Iowa City's Death Ships are no strangers to the Chicago music scene. They've played most of the typical clubs and have been attracting attention from some of the city's movers and shakers. A recommendation from our own resident music guru Robert English was enough for me to make it out on a rainy, cold, winter night in Chicago to see what the fuss was all about.
Death Ships, looking slightly less cool than the average indie rock hipster in the audience, took the stage around 10pm to a scarcely populated room and burst right into their first song without saying a word. After working the kinks out in song one, frontman Dan Maloney alerted us all that the keyboardist and bass player for the night were not actual members of the band. In fact, they were temporary replacements for this one show and had just learned all of the songs in less than two days time.
Obviously, I was slightly disappointed that I wasn't seeing the band at full capacity, but the fill-ins, while not adding much in terms of "energy" on stage, did an admirable job and didn't make any blaring mistakes all night.
That said, Death Ships pulled their set exclusively from their debut album, Seeds Of Devastation, which was released last year via uber indie Faithful Anchor Records. A collection of American heartland inspired ballads, up beat rockers and country-tinged offerings, the album is actually quite good and I'm surprised it didn't make a little more noise in '06.
Live, songs like "Great American" and "Symmetrical Smiles" translate well and show some promise. Maloney and drummer Adam Havlin's between song banter can be a little "too much" at times however, as they spout off inside jokes and various other random thoughts that add little to the set besides distracting filler while guitars get tuned up.
Overall, I left last night's show wanting to see the full band, as even with a couple of subs, they still showed a few flashes of brilliance. Maloney is without question a talented songwriter and the guitar play between himself and lead guitarist Randall Davis was exquisite. The band walks an interesting line between John Mellencamp and the Counting Crows and I found myself thinking "America, Fuck Yeah!" at a couple different points in the set, but it worked for them. Word on the street is that these guys have some friends in high places, so with a little fine-tuning and a few of the right allies, these guys just make a splash in '07.