a stony cool that raised the hairs on my arm. Now here was a new Grateful wrinkle, Pigpen's specter clomp foot dancing with the young San Franciscans-by-way-of-the-Midwest. The heavily processed mouth harp struck some alternate frequency like the yen for electricity in acoustic instruments that warped jazz in the '70s. Just this one element signifies the band's overall commitment to taking things out like a classic SF psych unit; organic, fog shrouded, mysterious as a passing stranger that smells of yang-lang oranges and something animal.
Another new wrinkle appeared when the guitarists slip off stage and a trio of keys-bass-drums dug into some instrumental funk with long claws, low to the ground and then springing smoothly into a hard jive that lured the pickers back, leaping aboard, splashing in the recombinant DNA, as they evolved right before our eyes. Lead guitarist Kurt Moss worked the neck with a metal slide that sparred with Jeff Chimenti (Ratdog) style piano stabs. There was an incongruous majesty to the night. On paper, songs listed in order of appearance, none of the real magic would readily present itself. It's in the living of the moment, the deeply present tense, that one understands what these guys really have to offer.
Catching evening air outside during a much needed respite, I found myself thinking of Phish on the other side of the country, playing their next to last show. While I wasn't there in their earliest days in Vermont, I couldn't help thinking that Hayride has some of their energy, some of their working man's blues wrapped up in keenly knotted hemp ropes and too-smart-for-their-own-good philosophizing. In small rooms and half full taverns their vision for a different way to roll emerged. Hour upon hour, the music poured from them, trying each angle to see if it was the one that would let them see clearly what they were chasing. It's a hungry way to be and the Transcendental boys have that same gnawing drive, something they would demonstrate in the second set.
Despite a diminished crowd, they poured everything they had onto the stage. Outside Kurt had commented that he's happy that anyone shows up to listen. Everyone who stayed into the early morning hours did just that. There was no other choice. Once they struck up a tune you were in until the ride came to a full and complete stop. You just had to enjoy the dips, the weird curves, the meta-flow of songs chosen in the moment, setlists incinerated by the immediate need to play one more and one more and one more.
For a moment or three they dub dived off the top platform, a twist and three somersaults before penetrating the cool water, sinking weightless, blissfully enfolded in something bigger than ourselves, held, happy, and finally up for a gulp of clean air. And then into the "Only Game In Town," a new one full of Mississippi mud and Stones swagger, a choogler akin to early Wilco before they got too brainy and self-important. A Stevie Wonder vamp soon followed that set a pair of patchouli-saturated dudes spinning, hands locked in playground grinning buzz. They collapsed, laughing, and kissed each other on the cheek, brotherly love to be sure.
"Whiskey And Coke" sounded like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds if they weren't so bloody glum. They took a short breath to confer and then burst into a high-energy run that brought to mind Bob Seger's "Riding The Storm Out." There were also a couple numbers with a Stooge-like blunt force, a punk jab that peeled off in wholly un-punk ways, Fugazi with a seashell swirl. Another sparkler that caught my attention was something new that might be called "Take Me Home Tonight" that could have come from the first Steely Dan album, tattered at the cuffs with fat organ moans, jazz slink guitar and a lock groove from Nick Massaro (bass) and Jack McFadden (drums), a pair who distinguished themselves by always living in just the right pocket for this whirligig range of styles. They ably covered the spread from reggae somnabulence to jungle hyperbeats and every variation in between. Without ever being showy or grandstanding they were the horses pulling this cart across the miles.
As Kurt and Dano sang about exercising the patience of a saint, I realized this is some of the liveliest music to ever face down despair and knowingly hollow wishes. Through humor and sharp edged honesty Hayride addresses the fear that we might be "an animal no one wants to keep." It's one of those dirty awful things we carry inside us, a nagging doubt about our own self worth. To hear someone sing aloud, address it, beat it down through junkyard prose, well, it's heartening. Before Hayride takes some time away from the road to work on their third album this Fall, they took a few hours to demonstrate how ready they are to deliver the word to a much larger audience. You can see them growing into the kind of nuanced, supple creatures that could produce a "Chalkdust Torture" or a "Sand" or even a "Ghost." It won't sound anything like those Phishy hallmarks but it will carry a similar spirit. Transcendental Hayride are sunshine snuff, a potent concoction that rushes directly into the synapses, powerful as any drug but cleaner, more melodic and now and wow. If, in fact, as they band sings, good things come to those who wait, then it is only a matter of time until others discover how much fun, how cellularly satisfying, a Hayride can truly be.
Personnel: Dano Kildsig - Vox, Guitar, Synth; Kurt Moss - Lead Guitar, Vox; Nick Massaro - Bass; Brackett Clark - Keys, Vox, Synth; Jack McFadden - Drums, Vox.
Visit Transcendental Hayride on the web at transcendentalhayride.com .