Saturday I was at the Murder By Death show at Cafe 9. I knew it was sold out, and I knew it was going to be crowded, but I still couldn't believe how tight people were actually packed into Cafe 9 even before the show started. Already a warm day, the place was doomed to be heat up quick, and it was a really hot and sweaty night, and if you squinted, you could've sworn you were in a backwoods Georgia dive bar, not in the middle of New Haven. It turns out this fit the bill perfectly, because dark southern rock was exactly what we all came to see.
Linfinity somehow squeezed onto an already tiny stage completely littered with pedalboards, mandolins and guitars of all sizes. They played a variety of hazy, musically dense, gypsy rock songs. No two songs were alike, shifting from bouncy to depressingly dark in a matter of seconds. The set began with lilting violin and ethereal mandolin, but on some songs there were some heavy slide guitar riffs and really bombastic buildups to their songs. It's impossible when talking about them not to make comparisons to DeVotchKa, and their lead singer Dylan Von Wagner's voice reminded me a lot of Nick Urata's caterwaul. They had a great stage presence, with Von Wagner's facial expressions and seizure-like movements attracting a lot of attention. There was even a cover of the Talking Heads and even a round of Happy Birthday sung for Megan Berson, their violinist. All in all, they were a great opening act.
The next band, Ha Ha Tonka, really surprised me. I had only briefly listened to a few of their songs on myspace before seeing them, and I kind of knew before going that I was going to like them, but I never imagined what they were actually like onstage. We were treated to some great southern-fried folk rock, complete with four-part harmonies, floor stomping, and bent guitar solos. These guys are from the Ozarks, and that's clearly a fact they want to hammer home. They were having a hell of a lot of fun, which was rubbing off on the crowd. They brought the energy down a notch in the middle of the show for acapella "Hangman" which was eerie and at one point, frontman Brian Roberts asked "do you guys like Ram Jam?" and they launched into Black Betty, which was great. Since it was also Brett Anderson's (guitar/mandolin/vocals) birthday, they led us through a second rendition of "Happy Birthday" for the night. Remember how I said earlier that the stage was crowded? Well, for the last song they invited a ton of people from the crowd up on stage to make whatever kind of noise they could to break the record number of people on Cafe 9's stage, which they easily did.
I honestly thought that the Murder By Death set would be a step back from the energetic blast of Ha Ha Tonka, but after a painfully lengthy soundcheck they completely blew the doors down. The whiskey-soaked croak of frontman Adam Turla's baritone vocals, and the sweeping strings of Sarah Balliet's cello mixed beautifully. It's not really evident on their recordings, but between the bass, drums, cello, and vocals, the music itself is all blasting low-end. Even the keys, played by newcomer to the band
Murder By Death:
photos by Ruby Arguilla Tull.
*Dagan is the drummer. Thanks for the clarification, anonymoose