Trail of Dead make their mark on Cambridge

A review of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead with Surfer Blood at the Middle East Downstairs on April 30, 2011

, Staff Writer

Touring in support their critically acclaimed seventh album, Tao of the Dead, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead made their way to Massachusetts on Saturday. Rocking the downstairs room at the Middle East in Cambridge, the band commonly referred to as Trail of Dead delivered a show that a show that more than lived up to their name.

The show predictably featured a number of tunes from Tao of the Dead, but the crowd didn’t seem to mind. The extensive “Strange News From Another Planet” comprised a large chunk of the set, breaking the 15 minute mark, easily. The band wove through a number of different sonic textures throughout the piece, changing rhythms, constantly bringing the song to tremendous peaks before dropping back down a tad and then bringing it right back up. The power of “Strange News” came through tenfold in the live setting, and suddenly the number of earplugs in the audience made a lot more sense.

Lead singer Conrad Keely’s vocals were filled with urgency throughout Trail of Dead’s set – years of screaming his lungs out haven’t done much to hurt his vocal chords, it seems. Considering the band he’s playing in front of, he needed a tremendous amount of power to project out into the crowd. He sounded especially good during “Weight of the Sun,” with a soaring chorus that is some of the heaviest material the band has ever put out.

Of course, no Trail of Dead show would be complete without the perennial favorites. “Would You Smile Again” was met with cheers from the audience, as was “It Was There That I Saw You.” Though the band’s old material is great, they’ve certainly come a long way as songwriters, and juxtaposing new and old songs really amplified that fact. There were a number of instrument changes throughout their set, and Trail of Dead demonstrated that their skills with their secondary instruments are better than some band’s primary ones.

If there was one unfortunate part of Trail of Dead’s set, it was that the crowd had noticeably thinned out by the time they hit the stage. It was an older crowd, granted, but it seemed a lot of people came out to see Surfer Blood, who had played beforehand. Seeing a young band play live is always a mixed bag – they’re either enthusiastic and on their game, or nervous and overly meek. Surfer Blood have had enough experience touring that they now seem totally comfortable up on a stage. John Paul Pitts sounded great on vocal details, projecting clearly through the entire venue, and Thomas Fekete’s guitar harmonies were impeccable.

Surfer Blood occupy an interesting musical space – they’re the perfect intersection of surf rock and jam-y post-punk. They transition from a warped Beach Boys to a booming rock-out at the drop of a hat, and they clearly love what they’re doing. The band went through a number of songs on their catalogue, hitting tunes like “Swim” and “Floating Vibes” as was expected. The audience was treated to some new material, as well. Surfer Blood are going to be on the road for another couple months, but when they get back to the studio, their follow-up should absolutely meet expectations.

Ultimately, it was a shame that Trail of Dead couldn’t have played to a bigger crowd, but those who were there to see them were treated to a fiery and virtuosic performance, and if their headbanging was any indication, it was well-appreciated by the fans. The show was a great mix of both new and veteran acts, each bringing their own live style to the stage, but both demonstrating comfort and poise with what they’re doing.

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