When The Maldives provided a live soundtrack to the 1925 silent western Riders of the Purple Sage Tuesday night at the Triple Door as part of SIFF’s Face the Music series, it wasn’t what one might typically expect from a Maldives show at, say, the Tractor Tavern. Patrons were seated by candlelight, sipping on clear-liquored cocktails and nibbling on bruschetta instead of packing themselves in front of a stage, pounding whiskey and... not eating. The setting was appropriate, however, as this was, first and foremost, the screening of a seminal western classic, to which The Maldives were simply supporting with musical accompaniment. It was a unique, exciting, and thoroughly successful performance that fulfilled all the audience could have expected from such a show.
The stage was set up appropriately as well. A giant projector screen hung on the back of the stage, with The Maldives situated on either side of it. To the audience’s left were two electric guitars, an electric bass, and drums. To the right were an acoustic guitar, a banjo, a violin, and a pedal steel. All of The Maldives were donning full western regalia, including a Clint Eastwood-style hat pulled down on front man Jason Dodson, who was seated closest to the audience on the right side of the stage with his acoustic guitar on his knee.
The movie started rolling, first displaying the credits, listing “scenario by...” instead of “screenplay,” and a brief premise introduction, noting that the film takes place in the “80s” … that is the 1880s -- in case you forgot, this is an old movie. As the action started, The Maldives began playing. Even though I saw them standing up there, and knew they would be playing along live, it still took a split second for me to register that the music wasn’t just a recording coming through the speakers, and it continued to take me a while to fully acclimate myself to the nature of the performance; it was a strange experience to be following along with a movie while a band is playing live at the fringes of the screen.
Musically, The Maldives did a more-than-admirable job of complementing the action on screen. They played sauntering, slowed-down melodies during scenes depicting everyday action; sweet, light-hearted numbers during scenes depicting the budding romance between hero Jim Lassiter, played by Tom Mix, and heroine Jane Withersteen; and transitioned into full-bore jams with full, un-softened drums during the more intense chase and gunfight scenes. There were traces of licks and lines from Maldives songs, but they were tempered in deference to the film, which the band understood was what the event was set up to showcase.
The most impressive and impactful synchronization of the music and the film came during the movie’s climax, when Lassiter, Jane, and Jane’s just-rescued adopted daughter Faye are on the run after Lassiter has just killed the evil Judge Dyer, who had kidnapped Fay. The three protagonists are scaling a cliff looking for refuge from the seemingly hundreds chasing them as The Maldives are slowly building up their song “Time is Right Now.” Once Lassiter, Jane, and Fay reach the top of the cliff, Dyer’s men hot on their tail, The Maldives are rocking out the hardest they have all night. Lassiter must now make a choice: push a boulder over and cause an avalanche to bury their pursuants, or think of another alternative. The only problem is that pushing the boulder over would trap the three in the lush hidden valley on the other side of the cliff “forever.” Jane tells Lassiter that she loves him and urges him to push the boulder, and as Lassiter is making his decision we hear Dodson sing for the first time of the night, belting out “the tiiiiime is right noooow” as the band continues to jam and Lassiter finally pushes the boulder down the cliff. The climax now reached, both musically and dramatically, the band relieves the tension with a snare-less, subdued outro as Lassiter, Jane, and Fay look over the hidden valley that will now be there home.
The Maldives left the stage humbly to a prolonged round of applause. Everyone in attendance had to have been impressed with the performance, which was truly something special. The night, which was an experiment in the mixing of music and filmed, could not have gone over better and there was nothing that could have put a damper on the experience, not even the bill I received for the pint of IPA and vegetarian Buddha Rolls I ordered -- since when does an appetizer and a beer set you back fifteen bucks?!