"The Faint Smell of Moss"
"When the Shelter Came"
We often joke about how many people we can fit behind Bob Boilen's desk for one of NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts. Every month, we seem to push the boundary just a bit farther, as the bands seem to get bigger and louder. But the first real test of our limits came when eight members of Dark Meat showed up to play.
In one or another of its many incarnations, Dark Meat has included up to 20 people. It's a psychedelic Southern-rock carnival from Athens, Ga., with Crazy Horse-style guitars, dancing back-up singers and a wild horn section out of Sun Ra's Arkestra. But on this recent tour, Dark Meat reduced itself to a still-sizable octet, more than enough to spill over a venue stage.
At our desks, the band traded in electric guitars for acoustics. Raucous guitar solos became mandolin hoedowns and — for the first time in the many times I've seen Dark Meat live — I could actually hear the piccolo. It was as if Rolling Thunder Revue-era Bob Dylan were forced to give up electricity, but refused to change the free-spirited song arrangements. In fact, when the band hit the instrumental stride of "When the Shelter Came" — usually a rocker — the electronic raagini embedded a drone for what became a furious Irish jig.
We're happy when bigger bands are forced to re-think songs for our small space. Sometimes, though, the best outcome takes place when a band like Dark Meat uses the opportunity to simply strum its acoustic guitars harder.