I have been a fan of the Secret Chiefs for a while now, but I’ve never seen them live. I haven’t even watched any of the bootleg live stuff that is apparently so readily available, so I had literally no idea what to expect from this. I knew that hooded gowns were the garment of choice and that Trey was likely to be sporting a crazy man’s beard. These turned out to be the least exciting things about this DVD. The performance was presented in two sets and as the first set began I remember thinking something like “well, I know this’ll be good but its not like there are going to be any surprises….”. I was quite, quite wrong.
For a start at least half of the music on here hasn’t been released, which is both wonderous and baffling. Wonderous because it means that there will be some truly amazing albums coming our way and baffling because, well, what’s the point of creating music this good, honing it to perfection for live performance and then smugly sitting on it and saying “Hey, guess what I can do….?”. Of the tracks that are “new” I got pretty excited about “Bereshith” and “Brazen Serpent”, both of which are at the noisy and aggressive end of the SC3 spectrum, particularly “Brazen Serpent”. This tune in particular deserves a mention, because for me it epitomizes everything good about this band, showcasing the amazing compositional skill of Mr. Spruance and the unbelievably tight playing of the band. Release this song.
In some ways the old material is the weakest. I realize this is a controversial statement, and I am in no way dissing “classics” like “The 4 (Great Ishraqi Sun)” or “Zulfikar”, but Trey Spruance has come a long way. Listening to the early albums is almost straightforward now, in comparison to some of the monumentally complicated music he has been creating recently. I thought I would miss the tape effects and surf tunes, but he has condensed the disparate sounds and philosophies of the SC3 into something that is much more direct and yet still equally as challenging to listen to. In fact at points during the performance you practically have to be a musicologist to keep up with what’s going on. I would love to test this DVD out on my parents just so I could hear the old chestnut “…it’s just noise…”
Now some of you may be thinking…”Great, just what we need, more beard stroking music for musicians.” Wrong. The Secret Chiefs 3 have taken Middle Eastern compositional theory and Western jazz’s love of the abstract, chucked it into a big pot with the relentless beats of drum’n’bass and the aggressive euphoria of metal, and come up with something that is almost indescribably powerful. Watching this band is an absolute joy. If I was going to attempt to play this music I would have to be in a quiet dark environment so I could concentrate, but these guys not only play excellently but obviously love every minute too, with Trey whirling like a dervish from start to finish, completely entranced with music he obviously adores. This is the point of music and bands and every member of SC3, at some point or another, gets completely lost in their performance. It is quite a poignant thing to witness in these cynical times.
So apart from a blistering set of eighty minutes of amazing music played by amazing musicians, what else do we get? How about a seventy five minute stop-motion animation feature by Tawd B. Dorenfeld, mostly sound-tracked with music from the American Music Hall show, but with other live gems thrown in. The film is quite amazing if almost impenetrable and whilst there is a “story” inspired by the symbolism and mythology of SC3, in my opinion it is much better to admire the bonkers adventures of the bejeweled goat than to try and fathom what the fuck was going on. There are some really interesting and odd creations in there though, along with a truly painful amount of work. It also reminded me quite a lot of the video for Aphex Twin’s “On”.
As if all that wasn’t enough there were some little secret rewards for the geeks among us too. If you were good and sat through the credits of the live show, a trailer for the next Secret Chiefs 3 DVD appeared. Yes, the next one (oh happy day!) This film will be highlights of their world tour and is comprised of footage shot by fans at the shows. Finally, I also noticed a trailer for “The Anna Cabrini Chronicles”. What’s that I thought? Only some sort of horror series scored by Trey and directed by Mr. Dorenfeld. I have never heard of it but it looks extremely interesting and I have ordered my copy of the DVD from here: ttp://www.annacabrini.com/