Debuting new drummer Aaron Ford, the five-piece shoegaze-metal heroes’ set consisted mostly beautifully angry and powerful tracks from 2002 masterpiece Source Tags and Codes, along with a large number of newer more chord-insistent fist-pumpers from 2004’s Worlds Apart.
Playing their first greater NYC area show on August 2nd since a three-night stand split between Irving Plaza (QRO venue review) and Union Square, the Austin, Texas-based rockers chose Brooklyn instead, settling on the historic Luna Lounge (QRO venue review), a predictably shiny and new incarnation of the Lower East Side classic that once saw seminal performances from Elliott Smith, The Rogers Sisters, and the Strokes. The venue, stylishly minimalist and column-less, in keeping with the claim on its website that “there’s not a bad seat in the house, kicked off the group’s upcoming 2007 European Summer Festival tour.
The majority of the sold-out crowd arrived an hour before the band’s scheduled 11:30pm start, and the relative maleness of this group was unsurprising, given that most women, for whatever reason it is, simply do not enjoy the combination of blistering distortion, yowling male vocals, and brutal drumming. What was surprising, however, was the particularly despondent glaze that remained over the crowd long after they arrived. While they were both enthusiastic and appreciative in their applause, most audience members scarcely moved. Overheard after the show was the comment, “I saw more dancing at the Built to Spill show”, a statement that was nearly entirely true, save for three moshers who, mid-set, elbowed their way to the front.
The opening song false-start notwithstanding, there continues to be a somewhat alarming amount of stylistic disparity between the songs—something that has become unfortunately evident in the past two releases, 2006’s So Divided and 2004’s critically-panned Worlds Apart, including songs, “Ode to Isis”, chant-worthy “Caterwaul”, “Will You Smile Again?”, “The Rest Will Follow”, the opening and closing of the show were proof of a band still interested in melody and dynamic, but also increasingly repetitive pummeling with touches of glam rock and radio-friendly pop-punk. And while the encore, “Claire de Lune”, a song off 1999’s Madonna album, was one such chord-heavy fist-pounder that was both rousing and well-received, there were other moments where, despite the crowd’s quiet acquiesence, something seemed to be a bit adrift. Case in point: the band’s third song, “Naked Sun”, a roadhouse-y video single off So Divided the band announced as “having never been played live before” was more Marc Bolan than “Baudelaire”, more Stooges than Source Tags and Codes. Not that the song was bad—rather it wasn’t as good as what they had been doing before, something frontman Conrad Keely seems to be, in many ways, aware of when he explains: “Lately we've only been playing older songs because they're better.”
Yet how good those older songs are, on the home stereo or live. Performing a beautifully brutal version of “It Was Then That I Saw You” that engaged the somewhat lackluster crowd, the band launched into a staggering rendition of “Relative Ways”, segueing into the haunting instrumental “After the Laughter”, segueing into “Source Tags & Codes”, and before finishing their Source Tags mini-set with the punishing “Another Morning Stoner”. Featuring dual drumsets for these songs (with part-time frontman Jason Reece joining Ford in the rhythm section), The Trail of Dead evidenced here was an entirely different band, a nuanced and powerfully emotive juggernaut that thrives on layered keyboard and guitar melodies, quaking vocal and percussive intensity, and periods of melancholic ethereal beauty in between. This impressive command of dynamics, build-up, and peaking ferocity is, unquestionably, the band’s strength, and has been since it’s self-titled release in 1998. The painful question that, unfortunately, must be asked is why don’t all their songs do this? If this show is any sign, fans in Europe over the upcoming month may be asking themselves the same question.
Opening the show were The Five Cents and Shock Cinema. While riot grrl rockers Shock Cinema (featuring the drummer from The Rogers Sisters) were energetic but ultimately unsatisfying, the quirky multi-tasking duo The Five Cents put on an impressive display of abrupt, catchy songs. Despite their somewhat uninspired stage presence, the formerly Austin-, now Brooklyn-based rockers The Five Cents were able to thrill the small number of early evening concert-goers, thanks in great part to their seemingly continuous supply of effortless choruses with the instant sing-along-ability as an Islands song or better yet, a Stephen Malkmus solo effort.
Photo credit: Jack Jefferies (link)