I was a wee freshman in college when Source Tags & Codes, the third full-length from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, dropped in the winter of 2002. I’d never heard of the Austinites, so when the music editors at my school paper told me they had a disc by a Swedish death metal band to review, my initial thought was “finally,” only to quickly be replaced by “well played.” I can’t say I liked the record as much as Matt LeMay, but the album–even without having a trace of Stockholm or Gothenburg in its DNA–ended up being the soundtrack to my spring semester. The band has been through a lot over the last 12-plus years, including numerous lineup changes, but they’ve continued to put out enjoyable records. So when they announced that not only would they would be playing a handful of dates before entering the studio to record their ninth studio album, but they’d be performing ST&C in full, I was there.
Trail of Dead v2k14 doesn’t quite have the same aura of unpredictability and danger that they possessed back in the aughts. The last time I saw them–August 2007 at Brooklyn’s now defunct Luna Lounge–they were over two hours late and performed one of the worst sets I’ve ever seen anyone play. Prior to that, you could always count on them to wreck something: instruments, stage curtains, faces. Sure, guitarist/vocalist/drummer Jason Reece and newish bassist Autry Fulbright did their fair share of stage diving and other shenanigans, but there was never a feeling that things had, or were about to, become unhinged. And that’s understandable, as not only are driving forces Conrad Keely and Reece now in their 40s, but they’ve presumably found a personal and musical comfort zone that works for them.
Instead, the quartet–which also includes guitarist/drummer Jamie Miller–treated the packed Bowery Ballroom to an energetic 90-plus minute set on Saturday night that showed not only can they still bring it live (even without a second drummer), but that they’re having fun doing so. I’ll never stop being impressed by watching Reece switch instruments every few songs (now shuttling back and forth with Miller between drums and guitar/vocals) and it probably helped the crowd’s energy that four of the seven non-ST&C songs predated 2002 (two of the remaining three were from 2005’s Worlds Apart). I’m also guessing that someone in the band is a college basketball fan given that things kicked off not less than 60 seconds after the thrilling end of the Wisconsin/Arizona game, with the quartet diving right into the record everyone was presumably there to see them play. Keely didn’t do much talking in between songs until the end (in addition to helping some poor soul for his or her glasses, Fulbright sprinkled in quips here and there), but he had a smile on his face throughout, though not as big as the one worn by the guy in the front corner of the balcony who knew every word to every song. In fact, Keely was so awash in the crowd’s energy that he nearly forgot his first vocal queue on “How Near How Far”. Oddly enough, the loudest receptions of the night were reserved for songs not even on ST&C, “Caterwaul” and “The Rest Will Follow”. Perhaps Worlds Apart–for all of the shit I remember it taking when it came out–was the album people wanted to hear and not the critical darling of the band’s catalog.
Sure, it can be great to hear a record you love played in full–sharing the experience with others and hearing nuances brought to life in the live setting–but unless you came to that gig with only a passing familiarity, the show isn’t likely to take your love of said album to new heights (especially if, as most of these gigs tend to be, it’s happening a decade-plus after its original release). I may be alone in thinking this, just crotchety or both, but the whole concept has one potentially huge downside: it can diminish connections, emotional or otherwise, that you’ve made with that particular record. Back in 2010, Weezer played all of Pinkerton–one of my favorite records of all time–in its entirety, and given the flood of tears I witnessed (Brandon Stosuy may disagree, but I’m pretty sure this was the start of the #emorevival), it was disconcerting to see just how, um, emotional people were reacting. Fortunately, Trail of Dead left me with no such disconnect, and for that, along with their set, I’m thankful.