Good southern rock comes across like gospel, the kind of thing that envelopes the listener with its own kind of special aura. And like gospel music, it may move you on record, but it’s best realized as a live experience that feeds on its own vibes. Which is what makes Deadman’s Live at the Saxon Pub such a thing of beauty. From the opening swell of guitars and swirling Hammond B3, “Brother John” sets a scene and a tone that overflows the humble settings of the Saxon. “Well I remember seeing you at the show, and what seemed like yesterday turned out to be a long time ago,” croons Steven Collins at the outset, and that timeless quality of the sound explodes the tunes, accented by the chorus of backing vocals that elevates the song into a classic mold.
The sextet clearly knows their milieu of Seventies folk rock, resurrecting the ghosts of the Band or Little Feet, with touches of the Grateful Dead, Crazy Horse, and Brothers both Allman and Flying Burrito. In other words, Deadman dives headfirst into the era and rather than try to really update it with any particular contemporary flourish, rightfully sticks with what works and simply raises it to their own exceptional level. The seven-minute jam of “If I Lay Down in the River” rolls with so much southern groove that it seems a complete anachronism, even shouting out to the Band’s Cahoots with a chorus of “Life is a carousel , believe it or not. Life is carousel, two bits a shot.” Likewise, the six-and-a-half minute “Love Will Guide You Home” slows the pace but doesn’t let up on one bit on the fervent feel. This is music that almost forces your eyes closed and head to sway.
“Adios Mi Corazon” and “The Ballad of the Gold Thief” are really the only tracks that shift from the formula, dropping below the boarder with a Mexican flourish. The guitar of the former actually hearkens Willie Nelson, while the latter’s hushed vocals come off like Calexico. Although the album doesn’t ever pick back up to the glory of those first four tracks, “Take Up Your Mat and Walk” and the Faulkner-inspired “Absalom! Absalom!” both carry a more subtle effectiveness. “Mankind” closes out the live set kicking inspiration, returning to the gospel flair that underlies so much of Deadman’s sound and aesthetic.
Live at the Saxon Pub captures Deadman as they are best presented, able to jam behind the driving guitars and immaculate organ with fantastic backing harmonies that seem to expand against the entire room. Taken as whole, the album still has some misfires that suggest the set will improve with their catalogue, but the band proves amazingly together and able to build off of each other throughout the show. It’s easy to imagine that returning to a live album in another five years or so, the result will be an astounding document. As is, it stands as probably the best local live album offered up since Band of Heathens’ Live at Antone’s, which is an accomplishment in its own right and hopefully an impetus to see them on stage.