Secret Chiefs 3 – Homage to the Strange and Bizarre


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At long last – after years of waiting and several missed opportunities – I finally got to witness a Secret Chiefs 3 show at Harlow’s on February 10… and let’s just say that they put on a show to remember. I had a lot of expectations going in; hearing only rumors and vague fan tales, and yet they completely destroyed any previous preconceptions and reestablished themselves as true legends in the avant-garde music scene. Diabolical is one of the only words that came to mind immediately following the show. Attempting to classify this musical outfit would be preposterous, absurd, and fruitless. The compositions are diverse and delve into an array of different genres including surf rock, Middle Eastern ambiance, classical,  death metal, and electronic.

sc3-newThis cluster-cuss of different styles isn’t juxtaposed in a Frankenstein-ian, sporadic fashion. Trey Spruance, the mastermind behind Secret Chiefs 3, is a master of composition. Their albums are highly conceptual and mysterious that tell a story through their enchanting arrangement of sounds and noises,  ultimately possessing a certain strangeness that isn’t easily copied. This band is enigmatic,  prolific, and shrouded in obscurity – they literally come out in cloaks with sequenced pentagrams patterned on their backsides. 

Back to their performance at Harlow’s. Without a single word, they managed to blow everybody’s mind – relentlessly unloading a carefully practiced set of unclassifiable tunes. The band emerged as a five piece, and mostly everybody except the drummer traded instruments several times throughout the performance. I was sitting front row stage right, within feet of the band. Reflecting back on that night, there was no way I could have prepare myself for what followed. The first song was essentially a classical ballad, heavily synth-based and layered with multiple melodies. Each song they played seamlessly transitioned to the next, maintaining the ambiance of the last. Spruance had several instruments that I couldn’t even identify, including a “sympitar” which combines parts of the guitar with a sitar.

They kept building and building the dialogue between each instrument until it reached its crescendo; I remember the look on the drummer’s face when the song reach a breakdown. He was in a trance, the complex drum beat in a difficult time signature created an altered state of consciousnesssecret chiefs 3 (1) for all who perceived the frequency. Guitars and synths would fade into the background, the bass would hold steady and build a mesmerizing ambiance, and without warning they would all return to the main theme and finish with silence.

This continued for a solid hour and a half, assaulting and leaving us all in a speechless awe. Our singular gaze was transfixed on the cloaked masterminds, and a loud shout in between songs commented, “we are only mortals.”  Aye, in fact we are, but I question whether Trey Spruance and his musical genius is of or from this world. One of the many highlights from this performance was their cover of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” theme, which I was desperately waiting for them to play!

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