photos by Kevin Gillingham
Seeing a show at the Bowery is always a special event for me. Other than maybe the 9:30 Club in D.C., I believe it’s one of the best indoor venues in the nation. The acoustics are always great, and even with a packed house, it’s hard to have a bad “seat” (other than a few tables on the second floor, it’s standing room only). That being said, this was a show that almost never happened. Due to a horrible truck accident, it took Murder by Death around 10 hours to get from Pittsburgh to NYC, barely arriving before the doors opened (opener William Elliott Whitmore couldn’t make it to the show due to the accident).
Despite the travel issues, Murder by Death came out swinging, immediately notifying the crowd of what occurred earlier in the day and promising a longer set with some deeper cuts. They opened with “Atlas,” the lead track off the recently released and well received The Other Shore (read our review of it here). It’s a standout track on the album and a perfect opener: a slow burner that continually gains momentum, with Dagan Thogerson’s monstrous drums eventually bringing the song to its apex. “Space” demonstrated Sarah Balliet’s extraordinary cello skills. As any Murder by Death fan will attest, the prominence of Balliet’s cello is a trademark of Murder by Death’s sound, and it was fascinating to watch and hear Balliet play throughout the night. Next up was “The Curse of Elkhart,” which had the crowd singing along to the “aaaahhhhhs” of the prechorus and fast clapping during the second verse. It also featured multi-instrumentalist David Fountain switching from keys to trumpet—he was truly a jack of all trades throughout the night, playing keys, lap steel, and trumpet, as well as adding background vocals on some songs. Similarly, “Ball and Chain” also had the crowd singing along, and featured some guitar prowess by vocalist/guitarist Adam Turla, giving the song a very Western vibe.
The middle of the set featured “Fuego!”, and was easily one of the highlights of the night, as it characterizes the best of Murder by Death: a brooding intro and verse gives way to a triumphant chorus, with Fountain’s keys gaining prominence, adding another dimension to the song. Towards the later part of the set, Turla broke into “Shiola,” a fan favorite that showcases Turla’s deep voice. Most have compared his baritone-esque vocal stylings to the late Johnny Cash. That influence is definitely there, but he was also showing some flashes of Jim Morrison in his vocal phrasing (you can thank photographer Kevin Gillingham for that comparison). Another old fan favorite was “Brother,” which was anchored by Tyler Morse’s deep, busy bass lines. They finally encored with “Three Men Hangin” (a deeper cut that I don’t believe they’ve played much on this tour) and “I Came Around,” leaving all of Bowery satisfied.
The night definitely contained a bit of nostalgia, as I remember seeing Murder by Death when they opened for post hardcore band Thursday at (you guessed it) the 9:30 club around 2006, on tour for their third album, In Bocca Al Lupo. Seeing them this past Wednesday definitely reminded me why this band has so much staying power and a loyal cult following. They are ambitious in their efforts (with some albums, like their latest, telling a story or having some sort of central concept), and it’s hard to find another band that mirrors their sound, which can easily toe the line between harder rock acts (like Thursday) or more traditional rock/alt-country bands. They are truly a workingman’s band, and gave us 24 songs in under 90 minutes. The tour ended this past weekend, but follow them here.