I was given a mini tambourine and a glow bracelet when I saw Meridian play in the East Village, and I liked that more than I should have. The incentive to raise your hands on the choruses grew out of accessories. Toys in the air like a downtown revival, the energy was contagious.
“When you come to our shows it’s really people just celebrating life,” frontman Bradley Valentin explains. He and guitarist Yohimbe Sampson wrote the song “Magic,” and their band Meridian grew as a result.
On record, “Magic” live has the big sound of '80s pop rock. At Ella that night, the crowd mouthed the lyrics, “How’re we going to feel the magic,” moving with the drums, exchanging smiles with the musicians.
The live show started with rhythm, building bass lines over drums. Bradley entered, crossing the stage sipping from a silver thermos. At the microphone his voice filled the room, melody through an echo effect. Yohimbe’s acoustic guitar rang out warm, then switched into rhythmic beats, filtered through an effect that made the strings squeak, turntable-esque.
What’s the Meridian sound? Vocalist Bradley can’t answer that question but thinks everyone else can.
“We all have our own interpretations of life and our experiences with love and all these things we go through as human beings. So for me it’s kind of like, somebody presents you with a painting and your interpretation really makes it art. So there really is no answer to that question. It’s how you view it and how you see Meridian.”
How did I see Meridian? Off-stage I saw a savvy city crowd of 20-somethings, enviable haircuts, fun outfits. The band was obviously enjoying the songs. The audience was paying attention to the music. The feeling in the basement was upbeat, expectant.
Bradley describes a Meridian show and the band’s experience. “The live show is definitely an experience for us musicians on the stage, as well as for the crowd. [There’s] a focus when we’re on stage of doing our best to make something that really sounds good.”
“It’s one energy that’s surrounding the room, surrounding our spirits and we are just expressing how we’re all feeling at the moment. At that moment we’re all unified.”
What’s my interpretation of the Meridian sound? Listening to the album the songs have a cohesive feel of well-crafted rock with poppy synths and programmed drums. But on stage the experience shifted from tune to tune. At Ella I took notes:
Sounds of sky and rain, canyons of melody. Acoustic guitar and vocals combined with tight rhythm and hitting hooks. Classic '70s drive, never tries too hard, just floats and spins. Pace speeds into garage band territory with “I'm Ready.” Burn everything down, ending. Massive drums!
Bradley on writing a Meridian song: “When we improvise and jam… we want to test ourselves. We want to see how close our mind is to how we’re feeling at that moment.”
Desert wail, night wind across sand. Slow rock of the best sort. Building, balanced, paced out. Ringing vocals. Driving rhythm. Beautiful battleground, the struggle of youth. Slim men in denim.
One chorus sounded lovely until I made out the lyrics.
“Bombs are blowing little kids' arms off every day,” sung sweet and lilting. Puzzling for its twisted irony, until the fuzz pedal kicks in and overdrive solidifies the sentiment.
A heavier, hitting rock tune closed in guitar solo. Bare chest, cowboy boots and guitar strings took over. Yohimbe finished playing and Bradley bantered. He mentioned being Haitian and someone near the stage cheered.
The video for “Magic” includes iconic shots of New York City and painted ladies. Meridian’s second video, "Truth," blends in scenes from the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and takes singer and guitarist on a quest out into countryside. Earlier this summer, Meridian played some dates in New Orleans. The weekend after the Ella show, the four musicians played a street festival at home in Brooklyn.
Bradley sees Meridian continuing to connect and build. “Playing in Meridian, I see it as an opportunity. Because we write songs and create music based around the things that are happening directly in our life, something happens we write a song about it, it’s given me a really direct relationship with art. And I feel fortunate and eager to see how it continues to go. Eventually it’ll give me a direct relationship to the world.”