NeoMysticism for Serious Times with the Secret Chiefs 3

Live music moves me deeply in my heart and soul. I realized in the early 1990s that certain kinds of music pulsed and lived through me. I knew because I’d hear a band and instantly remember their melodies (not their lyrics). Seeing some of these groups live, and hearing the music with my whole body, I would trance out and sometimes dance myself into exhaustion. These neomystic events come to me as a gift, and I have been moved by bands like Phish, Beck, Yair Dalal, Emil Zrihan, Ozric Tentacles, and Radiohead.

Last night my neomystic wanderings took me to the Great American Music Hall to see Trey Spruance and the Secret Chiefs 3. With the capitalist harvesting of almost every aspect of international culture, Spruance reaches deep into the DIY ethic and walks the fringes of the music world. You can’t buy his tracks on iTunes, nor will you ever hear them on the radio.

I saw him on stage 12 years ago in Athens, Georgia. Dressed in Sufi robes and placed behind Mike Patton, Spruance donned his Fender Strat and threw in Middle Eastern and surf beats into the comic-metal mix that was Mr. Bungle. After Mr. Bungle dissolved, he dropped off into obscurity until a friend gave me a Secret Chiefs 3 CD in 1999.

Spruance seems to prefer spending his time in the studio and online in the Web of Mimicry (his record label) chat rooms. I assume that he also spends his time immersed in contemplating ancient music, mathematic spiritual iconography, and mystic texts. Hailing from Santa Cruz, last night’s concert was only the third SC3 performance in San Francisco in ten years. I have only read one interview since discovering his new project, and constantly meet musicians who have never heard of the band.

So last night’s show was deeply important to me. An obscure band headed up by an obscure musician played beats and melodies that I instantly remembered with my heart. I had to be there! January 14 brought many other things in line as well: it was my adoption day, there was a full moon, and this sold-out show was the last on their tour with Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. Hundreds of pilgrims were dieing at the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. war machine rolled on, adding another layer to the night. This year needed a good jolt early, so I couldn’t wait to feel the band live.

Steeped in multireligious mysticism, mostly influenced by Persian and Arabic culture, and influenced by surf and metal, the Secret Chiefs 3 bring a new definition to the depth and potential of rock music. They blend death metal, surf rock, Persian timings, drum and bass, into a spiritual swirl that rattled the Great American’s roof with consistent sonic booms. Spruance heads the group, actually 6 bands in 1, and flawlessly took the other members in and out of the swirling booms and intricate time signatures.

Spruance first appeared on stage with two other members, representing the Persian band Ishraqiyan. Spruance wore a stringed instrument I’d never seen before and looked like a Mongolian sheepherder as he kicked out the complex rhythms of the first song. On the third song, the other members of SC3, all robed as well, came on stage and kicked to the rest of the set as the band Ur. Two violinists, a keyboardist, and the bottom backed Spruance on an amazing opening act ride.

They played “Dolorous Stroke” from their CD “Book M” for the fourth song, and shredded my high-end hearing. I’d accidentally checked my earplugs with my backpack, so figured it was worthless to do anything after that song. During the next song, my friend had to walk away from the dizzying subsonic bass vibrations that pulsated through the house. The shredding continued through the whole set, with Spruance deftly donning strange stringed instruments and clicking a foot pedal to get the deep metal scream.

Despite the heavy decibels and Arabic metal progressions, the Secret Chiefs 3 lifted me to a higher place. Their drive and intensity broke through the layers of reality and allowed the players and the listeners to merge. Their first encore began with an ambient violin duet, and there my heart was moved for good. The moment stood in time as a fond memory of being connected to the pulse of the universe via the amazing talent of the Secret Chiefs.

Though obscure, their abilities to take the music and gift it to the world shines brighter than the sun. Though barely heard of, this band heads into the neomystic world of uncharted waters. Though shy and unassuming, Trey Sprucance leads the way for a new type of music. This new music wears its influences on its sleeve, but defies description. And it had spiritual roots that hope to connect all cultures in a way that cannot be marketed or sold.

How can you not get into that?

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