Don’t move to the front if you’re not ready to have your ass blown to the back, because Death From Above 1979’s Jesse Keeler and Sebastien Grainger are a dangerously explosive combination. Watching this Toronto-based two-piece is like chasing a mouth full of Viagra with a milk glass full of vodka. The band's live show is a lethal dose of adrenaline fueled, testosterone blown cock rock. Grainger’s piercing vocals and Keeler’s relentless bass licks awaken the Iron Maiden metal head inside of every post-punk indie rocker. A live show with these bad boys guarantees head shaking body rock so wild you could file a claim for whiplash with your insurance agency.
Fans adore the group’s reckless behavior and egotistical antics as perhaps a revival of some rock & roll ethos long forgotten in today’s pretty packaged TLR world. But aside from their awe-inspiring stage presence, both musicians show incredible depth with their instruments, drawing on a range of influences including both hip-hop and dance music. The end result is an onslaught of genre blurring melodies that amazingly defy boundaries by challenging what two men, a bass, and a drum set are capable of creating. The occasional Moog oscillation is included in their live performance and on their debut album, You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, but its rare appearance doesn’t deviate the listeners attention from the uncanny tones created by Keeler’s bass. Never before have I heard a bass so unbelievably distinctive in a live performance. Keeler’s incredible abilities hit so hard it made my bladder weak, an experience reminiscent of a punch in the gut from your favorite seventh grade bully.
I waited by the front stage for a half hour to insure a good view for Death From Above 1979’s sold out show at the classic Chicago venue,The Empty Bottle. When first making my way to the front I found the crowd ecstatic from a wildly energetic performance delivered by opening band Controller.Controller. Even after committing to the burden of a double show, both bands managed to maintain their charisma while plowing through lengthy set lists.
I think many were surprised, myself included, to witness a band such as Death From Above 1979, who have recently appeared in popular magazines like Spin,Pitchfork Media (online), and even Playboy, carry their own equipment on stage. Although simplistic, this noble gesture positioned the band as being in tune with their fans. The group opened with a medley of songs from both the full-length and their Heads UP EP, released in December of 2002. Between each song the band would diverge into a wall of organized sound, before dropping instantly into a power single like "Romantic Rights". This up and down emotional roller coaster threw the crowd into frenzy and at one point Grainger was forced to calm a pocket of zealous fan-boys.
The gentlemen from Death From Above 1979 performed like true machines, as their album might suggest. Louder, harder, and faster than their recorded version, the stage was set ablaze by their pure dedication to each note. After all was said and done I met Keeler by the merchandise booth and casually thanked him for an awesome show. He turned to me and without missing a beat replied, “we were awesome tonight, but you're awesome every night.” Somewhat puzzled I attempted to keep the dialog going and added, “Hey, I try!”. Keeler paused and then said his last words to me, “you don’t have to try, it all comes natural.” As tacky as all this may seem his last words seemed truly genuine, and it ended the night the best way possible. With a new t-shirt in hand and the taste of cigarettes in my mouth, I left feeling like I had been a part of it, that the band hadn’t simply stopped in Chicago so they could get paid, but my having been there had given something to the moment, making the experience memorable for everyone involved.