all photos: Blink Ofanaye
all words: Shona Fenner
The combination of …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Surfer Blood did not make too much sense to me at first. They didn’t seem to have much in common musically so a tour together caught me off guard but still had me counting down the days. That is where the surprises ended however since everything else you might expect held true. For instance, the music was fast and great, the bar was packed shoulder-to-shoulder, and the audience was filled by dudes with earplugs in crew neck shirts. Rock n Roll Hotel can be counted on for some of the best nights.
Jaunty Florida pop four piece Surfer Blood is best known for their song “Swim (To Reach The End)”. That song found its way onto most “best of 2009” lists for good reason. At the show people sang along to this number and didn’t even try that for any other songs. Compared to Trail of Dead these boys are in diapers, but I can’t help get as into the tunes as the band does.
They have a certain flair that makes their music seem effortless and I would hazard a guess that the boys were a little bored for part of their set. Surfer Blood seems to tour constantly and, given that they only have one album, don’t get to give much variation. Even so they got better the more they played and by the end of it were wailin’ like it was the weekend.
Surfer Blood definitely were strongest when working out their breakdowns and when smirking at the audience. I could have listened to them fuck around on guitars and destroy some drums forever, but unfortunately we hardly ever get 12 minute instrumental songs at shows anymore. The band definitely wanted us all to dance more, but were happy with a big crowd and some really serious fans getting down in the front. Surfer Blood play reverb-laden songs with ghostly choruses that can’t be ignored. Plus, their happy little baby faces make me feel totally comfortable and give youthful credit to gems like “Take It Easy”.
Veterans …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead released yet another full length album (their 7th) called Tao of Dead in February. The album title is inspired by this wicked old Chinese philosophy book Tao Te Ching and sneaks in other little pearls of wisdom when you aren’t suspecting it. While this album may not be as impactful as Source Tags & Codes it adds some songs with more immediacy to their live show. Trail of Dead would be a household name if they somehow wedged some hooks into their numbers, but most fans are content just to replay the old albums and skip to the songs that mean something special.
The album art for Tao of Dead is penned by the SUPER-talented singer Conrad Keely and evidently expands into a graphic novel (imagine my shining happy nerd grin when I heard this). Keely’s art is absolutely amazing and reminds me of Magic: The Gathering mixed up with steampunk zoo creatures and a healthy dose of flying ships and winter queens. After the show you could peep intensely intricate drawings from Keely beside to all the CDs, LPs, and tote bags. Why do some people get all the talent?
The band cut down to a four-piece to record and tour, a no-frills change I think makes it a better show for all those guitar lovers. They play meandering melodic gritty songs that are catchy enough to inspire some shout-a-longs. If you are an unconvinced hater and think they are washed up then give their prog-rock single “Summer of All Dead Souls” a listen and I’d bet you will get the motivation to listen to all those raw Trail of Dead songs you have been secretly missing. I honestly have not given much time to their more recent releases but welcome a chance to get back into a band like Trail of Dead.
A personal favorite of mine, “Caterwaul” was featured in the middle of their set and hit me with a right hook of oh-my-god-they-finally-played-it that made my Grinch heart grow at least 3 sizes. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead plays blustery thematic music that takes you from peaks of intensity to relaxed foggy valleys and back again. Usually the more hard and grungy they get the better. They packed the house with alt bros, kept it interesting with multiple instrument changes, and gave me a reason to try to pick through all my old CDs. Dig it.
And just because we all wish late night talk shows had better music, and because live songs featuring two drummers are pretty much the best thing, go watch And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead playing “The Rest Will Follow” on The Late Show with David Letterman.