Published Feb 13, 2012Strolling out on stage two hours after the doors opened, San Francisco's Secret Chiefs 3 looked like a cult. Everyone wore dark hooded robes except mohawked violinist/violist Timb Harris, who tied a sheer bandana with lace trim over his face. For many bands, such outfits have been seen as gimmicks, yet the demeanour of Secret Chiefs 3 compels one to convert, with the epic lunacy of their style matching the casual control of their remarkable skill as a quintet.
Primarily a vehicle for Mr. Bungle and Faith No More composer Trey Spruance, the influences in their experimental aesthetic appear almost contradictory on paper, bridging the gap between Middle Eastern folk, '70s horror movie soundtracks, melodic death metal, surf rock and electroacoustic music. Yet when they transitioned from their intro to the theme from the vintage slasher flick Halloween, it all clicked. One minute they're Omar Souleyman producing a goth Gogol Bordello, and the next they're playing Goblin's imagined score for Spinal Tap as remade by John Carpenter. It shouldn't work, but it unquestionably does.
Through bizarre shifting time signatures, they all played fluidly and intuitively, with everyone but the drummer continually changing instruments and sounds. Harris would swap strings for guitar, then move to electronics, and Spruance had several styles of guitar at his disposal. The sounds coming out of the keyboard would change multiple times in a song, running the gamut from cheesy '80s organic samples to Children of Bodom style synth patches.
Spruance and Harris played centre stage much of the time, texturally supporting and elaborating on each other's melodies, while providing the appropriate presence. In more metal moments, Harris would point his bow skyward and prowl around in a battle crouch. When delivering world music flavour, Spruance would bounce around joyously as he strummed his intriguing electric bağlama. Expect there to be a lineup at the Secret Chiefs 3 cult recruitment cave for the next little while.