Friday, May 20, 2011

Show Review/Retrospective: Trail of Dead & Surfer Blood (Bowery Ballroom NYC 4/29/11)

And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead (or “Trail of Dead” in the short form) came in guns blazing with the 2002 LP Source Tags & Codes which was arguable one of the best albums of the decade (Pitchfork rated it a perfect 10.0) and then then followed up shortly after with an EP in 2003 (The Secret of Elena’s Tomb) of equal caliber. They had recorded a few albums before Source Tags which were decent but this was truly their breakout album.

So I went to see them at Irving Plaza back in the early millennium. They were good live but didn’t blow me away…a little drunk but so was I…so no big deal. Saw them a few more times and show by show they would sound progressively worse…and get progressively more drunk. I saw then at the Siren Fest in Coney Island and they were so hammered they could hardly structure a song.

It seemed this lack of regard (for their fans and themselves) translated to their subsequent recordings like Worlds Apart (2005) and So Divided (2006). These albums (in my opinion) got progressively worse. Each album after ST&C I would think – “Ok, maybe they pulled themselves together and will come out with another epic recording”. Notsomuch. There were literally one or two good tracks on each album. I pretty much wrote them off moving forward as a band of low expectations.

Eventually their major label dumped them so they decided to start their own label. Aside from founders Conrad Keely and Jason Reece, a few members have left over the years hence the lineup has changed a bit. Because of this and the label change seemed to be a catalyst for sobriety in many forms.

When 2009’s The Century of Self came out it was very refreshing as I was then completely jaded with this band (see the CugeRock review HERE ). They felt tighter. Despite some lengthy tracks with a few poppy elements mixed in, they sounded so much better and getting back to their roots (with some experimentation which was welcome). Didn't floor me but showed promise. I didn’t catch them on that tour but after I picked up the latest album 2011’s Tao of The Dead (a rock solid album/ST&C grade)…I had to see them live. Good thing my sis purchased tickets for their Bowery Ballroom show way in advance (thanks Amy) and on top that they were playing with Surfer Blood, a young new outfit which I believe put out the best record of 2010 (see the CugeRock review HERE ).

The Bowery Ballroom is and always will be my favorite venue to see a show. Perfect space…perfect sound...great location...great downstairs bar. The billing of this show was a little mysterious as you didn’t know going in who would open given both bands are headliner-worthy. Trail of Dead being the indie-prog vets with Surfer Blood being the young upstarts on the indie scene.

Trail of Dead started it off….and how. They came out with Strange News From Another Planet and just pummeled their set. The songs were so tight, the vocals were clear, they were lucid and they played all of my favorite tracks from the entire catalog (I love when bands do that). One great thing about experiencing a Trail of Dead show is that Conrad Keely, Jason Reece and Jamie Miller switch instruments for a number of the songs. It is testament to how freakin seasoned these guys are and how great they can sound when they’re not 20 drinks deep. Jaime Miller on drums was especially strong…insane actually (Rob Strickland cant attest).

Here is the setlist:

Strange News From Another Planet
Summer of All Dead Souls
Ebb Away
Will You Smile Again For Me
It Was There That I Saw You
Relative Ways
Fake Fake Eyes
A Perfect Teenhood

Here is the only decent pic I got.

Seeing TOD again after so many years with such a tight and rockin performance made me fall back in love with the band. I will most definitely attend future shows. Although their t-shirts offered at the merch table sucked…bummer. Now Surfer Blood on the other hand used a Joy Division slant on their shirt design which = “XL please”. Like most band t-shirts I purchase I will beat this one to death. Oh and it’s that soft/light urban outfitters grade fabric. Here’s a photo.

Speaking of Surfer Blood, after such a riveting performance it would be tough for Surfer Blood to maintain the current crowd energy…and they kinda failed at the onset. The opened with Floating Vibes but they looked a little off and out of sync…like awkward teenagers. The band is notably young and compared to Trail of Dead they were like the “junior senators” to the seasoned vets. Lead vocalist John Paul Pitts (or JP) tried some theatrics with the opening track but proceeded to knock the mic stand over (“awkwaaaaard”).

After that first song the enormous talent of these young guys overtook any on-stage shortcomings. They really started to coalesce and got progressively better song by song. They only have one album so it was great to hear all of the tracks live. They played some new stuff also that sounded pretty damn good. Couldn’t locate the setlist so I don’t have the new song names just yet.

Here are some more crude pics.

JP’s voice is unique and really captivated the audience (couldn’t think of a better word…”enthralled”…”mystified”…”impacted”?). JP even tried to take the mic into the audience for one song (which was awkward but you have to respect the initiative) but the whole time he was moving through the crowd his lyrics were clear as a bell…even when they were hoisting him back on stage.

Yeah…these guys are young and looked the part on-stage but their talent is limitless. I only expect these guys to grow into more advanced territory as their albums progress. Psyched to see what the future holds from these young Florida chaps. Oh and I believe they closed with Catholic Pagans…one of my favorite tracks on Astro Coast.

Here are some Trail of Dead and Surfer Blood videos for your leisure/pleasure.