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Murder By Death

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Murder by Death/Appleseed Cast/Unwed Sailor/Street to Nowhere

The Conservatory, Oklahoma City, OK

I have looked forward to this concert for a long time- mostly because my favorite song in the world is The Appleseed Cast’s “Fishing the Sky” (which I wrote about last month), Unwed Sailor’s The Faithful Anchor is a fantastic album, and we’ve written about Street to Nowhere in Independent Clauses before (we reviewed their first-ever demo back when we weren’t even monthly). This concert was worth waiting for.

Street to Nowhere kicked off the bands, and while their sound was the least technical, it was cemented by a solid vocal performance. Their moody indie-rock often conformed to the soft/loud/soft/loud pattern of songwriting, but with lead singer Dave’s impeccable two-octave range, whistling, occasional yelling, and miscellaneous vocal noises, the song were never, ever boring. They played a couple songs I recognized, the best one being “Dead Cliché”, which was passionate and gripping. The audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy their set, which is uncommon for an opener band, but when you’re this talented, it’s easy to enjoy. You can catch them on tour for the next month with The Futureheads and the Cold War Kids. They’ve already toured with the Format, too…so they’re going places.

Unwed Sailor brought their brand of highly technical, complicated, intricate, difficult rock to the forefront next. Their songs were so long that they only played 3 or 4, but what they did play was fantastic. Weaving guitar lines, dainty key sections, thundering drum beats that reminded me for a second of the Appleseed Cast’s complex drumming, and a bassist that almost decapitated two guys in the front row with all of his violent thrashing resulted in one of the most engrossing shows I’ve seen in a while. Their sound was fantastic, and even without vocals, the crowd was pretty involved. With exciting guitar riffs and a firm grip on dynamics, it was to be expected.

Appleseed Cast set up a surprisingly small amount of equipment- one small keyboard, two guitars, a bass, and a standard drumset except for one additional small china cymbal. There weren’t a huge amount of pedals, nor was there much other stuff. It is sheer musicianship that makes the Appleseed Cast’s music- not trickery. While they didn’t play “Fishing the Sky” (much to my dismay), they did play extremely well, mixing up material from their new album Peregrine with older material. The highlights of the show were “Sunlit and Ascending” and “Mountain Halo”, though- both off the new album, but both astounding in their overall presentation. Watching the drummer play was like watching a gymnast do a routine- arms and legs were always moving in strange directions, although many of the drumbeats seemed to move around the drum set in a circular fashion. While their movements were pretty static, their lack of activity was made up for in sheer power and musical excitement. They rarely talked to the audience, preferring to play tape-recorded segments in a 50’s radio announcer style about the state of the world and politics and things in general. It was cool, although I would’ve liked to hear them say more. Overall, their confidence and composure was impressive. When a band can stop a song in the middle to fix a broken bass drum beater, then start up without missing a note, you know they’re onto something good.

Finally, Murder by Death attacked the stage. I say attacked, and I mean it. I have never seen anything quite like Murder By Death. The rhythm section looked like it just graduated from a hardcore band- I’m not sure if they always dress in all black or if they whipped it out just for this show, but their tattoed, black-wearing, ear-pierced, intimidating selves looked ready to beat someone’s face in. The guitarist and the cellist dressed in garb more reminiscent of an indie-rock powerhouse, but they still looked ready for a wild throwdown. Their wild sound seems almost impossible to put to paper- sometimes like a wild psychobilly band, sometimes sounding like a hardcore band with a cello, as lead singer Adam Turla yelled the lyrics and the audience yelled back at him. Sometimes they sounded like a straight-up rock band, with crashing drums, throbbing bass, and wild strumming on a guitar in the shape of flames (it didn’t have flames on it- it was carved in the shape of flames. How tight is that?). The best moments came when the cello was featured- I have never seen anyone attack a stringed instrument with as much fervor as cellist Sarah Balliet did. Her arms were frantic, working the bow and fretting with such speed that I didn’t think that anything cohesive could possibly be coming out, notewise. But I was always proved wrong, as the music was always immaculate. I have never seen a band love being a band as much as Murder By Death does- joking between songs, laughing while playing, smiling often, they just seemed to love being who they were. Songs about zombies? Awesome. Songs about brothers? or whiskey? Anything goes, as long as they like it.

Some people at the show had every lyric memorized, and yelled along and sung along and whispered along, making the atmosphere even more intense. It was the most fun I’ve had at a concert in a long, long time. If and when Murder by Death comes back, I will be there. They’ve converted me.

I think it’s the only show I’ve ever been to where I had four extremely positive experiences out of the four bands I heard. Definitely a tour worth catching, if you can. It’s an amazing time.

-Stephen Carradini