We are getting close to that time of year known as the end of summer. It seemed endless and infinite for a while there, but it does indeed have an expiration date. Summer's demise can be a bit dubious; summer is more officially over when the fall equinox occurs on September 22, or one could say Labor Day weekend is the symbolic end, and maybe others would contend that the first day of school is really the nail in summer's coffin. I think all of those are acceptable answers, not that I really want to dwell on the end of our sunny season. What also occurs to me as being a sign that summer has ended, is the prevalence of contagious diseases that really come into their own when all the kids are back in school and as we get closer to cold winter months. For a group whose songs refer to more diabolical endings, death by disease isn't so pertinent to what Murder By Death offer their fans, but it is pertinent to what I experienced this weekend while I was slow to get out this review. For that I apologize, and would just like to say I'm officially ready for the fall. Germ-y children everywhere are welcome to find me, and knock on wood, do their worst as I am certain my immune system must be somewhat fortified after whatever it was that I survived and am still surviving.
But back to the heart of the matter here: Murder By Death played back-to-back nights at the Bluebird Theater last week as they began the first leg of what will be mostly a fall tour. So, in a way, what I'm trying to pull together in this allusion to death is a general feeling that the fall season is being summoned in different ways, some of them more pleasant than others, and what better way to begin the fall with new music, and friends and some boot-stompin' good times. Boot-stompin' not only for the bluesy, alt-country music of all three bands performing last Thursday but also due to the prevalence of boots on the stage. Lots of boots. And they were mostly of stompin' variety. See pictures from the night conveniently on our Facebook page (boots not so much included).
The 4 On the Floor is a band from Minneapolis, MN whose band name might refer to the four band members incorporated, or the four kick-drums they all have set up as part of their stage ensemble, or to the rhythm pattern also known as 4/4 time; most likely the answer is "D. All of the Above". Very energetic with a raw, bluesy sound that came from the guitar virtuosity of both vocalist Gabriel Douglas and guitarist James Gould. They played a great cover of "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" by Sir Paul McCartney, and offered many great guitar solos and facial expressions. They also invited the audience to play bloody knuckles with them after the show. And that's how you get a party started.
Ha Ha Tonka was back in town after just being in Denver this past June with Langhorne Slim, now on tour with labelmates Murder By Death. I saw them with Springfield-mates, Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin, at the Hi-Dive back in November and they seem to be further perfecting their style of a capella, toe-tappin', indie hoedown music that I had seen for the first time not too long ago. And I say hoedown only using the utmost respect for the term; the sharp skills both vocally and instrumentally of Ha Ha Tonka would make good use of the intricate fiddle solos and line dancing associated with hoedowns and will admit both are far above my skills to ever attempt. On songs such as "St. Nick on the Fourth in a Fervor" you would hear an excellent example of the style of loud, choral singing during instrument breaks that this band performs so well. Then things take a turn for indie hoedown again when vocalist Brian Roberts urges the crowd with the heartland credo: "Everybody say hell yeah!"
For their last number, "12-inch Three-Speed Oscillating Fan," the group invited Scott Brackett on stage from Murder By Death. The multi-instrumentalist was in charge of the keyboards, accordion, trumpet, mandolin and theremin that evening and it was nice to see him introduced early to shred a little with Ha Ha Tonka. The song in particular gives the group a chance to really show it's form; it's actually a cover song from another band from Springfield called Big Smith.
Murder By Death was playing an excellent mix of new and old songs, and had mentioned to the crowd that they were making some choice selections so as not to disappoint any fans making it by the Bluebird for both nights of their Denver performances. They started off the evening with "The Devil in Mexico" with a great audience reaction, and soon transitioned into crowd-pleasers like "I'm Comin' Home" and "Foxglove." This band is about a decade old, and most likely have had many fall tours under their belt to date. I always wonder what it is that keeps a band going, keeps them excited and inspired to play the same music night after night, year after year. Is it the subtle variations that skilled musicians can improvise to their tried-and-true tunes on a whim? Is it the thrill of getting to play the new material that no one has heard before, mixed in with the old stuff? I mean, orchestra musicians probably play the same songs their entire lives; maybe as a professional, you constantly seek to make each next performance more perfect than the last. The band that embraces the macabre should know best that when you have resigned yourself to accepting the routine existence of repetition without meaning, then you have truly embraced death. Murder By Death look every bit alive when they're playing to a crowded house, even ten years later.
Murder By Death have a new album coming out in September titled Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon. As the album title might suggest, the band is sticking to their whiskey-stained style of music. And true to form, the song matter is still brooding and murderous as singer Adam Turla noted while introducing one new song: "This [new song] is about a lover who died drowned in the river and is trying to take [their other half] down too from beyond the grave. We're Murder By Death and we're from southern Indiana." The group deserves a toast for their overly successful Kickstarter campaign and if you pre-order their album, you get a special edition paper lantern. I really love the creative spirit this band has, and it's very exciting to see them off on what will surely be a great fall tour!