Review and Photos by Tony BonyataSpawned from the saddle-sore loins of Austin, TX, a city historically renowned for blues and country music, comes its bastard offspring And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, a rock band that has less in common with this once rootsy region than, say, with the nuclear holocaust.
The Texas quartet's live shows have long been revered by critics and fans alike as one of the most explosive and sonically dangerous acts to grace the stage. But it wasn't until their 2002 major label debut Source Tags and Codes that the band was able to successfully translate their strange, yet beautiful juxtaposition of melody and mayhem onto disc. Now with a three-song E.P. out to promote their forthcoming release Worlds Apart it might appear that the band is moving towards a more compromising sound, leaning a little closer towards the pop side of their art. Their cover of Genesis' "Back in NYC," a gem from the 1975 album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, offers a modern update with vocalist / guitarist / drummer Conrad Keely's sinister witch-on-a-spit vocal delivery dripping over the heavily synthed-up song, while the band also revisits the sweet Goffin/King penned pop delicacy "The Porpoise Song," a song first recorded by The Monkees in the late '60s for the theme song of their first full-length movie Head. And despite the title track from their new album starting off with a threatening expletive there's no denying - with jangly guitars sparkling over a waltzing rhythm in stormtrooper boots - the band's attempt at something much more mainstream than anything they've attempted before.
But when Trail of Dead blew through Chicago last week for their performance at Metro the band showed no sign of altering their volatile stage performance with pop ditties and prog rock stripped of its gaudy fineries. No, this was a show built on blood, sweat and power seemingly tapped directly from the spigot of the Cook County Electric Company. Well-known songs from Source Tags and Codes and their album Madonna, such as "It Was There That I Saw You," "Baudelaire" and "A Perfect Teenhood" fueled the attentive, yet surprisingly subdued (considering the intensity of the music) audience, while a good dose of the chaotic newer numbers (almost unclassifiable by genre) mixed in shades of pummeling metal, snotty punk, pop rock and even a bit of avant-garde jazz.
Despite the onslaught of ear-shattering noise and raucous raunch , however, there was no slop to found. Much like a well-planned and executed battle strategy, the band had their own onstage blitzkrieg well mapped out in advance. Both Keely and vocalist / guitarist / drummer Jason Reece traded off between the singer / guitarist role to that of secondary drummer (despite the fact that there was two drummers performing together for most of the night, it proved to be unnecessary baggage since the duo played most everything exactly the same, merely elevated the percussive volume without adding much of an organic nature to the rhythms). Most of Keely's angst poured out through his fevered guitar work, as his vocals - even when delivered with impassioned screams - had more of a melodic sense than that of Reece's, whose angst-ridden testosterone-fueled delivery felt like it was shot directly into the crowd from a cannon.
Never has musical mayhem, aggressive noise and sonic discord been as eloquent and exquisite as this.
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