In March of 2012, three principal members of the feminist Russian punk rock collective known as Pussy Riot were arrested on charges of “religious hooliganism”. It was an incident that served as a reminder that not every country in the world allows the kind of antics and messages that American bands have fought for and won the right to carry out in their performances. Hundreds of artists, musicians, activists, and even politicians vocally expressed their support of the band and urged the Russian judicial system to release them and support their freedom of speech. The Austin-based rock thunderstorm known as …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead (often shortened to Trail Of Dead) dedicated their eighth album, 2012’s Lost Songs, to the imprisoned trio, and communicated the frenzied, passionate energy of their new release with an explosive live show that was utterly visceral and mindbending to behold.
A full burst of adrenaline was the recipe for the evening with the Phoenix, Arizona quartet known as The Technicolors, who kicked off the show with a furious blast of multi-generational, bluesy rock songs. While mostly dancing within the realm of chugging, catchy riffs clearly inspired by classic rock of the 70s, singer and lead songwriter Brennan Smiley eschewed his possible pigeonholing with several forays into a solid 90s sound, while throwing in some modern-styled garage rock in just to keep things interesting. The crazed thrashings of Smiley and rhythm guitarist Michael Fanizza, which his dense forest of curly hair that danced about like a willow in a hurricane, were only given a moment of peace for a delicate-cum-haunting cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”. The Technicolors’ set was a brilliant example of a band that took the nearly-40-minute timespan it was offered and held themselves against the grindstone for the full duration, not wasting one minute and delivering white-hot jams the entire time.
There was plenty of energy all a-shimmer in the air after the Technicolors’ set, and it finally permeated the crowd and summoned up their swell within the first few minutes that Trail Of Dead spent onstage. Hurling themselves before their onlookers with a snarling performance of “Will You Smile Again?” from 2005’s Worlds Apart, immediately followed by the album’s title track, frontmen Jason Reece and Conrad Keely tore themselves across the stage with reckless abandon, colliding with each other as they leapt and swung about. Reece and drummer Jamie Miller alternated duties behind the skins, with Miller taking up Reece’s axe and shouts from time to time as the band lashed through their set. The air was palpable with a glorious mayhem as the crowd surged and churned at the edge of the stage.
The intensity and ferocity of Trail Of Dead’s onstage antics are displayed with all the carnal catharsis of a hardcore punk show, as well as the introverted, shoegaze-esque nonchalance displayed by a stoic post-rock band. The juxtaposition means that a whisper becomes a scream, a breeze a tornado; a gentle hum becomes a strained cry moments before limbs snap and fly pell-mell across the room; and the quartet fall together like branches into a bonfire, collapsing into each other and spilling over their monitors and into the outstretched hands of their fans. It is marvelously precise in its musicality while unyielding in its ferocity, and the end of each song comes with a moment where breathing is absolutely necessary in order to reach the next moment unscathed. The mesmerizing display that was Reece and Miller trading their roles at the drop of the hat helped to accent the wildness onstage, as they could move swiftly without so much as a dwindle in the collective energy that wafted from the band.
Even with only 9 songs on their set – 13 including the encore – the men of Trail Of Dead managed to deliver a solid 90 minutes of furious sound that covered a wide breadth of their discography. Calling primarily on Worlds Apart, their sophomore release Madonna, and their cult classic Source Tags & Codes, the band also offered a few tracks from their latest release and from 2011’s Tao Of The Dead. All were warmly welcomed by their ecstatic fans, who surged again and again to the edge of the stage, bellowing out the words with a furiousness that threatened to drown out Keely and Reece’s own shouts. Rather than their trademark excessive destruction of their gear at the end of the set, Trail Of Dead closed their performance of “Totally Natural” with Reece disarming himself of his guitar, leaping into the crowd, and riding their wrists back to the stage as Keely, Miller, and bassist Autry Fullbright II cranked out a hellish wall of sound for the final minutes of the night.
I first experienced the music of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead in a similar manner that, I gather, most fans did – the delightfully menacing sound of their name, fascinating in its length and aura – and had Source Tags & Codes on repeat for a good long while as I became acquainted with their indescribable, beautifully chaotic music. The uncompromising neutron bomb that is their energy is captured in even fuller form in their live performance, and it is fascinating to watch them snap back and forth between emotions and attitudes during their set. Keely and Reece, most easily beheld as they tumble about, display this intensity with gusto as they collide and separate, every moment a friendly clash that births marvelous tunes from its conclusion. Despite only hearing the epic tales of Trail Of Dead’s demolition of their instruments at the conclusion of a show, it was wonderfully easy to feel emotionally drained but spiritually uplifted simultaneously by the end of the night.
Additional photos from the show below. All photos © 2012 Jonathan Pirro.