And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead played at Neumos on June 23, 2011.
. . . And You Will Know Us


Trail of Dead Return to House-Party Roots, Thursday at Neumos

And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead played at Neumos on June 23, 2011.
. . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

Ringo Deathstarr

Thursday, June 23


Following the career arc of . . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead could be a full-time job. The core of the band (singer/guitarist/drummers Conrad Keely and Jason Reece) started as a scrappy, noisy duo out of Austin, likely playing their fair share of house parties with crappy PAs and goofy, overserved partygoers spazzing out in the front row. In the past 16+ years, the band has expanded and contracted in every possible sense; they've seen their lineup swell to six or more members (they're currently touring as an economical four-piece), seen their sound fluctuate (starting as a dangerously feral child of Sonic Youth and The Who, then writing sprawling rock epics which bled into bloated orchestral ramblings, then trimming the fat back into more refined territory), and watched their audience ebb and flow (blowing up with a perfect score from finicky crit-blog Pitchfork in 2002, the band's momentum and vision have had a hard time keeping a consistent audience).

At Neumos last night, the scene was as close as we'll ever get to the Trail of Dead's house-party heyday.

A sparse crowd of 150 spread comfortably around the club, with the first five rows in front of the stage losing their minds throughout the hour-long set. While everything about the setup was professional (giant stage, dialed-in sound, perfect lighting, and a borderline hour-long changeover after Ringo Deathstarr's fantastic, fuzzed-out set of sugar-charged shoegaze), the band that showed up for the last show of their tour still has the same unrivaled frantic electricity that forged the Trail of Dead in 1995. Ten years ago, the band was notorious for ending every show in a sweaty mess of tangled cords and piles of destroyed gear, leaving the stage (and sometimes audience members) destroyed. These days, Keely and Reece are a little more nuanced in their delivery, worrying more about executing good sounds than kicking someone's teeth in. That said, you're still never quite sure when mayhem might begin, guitars or drums might be hurled into the crowd, or a mike stand may end up in someone's face. When guitarist Jason Reece jumped into the crowd and started borderline-wrestling with an audience member, it was hard to not anticipate (and secretly hope for) a brawl to ensue or a guitar to end up broken.

The set list consisted mainly of the more raucous, thundering numbers from the Dead's newest release, 2011's triumphant return to form Tao of the Dead, sprinkling in classic moments of the band's back catalog ("Fake Fake Eyes," "Clair de Lune," "How Near How Far," and set ender "A Perfect Teenhood"). With this smaller lineup (with Midnight Masses frontman Autry Fulbright on bass and the jaw-dropping Jamie Miller on drums), Trail of Dead stayed away from the orchestral moments of their catalog and stuck with what they truly do best--arena-rock guitars over pounding drums that manage to sound like having a heart attack during the apocalypse. After flirting with becoming an almost-chamber-rock ensemble, it seems that the band has come back around to where they began; Trail of Dead remain the most powerful when they let those raw nerves get exposed, baring their teeth and letting their feral side out of the cage for a bit.

Random Notebook Dump: Keely teasing the audience with some out-of-tune fingerpicking of the opening to the band's signature jam "Richter Scale Madness" before limply walking off the stage with no encore? COME ON, MAN.

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