You got to hand it to Trail of Dead. Last time they were through they drew fewer than 300 downstairs at Sokol Underground. Last night they drew around 700 upstairs, evidence that they’ve crossed that imaginary line that divides the men from the boys on the indie circuit. The tour buses parked on the south side of the building was more evidence. Somehow throughout their rise, I’ve managed to completely miss this band.
I made an effort to get there early, but still missed the opening band. Not Criteria, but a fourth band that was comprised of some Trail of Dead people and roadies doing acoustic numbers, or so I was told by one of the merch people. It must have been a quick set, because Criteria was on stage by about a quarter to nine. In all honestly, they were the reason I came out last night, hoping to hear some of the new songs off their upcoming Saddle Creek release, which Steve Pedersen announced from the stage has a scheduled street date of Aug. 23.
And play new stuff they did. Though in some ways distinctly different than the old material, fans of the band’s debut, En garde, will dig it. The new stuff feels heavier, with thicker melodies and counters. Still, the basic recipe remains the same — intricate, chugging 5-count riffs repeated in 6/8 or some other triplet meter (count 1-2-3-1-2 / 1-2-3-1-2 over and over). It’s these rolling waltz counter lines — that feel like being on a boat on a rough, wavy sea — that differentiate Criteria from the other angular punk outfits. That and Pedersen’s clear, throaty caterwaul — vocals that sound like no on one else on the radio, reaching what seems to be an octave above the guitar lines. Pedersen pushes his vocals on every song, his face contorted and red. I don’t know how he’s going to pull it off night after night over the course of three months or more. I hope to god he’s had vocal training to deal with the strain.
The fact that Pedersen’s law career kept him off the road when En garde was released gives the band an interesting advantage. The new material while different isn’t a great stylistic leap from the old material. It all blends together rather seamlessly. Hence the band will be able to effectively tour as if they released two CDs simultaneously, in many ways more effectively than Bright Eyes can tour its two CDs. I’m assuming that Creek will rerelease En garde along with the new one. Ka-ching!
Regardless of being their first live performance in a lot of months, it was one of the better Criteria sets I’ve heard. They took full advantage of the huge sound system. And you know what? That AJ Mogis just sounds better and better on vocals. He’s becoming a regular Michael Anthony up there. I thought the mix was too bassy, but that’s quibbling. It’ll be interesting to see how it all sounds down in the Underground May 21.
Next up was Austin band The Sword playing run-of-the-mill Bevis and Butthead-style bass-heavy metal. It sounded like something from the ’80s without the high-end opera vocals. Instead, the vocalist flatly moped though his uninteresting melodies while everyone else did their best Steel Dragon moves. Why is this band touring with Trail of Dead?
Then after about a half-hour break, which included 10 minutes of stage smoke and Styx singing “Mr. Roboto,” on rolled Trail of Dead — a six-piece rock band featuring keyboards, two drum sets (though I only saw them played at the same time once) and that weird, pudgy looking lead vocalist. Maybe it’s because I haven’t followed this band from the beginning, but I just wasn’t feeling it last night. At times their music held a sense of drama, but it wasn’t enough to keep my attention, and I left after six songs. Maybe it got better. Anyone who hung around, feel free to post a review and tell me what a lunk-head I was to leave early. The crowd seemed to love ’em (but then again, they seemed to love The Sword as well).
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