March 13, 2009

Murder By Death nearly killed me. But in a totally good way.


Sounds like a grim endeavor, what with all the murder and dying, but last week I drove to the Black Sheep in Colorado Springs (a mere five minutes from my house, and a pleasant change from my normal hour-commute to Denver shows) to see the highly-recommended Murder By Death. This band from Indiana blends an elegant Gothic Americana with some serious ghosts of the Man in Black walking amongst us. They delivered a powerful, jaw-dropping set that churned up a gut punch.

In the way that the color black absorbs all the other colors, the music of Murder By Death is dark but also displays lyrical depth and rich musical beauty. They are definitely a young band, with the defiance of punk and the wilderness of the outlaw west, but also channeling the spirit of past generations. During their whole set, the screen across the stage flickered with old movies, from Nosferatu-type silent hauntings to Clint Eastwood laying dying the desert, lips parched, their music the only soundtrack. It became eerie, and suited their mood perfectly.

Comin’ Home – Murder By Death



The stirring and ferocious baritone of Adam Turla reminds me of the heft behind songwriters like Nick Cave and, of course, Johnny Cash. Turla is tall, bearded and lanky, and too young to have been friends with Cash but the kind of guy I think he would have really liked nonetheless. Once Turla started talking more and telling stories, he galvanized the crowd through his engaging wit. He regaled us with a tale of the last time they played Aspen, how one older cougar-lady sipping white wine kept hitting on every member of the band and asking them to get a drink with her at the bar. And then John Oates (yep, that one) came and reclaimed her. It was Amy Oates, his wife. Whoops.

The venue was packed with an immense variety of folks, from the 16+ crowd (who were surprisingly enthusiastic about a band with such storied leanings) to big dudes holding lighters up to punks and rockabilly girls — and plenty of average twenty-somethings like me, all singing along and pumping their fists at the choruses. This is a band with an absolutely riveting live presence, one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. My chest thudded in time with their beats and their bass lines. They’ve built up quite a following over the years, both on headlining tours (like the current one) and opening for everyone from Lucero, Interpol, Cursive, Weakerthans, and William Elliott Whitmore.



Cellist Sarah Balliet was fascinating to watch, pouring herself into her heart-stoppingly sad solos. Her instrument really anchors and defines this whole band for me (along with the piano of Vincent Edwards), giving it an elegiac undercurrent of sadness, but also wailing and rocking when she’d go to town. It proved to me how certain forms of music from America’s history never lose their punch or their allure, and how smart kids are still pushing its boundaries and making it their own.

Watch: “Fuego!” from this show -

BUY: Red of Tooth and Claw (Vagrant, 2008)

— go!!!!
Mar 20 – Low Key Arts Hot Springs, AR
Mar 21 – Hi-Tone Cafe Memphis, TN
Mar 27 – 7minus7 Alternative Artists Alliance, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Mar 28 – Larry’s Landing St John, US Virgin Islands
Mar 30 – Rhumblines St. John, US Virgin Islands
Apr 2 – The Beach Bar St. John, US Virgin Islands
Apr 15 – Blind Pig Ann Arbor, MI
(superparty fantastico celebrational 1000th show!!!)
Apr 16 – Legendary Horseshoe Tavern Toronto, Ontario
Apr 17 – Petit Campus Montreal, Quebec
Apr 18 – Maverick’s Ottawa, Ontario
Apr 19 – Call The Office London, Ontario
Apr 20 – Otto’s Nightclub Dekalb, IL
Apr 21 – Triple Rock Minneapolis, MN
Apr 22 – The Aquarium Fargo, North Dakota
Apr 23 – Royal Albert Hotel Winnipeg, Manitoba
Apr 24 – The Distrikt Regina, Saskatchewan
Apr 25 – Amigo’s Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Apr 26 – The Starlite Room Edmonton, Alberta
Apr 27 – Palamino Smokehouse Calgary, Alberta
Apr 29 – The Bourbon Vancouver, British Columbia
May 1 – Railyard Ale House Billings, Montana
May 2 – American Legion Casper, Wyoming
May 4 – Nutty’s North Sioux Falls, South Dakota
May 6 – Mojo’s Columbia, Missouri
May 7 – Off Broadway Nightclub Saint Louis, Missouri
May 8- Muscatatuck Park Jennings County, Indiana


[see all my photos here]

November 4, 2008

Monday Music Roundup, Tuesday edition

On this rather historic U.S. election day, I can almost feel the crackle of excitement in the air around town. I am pleased with this. I am excited for people getting involved and for the sense of personal commitment and ability to make a difference. As the wise Italian hip-hop sage Jovanotti once said in his song “Dal Basso” with Michael Franti: “tutto nasce dal basso (e poi va su)” — all change is birthed from the bottom (and then rises up). Let’s go out and do it.

The music of the week for me includes:

Black Rice

As demonstrated at their scuzzy-loud, pop-layered, feedback-drenched show last night in Denver, there aren’t actually any women in this Canadian band. They are, however, engaged in a fierce battle for “Worst Band Name To Google, Ever.” Currently Air and Bread hold the title, but Cake and Spoon are close behind. Nice try, Women. Their self-titled debut album (out now on Flemish Eye) was recorded by labelmate Chad VanGaalen, and possesses a delightfully unclassifiable combo of ’50s reverb, Warhol’s art experimentation, and ’90s spaceyness. The night seemed abuzz with folks wondering who this band was.

Steal Away
Murder by Death
It is not possible to hear this song and deny that the spirit of the Man In Black is back walking among us in fresh new incarnations. The moniker Murder By Death sounds vaguely emo, but actually they take their name from the 1976 Neil Simon/Robert Moore movie. This four-piece from Indiana turns an inventive and melancholic ear to their craft to create a uniquely brooding blend of creatively dark Americana. Red Of Tooth And Claw is their fourth album, their first on Vagrant Records, and the excellent Eric caused me to take a closer look at them when he wrote that it’s “full of fatally-doomed antebellum romance and directly descended from the Southern gothic tradition.” Yes.

Blitzen Trapper
Currently on tour with Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks, Portland’s Blitzen Trapper comes through Denver later this week in support of their rad Sub Pop debut Furr. The title track is one of the loveliest songs to add to my playlist in recent months, and one creative friend wrote that it “makes me well up like I am watching that movie about sled dogs by disney,” a description that amused me greatly. This previously unreleased tune from BT carries on a bit of that wild playfulness, and can be found on the soundtrack to the movie adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke, which also includes the 2004 Ben Kweller song “The Rules,” and a Doors cover by Nicole Atkins & The Sea.

The Sun Smells Too Loud
The sweeping cinematic grandeur of Scottish band Mogwai will take the willing off onto mental escapades, much like what Sigur Ros does for me. The last I heard from Mogwai they were weaving their atmospherically gorgeous contribution to the Zidane documentary, but the newest free Matador Records sampler highlights this cut off their sixth album The Hawk Is Howling. It is dizzying like a bright sun, elegant in the build and cascade.

Good Arms vs. Bad Arms (live)
Frightened Rabbit

As I’ll probably sum up in some sort of end-of-the-year retrospective, Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit put on one of my top 5 shows this year. Some might shy from the guttingly brutal lyrics in their introspective-but-ferocious songs chronicling the death of a relationship, but I’ll jump in. I’ll do the catharsis, and they do it so well. Frightened Rabbit have a new live album out now on FatCat UK called Liver! Lung! FR!, which is an unconventional but fitting title for a band that eviscerates me like this. This version of Good Arms vs Bad Arms is slower, sadder and somehow more beautiful than the album version. It sounds almost like a eulogy, and in a way I guess it is.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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