Trail of the Dead leaves satisfied crowd behind

A review of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead at the Middle East Downstairs on March 1, 2009

, Staff Writer

…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead swung through Boston on their winter tour in promotion of their sixth album, The Century of Self. The show took place at the Middle East, and the band, who have been around for nearly a decade now, have clearly cultivated a faithful band of followers during that time. The venue was packed with fans completely electrified at the notion of seeing the band play new songs for the first time since their 2006 release, So Divided.

What can be said about a Trail of Dead set is that they know exactly what the audience wants to hear: in addition to showcasing nearly half the songs off of Century of Self, they also revisited tried-and-true classics from their other albums, pleasing both old and new fans alike. The stage was set, as is the tradition, with drum kits facing one another, which surely promised a loud evening before they even took the stage.

Trail of Dead’s newest album is, of the band’s own admission, a bit of a return-to-form for them, following two previous LPs heavy on “click tracks and overdubbing.” Indeed, the powerful art rock of the band seems at its strongest when it doesn’t feel overproduced, and the studio version has a distinct “live” feel to it. So it’s no surprise that “Giants Causeway”, the raunchy and epic opener, translated perfectly to the stage, a chaotic mass of noise giving way to dark guitar rumblings over a mass of distortion. That segued into “Far Pavilions”, an interesting mix of punk and vaguely doom-sounding lulls.

Trail of Dead are known for their high-energy shows, to say the least, and the show at the Middle East was no exception: lead singer/guitarist Conrad Keely played the crap out of the guitar while belting his thin and wiry voice through the microphone. Drummer Aaron Ford did a great job with the song’s constantly shifting rhythms, nailing the transitions from regular to double-time, just wailing on his snare drum and cymbals while Keely and Jason Reece, the other guitarist and vocalist (and occasional drummer), screamed their faces off.

“Isis Unveiled” was a bit more hardcore, AFI-ish than “Pavilions”, allowing the band to show off their songwriting and orchestration abilities. Once again Ford’s drumming was impeccable as he set the pace for the rest of the song. Keely and Reece filled the venue with a heavy mass of guitar noise, breaking to harmonize with each other on occasion. The song gave way to a death-march tempo as the audience shook their fists and nodding their necks in rhythm, chanting lyrics about tasting blood and flesh while the band slowly disintegrated into no sound and then suddenly exploding into full-on rocking. The last minute of the song sent the crowd into an explosion of head-banging and dancing.

The show wasn’t without the fan favorites, though: Jason Keely took the mic for an energetic performance of “Homage”, off of 2002’s Source Tags & Codes, screaming insanely into the poor microphone. Clay Morris’ piano/keyboard playing added a nice layer of recognizable, relatively un-fuzzed sound to the band, and did well to keep things at least a little bit grounded when the rest of the band began to demolish the ears of the audience. One clear highlight from the evening, arguably the best performance of the show, was the band’s rendition of “Will You Smile Again?”, off Worlds Apart. The beginning of the song got the crowd pumped with frenetic drumming in an irregular time signature and full guitars. Eventually the song turned into a slow, plodding thing, Keely’s thin voice maneuvering through disjointed noise produced by the rest of the band, save a lone guitar that kept things somewhat organized. “Remember all your bad dreams, they’re not far from reality” he sang as things began to take shape, the song forming into another muddy march. Eventually things explode in a heap of guitar chugs and the splash of cymbals before everything just stopped.

It’s hard not to enjoy a live band like …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead: they bring a ton of noise and energy to their performance, and to see the guys show off their skills on multiple instruments (Keely would at any given time be singing, playing guitar, or a second keyboard, while Reece could play drums and guitar and vocals) just adds to the fun of the event. It’s no surprise that they’ve been around for as long as they have, and hopefully this “return-to-form” of theirs will mean a continued production of quality, hard-rocking titles.

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