[9 November 2004]
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Greater than the deed, or the memory, is the moment of anticipation. This moment usually comes after relentlessly hyping an event in your mind. But on other occasions, it comes from knowing that years of toil and slow growth are about to result in an explosion, one that will consume everything in its path. In this case, the explosion will be the Trail of Dead, and we in the music community are about to become part of said trail.
The Texas-based quintet is on the cusp of greatness. The aforementioned toil is what separates them from many other indie/emo/garage bands that have emerged over the past few years. The Strokes went from basement to Bowery Ballroom in no time. Franz Ferdinand got their industry push and subsequent praise in less than a year. Trail of Dead’s early claim to fame was a performance on Farmclub, and an underground reputation for a chaotic live set—shows that usually resulted in the destruction of their equipment. They only got the record contract they deserved after two independent albums, subsequently making Interscope very happy with the well-received Source Tags and Codes in 2002.
The only thing that has eluded the group is major record sales. Interscope decided to delay release on the band’s already complete Worlds Apart until January so that they could pack some advertising muscle behind it (and to prevent it from entering the highly competitive Christmas market). While the show at Montreal’s Cafe Campus may have been originally scheduled to promote the new album, it now served as a mere tease, hinting at what the band is set to become in just a few months.
Based on this performance, their first stop in Montreal since 2002, the Trail of Dead plan on becoming is “big”. Quite big. Everything that fans loved about the band is now bigger. If you loved the tyrannical passion of Jason Reece’s drumming, there is now a second full-time drummer, Doni Schroader, to give the sensation that elephants are stampeding backstage. Both Reece and guitarist/vocalist Conrad Keely have become bigger performers, frequently sharing the vocal duties, while interacting with the crowd and playing with greater ferocity than ever before—certainly bigger than their last stop in Montreal.
Even the band’s new bassist, Danny Wood is bigger. At least, several inches taller than Neil Busch. He towers over the other members of the band. There’s a big kettledrum on stage, better lighting, and all the amps have been turned to the max setting. This is a band that wants to be big.
With only the new Worlds Apart single to promote, the band decided to let their hair down and play some angry rock. Perhaps the upcoming Presidential election also had them tightening their collars a tad, with Reece insisting to the Canadian crowd, “we’re from Texas but we don’t like Bush”. Whatever the reason, they chose to perform two of the louder cuts from Source Tags and Codes, “Homage” and “Days of Being Wild” as opposed to the album’s title track or the heart-wrenching “How Near, How Far”.
It could also be because the Trail of Dead simply knows what the fans want. This was a moshing crowd looking to free the beast and butt some heads. It was not that of the misguided fool who discovered the band’s faithful cover of Genesis in NYC and was hoping for a progressive evening. Full pardon, however, to those who got the wrong idea when they heard that the new album opens with a full choir chanting the names of Egyptian Gods.
Based on the major strides made on Source Tags and Codes and hype surrounding Worlds Apart, the Trail of Dead may be developing into two different bands. On their albums, they have always experimented with string arrangements, horn sections and other things that you’d expect to hear in a progressive group. But on stage they remain a frantic band, more concerned with kicking out the jams than impressing with musical prowess. It’s understandable that they simply cannot bring a string section and grand piano to every show but still, the band seems to be showing only one facet on stage.
That said, they have established a good stage repertoire to fulfill that duty. “Richter Scale Madness,” from their eponymous debut, is raucous in its extended live format. “Perfect Teenhood” and “Mistakes and Regrets” are great examples of the band’s rebel-friendly anger mixed with catchy hooks. “Another Morning Stoner” was the best live adaptation from Source Tags and Codes and was given an extra kick by both drummers playing in sync.
Of the new tracks, an extended instrumental indicates further progressive leanings on the new album. Another, the aptly-titled “Caterwaul” inspired Reece to leap across the stage but in the end felt less genuine than the other tracks.
The band also reinforced their reputation as carnage-inducing rockers by turning the stage into a trail of broken instruments during the encore. Reece kicked his entire drum kit over and later stabbed holes into his bass drum. Just because a band is growing musically doesn’t mean they can’t still lay waste to their instruments.
Where ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead goes from here could be interesting. They can either embrace their need to expand musically, as evidenced on Source Tags and Codes, or become an incredibly successful screamo band. Either way, their live set will remain wild and passionate, proving that, no matter what, they can still play for the common fan.