"This is why we keep doin' this ten years later."
Murder by Death vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla was in his element towards the end of their set at sold-out Bishop on Saturday night. They screwed with us near the end of "Dynamite Mine," extending the gaps and throwing everyone in the crowd off the beat. He just laughed, and everyone else joined him. It was an awesome, unique set by Bloomington's heroes due to a serious injury prior to the gig, but let's back up a minute.
The Coke Dares didn't start things off until 11:30 (past my bedtime five nights of the week) but luckily this show kept me entertained through and through and yawn-free. The Coke Dares are the polar opposite of these guys' main gig, Magnolia Electric Co. While Magnolia is pretty laid-back and pretty damn alt-country with lapsteel, piano and the like, the Coke Dares' deal is that all their songs are a minute or less and straight-up punk rock. Sure, it's not the most original idea, but they do it so well I will give them a pass. The story behind it (from their MySpace) is a funny one. To paraphrase: They were asked to play a wedding reception for a friend and were to learn a bunch of covers. When it came time for the gig, they would play each song and it would fall apart at the bridge. Turns out they all only learned the verse and chorus from each song. No bridges, no interludes. So they took this philosophy to their originals.
The trio's sound is just a raw yet melodic brand of punk, but throughout their 25-song set, they mixed up tempos, singers, lengths (ranging from about seven seconds to nearing the 1:30 mark) and did some cool stuff like vocal harmonies, sludgy riffs and scratchy solos. The best part, though, was the humor element. Not that the songs were supposed to be all that funny--it was more the in-between. It was OCD in a way that got funnier and funnier as the set wore on: Before EVERY song, bassist Pete Schreiner would reach over and spin drummer Pervert aka Mark Rice's crash cymbal. After EVERY song, guitarist Jason Groth would shout "Thank you!", "Thank you very much!" or the occasional "Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen!" punctuating the songs as if we couldn't possibly believe they were over already. In-between-song stage banter usually revolved around some hilarious comments against republicans or religion, or just about being rock 'n' rollers. One example: They were talking about playing a house show in Michigan and their sleeping arrangements, and Groth said Mark slept on a couch called "Old Stainy" and he "slept on potato chips," and before a song called "Tour Rot" Groth said that after they get home from a tour, they like to put all their sweat-stained clothes in a bag, spray it with Febreze and leave it in the van for a week. "That shit smells...goooood." A standout would be "The Guys at Auto Zone were Assholes." Check 'em out on their MySpace.
So about an hour before the show started, my friend Scot called me up and filled me on what was sure to be a different kind of Murder by Death show. Scot knows the dudes from way back, and was talking to Turla and found out that their drummer Dagan Thogerson had just smashed his hand in a freight elevator door a week ago. I found it interesting that he had, just prior to the accident, been giving a drum lesson to kindergartners at a friend's school in Portland, where he lives. When returning his drums to his storage facility, he pulled the door down on the elevator, thinking it closed at the floor. No, this is one of those where the bottom comes up and it closes in the middle. As he pulled with his left hand, his right hand was just hanging there and got smashed between the heavy metal doors. I talked to him about it after the set and got to inspect the damage. Let's just say it was pretty gross and he calls them his "sausage fingers." So the band decided that instead of canceling, they would prepare an acoustic set, because Dagan couldn't hold a stick in that hand. But the day of the show he convinced them he could, and it turned into a rather unique set, with Turla playing acoustic guitar the entire night despite the full drums (pulled back a tad volume-wise and sometime played with rods), with bassist Matt Armstrong also rocking acoustic bass on many tunes. Sarah Balliet's cello parts suddenly became much more prevalent, and they also called in their old keyboardist Vincent Edwards to fill out the sound on Nord keyboard, Rhodes and accordion.
Bloomington loves their most successful band and welcomed them with open arms, shouting along, yelling back and forth with Turla, and overall just loving the shit out of it. The response to the new songs was even more uproarious than to the classics, a rare feat. They played three off the upcoming Good Morning, Magpie, and though they touch on familiar Western-tinged musical themes and familiar topics (read: whiskey), it appears that the album may be more straightforward and, dare I say "happy," or at the very least, more major key-oriented. "What's next? Or right, another whiskey song," Turla quipped, pulling out a flask and emptying it into his plastic cup (they only have a beer license at the Bishop). The band launched into "As Long as There Is Whiskey in the World," which is practically a Pogues song, with a classic chord progression and sing-along chorus. I was able to join in on the catchy chorus of "Kings of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs" before the song's end as well. "You Don't Miss Twice (When You're Shavin' with a Knife)" is up there along with the best MBD titles, and was great as well with the walking lines of the bass and acoustic guitar lining up with the vocals in cool ways. These three, along with the two songs they've released streaming ("Foxglove" and "The Day"), have me very excited about the upcoming album.
- Comin' Home
- '52 Ford
- A Masters in Reverse Psychology
- Ball & Chain
- King of the Gutters, Prince of the Dogs -- from the upcoming Magpie
- As Long as There Is Whiskey in the World -- Magpie
- You Don't Miss Twice (When You're Shavin' with a Knife) -- Magpie
- The Devil in Mexico
- Dynamite Mine
- Until Morale Improves, the Beatings will Continue
- Three Men Hanging
- Steam Rising
- Spring Break 1899 Encore:
- I'm Afraid of Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe
For not doing many show reviews, I sure picked a good one. It was a great end to the new Bloomington festival--The Pit Stop Music Marathon--which in my eyes was a huge success and I hope Spirit of '68 Productions brings it back in 2011.