I’ve known about the ridiculously annoying-to-say-and/or-type …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead ever since high school when they were “that other band” playing on Farmclub one night–the same night as the newly popular, far more catchy, and maybe more conventional At The Drive-In. I didn’t stay up late enough to watch “Trail” then, and I even managed to ignore them for nine more years until they played the Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles last week. Oddly enough, they were following after another freshly popular, frenetic and somewhat easier to comprehend act, but this time I feel bad for everyone else who missed out. I’m sure I could turn the rest of this review into some over-wrought diatribe about life coming full circle, as such was the glorious power of this live experience–but instead, I’ll just extrapolate a bit on how I saw God in some way. There was plenty of cause for alarm upon walking into the venue at almost 9:00 pm. Nobody was there. I had never seen the Fonda look so sad and empty before, and several of us were making it known on Twitter as we nursed our $7 attempts at cheap beer, wondering if the admission price that may have just sunk us in the hole was actually worth it. But the venue started filling out a bit more by the time openers Future of the Left kicked off their loud and power punk-y, if intimate set.
I had been dying to see Future since the excellent “Travels With Myself And Another” released early this summer, and the energy I only knew from the record still managed to make the relatively small crowd come to life–especially after singer/guitarist/bassist/organist/former McClusky-ist Andy “Falco” Falkous announced, “This song is about Satan.” By the time singer/bassist Kelson Mathias jumped off the stage to hand his bass off to a girl while he did push-ups on the floor, just about everyone in the room was converted. Though I have to say, this band’s music demands a bigger and completely without restrains audience.
When the curtains opened up again for Trail of the Dead, the venue was at a volume of people I can only recall as feeling comfortable–we could all breathe easily, but it filled out far more than I was anticipating earlier, and everyone seemed pretty stoked on inching their ways towards the front. Again, I had no idea what to expect having never been much of a fan, but when the dual drummers revealed themselves for the opener “Will You Smile Again For Me,” I was ready to receive anything. Listening to the album version of the song now I can’t help but feel this band was only built for playing live. All six members bring an energy and power that a tape deck will never capture, and it was clear within the first minute of performance that I’d probably never be able to attempt a serious listen to them in any other way.
Trail played with an enthusiasm and precision that was nothing short of just sheer fucking awesomeness. The band’s ability to open with the slowest and most delicate of piano signatures to chugalug, grinding rock, to walls of distortion over showers of erratic percussion all within a 5-7 minute almost seemingly, meandering jam is astonishing to watch and listen to. As I reminded myself to pull away and take note of my observations I couldn’t help but wonder how the hell these guys remember all the parts of their songs. Perhaps the bands biggest influence, Sonic Youth, stirs a similar feeling, but Trail’s songs wander even boldly further away from whatever original core they establish only to end on a note that, at least in a live setting, made me feel EVERY note was completely within their foresight and effortless control.
Certain riffs plunged deeply and darkly within the performance, and others burned quick and glaringly brightly while the band bounced, twirled, and switched to and from positions and instruments on a deceptively calculated and controlled set that was just unfriendly enough to give it true rock credibility, but safe enough to keep it within still recognizable boundaries.
I originally wrote something earlier about “seeing God,” because I thought it was funny, but equal parts chaos and order coalesced into something harmonious at the Fonda that night, and if it was possible I’d gladly get in touch with it once a week to keep a balance within my own life. Praise be to two excellent rock bands that still have a few shows left on their tour.
See trailofdead.com for the current Century of Self Fall Tour dates.