Dead Moon is the best Northwestern rock band you’ve never heard of. In fact, even most Northwesterners react with vague confusion upon hearing the name. Most people who seem to know who this Clackamas, Oregon trio are happen to be other Northwestern bands or industry people in the know. Members of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney and a slew of indie artists claim Dead Moon as one of their absolute favorites, despite their relative anonymity. The band, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Fred Cole, his wife/bassist Toody Cole and drummer Andrew Loomis, haven’t done much to self-promote, releasing album after album on their own Tombstone label, usually on vinyl only. In fact, they (semi-) famously cut all of their masters on the same 1954 mono lathe that was used to record the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie.” Fred Cole is now a 59-year-old grandfather, but Dead Moon just keeps on going. Here are some amazing factoids: Fred released his first record in 1964; a song he recorded with the Weeds has been included in the first Nuggets box set; he and Toody were married in 1967 after an attempt to wait out the Vietnam War in Canada left Fred stranded in Portland. The band proper, Dead Moon, actually started recording music in 1987; 23 years after Fred’s start in the music business, and hasn’t rested since. So just how do this band merit a review and a release from obscurity? It’s Sub Pop to the rescue! Nearly twenty years’ worth of Dead Moon material has been collected by Fred Cole himself and put out on a two-disc retrospective set.
I first heard of Dead Moon, without realizing it mind you, when I listened to the soundtrack to the documentary about the Northwestern music scene, Hype! Their song, “54/40 or Fight” was the one track that surprised me. I had, of course, heard of Green River, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, the Gits, the Posies and hell, even Pigeonhed. But I had never heard of Dead Moon. As I said, the song surprised me, becoming one of the tracks that I would end up playing again and again. Little was I to know who they were, their story, their legacy or their importance to the scene. I’d even venture to say that the Coles, at least in the Pacific Northwest, are considered to be more rock royalty than Kim and Thurston. Ironically, the band has and had all the right ingredients to be a major label hit, including a blend of melody and image, hard rock and blues, and a killer logo of a skull in a crescent moon. But DIY is as much a part of their life as the constant touring and Spartan lifestyles. And as much as the Dead Moon story could overshadow everything else about them, their music is the real treasure.
“Graveyard” is one of their earliest songs, and so kicks off the first disc, sounding like an even more garage-y version of a 13th Floor Elevators song. “Dagger Moon,” “DOA” and “Over the Edge” are absolute stunners and must have for any rock collection, brimming with intensity and nervous energy. Toody takes her vocal turn on a number of tracks, including “Running Scared,” which finds her giving Exene a run for her money. The song from the Hype! soundtrack, “54/40 or Fight,” is included here as well, which is fitting since it was not only my own, but many a person’s introduction to this underappreciated band. Nowhere on the record is Fred Cole more animated than he is on the live tracks, cementing their status as one of the area’s most exciting live acts. When he screams the song’s title between rapid-fire guitar and drum-beats, then wails, “Alriiight!”, you can’t help but get involved. It is that particular song that begins a series of songs featuring Fred’s manic screaming, one of the band’s trademarks, and one of the things that makes them so damn electric. But then they go and surprise you by changing it up with such amazing tracks as “Fire in the Western World,” “Can’t Do That” and “13 Going on 21.” How is it that this band hasn’t become huge?
There’s a lot of music on Echoes of the Past, just shy of fifty songs, and it’s a lot to take in, but every minute of every track is worth the trip. From their debut album, In the Graveyard to their 2001 LP, Trash & Burn, nearly every aspect of Dead Moon is presented here, not that anyone but the rabid faithful would know the difference. Watch for vinyl copies of Dead Moon’s previous album start reaching astronomical prices as there will be much demand for these mono masterpieces after the release of Echoes from the Past. Avoid the exorbitant prices and the replacement of that diamond needle you haven’t used in ten years, just get the Sub Pop anthology of this Northwestern gem and you’ll have plenty of great Dead Moon garage jams for a good long while.
Label: Sub Pop