Concert Reviews
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Live Review: …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Surfer Blood in Chicago (5/7)

on May 09, 2011, 10:39am

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead‘s career has become a legendary indie rock soap opera. After a promising beginning characterized by ambitious art punk and stage-destroying live shows, their third album, Source Tags & Codes catapulted them to instant acclaim that culminated in universal adoration and a highly coveted perfect 10.0 rating from Pitchfork. After that, they had a lot to live up to, and in many fans’ eyes, failed to do so, releasing record after record saddled by increasingly bloated production and confusingly busy album artwork. Unable to capitalize on their hype (and understandably so), it felt like every release saw them purposely distancing themselves from the direct, yet sweeping rawness of Source Tags & Codes, instead reaching for prog rock greatness that could never be obtained. Their seventh studio album, this year’s Tao Of The Dead, has been heralded as a back-to-basics record, and while it’s hard to know just what that means these days, Saturday night’s performance at the Bottom Lounge was a testament to their new-found minimalism; a sparsely arranged set performed by a four piece band with no keyboards, ambiance or other distracting frills.

Although the band opened with the rousing five-part, 16-and-a-half minute closer from Tao of the Dead, “Strange News From Another Planet”, the rest of the set stuck to bloody-jawed rockers and concise anthems, most of them under four minutes. Frontmen (and only consistent members) Conrad Keely and Jason Reece thrashed their twin snarls through breakneck gems such as “Fake Fake Eyes” as well as the salvageable material from Worlds Apart, including live staple “Smile Again For Me”. A mid-set suite of three blistering tracks from Source Tags & Codes (“It Was There That I Saw You”, “How Near, How Far”, and “Homage”) saw Reece tagging out current drummer Jamie Miller for some face time behind the skins, bolstering the set with his machine gun fills that were so thrilling on the band’s watershed album.

trailofdeadmellin Live Review: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Surfer Blood in Chicago (5/7)

Photo by Joshua Mellin

During the stadium ready call and response of “Caterwaul”, Reece wandered deep into the crowd before returning to the stage and musing, “That was fun. And isn’t that what it’s about? Having fun?” There wasn’t a hint of snark or irony in his words, assuring fans that despite their colorful and dramatic history, Trail Of Dead were simply there to put on a great show. As they left the stage following set closer “Totally Natural”, Keely briefly glanced at his amp stack and half heartedly tipped it over. It was a far cry from the blood and sweat-soaked pandemonium of their earlier shows (after all, both he and Reece are pushing 40), but Keely’s smirk to the audience was enough to let them know that the band still has enough youthful insanity to deliver a blazing performance.

Where as Trail Of Dead are a collective of indie veterans returning to their roots, Surfer Blood are enjoying having just found theirs. With only one album under their belt (last year’s damn near perfect Astro Coast) and all of the band members in their early twenties, their first year of touring saw them trying to hone in on their live sound. But Saturday night found them brimming with bravado; frontman John Paul Pitts’ once hesitant live warble was filled with the ethereal vibrations that are so evocative on record (expected opener “Floating Vibes”, “Swim”, and “Catholic Pagans” were standouts), his vocals enhanced by his swaggering prance and frequent stage dives into the audience, most notably on the youthful melancholy of “Take It Easy”.

surferbloodmellin Live Review: ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Surfer Blood in Chicago (5/7)

Photo by Joshua Mellin

Lead guitarist Thomas Fekete shined on tracks where the hook lies in the solo, his ghostly beach stylings particularly resonant on “Harmonix” and “Fast Jabroni”. Pleasant surprises included four new songs even more rooted in ’90s guitar hero nostalgia than the Surfer Blood’s debut and a whimsical cover of The Pixies’ “Gigantic” sung by the band’s merch girl. Encore closer “Anchorage” was the evening’s standout, the keyboard-twinged finale replaced by an extensive jam session that ended in the band jokingly knocking over their equipment, as if they were Muppet Baby versions of…um, Trail of Dead.

Photography by Joshua Mellin.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead setlist:
Strange News From Another Planet
The Spiral Jetty
Weight Of The Sun
Ebb Away
Smile Again For Me
It Was There That I Saw You
How Near, How Far
Fake Fake Eyes
Totally Natural”

Surfer Blood setlist:
Floating Vibes
Twin Peaks
I’m Not Ready
Untitled new song
Take It Easy
Fast Jabroni
Catholic Pagans
Neighbour Riffs
Untitled new song
Gigantic (Pixies cover)

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